Behind the scenes of Essex-based movie Whisper, starring Linda Louise Duan
- Credit: Archant
It’s a bright, sunny April day in Essex but at one family home in Clacton, the windows have been blacked out and smoke rises from the floor as a frightened young woman climbs the stairs…
It’s early on a Sunday morning – because there is no respect for lie-ins on a movie set – and local film director Chris Jolley has just started shooting his latest project, Whisper.
The dark, supernatural thriller features young nurse who is assigned to look after a coma patient in a remote location in the English countryside. Left on her own, she experiences a series of frightening incidents and starts to question the history of the house and the identity of the patient. One night she finds herself terrorized by an unseen force and her patient is nowhere to be found.
The new movie uses Essex locations throughout and both the cast and crew are also local, sourced via social media. Jolley says he was passionate about keeping the venture close to home not only to stay within the small budget but also because “locally, people are more excited and it’s a more enjoyable experience”.
That said, it was apparently harder than expected to get permission to shoot in certain locations and there has been a certain amount of ‘guerrilla filming’ in public places.
Today, the scenes are taking place in a house in Clacton and Linda Louise Duan (Dr Strange), who plays nurse Sam, is having to fall down the stairs in slow motion – again and again. Black bin liners cover the windows to keep out the sun and the blue plastic filters over the studio lights lend an eerie glow. Throw in a well placed smoke machine and a rather scary looking knife and you have all the ingredients for a chilling scene.
While it was intriguing to see the process from behind the camera - the clapper board and shout of ‘Action!’ inevitably sending a tingle up the spine - it also became abundantly clear that the process is not as glamorous as you may think.
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Scenes are shot multiple times, from different angles, and there are wires to disguise and shadows to hide. The smoke has to be delicately balanced to provide mystery and mood rather than a 60s horror vibe and shooting in a home meant allowing for children and washing machines.
There is also a new respect for actors and their ability to switch on and off. One minute Linda is terrified and clutching a large knife, prowling the house in fear for her life, the next she is running around the garden with a small plastic duck chasing a giggling child.
But when the camera is rolling, everyone is focussed on the job and the creative vision. The budget may be small but these are passionate, professional people, determined to make something great regardless of money or ego.
Whisper is the first feature film for self-taught Chris Jolley - who also co-wrote the script with his friend Robert Dunn - though he has made several short films and regularly works as a script doctor on other projects.
He says he always wanted to work in the industry though directing was never the plan – he wanted to be James Bond: “Originally I wanted to be an actor but frankly I’m not very good! So I started writing and getting interested in behind the scenes and my career grew from that. Watching Bond films from a young age I knew I wanted to do something like this.
“So I did a bit of extras work, picking up bits on the way, and the rest you learn as you go. I might not know the specific terminology but I know what I want to see and can communicate that quite well.”
His latest project will go through post-production in London and should be finished by the end of July but there is no date yet for release.
Jolley says: “It’s easy to get distribution but it’s so important to get the distribution you want. You want a distributor that is prepared to put it out properly and do the marketing – that can take two years. I’m happy to wait for the right time. We are at the point in our careers where we are just trying to make something we are proud of. That’s the key.”
Quick questions: Linda Louise Duan, star of Whisper
Where are you from?
I am Chinese, but was born in Chester and moved to Colchester when I was 11. My dad came [to England] to study at Cambridge and he did his PHD there. Right now he is a consultant, trying to improve trade between England and China.
Did you go to drama school?
Yes. After A levels I actually moved to London to study mime. I was about to do architecture at university then I did work experience and didn’t like the fact it meant sitting in front of a computer in an office. It’s seven years training so I was like: I need to think about this! Then I tried a physical theatre mime course and enjoyed it so decided to study it.
I was really influenced by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and I like that mime is universal. There is no language barrier. Then I went to study at the Ecole Philippe Gaulier in France for a year and that was more general theatre...but the guy is a clown guru. He told me I’m a serious actor [laughs]. Then when I graduated in the summer I got cast in Doctor Strange (Marvel, 2016) so it’s been film since then.
Doctor Strange was your first film - how did you get the part?
I was working in Israel at the time doing a physical, multi media piece - it wasn’t going very well! Then I got the call from my agent saying there was an audition. She didn’t say it was Marvel or Doctor Strange at the time but she said she thought I should come back for it and I was like, OK, and I booked a flight. I was cast as Tina Minoru, master of the Hong Kong sanctum.
What was it like working on a big Hollywood film?
It’s crazy. With this film (Whisper) you feel part of the family but on a film like that, you don’t get to talk to all the crew and you’re just a piece in the puzzle. It’s like these cogs are turning and so much is out of your control. It’s very secretive. I wasn’t allowed to talk about it while I was filming and you’re not really meant to look at scripts until the day. Changes were made all the time - I think because that film had to fit into what they had planned for the rest of the Marvel universe. You definitely feel like a little fish in a big pond.
How were the rest of the cast?
I worked with Tilda Swinton and she’s so lovely. She would come on set and introduce herself to everyone and shake hands. She really had fun with her role.
How did you get involved with Whisper?
I saw a social media call out and was enquiring but Chris said he was going to ask me anyway so it all came together.
Tell us about your character
My character is the nurse Sam. What I like about the script is she isn’t a damsel in distress, she isn’t playing a victim. She’s a strong character but a troubled soul. She had some difficulties with her boyfriend and financial difficulties, she’s hungover and tired. She’s not perfect and that’s what I like. She’s everyone at their worst and their best. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about my hair being in place all the time. For me, as an Asian woman, most of the characters I get are either martial artists or delicate flowers. So it’s good for me to step out of that. Also the script wasn’t written for an Asian and a lot of the roles I get put forward for are specifically looking for an Asian. This was just a character with no race or anything attached.
Do you have another project lined up after Whisper finishes filming?
Yes, I have a martial arts short film and, after that, I’m in talks about a Chinese movie and a romantic drama short but nothing confirmed as yet.
Do you have any advice for other young actors?
Hone your craft. Know yourself and what characters you can play. What is your niche and what part of the market can you tap in to? You play to your strengths so you can progress. Keep doing projects because you learn so much on set and watch yourself back so you can see things to improve.
Director: Chris Jolley
Cinematographer: Jamie Weston
Assistant Director: Tyrone Samuels
Sound: Lawrence Axe
Make Up: Dave Darko
Sam: Linda Louise Duan
Joe: Arron Blake
Dr. Wright: Roman Grey
Dr. Carpenter: Penelope Read
Jonathan: Christopher Jolley
The Old Hag: Nadia Nadif
Gwen: Amy Secker
Peter: Ben Maytham
The Patient: Richard Conrad