Olivia Newman finds her voice with Where the Crawdads Sing
With Reese Witherspoon producing and Taylor Swift volunteering to contribute a song, Where the Crawdads sing quickly became the most anticipated romantic thriller of the year.
Based on Delia Owens’ bestselling 2018 novel, this mystery-steeped Southern drama centers on a young woman, Kya, who has been abandoned in the swamps to rise, and now finds herself a suspect in a murder case.
Led by relative newcomer Olivia Newman, she quickly brought together nearly every female department head to guide in an accurate rendition of this beloved story.
A film graduate of the prestigious Columbia University in New York, Newman is an alumnus of the prestigious Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs, directing short films as well as several episodes of popular television series, chicago fire.
Making her feature film directorial debut in 2018 with a sports drama First game with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Newman wondered what she would do next when the pandemic hit.
She tells FilmInk here how she came to direct the film adaptation of this bestseller.
“So it was in the middle of the July 2020 pandemic, and I was sent the book and the script and I read the book in two days, which I’m sure a lot of people are saying, and that was like something that I just had to be involved with. I just fell head over heels in love and so I laid the groundwork and met Hello Sunshineby Sony’s Lauren Neustadter and Erin Siminoff. And then from there, I started working my way up and I got the job.
Was Daisy Edgar-Jones already attached for the lead role of Kya?
“No, she wasn’t, but she was the first person we chose. She’s British and has an incredible gift for dialects and accents.
What is it about Kya that resonates with audiences?
“Kya is incredibly resilient and resourceful. I think what I love is that even though she’s vulnerable and very sensitive, she also has incredible strength in her core and I’ve loved watching her develop that sense of self-worth and, through her own artistic skills and scientific studies, to really find out who she is and what her voice is. I think he’s a character that’s very universal in this journey.
Did you film in the same area as the set in the book?
“The book is set in North Carolina and set in the 50s and 60s. When we were researching, we wanted to make sure we could capture similar landscapes. And we filmed part of the North Carolina coastline because you can’t replicate that. But it was actually hard to find some of the landscapes that are in the book that haven’t been developed yet. And there’s been a lot of development in North Carolina. So we ended up finding the swamps and swamps in and around New Orleans where we had all these textures of the big wide swamps, the moss covered trees and the old oak trees, many of which had been felled in the North Caroline.
Did you know what Crawdads are?
“Now yes! I ate them! We had a lot of crawfish in New Orleans.
What was it like shooting this during the pandemic?
“That was actually the least of our challenges. I mean, it was tough, and that changes things for sure, but we followed all the strictest rules and we’ve never been closed due to COVID. We were closed due to rain; torrential rains and floods and thunderstorms and all that – but never COVID.
In addition to the floods, we hear that the creepy crawlies were also out in force?
“We shot in May and June in New Orleans, and we chose those months because May is supposed to be one of the driest months. And it rained an unprecedented amount. I mean, it broke records for how much it rained in May. So all of our sets of blankets were taken out. And then we headed into June where I had hoped we’d be indoors. We headed into the month the hottest and we had all these exteriors to film and a lot of them were completely flooded where we built Kya’s house and it was raining so much you couldn’t walk to her door – it was like a lake all around. So even when the sun finally came out, we had to stop production for five days waiting for the waters to recede enough for us to actually reach our plateau. It was quite difficult. And then , of course, insects come out at night, and we have We discovered this great net you can wear to keep bugs away from your skin, and we discovered an amazing natural insect repellent made in Florida that, for some reason, keeps Louisiana away. mosquitoes so we survived.
Does Daisy love the outdoors? Was she good with all this?
“She likes to do all the work. She learned to drive a boat; she learned to fish. She did a lot of movement to get comfortable walking barefoot through the swamp, she loved doing stunts. We were so shocked – because every time we had a stunt sequence we had our stuntman ready and Daisy would always nail him on his first take and we would really never need the stuntman to come in. She was a scuba diver in high school and did a lot of swimming, diving and underwater work. She was just amazing, doing all her own stunts. I don’t know if there’s anything Daisy can’t do. Really.”
Directors always say it’s hard to work underwater?
“Actually, it’s hard to work on boats – and it’s hard to work on boats in scorching heat where there’s no shade and it’s slow. And you have a fleet of boats. It’s not just that the actors are on one boat and the cameras are on another boat, but the hair and makeup are on another boat and the props, so for something to happen, which floats, means doing get in and out of boats. To go to the toilet you have to get on a boat and then come back, so it’s just slow. But we did a lot of planning to know exactly how we were going to film in the most efficient way possible. But it was tough. I mean luckily the actors have all learned to drive boats, even our young actress JoJo Regina [as young Kya] who was 10 years old was amazing in his boats so they could move around and they could change position and they didn’t need any help so it was really great.
How did you shoot the underwater parts?
“We shot these in a tank and it was actually very simple compared to everything else. I mean, Daisy dives into the water, water that had alligators in it and she was ready and willing. Of course, we had animal security, to make sure it was safe, but she dove into that swamp!
How did Taylor Swift come to write and record the final song, “Carolina,” for the film?
“She had read and loved the book so much that she felt compelled to write a song for it. And that was before we even shot the movie. And when I heard that song, I didn’t couldn’t believe it – it was so perfect and so beautiful And every time the movie ends and this song starts it captures the feeling you have at the end of the movie where you have to sit down and digest what just happened and the song is like the perfect transport for those feelings. It really sets the right tone, but it was very fortuitous that way because we hadn’t shot the movie yet. And so, for this to be such a perfect match, it was like a gift.
David Strathairn brings so much class to any project. How did he come on your radar for this?
“Oh my god I mean David Strathairn has been on my radar forever. I think he’s just a legend and everyone felt that when he came on set. He came towards the end of our shoot, when we did all the courtroom and jail scenes. It was interesting because when we had the courtroom, our galleries were filled with extras, playing the members of the town who were at trial, and every time he gave one of his speeches and I called cut, everyone would start clapping and it just became a thing, where it was like you were one piece away from theater because you were watching this amazing actor just captivating, and you do take after take, the same thing over and over again. You just felt completely captivated. A friend of mine even said to me, “David Strathairn can move on his chair and you’re glued to the screen”, because every moment is so real and it is so present. So for all of us, it was like working with a legend.
What does Reese Witherspoon bring to this as executive producer?
“She had a passion for books from the start. And that passion carries throughout. She is so smart and was incredibly supportive. From the first meeting I had with her, she told me: “It is one of our missions to give women opportunities that are not yet available to them”. This is my first studio film. And she said, ‘How can we help you take that leap?’ And that was the position from the start. His whole team at Hello Sunshine, they are there for you every step of the way and have been really supportive. And it’s because of who’s on top!
And she was in favor of you having everything female department heads too?
“It’s not something I think about when making a film, but it often happens naturally. When looking to hire my team and department heads, I make sure the roster we look at is diverse. From there, we hire the people who share the same vision, it just so happens that all of these people I hired were women – it could be that these women were all attracted to the project and share the same vision for this reason; I don’t know, but they were the best for the job.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
“I hope it’s transportable. I think Kya is a character everyone can relate to. There’s something very universal about her struggle to survive and to find her voice and to really claim her own worth and it’s also an epic romance. I know people will fall in love with Kya and Tate. Plus, it’s such an ode to nature that’s something people love about the book — Delia’s love for nature is palpable. I hope Kya’s relationship with the swamp and all that it brings her is truly special. I also hope it’s the kind of film that people can go and see with family and loved ones. I sat in the editing room for a year with this footage, and I miss it. It’s like a world that you just don’t want to leave because it’s so unique and she’s such a specific, unique character that I hope people want to come back and see her again.
Where the Crawdads sing is in theaters July 21, 2022