We love Ben and Chris Blaine’s horror romance Nina Forever. It’s a brilliant combination of body horror, romance, tragedy, comedy…everything, really, and it’s finally coming out.
It’s the story of Holly (Abigail Hardingham), a paramedic student with an interest in the morbid, which leads her to the grieving Rob (Cian Barry), who recently tried to kill himself after the death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). They connect, but when they get physical, Nina rises as a bloodied, broken and very real presence in the bed with them. She’s sarcastic, she’s bitter, and she sees right through both of them. But why won’t she go away?
We got the chance to speak with the Blaine brothers about how the film came about, why people get manic pixie dream girls wrong, why people want the weird thing, and why putting fake blood on fake blood is a recipe for disaster.
There’s a lot going on in Nina Forever just in terms of emotions. Did it start with grief?
Chris Blaine: It started as a straight study of grief and was much more about Rob and Nina’s parents. That was an idea that Ben had, and we talked about that but it never really went anywhere.
Ben: One of the key differences is that the first version was based around someone else’s grief that I’d witnessed second-hand. In the intervening time various people that we loved, and hadn’t quite realised would one day not be there, weren’t there anymore. One day I was walking up this hill and Nina just started talking to me.
I’d been asked to write a short play by this theatre company and her voice just came to me, and a lot of that dialogue from the first time she appears just came out there and then, and I had to do a little sit by the side of the road and just scribble it down in my notebook. So I wrote that as my next play and people were utterly horrified by what I’d written! And I never spoke to them again! So that then went in the drawer for a bit longer, and then we were looking around for ideas that we could make very cheaply, and Chris saw it in terms of not being a one act play but being a feature film.
Holly’s such a fascinating character, how did she come about?
Chris: Yeah, the most interesting character is Holly. She’s the one making an active choice, she’s choosing to come back and have this relationship where Rob and Nina don’t have a choice, it’s just happening. So what would make someone want to keep doing that? It really resonated to us in terms of relationships we’d had in the past where either we’ve been helped or we’ve helped people and how that changes you. You can never compete with a dead girl, as Nina says in the film.
That whole idea of, if you’re going to have a relationship with someone, then they’re going to have a past and they’re going to have past relationships and you are going to have to take those things on. That’s just a fact and so it’s not just even about having to cope with death and having lost someone, it’s having lost someone who could still be alive as well. It’s as broad as that but in quite a horrific, monstrous way.
It was so refreshing to see a “dead ex-girlfriend movie” where the new girlfriend isn’t just the escape route!
Chris: That was really important to us. When you come to the crux of our film, in a way it is the manic pixie dream girl film. But that whole idea of the manic pixie dream girl; so you’ve chosen the boring guy who gets over a thing to be your lead character, when the girl over there seems really interesting. The only reason why she seems totally false is because you’ve not given her anything to do! She seems like the interesting person in this relationship!
It was interesting to us to write something where we are going after the interesting one, who’s actually got some active choices to make, because they are the ones going “I am choosing to be with this person” rather than “Oh, I don’t know, I felt bad about a thing and eventually I felt OK about a thing.”
Was it difficult to get that mix of tones right? It’s very, very funny but really sad…
Chris: In a way no. It was that weird thing of instead of trying to hone things down all the time and be about this one thing, you’re going “No, it’s a tumult of everything, everything is happening at the same time, that is what this film’s about.” You are going to be feeling everything and it was actually just trying to get the guys to play it as honestly as they could and not trying to hit a joke.
Ben: Yeah, particularly with the jokes it seemed like the way to do that was not to hit the jokes but let the jokes hit you. Which feels very true of grieving, you develop this incredibly black sense of humour. It’s not that you’re making a joke, it’s that the awfulness of what’s happening to you becomes awfully funny. Like when he’s introducing Nina and Holly, he’s not doing that to be funny, you feel each of those jokes slapping him in the face as it goes past.
Was it difficult to find the right actors for these parts?
Chris: It took a long while to cast it. We started out by sharing the script with anyone that was going to come in and read for us so that they saw the entire thing and knew what they’d be getting into. So that did mean that a lot of people weren’t necessarily sure about it, including Fiona, who turned us down to start off with. When Fiona turned us down we weren’t quite sure if we were going to be able to make it because we weren’t certain that we’d found our Nina, and either we were going to get the perfect Nina and it was going to work because of that or we weren’t, so the film wouldn’t be able to happen.
Ben: Fi read the whole script and turned it down, and then about a week or two later she was having dinner with a friend of hers and she was talking about it again and again, and her friend was like “For Christ’s sakes Fiona, you’ve turned it down so either stop talking about it or ring them up and see if the part’s still available because you’ve not stopped talking about it.” And thankfully she took the second option, I don’t think there is anyone else who could play this part to be honest.
Chris: Our casting director named Cian first as a really good Rob, and for a while he wasn’t available because he was in a play but then he became available and we snapped him up when we saw him in the audition. And Abigail was somebody who Emily had a feeling about but never auditioned before, hadn’t met before, and she came into the room and just blew us away with what she did. She’s just got a real different, natural thing going on and she really surprised us. And the character of Holly as we’d written her wasn’t necessarily like Abi or the way that Abi was portraying it, but the way that Abi was portraying it was more interesting so we went with that.
Could you talk about the practicality of shooting the scenes with the three of them? There’s a lot of blood, and some difficult choreography…
Chris: Abi had the really lovely idea of trying to unconsciously mirror Fiona. You know how, whenever you’re having a conversation with a group of people, whoever is the strongest person in the room, if they sit back you’ll see everyone else sits back afterwards. They just unconsciously start to mirror the person who’s in charge. And the way that Fi could twist herself and portray a body which is all sorts of messed up was quite remarkable really. She had a ball with it.
The tricky bit of it was something that we didn’t really know, because we hadn’t really worked that much with fake blood, is how sticky it is and the stickiness is one thing, but it goes from being liquid to almost solid within a minute. And so generally if you’re shooting that stuff it’s all fairly short takes, because you’re not usually having people having big long conversations while blood oozes out of their different body parts, so we had real problems to start off with.
Fi was getting stuck to the bed and she couldn’t actually move. We started trying to work that out by actually using more blood because we thought “More blood will lubricate it again,” and that just meant that everything became red and there was no other colour in the image, and that really wasn’t working.
Ben: Red and very stuck. Turned into a postbox.
Chris: And then Liam, our prosthetics guy, was like “We should use KY Jelly,” and so we sent out our runners into all of the supermarkets in South London to buy up all the KY Jelly they could find and we used a lot of it. It was quite a toll for Fiona to have to do that each day. It was a long time to be made up as well, so it was quite a lot more that you’re asking. “Yeah, you come in four hours earlier than everyone else and then hopefully eventually we’re ready to shoot and then there’s this really painful difficult scene and yeah, you’re probably going to get stuck as well, by the way, so you can’t physically do the thing you wanted to do.” It was quite hard.
How have you found the experience of watching it with an audience?
Chris: Watching it with an audience is great! It’s amazing how different it can be from audience to audience, it’s been really fascinating going around the world and seeing it with different cultures, sometimes with subtitles and translations where they’re going to laugh at something where you go “Why is the laugh there?” and you find out afterwards that the translation might mean something else that you didn’t necessarily intend, or actually is a nicer combination of words that made them laugh.
Ben: Although the pun of “Don’t ever call me his late ex-girlfriend,” is not something that’s ever translated well into any other language. The one thing that always gets a laugh everywhere without fail is the bit where Nina’s dad is reading his book to Rob and there’s this awful bit of really pretentious sub-Martin Amis prose he throws at him. Except in Spain where that just went by in complete silence and I can only assume that Spanish literature is all like that so they’re just like “OK, he’s written a book!”
It must be great to see how positive the reaction has been.
Ben: It’s more than you could ever hope for really. You make it and you hope, you have a thing in your head of we like it so you hope that if you stick close enough to the thing in your head that other people will like it too.
Chris: The interesting part of all of it is that, if you’re a filmmaker in the UK, you’re generally going to have gone to quite a lot of talks about the way you write scripts, and everyone is saying you need to write genre, it needs to be in three acts and it needs to hit these exact beats, and that’s the best way of making a film. It will be intelligible and people will get on board. And when you have a meeting with industry folk, they go “What’s your one passion project?” And you go “I have loads of passion projects, I want to make loads of things,” but what they’re really saying is “What’s the weird thing?”
They’re actually asking you for the weird thing, they’re not asking you for the straightforward thing, and so are audiences, they’re asking for the weird thing, they’re asking for something that they’ve not seen before. So it’s been delightful, we’ve written something that we expected everyone we showed it to to say “Please don’t make that!” We had no real idea how it would go down with an audience.
What do you think it is about Nina Forever that has connected with people so strongly?
Chris: I think generally, if people have enjoyed it, the thing that connects most is that we’re trying to be as honest about our feelings as possible and everything else is sort of gravy on top of that.
Ben: Yeah it’s absolutely that, I think. I think everyone has at some point in their life not been able to be with someone that they wanted to be with, whether that’s through someone dying or that person saying “Please don’t come round my house anymore,” and so I think there is something in the film that everyone recognises and I think that first and foremost is what everyone connects to, is the honesty of that, that’s something that we can all share.
Nina Forever is on DVD & Blu-Ray from Monday 22nd Feb. 2016 and for download from Monday 15th Feb. 2016. Read our review here and keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.