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Origins of Echo

Short films: sometimes the original idea comes from a real life incident but needs adaptation to work well. Watch director Lewis Arnold explain.
Echo came about when James Walker witnessed a young girl– James was the writer of the film– in Covent Garden. And basically, she was on the phone, very distressed, and was saying that she’d had– her father had been in an accident and that she needed help. And so people were sort of drawn to her to help her and sort of get her on her way. And I remember he told this story. And he said– he rang me about a couple weeks later to say that he’d seen the same girl doing the same thing again. And it kind of really interested us. And we had lots of conversations about how the idea of what she did. She never begged.
She never asked people for money. But what she did was she drew people in with this performance of grief, of whatever was happening on that phone call that no one else could hear. And James had this idea that he wanted to make a film about a girl who did this con, as we called it, and a guy who goes and helps her, potentially. And like, at what point does she stop the con and sort of come clean? So it become like a thriller with the guy going to the hospital with her to see her dad. And sort of how far does she fabricate the lie?
And I’d lost a friend when I was 19 and a friend when I was 21 to cancer, so I’d been around teenage grief, especially at university, and came at it from a different angle, that when James pitched it to me, I kind of responded to what she was going through in the idea that it was repetitive compulsion. It was a girl reliving the trauma of an event. And I pitched James the idea of making the film, but making it within three phone calls. So we get one phone call where we watch the film as an objective person, like James first experienced that call.
And the second time we watch it, we know, or we think it’s a con, so we watch it with this prejudged information. So we absorb it and see it like a con. But in the third time, you have so much more information that we realise the real place, the real emotions, the reality of what she’s going through. So by the third time we watch it, we see it as not a con, but as the truth, as an authentic event that happened that this young girl’s reliving. And I pitched that back to James. And that was our goal, really. When I pitched it to James, James kind of liked that concept, liked the idea of doing it within three phone calls.
And we went from there. It’s the idea was that it would be three phone calls. But when we started writing and developing from a treatment onwards, with help from our tutor, Ian Sellar, we discovered that to get the information across, and to really absorb and get to know the character a little bit more, we needed something more around the phone calls. And that’s when we started exploring the idea of her family, her family life, and introduced the character of the little brother. And we didn’t want to say too much with that.
But we needed to give enough that we could understand by the end of the film that it was a real event, that what she was doing had wider implications to her family, in point in case, her little brother, and also to get a sense of other people grieving. You know, like in a single family, once a parent’s died, when you’ve got kids, you have to be strong for those kids. So for a teenage girl, she might think that her mother’s not grieving. But she is in her own way, same with the little boy. And I think the girl, Caroline, doesn’t feel that anyone else is grieving like she is.
And that’s what probably pushed her out to do this and to sort of experience this again and again, this kind of rawness of the event, to feel that kind of rush of emotion and the care of the people around her. But other people grieve in different ways. And she can’t recognise that and doesn’t recognise that until the incident with her brother, where she starts to realise, I think, other people around her are grieving in different ways. But it came about through a need to give the audience more information and for us to really, I suppose, scratch a bit more under the surface of her family life, and for us to get to know her a little better.

In Week 2, we looked at the different origins of film stories. As you have heard, Echo came from the writer, James Walker, observing a particular event and then seeing it happen again two weeks later.

However, the overall structure came out of the collaboration between the writer and director, with additional ideas coming into the story which gave the character greater depth.

How different would the film have been if Lewis had not added in the family and the backstory?

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Explore Filmmaking: from Script to Screen

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