Starfish is the first feature film you've written and directed, correct? How difficult was it making the transition from short film to feature length? Any unexpected challenges?
It was indeed my first feature. Most of the challenges are ones you might expect and would have come across in short films, just amplified to an extreme. The endurance of the shoot was a real learning curve for me. And then some roles that weren't important on a short, such as a post-production co-ordinator, are imperative on a feature and we definitely made some stupid mistakes trying to cut some corners, haha. But the hardest thing for me personally was more the paperwork side and all the legal elements. Setting up a picture is literally setting up a business. Luckily I didn't have to handle much of it as I had wonderful Producers who work tirelessly on it all.
Starfish feels very personal, as if injected with the painful emotions of your own memories. Are you drawing upon any for "inspiration"?
Absolutely. The film starts with a slightly obtuse message 'Based on a True Story'. And as pretentious as it sounds - it's based on a true emotional story. My best friend passed away and I was going through some personal failing of myself at the time and I wrote 'Starfish' simply as a necessity. I never expected to make it into a film and feel very fortunate to have been allowed to. All I wanted to convey was the core emotional journey that I was going through at the time as visually as possible.
Following this, how much wriggle room was there for the actors to interpret the screenplay and improvise a bit?
Well the film is unusual in that it's mostly just Aubrey (Virginia) on screen for the whole movie. So we worked together to create the right basis of the character so it echoed with my experiences but so Ginny could connect it to her own. I was very lucky to have an extremely talented actor to work with on it. But there wasn't much improvisation of script. But there isn't much dialogue anyways. So we were very particular, but then would allow Ginny to go a bit wild in the final takes.
It's shot in a very abstract manner. There's a clear enough narrative, but I was ultimately left feeling as if I was allowed to subjectively interpret the events. It also seems like Starfish is going to change for each viewer depending on the baggage they bring into it? Am I wrong here?
No that's very much intentional. It's clearly not a tactic that will appeal to everyone. But we agreed early on that we just wanted to stay true to the emotional journey rather than the literal one. And we were more invested in making an interesting mess than a well made, average movie. We went through it very carefully though, and we have a list of '36 Things You Can Understand About Starfish'. So the narrative is in there, just hiding. But there are other things that we wanted people to be able to bring themselves to more. So we left those moments more open. It's definitely a learning curve and I won't make something quite this interpretive again for a while, haha.
While the film certainly sports elements which sit at the foundation of the horror genre, I struggle to outright call it one. What's your take on this; was Starfish meant to fit within the framework of any one genre?
I've seen quite a few negative reviews of the film because it's not 'Horror'. I never intended it to be horror. The feelings I was going through just felt frightening and horrific and I love the horror genre in film, so these elements naturally ingested into it. But I'm far more interested in concentrating on drama and then adding genre elements around that. If people go into this expecting a full-on horror film then of course they will be disappointed! But when you make a film - you can't control how the world choses to interact with it. Genre festivals (like Fantastic Fest and Morbido) embraced our film when drama festivals weren't. So that's where we ended up finding our home. And I'm very proud and grateful for that as it's a crowd I'm a part of as a fan.
We've all heard it said that music soothes the savage beast. Would it make sense to say that it applies here as well, with Aubrey's inner-tormoil acting as the proverbial beast?
Music plays a lot of roles in this film. It's the connectivity between Aubrey and her friend Grace. It's a literal doorway to different dimensions and memories. It's a comfort and sometimes a chain. For me it was just important to try to show the power music can have of connecting you to your past and your relationships with people. And how it can merge with the 7 stages of grief in an unusual and cathartic way. But it could also be detrimental if you can't accept
and move forward.
As if the poor girl didn't have enough to deal with, grieving for her friend and reconciling the sins of past relationships—but the end of the world and monsters too?? Why was the decision made to set the film against the distressing backdrop of a cosmic horror apocalypse?
As I kind of said above, I never considered for it to not be set against this backdrop. I wrote the film twice (over the course of a year). And both times I was in a hut in the snowy mountains of Colorado. And I just wanted to use genre to visually place the story in the emotional landscape I was feeling. I love genre film passionately, so it just felt very natural for me. But also, maybe I'm just not talented enough to write it as a straight drama, haha. It's easier to get literal with your visual metaphors.
Speaking of cosmic horror, there's a clear Lovecraft influence. What's the intention here; more stress (haha)?
Actually no, I've never read any Lovecraft. But I am a fan of his fans. So I think by osmosis I absorbed a lot of that. There are nods to films in there ('28 Days Later', 'Monsters') but the real sources for us during prep were dramas like 'Three Colours Blue' which I think is just the best portrayal of dramatic grief I've ever seen. We wanted to build from those kind of places.
Plans to continue directing? Staying in the horror (ish) genre?
Haha, it's all I've ever wanted to do. So I hope so! If people will let me. I have about 6 other scripts and two that I'm really hoping to try to get into pre-production now. All of them are within the genre space just in different ways and to different extremes. I'm definitely wanting to prove I can tell a more standard, simple narrative next. While hopefully still getting to inject personality into it.
Are you able to tell us if the film has been picked up for physical distribution anytime soon?
Keep an eye on our social media accounts for news on this. I'm obviously a huge physical media fan - I love to have a relationship with my art - so I hope so!!