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Creating a Feeling and Time with 'The Souvenir Part II' Writer-Director Joanna Hogg

Script's Editor Sadie Dean speaks with 'The Souvenir Part II' writer-director Joanna about tapping into her younger self and voice from a life lived in the 80s, casting the Swinton's, and why she became a filmmaker.

In the aftermath of her tumultuous relationship with a charismatic and manipulative older man, Julie begins to untangle her fraught love for him in making her graduation film, sorting fact from his elaborately constructed fiction. Joanna Hogg’s shimmering story of first love and a young woman’s formative years, The Souvenir Part II is a portrait of the artist that transcends the halting particulars of everyday life — a singular, alchemic mix of memoir and fantasy. 

A masterful piece of art, only that a seasoned storyteller could deftly present. And this storyteller is Joanna Hogg, the writer-director behind The Souvenir Part II. I had the great honor of speaking with Joanna about tapping into her younger self and voice from a life lived in the 80s, casting the Swinton's, and why she became a filmmaker. 

It is highly recommended one watches the first iteration, The Souvenir, to fully immerse yourself in the world Joanna has expertly crafted, before viewing Part II. And on a personal note, I wish that I had these two movies as required viewing during my years in film school - be prepared to take a bounty of notes. 

Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie in The Souvenir Part II. Photo courtesy A24.

Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie in The Souvenir Part II. Photo courtesy A24.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: You have these incredible emotional layers set up for Julie in part two and most notably, it's about her finding her voice, both as an artist and as a young adult. What were you tapping into emotionally to put into this piece specifically?

Joanna Hogg: Yeah, definitely tapping into my younger self in the early 1980s and I found that really interesting. I was going to say sad process as well because I realized although I had so many challenges back then and I was very unsure of myself in the way that a lot of 20-year old’s are, there was a lot of painful times then. I experienced a huge nostalgia for that time partly for the sort of creativity of that time in the 1980s because if you were an artist, it was a very inventive time, a very rich time. Also, the sort of politics there was so much going on that wasn't great and, in the UK, we had a lot of problems there politically but at the same time it was a very creative moment. I miss that. I can still feel it and that's what I was trying to create by osmosis, that excitement that I felt as a young woman back then.

Sadie: As a filmmaker, a female, and finding your voice in that world as a creative, it's definitely a struggle, especially tapping into that vulnerable part of yourself – it’s tough. There's a really great line in the film in which a character says, “What does it make you feel?” and I feel like that just perfectly encapsulates Julie's emotional journey from start to finish in this movie. And then she has that catharsis in the third act. I wasn't fully aware of the first part of this movie, was the second part always in motion when making the first part?

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Joanna: Yes, they were written together, with the intention of shooting them together, and then I wanted them to come out at the same time. I didn't want to have this sort of hiatus in between but it didn't work out that way. When you make two films you need a lot of money, and I didn't have much money but I'm glad in the end that they were two separate experiences even if I see them as one piece of work now. So, it was never an afterthought. You know, sequences normally come out of the first part of something doing well or there's potential for more parts, so it was never in that way. But I'm so happy that I got the chance to make both parts because for me the yeah Part one is not complete without the other part. I think I was worried that was partly why I wanted to shoot them together, I just thought, well, then there's no danger. No one can take the second part away from me.

Joanna Hogg. Photo from Time Out 2014.

Joanna Hogg. Photo from Time Out 2014.

Sadie: How many shoot days did you have for both of those films?

Joanna: I think for part one, off the top of my head, maybe 35 shoot days. And then, similar for the second. The second one was a lot more complicated because that was set to so many films within films. Every day, it was an incredible challenge, you know, what film are we on? Are we on Patrick's film shoot or Garance's film shoot, or Julie's home? It was challenging.

Sadie: Working with your production designer and your cinematographer, how much prep time did you give yourselves to fully immerse yourselves into that world and create those different film sets?

Joanna: Not enough time. [laughs] Never enough time.

Sadie: In terms of casting, how did you manage to get the Swinton's, both mother and daughter, onboard for these roles? They were, in my humble opinion, perfectly cast.

Joanna: Well, funny, if I'd thought of both of them together at the beginning, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and searching for the right person. [laughs] Because I thought of Tilda as the mother before. Honor, I think she was 19, she hadn't yet gone to university, but you know, wasn't looking at being an actor. So, I searched and searched for the right person. And then met Honor by chance, although I already knew her, we encountered each other on a trip to Scotland when I was talking to Tilda about playing the role of the mother - the penny suddenly dropped.

Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie and Tilda Swinton as Rosalind in The Souvenir Part II. Photo courtesy A24.

Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie and Tilda Swinton as Rosalind in The Souvenir Part II. Photo courtesy A24.

Sadie: It worked out and I would have never known that Honor had never acted before. I guess it's just kind of in her blood to be great on screen. It definitely worked out in your favor.

Joanna: Yeah, she's just got a natural ability to be very present.

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Sadie: I really appreciated your use of the camera, and that it wasn't over-stylized, and that you gave these moments to breathe. It kind of felt like a documentary, where we're kind of like seeing into this world that you've created with Julie. When writing both of the movies, back to back, did you know how you were going to visually interpret this world?

Joanna: Ah, I had ideas of how I was going to but not to the extent of how it ends up because it's such a journey of discovery, making a film particularly the way that I make films. But I suppose aesthetically, it was very much informed by my photographs from that time. I was a photographer before I was a filmmaker. So, we used the photographs as reference points a lot of the time and even to the extent that the views outside the flat, which was constructed inside an aircraft hangar were projected slides from that time of the actual view I had outside my flat. I think the aesthetic is very much the aesthetic of my world back then. And that's what I wanted to recreate in a way. I initially thought, ‘how am I going to get a feeling of that early 1980s time?’ and so that was one way of doing it anyway.


Sadie: Speaking of your background, I'm just curious about your filmmaking journey. What initially inspired you to want to become a filmmaker?

Joanna: Ah, probably you just need to look at The Souvenir for that. [laughs] Well, actually, I was a photographer. This we don't see Julie as a photographer, but I was a photographer and I didn't go to university, I went straight into a job working as an assistant to a professional photographer initially and then started doing photography myself. And then while I was doing that, again, it was this amazing sort of early 1980s time where anything seemed possible. I encountered a number of young filmmakers. I've always been interested in people and observing interactions, and it just suddenly my photographs didn't feel like it was enough to convey what I was trying to convey.

Sadie: Is there going to be a part three? Because I want to know what Julie has to say in her 30s.


Joanna: Yeah, I know, I'd be interested in that. I'm not sure if I'm going to do that. I might do something about another 30-year-old artist. Who knows I haven't got any plans for that. But yeah, I always remain interested in my stories, even after they've essentially ended. There'll be some character from The Souvenirs that carries forward.

The Souvenir Part II will be available in Theaters on October 29th. 

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