Ge the inside guide to everything you want to know about British filmmaker Joanna Hogg and her five features, written by the first publication to ever publish a full-length book on Hogg’s work and process.
Joanna Hogg is a British film director and screenwriter. She has made four feature films: Unrelated (2008), Archipelago (2010), Exhibition (2013), and The Souvenir (2019). She is currently in production on The Souvenir: Part II.
Joanna Hogg specialises in scathing and unsettling depictions of the British upper middle class. Her first three features, Unrelated, Archipelago, and Exhibition will make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat. They’ll also leave you marveling at Hogg’s meticulous blocking, sound design, and keen observations about human behaviour. Where Unrelated and Archipelago were realist dramas about the pressures of family vacations in tight quarters, Exhibition and The Souvenir are more experimental and dreamlike, exploring the creative process and its links to memory.
Pulling from outside the strictly cinematic world is key to Hogg’s process. For example, painter Christopher W. Baker acted in Archipelago. Exhibition also starred conceptual artist Liam Gillick and punk rock guitarist Viv Albertine. Her influences and collaborators contribute to the uncannily naturalistic quality of her own films.
Pulling from autobiography in Joanna Hogg’s films
In 2014, Hogg claimed that her first three films were not autobiographical. Rather, they reflect what preoccupied her at the time she made them. 1 For instance, she frequently discusses her ambivalence towards not having children, a theme that appears in Unrelated and Exhibition. Hogg has said, “I see my films as a way of creating something. Which is to say, I don’t think [having children is] entirely dissimilar.” 2
The Souvenir and The Souvenir: Part II suggest Hogg’s increased personal storytelling. With these films, she not only explores her preoccupations, but reflects on her own life experiences and emotional journey. Hogg’s meticulous work to re-create her own youth — even building an exact replica of her student apartment — helps to make The Souvenir vivid and compelling.
Joanna Hogg’s Biography
While Joanna Hogg’s most recent film, The Souvenir, is autobiographical, she is famously private about her personal life. She has only revealed her background piece by piece in various interviews over the years. By putting together these pieces, we know Hogg grew up in an upper-class family with aristocratic ties. She is also the daughter of the vice chairman of a large insurance company. As a teenager, Hogg attended the expensive West Heath Boarding School, where she was classmates with Tilda Swinton and a class above Diana Spencer, future Princess of Wales.3
After graduation, Hogg moved to Florence for a year to study photography, then returned to England to work as an assistant to an advertising photographer in Soho.4 She found herself experimenting with the studio’s equipment on weekends.
Joanna Hogg’s student films
When a kinetic sculpture artist asked her to make a film of his work, Hogg borrowed a Super 8 camera. She set to work. This film eventually won her admission to London’s National Film and Television School. There, she made what she described as a “very Ken Loachian” documentary5. It was quite similar to the movie Julie plans to make about Sunderland at the beginning of The Souvenir.
Hogg also made a short film, Caprice, with her pre-fame classmate Tilda Swinton in 1986. Caprice shares similarities with Julie’s graduation film inThe Souvenir Part II. Hogg and Swinton remained close, and Hogg was named godmother of Swinton’s daughter, Honor Swinton-Byrne, in 1997.6 This short film was the inspiration for the film we see Julie shooting at the end of The Souvenir.
Joanna Hogg’s early career (before her feature films)
Hogg worked in music videos and soap operas for 15 years. Eventually, she decided she needed to have more creative control. Leaving television behind, she released her feature debut, Unrelated, at the age of 47. Unrelated was made on a small budget, and on Hi Definition Video. This afforded her complete artistic control, circumventing potential pressures from producers. Collaborators editor Helle le Fevre, costume and production designer Stéphane Collonge, and sound designer Jovan Ajder all worked on Unrelated. These collaborations have since worked on all of her subsequent films: Archipelago, Exhibition, The Souvenir, and The Souvenir: Part II.
Joanna Hogg’s Filmmaking Process
The working process that Joanna Hogg established on Unrelated has since been repeated, finessed, and perfected. Hogg works with a rather unconventional script, often referred to by her collaborators as the “story document”. Not everyone gets to see it, and it can take her years to develop. The purpose of the story document is to precisely outline the structure of the film and provide a strong blueprint. It outlines the film’s story, the characters’ psychology, and Hogg’s visual ideas.
The document is always evolving. It contains references that have inspired Hogg, including photographs, paintings, and poems. Hogg also makes liberal use of footnotes. These include ideas for the film stock to use for the scene or a specific reference to a film. Although the story document will sometimes contain bits of dialogue, most dialogue is improvised on the day, in front of the camera, during the shoot.7
Working with actors during prep
By setting her films primarily in a single location, Hogg has been able to shoot her films in chronological order. Throughout the shoot, Hogg works closely with the actors to evolve their characters and relationships. They use the story document as a blueprint for more complex psychological explorations on set. Hogg does not do rehearsals. Instead, she talks in depth with the actors before the shoot. She also provides them with reference materials to help immerse them in the headspace of their characters. note]Heeney, “An Interview with Joanna Hogg,” 70.[/note]
Collonge explained that the plots of Hogg’s films involve “a lot of looking at people and how they interact and feeding this back into the story, which is always very difficult to write [into a screenplay]. How do you say something like, ‘There is something unresolved between two people?’ That’s beyond words.” 8
Improvisation and experimentation in Joanna Hogg’s films
Pre-production to allow for improvisation and experimentation
To allow room for improvisation and experimentation, Hogg’s films are very carefully prepared. In fact, the sets are finished early so that the actors have time get to know the spaces.9 Hogg works with the actors to make sure they understand who their characters are before they start shooting.10
On each film, the costume designer builds a wardrobe with each character, often in collaboration with the actors, so that each day on set, the actor can pick out what they think their character would wear.11 Hogg is very precise and knows what she wants. This makes her eager to get as much input as possible from all of her collaborators. She searches for the best idea.
Improvisation on set
“It’s not that accidents just happen; it’s that Joanna let accidents happen,” 12 explained director of photography David Raedeker. Hogg’s scripts do not look like conventional scripts with fully fleshed-out dialogue. She wants to leave room for the actors to improvise. That is, to put the ideas in their own words, and to respond spontaneously to each other.
Thus, each take is different, so Hogg often shoots with two cameras simultaneously. This poses technical challenges for matching shots, editing the sound, and placing the two cameras. Some of the set up is guess work, but Hogg relies on her collaborators’ agility on set to respond to what is happening in the moment.13
The films evolve on set through improvisation
Each film is shot in story order with improvisation. Thus, the characters evolve on camera and on set, during the shoot. Consequently, the shape of individual scenes may change. For example, what started as a love screen in the story document could become a full-blown argument between lovers. The sets, costumes, and cinematography also evolve in tandem with the changing action. This can require minor and major shifts in any given scene. 14
Challenges in post-production due to improvisation
During post-production, Hogg continues her experimental approach. Creating the picture edit is a process of trial and error, testing out different takes and rhythms.15 Creating the sound mix in collaboration with sound designer Jovan Ajder is particularly intensive. Likewise, the shape of the mix evolves as one idea leads to the next in the edit. They will add tracks and sound effects, and then strip them off, and then add them again, until they are able to create a realistic but evocative mix.16
The role of costumes and sets in the films of Joanna Hogg
In all of Hogg’s films, the costumes and sets do much of the heavy-lifting of exposition. They place the characters in a specific milieu, socio-economic background, and a historical time. On her first three films, Stéphane Collonge served as both costume and production designer. Because The Souvenir was so complex, Grace Snell came on board to do the costumes. Snell still worked very closely in collaboration with Collonge to ensure a cohesive aesthetic. 17
The locations and production design for Unrelated, Archipelago, and Exhibition
In Unrelated, Archipelago, and Exhibition, the actors actually lived in the vacation houses where they shot. This added an extra level of realism to their comfort within these spaces. 18 Tom Hiddleston has enthused about how helpful living in these spaces is, as an actor: “If you’re an actor and your character decides to put the kettle on, if it’s the same kettle you’ve been using every morning for the last six weeks, there’s something about the way you’ll do it which will be very natural. It’s not a prop kettle—it’s the kettle you used this morning to make a cup of coffee. The actors become part of the fabric of the scene, because they are living it all the time.” 19
For Exhibition, Hogg wrote the screenplay around the house itself, unable to imagine shooting it somewhere else.20
Locations and production design for The Souvenir
The Souvenir is mostly set within Julie’s apartment, but we also spend much time at Julie’s film school; both sets were constructed on a sound stage so that the cast and crew were still effectively working in a single environment. Furthermore, because Julie’s work at film school becomes a reflection of her own life at home, building those sets next to each other helped Hogg develop shooting strategies to ensure the two environments mirrored each other.21
Working with actors and non-actors to blur fiction and non-fiction
According to Collonge, Hogg is “very good at blurring the line between fiction and reality. She invites performers to explore parts of themselves with the character as opposed to other filmmakers who construct the character. It comes from inside out, not from outside in. It’s not, ‘Oh, I’d like to be that cool guy.’ It’s more what is it that you really want to express that’s inside you that will come out, whether it’s exploring addiction, exploring inequality.”22 In our interview, Collonge talked about how Hogg used elements of Tom Hiddleston’s own life to craft his character in Archipelago. 23
Hogg has always favoured working with a combination of actors and non-actors. She rarely shows the story document to the non-actors she works with. In Unrelated, none of the actors saw the story document. But the behind-the-camera crew used it to build the world the characters would inhabit, as well as their wardrobes. In Archipelago, the central family was made up of professional actors who had access to the story document. But the painting teacher and cook were both non-actors who never saw the story document. Each day on set, the actors and non-actors would receive instructions for the scenario they would play and the scene’s goal. The non-actors, in particular, did not necessarily know how this would fit into the story as a whole. 24
Working with actors and non-actors on The Souvenir
With The Souvenir, Hogg helped Swinton Byrne immerse herself in the diaries, music, and images of Hogg’s own youth, but did not show her the story document; meanwhile, Tom Burke, who plays Anthony, saw the story document and had deep discussions about it with Hogg prior to the shoot. 25
On The Souvenir, there were many surprises for the actors on set from day to day, especially for Swynton Byrne. “The first time that Honor [Swinton Byrne] met Tom [Burke] was at the party [at the beginning of the film when] we shot, literally on the day of the shoot, in that take,” recounted Collonge.26 Later in the film, when she finds one of Anthony’s junky friends shooting up in her apartment, Swynton Byrne “didn’t know there was going to be somebody in the flat. She didn’t know, and she was really spooked, as you can imagine.”27
How Hogg leverages actors’ real feelings
Hogg likes to make use of the actors’ real feelings of stress and anxiety. But Collonge emphasized, “She’s very, very caring. It’s not manipulation.” 28 She always talks things through carefully and compassionately with her cast. She makes sure they are comfortable with what she is asking.
Joanna Hogg’s Films
“Hogg’s first film, Unrelated, is perhaps her most accessible because it is a straightforward character drama. It is her least experimental work to date. Anna (Kathryn Worth) runs away from life in London for a holiday in Tuscany with her childhood friend, Verena (Mary Roscoe). There, she starts lusting after Oakley, a teenage boy who is charming but barely legal. Anna should be spending time with her friend. Instead, she embeds herself in the group dynamic of her friend’s teenage children. The reasons for this only become clear later in the film. Anna is working through a midlife crisis, chasing after her youth by hanging out with young people. Both Unrelated and Exhibition follow middle-aged women through some kind of crisis. This is often related to whether or not they are mothers.
Contributions and innovations in Unrelated
With Unrelated, Hogg established herself as a director with uncommon sensitivity for using cinematic space. Set almost entirely in one location, the Tuscan summer home, Hogg uses locked-down wide shots to show us how characters relate to one another through their body language and physical proximity. In the film, Hogg’s carefully crafted sound design often gestures to the world outside the stable frame. She allows key scenes to play off-screen, while we (and other characters) eavesdrop from the outside.”29
“In Archipelago,30 Hogg widened her scope from Unrelated to examine the dynamics of an immediate family on an excruciating vacation together. We see much of the action through the eyes of twentysomething Edward (Tom Hiddleston), who appears in most scenes. The film highlights how Edward, his sister, Cynthia (Lydia Leonard), and his mother, Patricia (Kate Fahy), fail to communicate with each other. These failures are exacerbated by the presence of a hired cook and Patricia’s painting teacher. Where Unrelated explored Anna and Oakley’s taboo intimacy, Archipelago, as the title suggests, is about people who resemble islands. The family may be in the same room together, but each person is lonely and miserable.
Innovations in Archipelago
Archipelago marks the beginning of Hogg’s experiments with sound and setting. These would come to full fruition in Exhibition and The Souvenir. Set in a creaky house in the Scilly Isles, the family in Archipelago can always overhear each other. No one is ever really alone. Hogg keeps us attuned to the sounds of the house and the loud and stormy winds of the island. These mimic the internal strife of the family. It is a beautiful setting, but it is also harsh, rocky, and windy. The sounds of that environment are audible within the house. Christopher is also the first artistically-minded character to enter a Hogg film; her most recent two films are both about artists and how they navigate their artistic process.”31
“Where Archipelago and Unrelated are both about people escaping their home lives while on vacation, Exhibition32 is about a couple whose habits are deeply entwined with the architecture of their home — to the point that D (Viv Albertine) is unable to fully recognize the dysfunction in their relationship until she steps outside the house. Hogg began to explore how the spaces people inhabit affect their relationships with the family vacation home in Archipelago. Exhibition pushes the relationship between setting and character even further, as the house literally structures the couple’s relationship. In Exhibition, Hogg trains her camera on the house’s unique architecture and how it divides and reflects the couple.
Exhibition explores the lives of artists
The professions of the characters in Unrelated and Archipelago are largely undiscussed. But the central couple in Exhibition are both artists. In fact, their art is intrinsic both to their relationship and to why they live in this particular modernist house. H (Liam Gillick) is an architect, whose studio is on the top floor of the house. D is a visual and performance artist whose office and performance space is on the second floor. They meet in between and talk on the phone, from within the house, to plan their meet-ups.
As independent artists, their home is their workspace. The couple’s childless status alienates them from their friends with children. Hogg suggests that, instead, their art is the focus of their nurturing. The architecture of their house is also notably different from that of their friends with children across the street. There is much discussion in the film about whether the house would even be suited to a family. It feels more like an artist’s retreat space. (Though, curiously, it ultimately sells to a family of five.) Given its unique architecture and large windows that overlook the street, their home also serves as a kind of exhibition space.
Technical innovations on Exhibition
Exhibition was the first film in which Hogg started to push beyond naturalism. In particular, the sounds of the house border on fantastical. There is a sequence near the end of the film that may be a dream, a glimpse into D’s head, or a mix of reality and fiction. It is the first time Hogg plays with immersing us in the headspace of one of her characters: in the sequence, D, who is dressed in a glamorous gold dress, is simultaneously participating in an on-stage Q&A with her husband, discussing their relationship and their work, and in the audience, watching herself.”33
The Souvenir (2019)
Joanna Hogg’s exquisite new film, The Souvenir, was the talk of Sundance, picking up the World Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. Almost overnight, Hogg transformed into an international art house sensation. The Souvenir is Hogg’s first coming-of-age story. It is also her first film to be set over months instead of days. This is a unique challenge given Hogg’s process involves shooting in order, without a conventional script, with improvisation.
Set in the 1980s, The Souvenir tells the story of a film student who gets into a difficult romantic relationship. The relationship simultaneously feeds her creativity and shakes her self-confidence. The film is based on Hogg’s personal experiences as a film student. It even features an exact replica of the apartment she lived in at the time. 34
Tour of Memories: The Collaboration Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir
About the book
This is the first book ever published on Joanna Hogg’s films and her process. It includes a primer on Hogg, a look at her favourite scenes across her films, and essays on The Souvenir as a standalone and in the context of her broader work.
The book offers the trademark Seventh Row 360-degree view of Hogg’s filmmaking process on The Souvenir. This is through interviews with Hogg herself and her collaborators, several of whom have been working with her since Unrelated.
Hogg has sought to give back to the filmmaking community and expand the horizons of film. In 2012, she and experimental director Adam Roberts formed the film collective A Nos Amours, which “invites film-makers and others to advocate and present films that they admire or would like to see on a big screen”.35
The collective presented a complete Chantal Akerman retrospective in London. The collective also co-curated a collection of Akerman’s video installation work at a London gallery. Hogg personally presented A Nos Amours (Maurice Pialat, 1983), Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974), The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, 1968), and Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975). All four films feature precise framing, thoughtful pacing, and formal experimentation in representing memory. These are all ideas that Hogg explores in The Souvenir.
But her own influences are not limited to cinema. Hogg has said, “other influences – sculpture, literature, dreams or psychoanalysis – also inform the way I work, too. I am also reticent to share everything in case a spell is broken. Some mystery is a good thing.”39
- Nick Roddick, “Joanna Hogg is the Darling of Film Critics,” Evening Standard, September 22, 2008, https://www.standard.co.uk/showbiz/starinterviews/joanna-hogg-is-darling-of-film-critics-6854760.html.
- Tim Adams, “Joanna Hogg: ‘With Each Film, I Go Further into My Dreams,” The Guardian, April 13, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/apr/13/joanna-hogg-film-further-dreams-exhibition- english-auteur
- Rebecca Mead, “Joanna Hogg’s Self-Portrait of a Lady,” The New Yorker, May 13, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/20/joanna-hoggs-self-portrait-of-a-lady.
- Mead, “Joanna Hogg’s Self-Portrait of a Lady”.
- Roddick, “Joanna Hogg is the Darling of Film Critics.
- Mark Olsen, “Discoveries from the past with Joanna Hogg and Honor Swinton Byrne in ‘The Souvenir’,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-ca-mn-the-souvenir-joanna-hogg-honor-swinton-byrne-tilda-swinton-20190517-story.html.
- Alexandra Heeney, “An Interview with Joanna Hogg,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 63-65.
- Alexandra Heeney, “A Primer on Joanna Hogg’s Process,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 27.
- Alexandra Heeney, “An Interview with Production Designer Stéphane Collonge,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 130-131.
- Heeney, “Interview with Joanna Hogg,” 68-72.
- Orla Smith, “An Interview with Costume Designer Grace Snell,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 142.
- Justine Smith, “An Interview with Cinematographer David Raedeker,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 160.
- Orla Smith, “An Interview with Editor Helle le Fevre,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 165-166.
- Heeney, “Interview with Production Designer Stéphane Collonge,” 116-118.
- Smith, “Interview with Editor Helle le Fevre,” 169-171.
- Alexandra Heeney, “An Interview with Sound Designer Jovan Ajder,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 182-184.
- Heeney, “Interview with Production Designer Stéphane Collonge,” 114-123.
- Heeney, “Interview with Production Designer Stéphane Collonge,” 122-123.
- Mead, “Joanna Hogg’s Self-Portrait of a Lady”.
- Joanna Hogg and Matthias Sauerbruch, “Room for Emotions: Embodying Architecture in Film,” YouTube Video, 1:20:34, “Berlinale Talents,” February 11, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mhvi-7I-mJw&t=2087s.
- Heeney, “Interview with Production Designer Stéphane Collonge,” 124-135.
- Heeney, “A Primer”, 30.
- Heeney, “Interview with Production Designer Stéphane Collonge,” 119-120.
- Heeney, “Interview with Joanna Hogg,” 68-69.
- Heeney, “Interview with Joanna Hogg,” 68-70.
- Heeney, “A Primer”, 30.
- Heeney, “A Primer”, 31.
- Heeney, “A Primer”, 31.
- Alexandra Heeney, “Joanna Hogg’s Oeuvre in Context,” in Tour of Memories: The Creative Process Behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, ed. Alexandra Heeney and Orla Smith (Toronto: Seventh Row, 2019), 11-12.
- Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yyBmAohj_4&t=2s
- Heeney, “Joanna Hogg’s Oeuvre in Context,” 13-14.
- Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNvGrLwPL4s
- Heeney, “Joanna Hogg’s Oeuvre in Context,” 14-16.
- Heeney, “Joanna Hogg’s Oeuvre in Context,” 16-20.
- About A Nos Amours, A Nos Amours.
- Adams, “With Each Film, I Go Further into My Dreams.”
- Joanna Hogg, “Life in Film: Joanna Hogg,” Frieze, September 23, 2014, https://frieze.com/article/life-film-joanna-hogg.
- “About A Nos Amours,” A Nos Amours, accessed June 9, 2019, https://anosamoursblog.weebly.com/about.html.
- Hogg, “Life in Film.”