The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Dream Horse.
What were some of the bigger challenges you faced in making this film?
Euros Lyn: One of the things we worked very hard on, as a team, was to collaborate so that every department – the production designer Daniel Taylor, Sian Jenkins the costume designer, and photography, makeup, locations – worked together very closely so that we always had a united concept of what every… so that cohesion (of color palette and of tone and of authenticity) was something that every department was constantly talking to each other about. I think, very often in film production, you can become quite siloed, and you only focus on your own work, because it’s such an enormous team; it’s hard to see across all the other departments. But we kept on talking. One of the interesting things about this project was that it was an incredibly lovely bunch of people. And we all got along socially very well. That camaraderie behind the camera very much reflects the camaraderie you see on the screen. And I think it rubs off. I think it’s there because this film is made with love by everybody who was involved with it. I’d also like to pay a lot of credit to the editor, Jamie Pearson, and the sound design team. Because those races were recorded totally without sound. Because when you’re shooting a horse traveling at forty miles per hour there’s a vehicle, and there’s an engine, and there’s the noise of the crew… and so every single piece of sound, every breath and every hoof and every jangle of the horse’s tack and bridle was put on afterwards by the sound design team. Their meticulous work was incredibly important to create the realism and drama of the races.
feeling like there is hope on the horizon, that we’re coming out of it at last
Can you talk a little bit about casting the animals? They are so integral to the film in every conceivable way. Not just the horses, either!
EL: I’m not from a horse racing background, so one of the first things we needed to solve in pre-production for this film was how we were going to make these races feel as truthful and as honest and as exciting and as dramatic as possible. And one of the first things we did was approach a company called The Devil’s Horsemen, who are the people who supplied horses for Game of Thrones, and kind of… you know, they’ve been around for decades, doing some of the best British film work. We had a fantastic horse master named Tom [Cox] who advised us on how we might approach the horse racing from a filming perspective. So what we did in the end, we had to cast thirty thoroughbred race horses in order to play ten horses on screen. And we kept them in a rotation so that they never got tired, and we only ever shot stretches of two furlongs (which is about four hundred yards) at a time, in order to keep them completely out of harms way. They were never at any risk. So that was a huge logistical challenge, to kind of break every race down into those little chunks and to schedule them. We shot all the races in about six days, which was… it was like a military operation! And my Director of Photography, Erik Wilson, and first assistant director Peter Bennett, were absolutely invaluable in kind of piece together this huge bible of paperwork that every camera team on the racing track could then kind of understand that at 9am, they were going to be at point A, and 9:40am they were going to be at point B, shooting this shot on the horses… and that’s how we managed it. But the rest of the cast of animals – the ducks, the dogs, the goat – they were all local and came from South Wales. The wolfhound that’s in the opening frame of the film, lying on the bed, he was actually the least cooperative of all the animals! As long as he had to lay down, he was fine. But the rest of the time, it involved a lot of patience… and on the actors part as well, actually, to kind of coax him into the right place.
What was the timeline for this film, from first being conceived to premiere?
EL: I first got involved about five years ago, when Katherine Butler had been talking to Neal McKay, the writer, and she got in touch with me and she asked if I’d be interested in being involved. Which I instantly said yes to, because it was a story that I knew. It was a story that had been in the press, and it kind of captured the public imagination, and had almost become a myth at that point. So it was a story I knew, but about five years ago, it must have been not long after the Brexit vote in the U.K., and Trump had been elected in the States, and there was this air of division, and divisiveness, all around. And it felt like a story that needed to be told in response to those events. A story about people coming together, wanting to do something good for its own sake. They didn’t want to make money; this wasn’t about creating a business in order to make loads of cash and to let them escape their normal lives. This was about doing something just for the sake of it. And in so doing, kind of actually forming, and strengthening, the sense of community and of togetherness. And we screened it – the premier was at Sundance, which was a year and a half ago (Sundance 2020), and we could hear the stories coming out of China, and there was talk of the virus, and so there was something… there were dark clouds gathering on the horizon when we first screened it. But nobody could have imagined that this would have laid our society so low, and caused so much pain and so much grief for so many people. And it seems strange now, that here is a story about a group of underdogs, about people who have suffered this enormous adversity, coming together, overcoming these challenges, and coming out the other side and celebrating their common humanity, celebrating these things and qualities that are inspiring and good about us as human beings. And it felt like it was about being alive, and being human in a very important way. I hadn’t watched the film, myself, for a good year, until a couple of weeks ago! And watching it again… I felt emotional, I felt the tears coming. In part that was informed by this experience we’ve all been through, with COVID. And now feeling like there is hope on the horizon, that we’re coming out of it at last. And hopefully this is a film that will speak to audiences about the possibility, about the amazing possibility, of humans when we come together to do something good as a community.