Director & Stuntman Nash Edgerton Talks SPIDER Sequel BEAR, His Work With David Michôd, And How Stunts Tell Stories!
Nash Edgerton is one of the most exciting cats in filmmaking today. It's strange to still call him upcoming, but while his style is signature; his videos insanely viral; his fans among the most famous; and his mark on indie genre movies unmistakable, you still get the sense he's untapped talent.
Here's a short CV for those who've just arrived: Nash started his career as a stuntman, working on everything from Street Fighter to Star Wars, including as stunt double to his actor brother Joel -- currently on The Great Gatsby.
He's directed nine short films, specialising in the blackly funny and action-heavy, three of them written with David Michôd -- who made last year's searing crime drama Animal Kingdom. One of these shorts, Spider (featuring Nash in the lead) won an honorable mention at Sundance, then went viral both on the internet and around Hollywood. Its sequel, Bear, premiered at Cannes last year and is set to play Sundance 2012.
His debut feature The Square took a grimy stab at film noir and nailed the genre pretty well, while winning him accolades and plaudits around the world. He's directed music videos for Brandon Flowers (The Killers) and Bob Dylan as well as a host of Aussie artists like Missy Higgins, Ben Lee, Eskimo Joe and most recently Hilltop Hoods.
And if that's not enough, he produced Australian crime mockumentary The Magician, and executive produced shorts such as I Love Sarah Jane and the Oscar-nominated Miracle Fish. And between all this he still finds time to answer comments from aspiring filmmakers on his YouTube videos.
With Bear playing Sundance in two weeks, he also found time to sit down with ScreenAnarchy for a chat.
The interview (and Bear trailer, below) contains some spoilers for Spider, so best you check that short film out (also embedded below) before reading on. Both films follow a guy named Jack trying to patch things up with his girlfriend, with insanely unexpected consequences.
It's unusual to see a sequel to a short film, but that's what you did for Spider. Why make Bear, why did you want to give Jack another story?
Spider was way more popular and successful than I ever expected it to be. It played a lot of festivals and it's still being asked to play at festivals. I had people send reaction videos of other people watching Spider, and heard stories of it being passed around offices in Hollywood. Apparently some film schools use the film as a teaching tool. I directed a music video for Brandon Flowers which came about because Charlize Theron is a fan of Spider.
I got asked by a lot of people after they watched Spider what happened afterwards and if the couple stayed together. I started thinking about it and wondered what it would be like to explore that story. I also thought I'd never seen a sequel to a short film before and was interested in the challenge of that; making something that works as a followup but also stands alone and works well on its own. Because of the reaction Spider got I was curious to see if I could make something in the a same vein that lived up to it.
What is it about Spider that connects so strongly, and viscerally, with people?
I have a dark sense of humour, and other people do too. A lot of it comes down to the relatability of the setup. People relate to the couple having the argument in a car, not talking to one another, even the gas station guys talking in their own language, plus 90% of people have a reaction to a spider and totally get the fright of seeing something like that.
Because I tend to play things fairly straight and never set things up like it's a drama or a comedy, the audience doesn't know what it's going to be, and something about that really works.
Finding out Bear was in Cannes must have been a trip, especially as its not the standard Cannes arthouse fare. Was it particularly gratifying, as a genre director, to play Cannes?
I was surprised as hell it got into Cannes! I've made a lot of shorts and been to a lot of short film festivals now and I guess I've never seen anything like Bear. I see stuff with dark senses of humour, but they're never played in that way. So it was awesome to get into that festival! The audience at Cannes reacted in pretty much the same way as Aussie audiences who've seen it.
Actually a lot of people tell me they like it more than Spider, and I'm starting to get both of them, Spider and Bear invited to play together at festivals, which is great.
I was amused to notice Samson & Delilah director Warwick Thornton's tiny but crucial cameo in Bear. Why did you decide to ask him to do it?
I've had a bit of a thing lately where I like casting directors whose work I like, in cameos. I put [Last Ride director] Glendyn Ivin in my first Bob Dylan music video for It Must Be Santa. He came to visit when I was shooting it, and as soon as I saw him I thought, "I'm going to put Glendyn in this music video" [Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice Miracle Fish director Luke Doolan]. And I had the same feeling about Warwick. I'd known Warwick for a while; we'd been at various film festivals together and I was a fan of his work. And I knew he was a fan of Spider and I thought he'd be good in the movie.
So we have Spider and Bear... are we going to see a trilogy? Your brother has already directed a short called Monkeys so I guess that one's taken, but is there another animal in the wings for a third story about Jack and his girlfriend?
I do have an idea. I want to do it at some point, but I won't do it straight away. I've written a first treatment about it but it's still early days. When I had the idea for Bear, I knew I was going to do something but didn't quite know what it was. It's almost worth doing it just to get Jeremy Saunders to do another poster like that!
Lots of your shorts and music videos involve action, car chases and stunt work. How much does you wanting to incorporate a cool stunt inform the story, or is it all the other way round?
Cinema is such a visual medium that you can tell a story without words a lot of the time. That's what Lucky for me was all about; I was trying to tell a story without any dialogue at all and still have people connect with it and get a sense of story or character. I don't do stunts for the sake of stunts or just try to do a big stunt. It's got to serve the story, or add to the tension.
Spider wasn't about having this amazing car hit in it. I always try to shoot those things from the perspective that is most provocative to the story and the audience. The whole idea behind that car accident in Spider is normally you'd cut to the person, in this case Jack's reaction, and I thought that if the audience saw the whole thing they would have the reaction rather than Jack, so it would be way more powerful for the audience to have that reaction, then you see Jack afterwards.
With Crossfire I liked the idea that this guy is constantly getting rescued by his girlfriend, as usually it's the other way round, usually it's the damsel in distress. So ideas come that way.
Despite a full CV, you still work in stunts and have moved into more stunt coordinating. Does this work give you freedom that the other jobs don't?
It's a pretty natural progression for a stuntman to go into stunt coordination. I like doing a bit of everything. For me stunts has been my film school -- I get to watch other directors do their thing but I get to be involved. Like on Hesher, Spencer [Susser] is one of my closest friends, and when he asked me to come on board and stunt coordinate the film, of course I was going to do it. Sometimes it's nice to be part of the process without the pressure of having to run the whole show. If I'm doing stunts, or coordinating, or editing, I get to be involved in the making of something I believe in without all the pressure.
You've collaborated with David Michôd a lot, and obviously you're both part of Blue-Tongue Films. Is a feature collaboration between you inevitable?
Oh man, I love working with David. The half idea I've written for the third short [after Bear], he was the first person I sent it to. I love his writing. When I worked with him on Spider I was into the challenge of writing with him but didn't know whether it was gonna work or not.
When Bear came about he'd finished Animal Kingdom and he wanted to write again and I think he liked the idea of writing something short just to get back into that mindset of writing again, and the idea of doing something that was only ten pages long felt a lot more achievable to him than starting off on something big again.
Usually I'll come up with the idea and he'll add little embellishments to it that really give it a life. He always challenges me and asks me questions and makes me think about what it is I'm trying to do. He's one of my best friends; I really respect and trust his opinions on things and I like collaborating with him. I'd happily make a bigger film with him for sure.
I imagine Hollywood has come knocking with screenplays galore. Why haven't we seen your name in lights helming the next installment of a boardgame remake based on a video game franchise?
It's not really what I'm looking for at the moment. Michôd and I talked about that a lot. After Animal Kingdom came out and The Square came out there, we were both [targets] for people talking to us about making those kind of things. And same with Spencer after Hesher came out.
We're all just working on our own stuff, for now anyway. I get to do stunts on those kind of movies without being responsible for making them. We want to make stuff we like, you know, that we wanna see. I'm so keen to see what Michôd makes next and what Spencer makes next, and Joel wants to make a feature and so does Luke Doolan. [Another Blue Tongue Films member, Kieran Darcy-Smith has a feature in competition at Sundance, called Wish You Were Here -- yep, Nash was stunt coordinator].
You work on so many different sorts of projects, while many directors seem to make shorts then move onto features and never look back. Is there a plan at all?
I don't really have a set plan. I'm writing another feature with Joel at the moment. The writing process is long and hard and lonely. I really get a kick out of making stuff and the idea of doing another short after The Square was much more immediate than making a feature. I wanted something fresh, so I stopped writing for a minute and made Bear. And then getting into Cannes and getting that feeling of playing in front of an audience, that inspired me to keep going with my writing.
I've had an idea for a while for a web series thing, which I want to make at some point but just haven't done it yet.
What can you tell us about this feature you are writing with Joel?
More so than The Square, it's more in the tone of my short films. The Square was my brother's idea but this is from my idea. Like Spider and Lucky and Bear, they're all from my ideas, so it's more in that vein I guess. We are writing, but it doesn't have a title yet.
I don't think of myself as a writer, that's the thing. David is a writer and my brother is a writer. I'm good with ideas, and I am writing this thing but I'm writing out of necessity because I get sent scripts I don't like and I want to enjoy what I want to make and so I'm trying to learn to be a writer.
Bear will have its North American premiere at Sundance 2012.