A discussion with Lynne Ramsay and Lucia Zucchetti

Stockfish was honored to have Lynne Ramsay, film director, writer, producer, and cinematographer, join us as an honorary guest this year. Along with her long-time friend and editor, Lucia Zucchetti, she held an Open Talk for festivalgoers. Lynne was a guest of Stockfish back in 1997, under the former Reykjavík Film Festival. Lynne has received a BAFTA nomination for Best Director and Best Director prize at the British Independent Film Awards and a win for Best Film Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain, among other awards. Stockfish hosted a Retrospective as a tribute to Lynne and screened three of her films; Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and You Were Never Really Here.

Lynne is known for her dark films that deal with difficult themes surrounding grief, guilt, death and its aftermath. Her films delve into the human psyche and reflect on how humans deal with life when faced with difficult situations. While often low on dialogue, the films use images, music, and sound to create their unique worlds. A distinct style encompasses the films with each film creating a raw and often gritty yet intimate feeling without sacrificing each film’s individuality. 

Although some of Lynne’s films might be described as violent you rarely see any direct violence on screen. Lynne describes You Were Never Really Here as “an action movie without any action”. Rather than showing the violence outright, Lynne hints at with the use of sound, interesting camerawork, and other techniques, causing the viewer’s imagination to run wild. This often makes the effect of the violence more impactful. 

Lynne’s film We Need to Talk About Kevin is based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. The book had been passed off by multiple directors but as soon as Lynne read it she knew she had to adapt it into a film. She knew, however, that it would not be easy as the book does not have many visual aspects to it, which caused her to have to use her imagination. Lynne does not focus on getting every detail from the book into the film but rather tries to capture the essence of the story. She says she does this with all her adaptations. “The film was really different from the book but I think it’s more about getting the spirit of something rather than a literal thing,” she says in the Open Talk. 

While Lynne describes herself as a very visual person, she mentions how she has started to pay more attention to sound. Sound is used to evoke fear in We Need to Talk About Kevin, most notably the sound of a sprinkler, as sound affects us on a deeper, more subconscious level than any other senses. Her reason for using the sprinkler was that she wanted to make a familiar everyday item sound ominous. The sound of the sprinkler is cleverly used in the film to cut back and forth in time and to signify the rising terror throughout the film. “That sprinkler is like the scariest sprinkler ever once you know what it means,” Lynne says. “And it’s so innocuous that to [Eva] it becomes horror because of what’s transpired.” While Lynne was at first promised a larger budget for We Need to Talk About Kevin, things changed causing her to have to rewrite the script. She received a smaller budget from a different company but she believes this caused her to have more creative control over the film. 

While Lynne is arguably one of the more talented directors today, she had not set out to become a filmmaker. She had every intention of becoming a photographer but when she messed up the interview for a photography school she applied to NFTS (National Film and Television School) without any knowledge about filmmaking. Having applied to the school on a whim, she believes this lack of pressure she put on herself is what got her into film school. She went to NFTS with the intent of becoming a cinematographer but the interviewers already spotted her potential as a director and said she spoke like a director. “I really don’t know what a director sounds like,” Lynne says. She met Lucia at the university and they quickly began working together, first as crew for other directors. Lucia then encouraged Lynne to make her short stories into movies and the pair have worked together on multiple of Lynne’s films.

Lynne’s graduation film, Small Deaths (1996) which Lucia edited, made its way to Cannes, the first sign of her success. She describes the time when she made her student film as a hopeful time in the UK and says she feels for young filmmakers today as she believes it is a lot harder than it used to be. She goes further on saying “sometimes it’s just a timing thing with films.” A filmmaker might make a brilliant film but it needs to be made at the right place at the right time and the stars need to align for it to succeed. 

Lynne and Lucia call their relationship when working together “a bit like a marriage”. Lynne describes herself as “completely scatty” with her head in the clouds while Lucia is organised. They complement each other in that way. They like to discuss and try things out together in the cutting room. “I think ultimately the special thing about our relationship in the cutting room has been that we usually would, even when we disagreed, we would keep looking for stuff” Lucia says. Whenever they disagree over an edit they know it is temporary and instead of settling for one idea or the other, they look for something they are both excited about.

Reflecting on the early days of filming they are both happy to have learned to shoot on film saying that it taught them to be more detailed and careful when shooting and to not look at the takes as something disposable like one might with digital. According to Lynne, shooting digitally means that you shoot a lot but the edits are becoming shorter as a contradiction. “You get more material but less time to look at it and less time to edit it.” Lucia is glad to have learned the craft of editing with film stock first. It taught her discipline she would not have received had she learned to cut digitally. “You really learn to watch your footage,” she says. “When you cut digitally, people just tend to dive in and cut before they actually have absorbed what the footage is like.” Now a teacher at NFTS, Lucia tells her students not start cutting until they have watched the footage uncut more than once. “And then you are really taking it in and making some notes and really remembering what you felt when you watched the uncut material before you start chopping it up.”

Lynne is currently working on a script for a new film based on Margaret Atwood’s book Stone Mattress and hopes one day to be able to shoot a film in Iceland. “I love this place, it’s magic.” We are happy to have received such talented guests at the festival and hope to see the pair in Iceland again in the future.


-Written by Stefanía Stefánsdóttir