Synopsis: A singing waitress in a diner finds the song that opens the heart of a disinterested customer.
Where did the idea come from? Why Kismet?
The idea evolved from a wish to tell a story without words, to show that real communication is about so much more than just talking. What’s great about “kismet” is it means fate or destiny not just in English but in Turkish, Urdu, Hindi and Arabic. (I later learned that ‘Kismet’ is also the name of a robot at an MIT research lab that is being developed to show feelings and emotions, which seems kind of apt.) It seemed the perfect name for our diner, an ordinary place where magical things happen.
You’re from London. Where was the film shot?
Without wishing to spoil the New York ambiance, the film was, in fact, shot in a pretty grimy part of West London, in a genuine American diner that’s one of a handful shipped to the UK by enthusiasts. We took out a lot of the 50’s novelty memorabilia to make the interior look more ordinary and family run and re-lit it to feel more inclusive and homely.
What films and directors influenced you in making this film?
It’s hard to say what films and directors influenced the film. There are so many iconic scenes, from The Last Picture Show to Pulp Fiction, shot in diners, I guess they’re all there somewhere in my film-making DNA.
Where the songs specifically written for this film?
We had a very limited budget for the music but, in a quintessentially ‘kismet’ moment, singer-songwriter Lotte Mullan turned up at the casting. She performed the improv stuff we’d asked everyone to do. Then I spotted that she’d brought a guitar. We asked her to sing for us and she sang “Valentine.” We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect song. Lotte gave us a CD with some additional material that became the other songs Ilinka performs in the diner.
How hard was it to find an actress who can sing and act?
We did a casting call for singer-songwriters who could act and actors who could sing. There are some really talented people out there but almost as soon as she walked in Ilinca seemed right, perversely perhaps because she was less experienced than some of the other actresses we saw. Ilinca has a genuine innocence and vulnerability that were perfect for the role. Similarly, although we heard some excellent professional voices during castings, Ilinca’s sweet, heartfelt voice was the ‘voice of an angel’ we were looking for.
The film felt timeless. I’m not sure whether it was set in 1958 or 1988. Was that intentional?
We actually shot the film in 1958 and have been trying to get it into festivals ever since. Ilinca is now a great grandmother. Not really! Joking aside, diners have a retro ambiance that makes the action seem timeless. Ilinca also has a classic, Hepburn-esque quality that we exaggerated with her wardrobe and makeup. We wanted the film to feel universal, to appeal to all ages, so timeless worked for us.
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