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An interview with ‘Paradise Hills’ director Alice Waddington: fairy tales, diversity, and the golden era of Hollywood

They might get most of the attention, but Disney are not the only ones making fairy tales. Paradise Hills from director Alice Waddington looks like it could have come from the Mouse House. Beautiful costumes and bright colors are not the only thing the movie has going for it, however. As with any good fairy tale, it also has a strong message. AiPT! spoke with Waddington about her first feature film.


AIPT: Okay. So my first question is how would you describe Paradise Hills?

Alice Waddington: I would say that Paradise Hills is in a way an homage to my 13, 14, 15 year old self. I love narratives such as Lord of the Rings, or The NeverEnding Story, but I could never really see myself in those stories. So I guess I wanted to create something of a fairy tale that included, myself and my group of friends in it. And the story itself is just, it’s an island in the middle of the ocean, which well-off families from all over the world send their daughters to get reformed. And there’s girls that have different sorts of “issues” that make them into less than perfect women. Some of them have a mental, some others have a physical, and some others have sexual diversity.

AIPT: What was the inspiration behind the movie?

Waddington: So the inspiration behind Paradise was a lot of the feature films and a lot of the series that I would watch when I was younger. I am a fantasy and science fiction fan. I love everything from The Abominable Dr Phibes, to The Prisoner, to Logan’s Run. And I kinda wanted to take these sorts of horror sci-fi, or horror fantasy if you will – I don’t know if that’s even a thing – references and turn it into something else and repopulate it with some ladies, and make it inclusive, make it diverse.

AIPT: The costumes and the set design, it reminds me of the  Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s. What was your motivation behind that look?

Waddington: I love that time as well. And I love classical studio 1940’s films. I love Bride of Frankenstein by James Whale, for example. That style and that feel of very grand, very Gothic, dark stories. Also, I guess Beauty and the Beast by Cocteau even though it’s not a studio film, it’s more like an independent foreign film, it was one of the references. I wanted to represent that sense of nostalgia, of a bygone past or for very sort of difficult to define moment in time that had all of these futuristic 1966 classics, but also homages to classic film. So my work is very, I guess, reflective of the past, while projecting into the future, mostly within the realm of fantasy and science fiction.

But there is a certain golden era look from back in the day that I find very, very appealing, for sure. And I wanted to represent, the idea of a world in which something historically has gone differently, had gone wrong at a certain point of history at work, maybe have been lost in a manner that is not where we have what we are experiencing right now. Maybe that had affected the way that women were treated.

AIPT: Dystopian stories tend to be pretty dark. Even Blade Runner is gritty. Paradise Hills is very bright. Why did you decide to go that route?

Waddington: I mean it’s funny because without making any spoilers, first two acts of the film are very sunny I would say. But the third act of the film gets really dark and really to be said is sort of a play upon the tropes of that first half and the sort of idea of lifting the lead on us or whatever analogy you want to do. And in the sense of wanting to represent how a world that seems very warm, very appealing, very alluring, really beautiful and inviting becomes a sort of darker version of the former. Simply because these girls really dare to ask questions about it. And I felt that was an interesting idea.

AIPT: A lot of fairy tales are more about the story than they are about the actual characters. It’s about like a moral or a lesson. Would you say Paradise Hills is more story driven or more character driven?

Waddington: I would say that, you know, there is something of me in every character in the story. So I’m really biased in that sense. Perhaps I could say that it’s more character driven just because it’s a young adult story and I feel like, if you will have seen the character files for this young, there is a lot of, and there’s a ton of target and the reason is that we went through represents and include different points of view, different stories, different races. And that was always important to me.

I wanted to tell different personal journeys and I wanted to talk about how our paths when we were teenagers essentially seem like very open, very undefined. Even more complex than what there really are lots of times. We wake up and then we know who we are and this is my way of telling teenagers that I’ve been one as well and that I know that these hard, difficult times.

I know that you guys have these windows in the palm of your hand. They are telling you that you’re, you know, never going to be beautiful enough, never popular enough, never perfect enough. It was my manner of telling them that they don’t need to change for other people or for the idea. What they need to do is to find the people, the friends, the lovers, whatever it is that will, you know, appreciate them for who they actually are. And that’s why it’s more of a character journey than anything else because it’s a path to self discovery really.

AIPT: The movie has a very impressive cast. How did you get everyone together for this?

Waddington: Yeah, they’re, they’re so amazing. I mean, and I’m, I’m so in love with them. Listen, it was a complex process because I’m a first time filmmaker. This is my first feature films. And it was a challenge really to have a film that has a ton of world building in it, that has a lots of references from a genre that seemingly doesn’t have a ton to do with the story and until you dive into it. So, you know, we made this presentation for them that contain concept art that I had drawn that contained references to other films. It was Get Out because it was 2015, for example. We also used Blue Velvet. I usually joke that this is like a teenage version of Blue Velvet by David Lynch. And, the thing is that they seemingly love this presentation that I made for them and they use it for a having a reference of who I was and where I wanted to make.

So I flew to Los Angeles and I slept for weeks on friends’ couches until I met Danielle Macdonald. Danielle was wonderful because she had and has a ton of hype, but she was fresh out of Sundance with Patti Cake$. Harris Chloe was a very important first piece of this puzzle. Then when Emma Roberts said yes, I was, you know, for real, I was so happy because we had our protagonists which is such a massive thing and also emotionally you now have these points of references for what’s the story going to be like. All of the other actresses in this case and some of the male actors that are in the feature knew what world the characters were going to be having. So from then on it was so much easier and I will forever be thankful to Emma.

AIPT: Why do you think fairy tales are still endearing today?

Waddington: Because, we think we know them. It’s easy to subvert something that has a classical structure, right? Because you know what the pieces are and you can sort of shift them around until the result is something that you haven’t seen before. And that was really our intention again, this is a film for kids. It’s a film for young girls and young boys who are, you know, teenagers and young teenagers. But it’s also, you know, a film for their parents oddly enough. Sometimes they come to me and they’re like “Okay, so this is a tale. The tale are usually use to sort of scold children. Right?”. Or like warn them not to go somewhere, not to do something dangerous”. Which is fair. But they tell me too, they, they, you know, they tell me that they now have these ways to talk to their kids.

Again, whether they’re male or female about what they really want to become. So maybe it turns out that their kids had a different idea of what they wanted to do in life than they did. And a lot of times, maybe they didn’t realize until they spoke to them or they see narratives like these ones that highlight that. So they’re, they’re thankful for that. And that’s really sweet to see because that’s kind of the intergenerational dialogue that I also was curious about starting and again, it’s just a love letter to freedom, this film.

It’s about personal freedom about, as I was saying earlier, becoming who you want to be. It’s a theme that gets repeated a few times throughout the film. A feeling that if you look for them, you will find it. There’s everything from class clashes with the Uppers and the Lowers fighting for survival essentially to the idea of repression of women and also other things such as for example, how ,where do we go from here? What is the role of male allies in feminism and how can we succeed side to side. Obviously the equality between men and women to me it was really important to, to make a feminist film for children.

AIPT: Are you working on any future projects?

Waddington: Of course. So I am working on two projects at the moment. One of them is called Scarlet produced by Roxie Rodriguez and by Michael Costigan. Michael has produced films from Brokeback Mountain to Stoker. So I’m really excited of the fact of working with them, thrilled. And also, I’m developing or rather we are developing a series, which is based on fantasy novels. I can’t really say what the fantasy novels are. It will be announced hopefully before the end of the year.

Paradise Hills will release in theaters October 25th. It will be available on digital and on demand November 1st.

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