The Road Less Traveled Practice by Laurens PEROL
2024-05-05 12:05:00

The young protagonist of Practice receives a notice that she could change her life: an invitation to a trumpet audition from the famous Opera House in Oslo. A trip that should be simple turns into a true odyssey because of the young woman’s points of view and her need to stay true to herself.

I suppose it must be difficult to find the protagonist of a film, but even more so if the character has also had to know how to play a musical instrument. How did you find the protagonist of Practice?

Having authenticity as one of the most important goals of the film, it was essential for me to find a protagonist with real musical experience. For that, I teamed up with amazing casting director Katrin Vorderwülbecke, famous for her street castings such as in Western (2017) by Valeska Grisebach. With Katrin, we sent out casting calls both for actors with musical experience, and musicians with interest in acting, asking for a casting tape and musical tape with them playing their instruments. This strategy, solely done through social media, brought us amazing candidates both from the acting and musical fields, at this point still with a wide diversity of instruments. Of 35 candidates, we finally chose Kornelia Melsæter, finding an amazing and charismatic actress who had played the trumpet very ambitiously for a long time, before choosing acting as a profession.

Did the script change once you find the actress who plays the protagonist?

We did the casting pretty early in the writing process since I’m a fan of developing characters together with actors, and including their abilities, intuition, and characteristics in order to build up the universe of the film. Together with Kornelia, we started a kind of writing dialogue, where I would write a scene, send the outlines to Kornelia, and set up improvisation sessions around the scenes. In fact, we did all of those sessions through Zoom-call as we avoided flying during production, which turned out to work incredibly well. Those sessions brought great insights and new ideas that I later included in the script. In this way, Kornelia had also a big impact on the story.

Do you have some relationship with music or was it simply an element that occurred to you to use for this story?

Having a background as a trumpet player myself, I grew up with practicing and music as a big part of my everyday life. Doing it partly for the sake of my parents at this time (and not always with the greatest enthusiasm…), I later started to like it more and more, also getting aware of the benefits of “practice” when seeing it more as a universal tool. Since then, I have been very keen to explore the mechanisms of practicing that are also applicable to other parts of life. I’m asking myself how they impact and help us, especially in times when we are confronted with big dilemmas.

There are many examples of films about musicians, but in your case, the film chooses other paths. It does not highlight the great moments, on the contrary, it seems to avoid them. We could even say that it is the anti–Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014). Was it an idea that appeared quickly or did you have different stages of writing?

This is a lovely and precise observation. In fact, I thought a lot about Whiplash during the writing and a lot about the “anti-moments.” Those moments are always hidden from the audience. Like Whiplash, we often highlight the great and spectacular moments, incredible stage performances, and so on. And we might get the impression that those are the moments that count the most. In my opinion and with my own experience from practice, it’s the contrary—the moments that we most often don’t see on stage are the important ones that really make us grow. The hundreds of hours of practice are hidden behind the curtain, not in the spotlight. I was highly inspired by Whiplash and admired the film for many of its qualities, especially the rhythmic ones, the sound, and the editing. But I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do the contrary of what Whiplash does in my eyes: not using music as a tool of almost sports-like competition, but to show the deeply soul-full side of what it can mean to make and practice music.

Among other things, the film is a road movie where we accompany the protagonist on a long trip along the road. What were the difficulties during the shooting? Did some situations of the screenplay change or were added?

We shot the whole film in 12 days in total—that was already the biggest challenge to begin with. Also having a micro-budget, we had a very tight framework to work within. We wanted to incorporate those conditions in the style of the film, thinking the shooting was like a documentary although it was all written. We filmed six days in Lofoten on location, before driving the actual 1,500 km alongside the main character, Trine’s path, with only a very small crew of five people and the main actress Kornelia Melsæter. In the script, I had prepared several placeholder scenes, mostly about Trine somehow trying to practice the trumpet alongside the road with varying success, but not exactly defined where it should be. This made it possible for us to do a kind of “live location scouting” while driving, stopping our cars spontaneously and incorporating new elements that reality offered us during the shooting. In addition, I myself had hitchhiked the same road and distance during the scriptwriting process as research, and some of the acquaintances I made on this journey ended up as inspiration for scenes, and even one of the drivers played as an actor in the final film.

The film has a very particular use of music and sound. Not only through the practices of the protagonists but also with the soundtrack and the music heard on the radio. How was your work on the sound aspect of the film?

Coming from music myself, my approach to film has always been an acoustic one. When I write, it’s often the sound that starts a scene, defines a location, changes the narrative, and so on. If I can, I mostly try to rather tell the story through the (treatment of) sound than through words. In case of Practice, I see Trine as a character perceiving the world primarily through her ears, being a musician. In that way, I wanted to spotlight also how heavily we are influenced by the acoustic world around us in general; might it be the soundscape around us or the external voices that influence us, and that might become our internal voices at the end of the day? I wanted Trine's journey to be also an acoustic one, accumulating all experiences on her way until arriving at her final destination.

The story is triggered by the strong convictions of its protagonist. Convictions that complicate her and that are questioned by characters she meets on her journey. What is your position regarding your protagonist’s ideas and convictions?

Trine might be disputable, but she represents in my eyes a deeply essential and needed voice in our society. Who is it that ever defined what the standards and habits of our society are? Who is it that defines what is normal and what is reasonable, if the system fails? Trine tries to raise those questions uncompromisingly, an almost impossible task and mission, doomed to fail and maybe the hardest possible path of all, paved with conflict. I perceive humans, including myself, as highly drawn toward comfort and convenience. But what if at the end of convenience lies disaster for humankind? Accepting the pain of conflict might be worth it for starting the journey of finding out.

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