In his workbook dated 16 April 1970 Bergman wrote:
"Yet the days go on, and with them a growing sense of ease, I'm shamefully at ease and I haven't actually done a stroke of work for a whole month. But now I'm in good spirits… [unreadable] …to start working again actually coincided with the arrival of the spring weather. It's finally, finally spring, and finally, finally, finally it's light and one can live again. So it's all set. Let's start then. Ha ha, yes! It's starting. ANNA. That's a good name, I've used it lots of times before, admittedly, but it's so good…"
It's reassuring to discover that such an amazingly productive person as Bergman (with an average of one film shoot, one screenplay and two stage productions per year) can find it hard to get started once in a while, just like the rest of us. But once he had settled on the name for one of his principal characters, Cries and Whispers started to take shape in his mind. A few months later he set to work filming The Touch.
When that film was completed in spring 1971, Bergman watched it together with Sven Nykvist: "Well, Sven," he remarked "this was not a good film. You and I both knew it wouldn't be. But I've got another idea, something I've dreamt. I see a road, and a girl on her way to a large house, a manor house, perhaps. She has a little dog with her. Inside the house there's a large red room where three sisters dressed in white are sitting and whispering together. Do you think it could turn into a film?" Nykvist circumspectly replied that the images sounded promising. "Right. It's now the 4th of April," said Bergman. "Promise me you'll be at home in two months' time, on the 4th of June. That's when you'll get the screenplay." And the director kept his word…
As usual he made a start on the casting while writing the script: "Jag ska ha Liv och så ska det vara Ingrid och jag vill nog gärna ha Harriet också för hon hör till den här sortens gåtfulla damer. "I'm going to have Liv, and then there should be Ingrid, and I would very much like to have Harriet, too, since she belongs to this breed of enigmatic women. And then I want Mia Farrow; let's see if that works out. It probably will; why shouldn't it?" Mia Farrow never actually joined the cast, but the notion is an intriguing one. She was later to become the actress of choice for Woody Allen, a director who, more than any other, has paid homage to Bergman in film after film. The fact that Bergman had Farrow in his sights ten years before she and Allen worked together for the first time is a somewhat eerie coincidence.
With Cries and Whispers, a project that had occupied his thoughts for so long, Bergman was eager to continue the experimentation he had embarked upon in The Silence and Persona. He was especially keen to work together with Nykvist on the colour and lighting, to "really get stuck into the laboratory". Another proviso was that the film should be in Swedish, despite what Bergman considered the "wretched" state of Swedish cinema at the time. He quickly realised that funding for such a vague project would present difficulties, so he decided to go ahead and finance it himself through his own company Cinematograph. But the film turned out to be more expensive than he had first thought, and additional funds were needed. The agreed solution was that of the total budget of 1.5 million Swedish kronor, Cinematograph would put up 750,000, the Swedish Film Institute Svenska Filminstitutet would contribute 550,000 and the remainder would be borrowed. Cash flow was also eased by the fact that Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann and Sven Nykvist invested their fees in the film: they would get a share of the profits if it was a success, but nothing at all if it was a commercial flop.
The structure of the financial package resulted in a major rumpus: the role of the Film Institute in particular caused eyebrows to be raised. Critical voices insisted that the Institute's resources would be put to better use if they were made available to less established filmmakers. When the Film Institute board arrived at its decision, it was on the tacit understanding that the film would be shot in the studios of the newly-built Filmhuset, so that its own staff would derive benefit from the project. Yet when the film crew came across a suitable manor house at Taxinge-Näsby, Bergman completely gave up on any plans to construct his interiors in the studios: "the manor house is ideal, just as if I'd designed it myself."
This move simply added fuel to the criticism. In response, Harry Schein, chairman of the Film Institute, penned an angry defence of his board's decision which was published on the arts pages of Expressen:
"Bergman's films bring in very healthy returns from the entire world. This co-production with the director does not mean that the Film Institute is helping Bergman any more than the cinematographer and actors, who are investing their fees in this work, are helping him. It is more a case of Bergman lending a helping hand, not the Film Institute, on account of all the people who will be given a chance to work thanks to the revenues from this film. The funding that the Film Institute is providing for Bergman's film is not being taken away from anyone else. Neither is our investment in Bergman – and the many people in the film industry who get work through him – taking place at the cost of any other film. Quite the opposite: this investment means that the Film Institute will be better placed to fund more films than would otherwise have been the case."
Later on in the article, following this low-key introduction, Schein becomes more agitated, venting his spleen on a critical band of journalists and resentful fellow film directors:
"It is typical of the state of Swedish cinema – which in this respect is probably unique in the world – that such a debate should arise at all. There is a petty miserliness, personal rancour, and sordid envy behind all this lobbying, behind all the posturing of newspaper editors. Young radicals in the film industry and a handful of their spokesmen have been harping on for almost a month now in the theatre columns of Dagens Nyheter and other papers trying to stir up a scandal – about what, exactly? The fact that Ingmar Bergman is making a film in Sweden together with the Swedish Film Institute? In any other country you might care to name, such a piece of news would have been warmly received by all radical film lovers."