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Olivia Colman & Micheal Ward Break Down 'Empire of Light' Scene with Director Sam Mendes

Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward and director Sam Mendes break down a scene from their new film 'Empire of Light.' Director: Jackie Phillips Director of Photography: Dave Sanders Editor: Daniel Poler Celebrity Talent: Sam Mendes, Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward Line Producer: Jen Santos Production Manager: Robert Cooper Production Coordinator: Mark Bond Talent Booker: Lauren Mendoza Gaffer: Dave Plank Camera Operator: Nigel Akam Grip: Alvin Sun Audio: Kevin Teixeira Production Assistant: Nicole Murphy Post Production Supervisor: Marco Glinbizzi Post Production Coordinator: Jovan James Supervising Editor: Kameron Key Assistant Editor: Andy Morell

Released on 12/07/2022


I missed all-- I didn't realize, pigeons,

did you know, pigeons give birth.

Well, no, they don't give birth.

They have eggs.

But there's always one male and one female.

No, I didn't know that. I didn't know that either.

Isn't that amazing?

Who knew that? I didn't.

So Coco was the girl.

Pops, her brother, was the one I fell in love with.


Hi. I'm Michael Ward. I'm Olivia Coleman.

And I'm Sam Mendes.

And this is Notes On A Scene for Empire of Light.

Just don't go in. Norman's very particular.

You stand at the bottom of these stairs.

Michael's character, Steven,

has just arrived on his first day at work

in an old cinema called the Empire Cinema.

Olivia's character, Hillary,

who's worked there for some years, is showing him round.

And it's the beginning of an odd

and unexpected friendship between the two people.

Make sure you keep hold of the ticket stubs,

then bring them back to me,

so I can check them against submissions.


So when do we, you know, open up?

Twenty minutes.

Well this, so where we're standing in here,

in the foyer, is not real. [gasping]

It was a huge hole in the ground three months

before we got there, and then--

It's probably a hole in the ground now.

Yeah. Oh, my God, they've knocked it down.

Yeah, it's all gone now. It's all gone.

But it's just incredible.

So, around little sort of corners of steps,

it looks like there's been decades of shoe scuffs,

but it's only three months old.

If you leant on this, it did fall off.


It was just incredible.

And when you're inside,

so it's just underneath a tent,

but, Roger Deakins' genius lighting,

it feels like you're-- It was grand.

You can feel, you know,

if it's a stormy day outside, he's made it,

you know, it's, I was,

we were all in all of it the whole time.

What was interesting is

that the real cinema is three lots down.

So the exterior was real.

And it was a place called Dreamland,

an old art deco palace built in the early 20th century,

staring out to sea.

But the lobby of Dreamland we didn't really love,

so we constructed,

on an empty lot three buildings down from there,

we constructed our own version of the lobby,

so we could look out at the same view,

the same seaside, and the same road, and all the rest.

What Mark Tildesley, the brilliant production designer,

had to do is to take a building that was derelict,

a real building that was derelict,

and build it up so it was a working cinema again,

but age it,

and then build something that matched

the aging of that original cinema.

So here you see the transition

between the set and the real location.

So we now step through the door.

[Olivia] But it's three buildings down the road.

[Sam] But it's three buildings down the road, effectively.

And a lot of this stuff that we see here was already there,

the rubble on the floor, some of the old light fittings.

But Mark very artfully changed the color scheme

of the whole place,

so it had a feeling of water about it,

almost as if, when they step through this door,

they go into a slightly different world.

And it's a world that only they occupy together.

You never really get to see anyone else in there.

You don't-- You don't.

You don't. That's deliberate there.


Oh, clever. Clever man.

[gentle piano music] [footsteps on concrete floor]

[Sam] Something else happens here is that the music,

which is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross,

changes, and there's something much dreamier

and stranger about the score here than we've heard before.

I didn't know the whole time

that there wasn't actually a door here.


Right here where Hillary's opening the door,

there's nothing there.

It's a wall.

Like this is, is carries on.

This wall here is carried on there.

And I didn't know until we went back in there

to do a photo shoot after we'd wrapped in that location.

I was like, Why did no one tell me this?

It's actually insane.

Trust me. It was that mad.

I couldn't believe it.

I remember when we was filming as well,

I'm trying to look for everything.

'Cause obviously, [chuckling] Steven's,

you know, he's intrigued

by everything that's going on around him.

But there's so much to look at,

because it is such a complex place.

And then Same just like,

Just focus on two places, and just walk, [laughing]

'cause I could just look everywhere.

That's how grand this place is.

[gentle piano music]

[Hillary] Best for last.

[birds' wings flapping]


Can I talk about the pigeons?

Slight fear in Michael's eyes.

[Michael and Olivia laughing]

So, Michael, we didn't realize,

says an awful lot about him,

looking after this pigeon,

but had a deep seated fear of,

just pigeons, or all animals?

I just think all animals,

really. All animals.

And I waited till I signed my contract before I told Sam,

'cause I didn't wanna tell him and he goes,

Let's find someone else

that's actually confident with pigeons.

So I waited and I told my agent.

I was like, Yo, I don't if I'm gonna be able to do this.

And then we was coming up with loads of ideas

that, you know, an animatronic pigeon,

and hypnotizing my soul so I could get over the fear.

But one of my first rehearsal days with Michael,

they said, Oh, Michael's already working with the pigeon.

I went, What?

And just went down a corridor, and he went, Hi!

And he had a pigeon on his head.

[Michael laughing]

Her name was Coco. Coco.

Yeah. Fell in love with Coco.

I do.


[gentle piano music] [birds' wings flapping]

[gentle piano music continuing]

[birds' wings continue flapping]

One of the things that Roger Deakins did to this room,

and also Mark, was to subtly change the color of it,

color of the windows.

If you see, the windows are slightly blue and yellow.

[Olivia] There, there and there.

And it had a feeling when you're in there

of being underwater.

And when you look out from these windows,

you'll see in a minute

you can see straight out to sea.

It's just the horizon line.

And Margate is actually not as I originally conceived

with the movie on the south coast of England.

It's actually on the north coast of Kent.

So it looks at the North Sea,

and the skies are quite different,

and the light is quite different to the more,

the quainter and the calmer south coast of England.

It's where JMW Turner painted all his famous landscapes.

He said they were the most beautiful skies in Europe.

And one of the things I love when you walk into this room

is you look out onto this vast expanse

of just gray sea and endless space.

And it is a remarkable building.

It's just a-- This always made me feel

like we were walking into the Titanic.

It was like a ship, and you could see the sea,

and it was rotting away.

And Mark added all these odd bits of panels of mirror,

which bounced the light around,

and this old dance floor, to give it a sense of history.

But it really, when we walked in,

was completely stripped out and totally empty.

This is a scene in which Michael's character, Steven,

finds a wounded pigeon.

And if you look here, you will see him waiting for it.

And you will ask yourself, Is that a real pigeon?

And the answer is no.

That's a CG pigeon, Oh!

waiting for this very moment

to be seen for the first time. What happened to Pops?

Well, he wasn't in this shot,

because he'd flown away, temporarily.

Obviously, when his moment comes, he's very much there.

Also, the...

Sorry, I'm obsessed with the pigeons.

But Pops was the one on the shelf, not that one there.

But when you go to get him,

Pops was the brother of Coco.

Coco was the one that Michael fell in love with.

She was quite feisty, and Pops was the dopiest,

oh, so sweet,

and he sat on the shelf like that.

Just waiting. And Sam said,

Can he face the other way?

And they went, Yup, and they just moved.

He just went, Oh.

Just moved sideways, this pigeon.

I loved him.

[Steven] [gentle piano music] What a place.

[Hillary] It really was beautiful.

It still is.

[gentle piano music continuing]

The story was mostly conceived in lockdown,

when we were all, I suppose, worried about the fact

that we weren't gonna be sitting in cinemas anymore, ever,

and we were never going to have that experience

of sitting in the dark with strangers and being transported.

But it also, during lockdown, we were all left alone,

a period of self examination with our thoughts.

And the memories that bubbled up

were memories from my childhood and my teenage years,

about living with someone with mental illness,

and also with the way in which my own racial opinions

were formed during the early eighties,

a period of real racial strife and difficulty,

and how much we had, or perhaps hadn't, moved on since then.

So all of those things went into the picture,

which is my first original screenplay.

And I wrote the part of Hillary

for Olivia, standing next to me,

and I was very lucky in finding the, you know,

I'd have to cover his ears,

but the beautiful and soulful presence

of Michael Ward alongside her.

So here they both are.

Thank you.

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