Interview with Lauren Cooney (Writer and Director of Pendulum)

Hello Lauren, thanks for agreeing to speak to me. Firstly, I’d like to ask where the idea for this film came from?

Six years ago, one of my best friends, Jessie, committed suicide, and I wanted to make a film that in some way questioned what life is about, and our relationship to death. Jessie’s death was so sudden and shocking, and suicide has such a cultural shadow attached to it, my aim with Pendulum was to find the light, the transcendence. All of this was quite buried and subconscious, and the real story emerged as the project developed. I wrote a beat sheet, and lots of scenes were written on the fly whilst we were shooting, but it was really a semi-improvised adventure, which found its form in the edit. There was a slew of philosophical sci-fi / fantasy films that were out at the time and which inspired me – like Monsters and Another Earth – and Pendulum always felt like it belonged in that world. I wanted it to feel real, like a parallel version of our current reality. The backpacking and buddy movie elements were there from the start, as soon as Scott Michael Wagstaff, producer and co-star, agreed to co-create this adventure with me. As a guerilla-shot movie we had to make our story meet our method. The whole movie was an exploration and an experiment, and our quest mirrored the quest of our characters. 

 What prompted you to set the film mainly in India?

India came hand in hand with the spiritual elements of the story. I’m very appreciative that I have travelled a lot and been drawn to Eastern spirituality for many years. Most apocalypse movies relate to the Judeo-Christian tradition and aesthetic of fire, ice, and judgement day. With Pendulum I wanted to explore a visual and spiritual journey that felt altogether more mystical. It’s true that many Westerners decamp to the beaches of Goa or the ranges of the Himalayas to find something that our Western lifestyles don’t easily accommodate. India is the perfect setting to break these characters out of their Western mind-shackles.

How did you achieve the astonishing special effects used in the film?

Glad you like them! Essentially, we had an abundance of Pinterest photos, a determined vision, and a badass VFX team at Darkside Studio, who worked incredibly hard to find the poetic quality I desired. We worked with an awesome concept artist called Alexander Fort who played with photographing ink drops and swirls to create this nebulous magical quality. It was so exciting seeing the VFX come to life, and then matching it with our composer Marc Canham’s soulful wandering music.

How do you feel the film reflects the way we approach life in the modern world?

We started making Pendulum six years ago, and really, it’s amazing how resonant some elements feel. It started off as a personal reflection of grief and my own quarter-life-crisis, but actually, it’s about a universal Western disconnect between our minds and our souls. Whether it’s political dissent or mental health dysphoria, there’s a pervasive dissatisfaction with how we live, and an accompanying nihilism.  I think people do feel powerless, and there is a distrust of words like “God” and “spirituality”. My feeling is that culturally we are spiritually bereft. Which means we require a connection to something greater than our own lives / mind / ego / worries. Whether that’s through nature, or community, or something resembling “the divine” doesn’t really matter. It’s about connecting to something bigger. That’s what Cerys, the lead character, discovers in her final moments.

What was the casting process for the film like?

Extremely easy. Scott and I are actors and had trained together, working a lot with improvisation and filmmaking techniques. We wanted to make something we could star in, which would mean something to us. The great irony is that we were in front of the camera for probably 20 days, and spent 6 years producing, editing, re-writing, moulding, completing, and promoting the project. Our third main character, Derryk, is played by Tom Sawyer, who trained at the same Meisner acting school – The Actors’ Temple. We met with a selection of actors from this school, who we knew we could trust with the improvisational nature of the film and felt that Tom had the right balance of charm and evil to pull it off. (He’s pure charm and light, really). The Indian actors were all found via our Indian crew, who were tapped into various underground film scenes.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

I’m a full-blown spiritual warrior these days! So, I hope people tap into the ending of the movie, and the sense of awe we were hoping to evoke. It’s been a massively ambitious project, which was full of challenges. Even after all these years, the ending still means a huge amount to me. I hope people feel inspired to live their fullest lives, to take a trip, to give up the grind, to have an adventure. And most importantly, if anyone is dealing with mental health concerns, that they know they’re not alone, and that there are alternatives ways to live and perceive your life.

Do you think science fictions presentation of the apocalypse has become somewhat stale and do you hope Pendulum shakes up preconceptions an audience might have about what a science fiction apocalypse looks like?

I think it’s a trope that disappears and reappears in our popular narratives. It can be hard to find a singular unique angle for anything in the film world, and apocalypse narratives are no different. The mystical apocalyptic element feels like one of the most original aspects about Pendulum, and there’s ideas and aesthetic within it that I am only just beginning to explore. I coined Pendulum a “spiritual-sci-fi” and it’s a genre I am deepening my relationship with, and want to create bigger, bolder, richer, and more mainstream stories.

Why do you think people enjoy films about the end of the world?

Because we’re all going to die. It’s probably that simple. We’re all going to die, and yet we do an abundance of things to make life meaningful. Like make babies, make money, make art. End of the world movies speed up that process, and therein ask the characters to really home in on what matters to them. The audience then watch these movies and get to dream and debate and dive alongside the characters. And then they get to go to bed next to their loved ones, or hit the pub, or hug a pal, and feel immensely grateful.

What has the reception to the film been like?

It’s been great. We had our UK premiere at the Oscar-qualifying Encounters Film Festival, where we were nominated for the audience award. And we’ve played at an abundance of festivals all over the world, including in India. We’ve been nominated for many awards and won a clutch. We’ve found sci-fi fans, and traveling fans, and fans of the deeper philosophical elements. It’s been amazing to connect with people who dug the vision, and felt like there was much more for us to explore in this realm.

What future projects have you got planned?

Well… there’s lots of writing going on. Pendulum is a proof-of-concept for a feature film called Retrieval, which delves far deeper into the mystical Eastern apocalyptic elements, and is also set in India, but unlike Pendulum focuses on the estranged relationship between two sisters. It’s utterly epic, and very aligned with my vision. I am also working on the script for a dystopian young adult feature film called Edgelands, and an LGBTQI rom-com feature film about two women who fall in love at a Jewish Wedding. I have several comedy-drama projects in development for television, including The Big O, which follows two characters exploring the link between spirituality and sexuality. As I continue making work, I am noticing key themes emerging. Basically sex, spirituality, and versions of anarchy. There’s a lot within those themes to keep me busy!

With thanks to Lauren, you can read my review of Pendulum here

One response to “Interview with Lauren Cooney (Writer and Director of Pendulum)

  1. Pingback: Pendulum Review | The Consulting Detective·

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