Profile is the latest film that uses Screenlife technology to tell a deeply profound and compelling story. For those who aren’t too familiar with Screenlife technology, it has been used in several feature films, including Open Windows, Unfriended, and Searching. Screenlife is used to tell a story completely through various screens such as a computer, a phone, a tablet, television, camcorder, etc. The technology has been around in Hollywood for almost a decade now and over the years has proven to be a very successful tool to tell an engaging story. Profile, in particular, is highly effective in using this technology because it is all about a series of interactions that take place over the internet using various social media platforms such as Facebook and Skype.
The plot of Profile revolves around a journalist named Amy, played by the incredible Valene Kane, who creates a fake Facebook profile with the hope of being recruited by ISIS. Throughout the film, we watch Amy transform into this woman named Melody and watch as she builds a relationship with Bilel (Shazad Latif), an ISIS recruiter. Needless to say, there is a lot to take away from this film, but probably the biggest lesson of all is that you should be cautious of putting personal information on the internet. While this may seem like such an obvious thing to say, I don’t believe enough people are truly aware of what they are posting online. While it seems like public knowledge, so much of the information posted on Facebook or Twitter can be seen and found by others.
Profile shows its audience how easy it is to manipulate others and form a common bond with strangers. Through various online interactions, Melody and Bilel create a relationship and one that most would never expect to see from a story like this. I don’t want to give too much away; however, this is one of the scariest films that I have seen in quite some time simply because of how grounded in reality it is. It is based on a true story, and a lot of what you see throughout this film actually happened and was recreated for this film. Additionally, the use of screenlife technology helps build tension while making the viewer feel like they are right there in the room with Melody. It’s an emotional roller-coaster and one that will leave you with plenty to think about as the end credits begin to roll.
Over the course of the last year, there have been very few films that hooked me as much as Profile did. It is not only the best screenlife film to date, but one that I hope will inspire more filmmakers to begin to use this technology to tell thought-provoking stories. Profile is undoubtedly engaging and entertaining; however, its biggest win is how effective it is in telling this story with two incredible actors who deliver raw and honest performances without all the bells and whistles. There are no lavish set pieces or costumes. Less can certainly be more, and Profile is a perfect example of that.
After seeing the film, I had the opportunity to chat with the film’s breakout star, Valene Kane, to discuss what it was like to work on the film and if she had any reservations about being part of this story how she auditioned for the part.
Scott Menzel: Why did a movie this freaking good not get released when it was completed in 2018?
Valene Kane: Well, first of all, I will take that compliment that you said it’s so freaking good. Timur was really aware of finding the right outlet because A. the material is very contentious, and he and Anna had a very close relationship. So, I know that he wanted it to be handled well and given the right forum. And B, the inner workings of Timur Bekmambetov will always confuse me. But he is a fascinating man, so I think finding Focus was the perfect fit, and it just feels like the right time for it to come out.
Scott: I thought this movie was fascinating. I was really taken back by it, and I was a big advocate for Searching. That was the film that really hooked me on the whole Screenlife technology. I fell in love with that movie, and I was a huge supporter of that film, but I think this movie is even better because this movie is just scary shit and grounded in reality.
Valene Kane: Because it happened.
Scott: That’s what I’m saying. I’m literally watching this, and I’m questioning everything that I’m watching. So, I’m watching you act, and I’m watching you look at videos, and I’m saying to myself, “Is this video made for this movie, or is she looking at real footage?”
Valene Kane: I know.
Scott: I don’t know, you tell me?
Valene Kane: It was a lot of real footage. So, what was really cool was, and it’s so rare that you get this, but I was able to… I met Anna on Skype, very meta, at the end of rehearsal before we started shooting. Then she very kindly allowed me to view her screen and watch some of the videos with her and Bilel that she had recorded. Obviously, she couldn’t send them to us. That was so informative and scary because obviously I read the book and the subject matter is really scary. Then I had to learn how to do Screenlife because it was my desktop, so I had to figure out how to work. How to be that quick in terms of… There’s only so much you can do in post, so I had to be on it. But it was so amazing watching those videos and really seeing her interact with Bilel. It really informed how I played Melody because I had to make Amy a real Londoner, I wasn’t copying Anna, but I did want to copy a lot of Melody.
Scott: Yeah, I think that was what made that so convincing to watch because as you’re watching the movie and your relationship is growing, you start seeing the human aspect of people, and what connects us. Where you see the emotional connection, and then the story happens where you start getting personal. “Oh, this is what happened to my brother. This is what happened to me.” As a viewer, you’re sort of like, “Maybe he’s not that bad of a person after all.” So, even as a viewer, you’re falling into the trap. You’re there with Amy/Melody having a personal conflict that you’re like, “Yes, he’s doing horrible things.” Still, he’s also very charming, “Maybe it’s just because he believes in this” Because we all know that a lot of stuff within religion and people do some crazy stuff with it.
Valene Kane: Completely. I mean, I grew up in Northern Ireland, where religion has totally overtaken so much rationality in terms of… I mean, and now it’s back again. But I think that’s what was really interesting was in the research that she’s added, seeing so many of these recruiters were also just young boys. They were young kids that were lost and isolated from the world and alone. I think what’s so beautiful about this story is that we’ve seen on the news and we’ve heard these stories, and they’re so impersonal, they’re so… It always felt very other. Like, “Oh, that’s something that happens there,” and then you watch the story, and it’s really… It’s this specificity of Anna’s story and how Bilel was… He was an outsider too, and it’s the story of both of these outsiders trying to… They’re tricking each other, but while they’re tricking each other, they’re maybe falling in love for real. So, all of the lines are blurred, which I think is so fascinating, and it was so fascinating to play because it really happened for her.
Scott: How did the casting process work for this film?
Valene Kane: Completely bizarre and weird, not on Skype, but I didn’t get the subject material until very far into the casting process. So, what originally attracted me was an email with Timur is doing a film. Great, what an incredible honor to audition for him, and then it’s going to be improvised. That to me is so… It’s my jam. It’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s where I feel the best work comes. So then I improvised random things for weeks until I was finally… Recall, after recall, and then it’s like, “Okay, so this is the story and here’s the book, so go read it, and then come back. Then we need you to find those two characters.” Because the final tape that I did was really Amy transforming into Melody, what Timur wanted to see was whether this actress could do it? He did.
Scott: I mean, I think you pulled it off a hundred percent. I mean, you really do become both these people. I think there’s a unique rawness to your performance in this film, and Timur explained to me that there are no cameras, there’s no makeup, it’s just you. You’re acting, and there’s nothing else there, so you’re just acting. The camera is on you all the time, and everything we’re watching unfold is happening in real time. I mean, that’s what’s about this movie, because essentially it’s… The way I saw it at the end of it, it’s basically a retelling of all the events. Not it happening in real time, but literally how it started and how it ended.
That’s what makes it so crazy to watch because you’re watching a person have this descent into madness where they’re sitting there and take an assignment because they need money to pay their rent. Then all of a sudden, they’re getting connected into this world, and then they start falling in love, and you start believing this. Then you start questioning yourself, and then by the time the movie comes to an end, you’re back to, “Oh my God, what the hell is she doing? Why is she going to Istanbul? Why is this happening right now?” The video at the end is more horrifying than any horror movie that I’ve ever seen.
Valene Kane: It is so clever, when I first saw that, I was like, “Oh, that’s good.”
Scott: Did that aspect of the film really happened?
Valene Kane: Yeah, that really happened. They really contacted her family, and she’s in hiding, they were able to figure out details because I think, as you see, she unraveled so much, I think that’s what’s so sort of poignant about us today, being online where there is so much information available there.
Scott: We reveal anything to anyone. Look at social media, and people are like, “Oh, I am bipolar, I am blah, blah, blah, blah.” “You’re telling a world of strangers.”
Valene Kane: I mean, it’s mad to me. I mean, I’m very anti-social media. I mean, I have it for my work, but I find it frightening. I don’t really want to go on social media, but sometimes when I do, I’m so alarmed at girls 15 and 16 who are just showing their entire lives. I think sometimes you’re going to want to go and get a job somewhere, or I don’t know. But then we live in a different world, but I think that’s the thing; she unraveled so much that she forgot what she was doing. She completely forgot herself and gave away way too much information, which is why she’s now in hiding.
Scott: Yeah, I mean, this is a weird question; I apologize to end on this. It’s something that I think about when I watched this movie. Were you afraid of doing a movie like this, because this stuff is very much a real thing that happens?
Valene Kane: Yeah, I think both Shazad and I definitely had some trepidation about doing it initially, particularly when we filmed it, it was in the news a lot more. But it’s art, and it’s the depiction of a real woman’s journey. It’s not something that we’re sensationalizing. I think sometimes you got to push the boundaries when you’re trying to make art. I think both of us sort of had a firm talk with ourselves, with each other, we trusted each other implicitly. I trusted Timur implicitly, and I knew that the material would be handled well, so the fear dissipated quite quickly. But yes, for sure, in the beginning, it’s a scary world.
Scott: That’s what I’m saying. I was watching this movie, and I just thought to myself knowing the fact that it’s based on someone’s real-life story, to me, all of that would give me such tension that I don’t know if I would be able to do something like this.
Valene Kane: Well, I mean, you don’t think. Actors are mad.
Scott: Yeah, well, they’re telling me to wrap it up. But I hope this movie gets the audience it deserves. It is such a unique story told uniquely. I adored you in the film, and I can’t wait to see more of you. Thank you so much for today.
Valene Kane: Thank you, Scott, that’s so lovely to hear. Thank you for saying that.
Scott: No problem at all, you have a wonderful day.
Valene Kane: Thank you, you too.