Updated: May 9, 2019
Our community is constantly growing, which is why we make an effort to keep in touch with our graduates and celebrate their continued journeys. This week we caught up with Lauren Cooney. Lauren is a writer, director, and actor, born and bred in London. She studied English Literature at Cambridge, then went to Clown School in Paris. Lauren recently released her short film Pendulum online with Gunpowder and Sky's Dust Platform, and it picked up 200k views in the first fortnight. Pendulum had its UK premiere at the Oscar qualifying Encounters film festival, and it was nominated and won awards at festivals worldwide. Pendulum is a proof-of-concept for Retrieval. We spoke to Lauren about motivation, inspiration and what's next!
How did you get into Acting/Producing?
I was the classic outsider kid who found solace in theatre when I was six. There was a nativity play going on at Junior school, and a boy and girl from each class were selected to audition for speaking parts. To this day it remains one of my proudest memories that they literally re-wrote the nativity story so that I could play the lead as the Innkeeper’s Wife rather than the traditional male Innkeeper. I started directing plays and devising in secondary school, and then I went to Cambridge Uni where I continued to create across the board as an actor, writer, and director. I only really got into film during my Actors Temple training, which I went to after Uni, and after going to clown school in Paris (Ecole Philippe Gaulier). Clown school was massively wonderful, but I wanted to explore something more psychological, and I kept meeting all these authentic beings who had trained at the Actors Temple. At the Temple I met Scott Michael Wagstaff, who I originally teamed up with to make Pendulum. We got the guts to make our own film partly due to the amazing storytelling freedom we found in the improvisational aspects of the Meisner technique. I’ve since attended many short course at London Film School, Raindance, The Screen Arts Institute, and The BFI. It’s been a combination of learning and doing. You definitely only become a producer by doing. So Pendulum was the first film I produced, alongside Scott and Lisa.
What has been the most challenging part of your career so far?
Making Pendulum. Its been a saga! Pendulum was originally, beautifully, naively, intended as a feature. After nearly a three year process we made the extremely painful decision to cut it into a short. We didn’t have quite the material to make the feature length hit we felt our debut feature deserved to be, and we wanted to do justice to the film itself; to make the best film we possibly could. I joke now that I recommend to people that they do some screenwriting training before they try and make their first feature. Story is King/Queen. There’s no substitute for really understanding screenwriting and storytelling craft. Cutting Pendulum into a short was truly an agonising decision at the time. And... it’s a decision that has yielded some amazing results. It certainly played a crucial role in strengthening our tenacity and integrity as filmmakers, and we ended up with a film that we’re delighted with. Pendulum has had a wonderful run on the festival circuit and an incredible online release. The whole experience from first meeting to release took 6 years. It’s been a love affair, an adventure, a nightmare, and a film school. Releasing Pendulum however has turned out to be a totally joyous event. We released it via Gunpowder and Sky’s awesome online sci-fi platform Dust, and their wonderful fan base meant that we were viewed over 200k times in the first fortnight. It’s been wonderful connecting with Sci Fi fans and soul travellers from around the world.
What was the most memorable moment during Pendulum?
So many to choose. Calling "That’s a wrap” on the beach in Kerala after re-shooting our final scene; Creating a massive Steadicam shot (which included a bunch of Actors Temple actors) in a church in Lewisham, which sadly didn’t make the final cut, but was such a thrilling shoot - everyone worked tirelessly to a human choreography that felt (and looked!) like a cinematic dance; Similarly shooting a VFX shot on a roof in India, having revved into shot on a motorbike, with 60 Indian extras all looking up at our imagined apocalyptic sky. The less divine memories include the moment our air conditioning fan caught on fire when we were asleep the first night in India, and burning leeches off our ankles after recce-ing a river location. My proudest moment of the whole experience was watching Pendulum at our friends, family, and industry screening at Bafta last year. Scott, Lisa, Tom Sawyer (Actors Temple teacher and the third main actor in our triad) and I were all stood by the door, because the cinema was totally packed out. It was wonderful to be supported by such a loving crowd, and I was so proud of the epic journey that all four of us had taken.
What led you to train at The Actors Temple?
Meeting so many incredible authentic actors who kept on telling me they trained at The Actors Temple. I wanted to develop a style of acting (if you can call it that!) that was nuanced and psychologically rich. After doing a taster session with now ex-teacher Gary Condes, I was totally hooked.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt during your training?
Oh my goddess. I’m not sure I know how to answer that simply. This training was so transformative to my life. Yes, there’s a bunch of amazing acting principles like listening and having a point of view, which I feel are really embodied within the Meisner technique. And I learnt so many things personally, which the training revealed, like my blocks around sadness or around trigger words like “nice” and “sorry”. And I learnt basic tools for creating story, which has blossomed into a full-blown career as a writer and director. But really the Actors Temple training was the beginning of me becoming a much more authentic and fearless person. The adage in rep that how you behave in the rep is how you behave in the great outdoors changed my life. Really. That dramatic. This acting training is human being training. If you weren’t in the creative industry what alternate career would you have?
The "creative industry" is a a very broad array of jobs! I think intrinsically I am driven towards creativity and adventure, so my life would always be about creating moving human experiences and connections in a variety of locations. I am interested in the concept of storytelling, and a huge part of that is currently focused on fictional storytelling, which I gratefully get to explore in my work as a writer, director, and actor. But I am also interested in social and personal storytelling. What are the stories we tell ourselves? How has society been formed by various belief systems, embedded as fact? And are those stories useful to us now? I’ve been exploring this second aspect of storytelling by undergoing various trainings in the spiritual shamanic and sexual therapeutic fields. If I wasn’t working as a fiction creative in TV and Film, then I would be working as a practitioner in these fields. These areas are where I feel our society is particularly bereft, and where a lot of our distortions, perversions, and collective pain is stored.
What motivates you, when things get tough?
I am moving into a space where I am relishing the challenges and understanding what gifts and lessons can be gained from them. Previously I struggled when I felt I should be “further along” than I was. Or after the umpteenth rejection, from an audition or pitching for a tv project or for funding. There are constantly fears about not being good enough. But I’ve been learning how to shift all that, and to really feel the present moment and enjoy that moment, where I am at right now. I’m not trying to get anywhere particular, I am just looking to have a powerful and expressive time on this planet. So when things feel tough, I remember that it’s just a feeling, one that will pass. And I either feel it fully, or have a bath, or dance wildly in my room to some music, and essentially allow myself to shift or move the feeling. After that, I drop back into what I care about in life, what fills me with excitement and curiosity. And I endeavour to follow that mystery and sense of well being. I’m not sure if that’s motivation. But it’s my version of motivation. Being in the moment.
If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?
Dear Younger Lauren. You’re a total badass. Thanks so much for being such a fierce loving weirdo. Thanks for your bravery, and your insecurities. I see you, I feel you, I love you. I am me, because of you, and you’re you because of me. We’re in a timeless spaceless vortex where I am continually learning from you and re-meeting you again. Love from Older Lauren. x
I am currently doing a lot of writing for my TV and film projects, which include: The Big O, a comedy-drama about the quest for better orgasms via spiritual epiphany; Banging Down Under, a bisexual Jewish romp set at a wedding; and Retrieval, a psycho-spiritual sci-fi about two estranged sisters facing an ego-apocalypse. I am interested in stories that look at sexuality, spirituality, and versions of anarchy. I’m also totally fired up because I’m busy making plans to lead my first Screenwriting Retreat, which will take place around late summer/early autumn. It’s called “Screenwriting for the Soul”. Costs have been kept humble to ensure that actors wishing to step up and create their own material are able to join us. We’re going to spend a week diving into the tools and techniques of storytelling for the screen, as well as really looking at how our soul’s purpose can be harnessed in this work. It’s going to be totally epic and divine. If you’re feeling called to upgrade your purpose and express yourself fully, then come join us. You can find out more about me and my courses at www.laurencooney.com, and via my insta Lauren_Cooney_
You can check out Pendulum here...