If you followed my coverage of the Indy Film Fest, you might remember I was able to catch (review here) the Grand Jury & American Spectrum Prize-Winning Bluebird, written and directed by Lance Edmands. You also might remember that it was my favorite of the films that I saw at the festival. I was curious to learn more about the film, its evolution and its journey to the screen so I reached out to Lance and he was kind of enough to give me 45 minutes of his time. Here’s what he had to say…
I know you are from Maine originally. Did you grow up knowing people like Richard, Lesley, Paula and Marla?
Definitely. Particularly in the emotional sense, there was something that was unique to Northern Maine, a certain amount of stoicism. There is/was a great sense of don’t complain too much, fight through things. Keep your head down. In the film, it serves to alienate [Richard, Lesley and Paula] from each other in a way, in a sense of not admitting that there is a problem. I knew that sensibility, my family is like that. With regards to the logging and bus driver aspects – I needed to do research. A logger helped introduce us to the people in that world, minutiae of the world. With the bus driver – I needed to know how does the day goes. I wanted to get those details right.
Did you start the project with one character in mind, writing from his or her point of view?
The film started as sketches, primarily centered around location. Mountains, remotely located – failing dying mill towns. I wanted to capture the feeling of being there, incredibly close presence to nature, cut off/isolated/economic depression. What characters inhabit this world? What about this place really resonates? I drew from stories of my own – my brother once fell asleep on a bus and was left behind. There was a momentary panic and he was found later that day, but it’s simple events like that can which have such big repercussions, which is obvious in the film. All these different ideas spooled together to make up the story.
Was there a particular character that was hard to nail down in the writing process?
As a writer, I have one life experience and I’m embodying these other experiences, the characters’ experiences. I was a a moody teenager, a young adult feeling self-centered and angry, but I’m not a father (I looked to my experience with own dad) and feeling powerless when you can’t do what you’ve always done, who am I? But the most challenging character to write was Lesley. I tried thinking of my own mother. Also, digging into the psychology about what has gone with this character, her feeling responsible for not seeing Owen and the state of his health afterwards…it can lead you down a wormhole.
I was curious about the title – a bluebird is typically associated with happiness and are the bearers of happiness in mythology in cultures ranging from the Chinese to Native Americans. Given the content of the film, it seems like an ironic title – why did you choose to use it?
The title comes from a lot of different things – the idea of the “bluebird of happiness”, this thing that you chase, but you can never reach, it flying away. To me it signifies that happiness is elusive and fleeting. Is it real? It’s the personification of what [Lesley] is going through. The bluebird that lives in Maine is migratory, flies south for the winter. It’s not supposed to be there [in the bus]. It, too, was trapped on the bus, left behind like Owen. Another wrinkle is the most common type of school bus is one made by Chevrolet called the Bluebird.
You shot Bluebird on film – will you continue to make future projects on film especially in light of the announcement in recent weeks that Kodak, with urging by people like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan, will continue to make film stock?
YES. I would love to keep doing it. If you had talked to me three years ago, I would have gone on a rant about how great film is…but I’ve been beaten down lately about how depressing the (film) situation is. If budget and resources are there, I will always shoot on film. I like the way it looks better, I like the process better – when it comes back after being developed, it’s like magic. When I went to film school, it wasn’t comparable to the situation now with technology. It’s just a feeling that is impossible replicate. I do think it looks cooler. We really did want to exaggerate the look of it with Bluebird – very granny, left the dirt in, tactile analog nature we left in there.
Did you and the actors rehearse at all? The dynamic between them was amazing, especially between John Slattery and Amy Morton. If so, how long did you have with them?
There was rehearsal, a week or two. I keep it pretty loose –readthroughs, having conversations about relationships and the characters. I try not to say too much and let the actors take hold of the characters. I told them to run with it – history of the characters. With John and Amy, they asked, “What is our marriage like?” It’s great if you can get your actors to agree with it. We would read script and talk about it so we could change lines if they weren’t organic enough.
Do you think that you’ll ever direct a film that you don’t write or do you think that the two processes go hand-in-hand?
I would direct something that I didn’t write. However, it would depend on the material. I’m working with other writers, adapting a novel right now. I don’t feel that I need to personally generate the material. Once I have it, I would take ownership of it, doing my best to make it my vision.
At the screening at the Indy Film Fest, you did a Skype Q&A. One of the questions that was asked was about the ending and I felt like I just wanted to punch the guy who asked it because he wanted you to defend why you ended the film the way you did. Any thoughts on that?
People are not used to ambiguity. We are seeing more and more independent movies starting to emulate big budget endings, wrapping up everything neatly and sometimes you just can’t do that. You have to trust your audience that they will do the work to figure out the direction these characters go after the credits roll.
And that’s that. I want to thank Lance Edmands for taking the time to talk with me about this film. Like I said in my review of Bluebird, this is one of the strongest debuts for a filmmaker I’ve seen in quite some time. I truly hope it gets the release it deserves and people flock to see it. I also look forward to Edmands‘ future projects as from this first film he appears to be a major talent.