AFTER turning heads with her distinctive work on music videos and ad campaigns, promising filmmaker Claire Edmondson has now completed her debut short film EXIT. James Prestridge of Close-up Culture spoke to Claire ahead of the film’s premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival
Q: I have heard EXIT is an affecting and provocative film. What can you tell us about the story and what inspired you to make it?
A: THE initial idea for EXIT came to me from a news story. My film is very different from the news story, but there were some visual aspects I could not get out of my head and so the seed was planted.
That said, it’s hard to talk about the film without giving too much away, so I’ll add my official festival synopsis! — EXIT captures a single day in the life of a woman confronting the consequences of an irreversible decision. An emotional exploration of rage, fear, and acceptance anchor the story and are made all the more poignant as the world around her remains serene.
Q: You are well established in the world of music videos and commercials. Has it always been your ambition to more into short film – and eventually features?
A: THE end goal has always been feature films and TV. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop making commercials as each one usually becomes a learning experience and a chance to try new things and work with new people. I make music videos less these days, but I have some lined up to shoot this fall. The song and artist really have to speak to me to make one, but I find they are a necessary creative outlet so I don’t think I’ll ever fully let them go.
Q: How did you find the experience of your first short film? Did the desert throw up any challenges?
A: MAKING a short film is both exciting and difficult, but I welcome it all and it really was a great, inspiring experience. Since the budget was tight, I took on new roles, which came with a learning curve, but I came out the other end more knowledgeable.
I was happy to learn that shooting in the desert was just like shooting on location anywhere.
Q: Your cinematographer Catherine Lutes is a talent we really admire. What was the visual style you and Catherine were looking for in Exit?
A: CATHERINE and I have worked together for years, so there’s an intuitiveness and trust between us.
The visual style for EXIT was often dictated by the surroundings. Some of it worked for us and some against, so we had to come up with solutions. For instance, I wanted dark and gritty but the reality of the situation was that I wrote a script that takes place predominantly outdoors in the deserts from sunrise to sunset!
So a lot of planning had to go into making sure we shot certain scenes at certain times to avoid high sun. Some large chunks of the film take place at sunrise and sunset and we wanted to capitalize on the phenomenal desert sunsets, so we shot certain scenes over the two days to make the most of it.
Q: I have already heard wonderful things about Maria Bello’s performance. How did you get her onboard and what did it mean to have an actor of her experience and quality involved in the project?
A: MY dear friend, Al Di, is a producer whose credits include Sundance hits such as Brigsby Bear, Piercing, and this year’s SXSW The Unicorn. Al read the script and loved it and came on board as a producer. Maria Bello was always the vision when it came to who would play the mother. Both Al and I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited for the role. Al brought the script to UTA and they managed to get the script to Maria, who accepted the part.
I am truly grateful for the breadth of talent and commitment that Maria brought to this film. Her character goes on an enduring journey of strength, resilience, and love — this wasn’t a role we could compromise on, talent-wise. We needed a strong actor with experience who could deliver those visceral, intense moments throughout the story.
Q: Natasha Bassett also stars in EXIT and she is an incredible emerging talent. Can you tell us about working with Natasha and what you feel she is capable of in the future?
A: NATASHA is lovely to work with. She came to us at the suggestion of an amazing casting director, Amey René. She was friends with a producer friend of mine and he put us in touch. She connected with the script and said yes immediately, it really was a no brainer. She’s a great actor and I feel lucky to have had the chance to work with her. I have high hopes for Natasha — not just because she’s a talented actress, but because she is very intelligent. We need young girls like her putting their thoughts and ideas out into the world.
Q: We are big fans of Harmony Korine’s work and we know you worked with him in the last. Can you tell us about this and what you learnt from Harmony?
A: I began in the film industry as a wardrobe stylist and kept assisting styling while I was building my director’s reel. One of my last jobs working in wardrobe was on a Harmony Korine directed commercial that shot for about 6 days.
Throughout my time in wardrobe I got to work with a lot of directors and see their styles — some were great, some were, I’m sorry to say, horrible. But Harmony was so lovely and respectful of the crew and the actors. He was chill but also knew exactly what he wanted. It was a level of respect I had never witnessed on set before but the respect went both ways. Watching him was like a masterclass in directing. He was truly on a whole other level than any other director I’ve worked with, not just in terms of talent but enlightenment. I left that job feeling good about how I run my sets and the industry as a whole.
Q: You were born in Liverpool but grew up in Canada. Does the UK still play a role in your identity as a filmmaker?
A: I lived in Liverpool until I was around 7, then we moved to a small town on the west coast of Canada, but I’d still spend my summers in Liverpool. The two places were polar opposites but I think it’s a great way to grow up because you are exposed to different ways of living and different types of people. Your capacity for empathy grows as you are exposed to different points of view and I think it made me a more curious person.
I think those influences really show in my work. I still visit Liverpool often, as most of my extended family lives there.
Q: What drives you as a creative person and what can we expect from you in the future?
A: I think I need to create to stay sane. My first day on set as a director I felt this intense sense of relief that I had found the thing I was put on this planet to do. I loved filmmaking, I’m happiest when I’m on set and I could not imagine doing anything else.
I just finished my first feature film script and I have a few other film ideas in development right now. I’m really looking forward to attending the Toronto Film Festival, so much has already changed for me just from being selected to show at a festival of TIFF’s calibre. It’s all very exciting!