Maggie Betts premiered her short film “Engram” on March 31, 2014 at the The Celeste Bartos Theater at the Museum of Modern Art. The evening was hosted by Tiffany & Co. From the film: Isabel Lucas, Oliver Ackland and filmmaker Maggie Betts were joined by celebrity guests Prabal Gurung, Sophie Auster, Olivier Theyskens, Thakoon Panichgul and Rebecca Dayan, to name a few.
It was a very touching movie that dabbled with the idea of the subconscious mind. Two characters meet after many years on a subway bench as strangers. Both their minds transport them into a breathtaking land of their subconscious, but are represented by youthful versions of themselves. Their youthful representations try to piece together the puzzle of where they are and their ties to each other. Together, they try to remember and retrace the memories that drew them together as children in a race against time as the train is coming and they are again about to be separated forever.
The film created a beautiful suspension between the characters’ reality and their subconscious, allowing the audience to be engulfed in breathtaking scenes, as well as the movement of a dress designed and constructed by Prabal Gurung specifically for this movie. The film was very interesting and had a ineffable quality to it.
Check out our exclusive interviews from the red carpet below:
Director Maggie Betts
What inspired you to make this film?
I had an experience where my mom had surgery and she was under anesthesia and she remembered something, that she told us her whole life she couldn’t remember, a sort of traumatic experience. So I got really interested with memory after that.
How did you come up with the concept of the subway and then them getting transported to this field?
I thought it should be a situation where you’re close to one another – physically close, but you’re not intimate. The train had to do with a train of thought and the subway is underground, so below conscious levels.
How did you cast for these roles?
Well Isabel was the first person I cast … I was shocked she even read it. We sent it to her agent and never thought she would even look at it and then we got an email that she was in Australia and she would love to Skype with me. She had no need to do a short film, so we just Skyped for two hours and we got along, and ended up talking about a lot of stuff that didn’t have to do with the film. We got through the discussion about the movie and we were just talking about books.
What about Oliver’s role?
They’re friends … they’re fellow Australians and she said “I think you should meet.” Then I Skyped with him, and they just became like family, they’re lovely. We were living in these close quarters in these different houses in The Berkshires, so it was just an organic intimate shoot.
So what’s next for you?
I’m working on a longer feature.
How did you get involved with this movie?
I read the script “Engram” and I was really curious to talk to the director, Maggie Betts, and as soon as I spoke to her I felt like I really wanted to work with her because she just really inspired me and is very honest and truthful. She’s a real artist, I saw another film that she did, “The Carrier,” it was a documentary and it really blew me away, it was very beautiful as well as an educational and beautiful, emotional story. I hoped to work with her and that’s what inspired me to get involved.
How was working with her?
It was fun. She offers a lot of trust – creative and artistic. She offered us the reins in many ways, but she still had a very clear vision of what she wanted to achieve. She’s very empathetic and welcome to any suggestions and communicating to the actors. So we all felt very much on the same page, it’s just a beautiful experience and very enjoyable.
Could you talk a little bit about your character in this short film?
The characters’ names were just Him and Her, playing at an age that’s not young or old. It’s sort of a manifestation of the subconscious mind, we realized that as the film unfolds we were kind of somewhere else. So they’re very pure and innocent and still very young, but also wise and profound at the same time, which is sort of the way the subconscious mind.
How did you get involved in this film?
I’ve been a friend of Isabel’s for years … she told Maggie about me and I met Maggie on Skype, because I was in LA at the time. I kind of had to show her my American accent on Skype and that was it.
How was working with Isabel and Maggie?
I love working with Isabel because she’s really spontaneous and she’s so in the moment. It was just a dream, she’s brilliant. Maggie’s the same just on the other side of the camera. She loves just letting us run around and trying to find those moments, those little unscheduled moments, with the spontaneity.
What was it like working with Maggie Betts?
It was very easy, basically I read the script and I talked to her and she told me the whole story, and it was very simple. I threw some ideas out and some sketches, and I thought about it. When you see the movie and what it’s about, there’s a white dress in this green field and we talked about it a lot. How important it was for the movie and it was really easy.
So what was your inspiration for that white dress?
It was the character of the role that Isabel plays, as you will see, I don’t want to give away too much. The way Maggie described it to me was, it was a little girl and a beautiful story about a girl with strength.
Following the screening was a reception where guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Supporters of the film gathered and mingled, filling the room with congratulatory chatter.
Vivian Chen contributed reporting.