Anyone who caught writer-director Kat Coiro’s delicate romantic drama “And While We Here” on the festival circuit will notice one big difference about the version being released in theaters this Friday (it’s also available on VOD): it’s in color. In her own words, Coiro opens up about why she listened to her distributor Well Go USA and agreed to convert the film to color.
I shot my second feature film “And While We Were Here” with the intention of screening it in black and white, and when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and played in subsequent festivals it was seen in its original form. However, the film that is currently streaming on multiple platforms and opening theatrically on September 13th is in color. The explanation for this opens up a rather interesting conversation about the differences between B&W and color and why we ultimately chose to release it in color rather than in B&W.
My director of photography, Doug Chamberlain, and I decided on B&W even before the script was complete. The main story between the three lead characters is small, intimate and restrained. When you strip away the color information from an image, your eye no longer darts around the screen looking at yellows or reds or any contrasting colors that might pull your eyes’ focus. Undistracted by color information, your eyes are naturally drawn to the familiarity of the human face. It’s much easier to focus on the emotion in an actor’s eyes when the background is presented in scales of grey, especially when that background is an Italian Island in the summer. The B&W version strips the story down to its emotional core, reducing the glorious surroundings in which Jane, Leonard and Caleb each undergo their emotional journeys to texture.
Paradoxically, while we chose B&W to keep the movie small, we also chose it to open the film up. I wasn’t trying to re-invent the wheel with this plot because the truth is there are only so many directions a love triangle can go, and while miscommunication, personal tragedy and infidelity feel enormous when a person is experiencing them firsthand, all of these life events follow a similar timeworn trajectory.
Wanting to make a story that pushed beyond these boundaries, I introduced a fourth character, Jane’s dead grandmother, who speaks to Jane through a series of cassette tapes that Jane listens to repeatedly under the guise of writing a book, when really she’s trying to find parallels between her life and the life of her ancestors; trying to soothe the discomfort of her own present by hearing that every generation has it’s own struggles and every generation always will.
This theme of timelessness was buoyed up by the use of a classical score by Mateo Messina and the B&W photography, which not only harkens back to classic cinema and infuses the audience with a sense of nostalgia for a time gone by, but also mutes the signs of modernity, blurring out cars, neon bathing suits and signage. And while “And While We Were Here” is indubitably a modern tale, it definitely feels less-so in black and white.
When the idea was first presented to me that the film would be more successful in color, Mr. Chamberlain and I were indignant. We had spent so much time crafting the B&W and had received such glowing reviews that switching to a color version seemed sacrilegious. Then one day, in the midst of these conversations with our distributor, I sat down to choose a film with my husband On Demand. One of the synopses described a movie as B&W. Without even thinking I said, “Nah. I don’t feel like watching a black and white movie.”
In that moment I realized that I would be limiting my audience by releasing “And While We Were Here” in B&W, which, outside of a controlled environment is harder to adjust to and feels more cerebral, especially when lined up against brightly colored ads and trailers. I began to find the positive aspects of the color version (all of which my editor Adam Catino had been extolling since the beginning).
The stunning blue of the ever-present Mediterranean glimmers an ethereal green when Jane and Caleb enter an underground grotto. The lively surroundings, more noticeable in color, actually work to highlight Jane’s disconnect from her environment, making her lapses in judgement more understandable and, therefore, more forgivable: to be in Southern Italy, shown in vibrant splendor, and to be as lethargic as Jane is makes her deep-rooted depression more evident.
The timelessness I described is still a major theme of the film in color, it’s just expressed in a more subtle and less manipulative way. When watching the colorized “And While We Were Here” even I, who wrote, directed and watched it hundreds of times, was more drawn into the romance of the story and while it definitely verges into the genre of location porn it feels pleasantly whimsical. It makes you want to go to Italy, play on the beach, bask in the sun and fall in love.
When the Blu-Ray/DVD of “And While We Were Here” is released (November 19) it will include a B&W director’s version of the film. I would encourage people interested in this subject to see the color version in theaters or on iTunes, Amazon or VOD and then buy the B&W DVD. It’s rare to have the opportunity to watch a movie in two very different formats and I truly look forward to hearing people’s thoughts on this subject.
Watch the film’s trailer below: