Interview with Stephen Fox
As you might have noticed, earlier this month, a review for The Last Days of Edgar Harding was published on the site. Stephen Fox, the writer and director of the movie, graciously accepted to answer a few questions about his film (you can find my review here) and give us some insight on the process of bringing The Last Days of Edgar Harding to life.
It’s quite hard to find information about you, could you tell us a little about yourself? What drew you towards writing and directing movies?
I come from a musical family and spent much of my youth travelling around with my dad who was a singer. I sang from an early age but also loved making short films (usually Zombie films) with my friends. They were all terrible but I had a real passion for film making. In my late teens though, the music took over and I began writing songs and playing gigs with my band.
We released 5 independent albums which sparked interest from Sony Records. We were set up with a manager and spent a year recording an album…then we were dropped and we had nothing. I fell into deep depression and couldn’t do music anymore and so began to write ‘The Last Days of Edgar Harding’ I had no idea why really other than I needed a creative outlet. Since Edgar I have directed and produced a live concert/documentary DVD and mainly worked on music videos. I have recently started a follow up novel to ‘The Last Days of Edgar Harding’.
I’ll start with saying how much I loved the movie and how surprised I was about all the twists and turns it took. It always kept me guessing and that’s quite hard to find in movies lately. There’s a certain predictability factor that your film seemed to lack, which I thought was fantastic. With that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
- You not only directed The Last Days of Edgar Harding, you also wrote the script for it. What made you choose this particular topic, given that most people tend to pick a lighter subject for their directorial debut. Were you ever faced with a situation as that depicted in the movie or do you know someone that was forced in that position? Is it just a critique brought to the way in which the world of the famous works?
I primarily wanted to write a film about a band but I knew that I didn’t want to write the traditional ‘band get record deal and become famous’ film. I wanted the band element to take a backseat to the actual story if that makes sense! Having been in a band with a development deal with a major record company and managed by a reasonably high profile manager (David Arden – brother of Sharon Osbourne) I knew first-hand how it feels to get so close to having your dreams come to fruition only to lose everything overnight.
I think we would have done anything to secure the actual record deal at that point. Regarding the darker elements of the story, I did draw from certain experiences in my youth.Certainly as a first time writer/director the rule of thumb is write what you know and I really tried to do that, along with extensive research for any issues I wasn’t familiar with. My aim was to write an honest film with realistic characters and I hope I came somewhere close to achieving that.
- The cast was mostly made of little known actors, how did it all come together? Were they your first choice or was there an audition process involved, and if so, how did that one go? What made you pick Richard, Michael, Carolynne and Daniel as the band as well as everyone else? I have to say, Edgar’s actor, Wayne Russel, was amazingly creepy and perfect for therole.
There were extensive auditions for the roles of the band and we had people audition from all over the UK. I had people helping me with this process but I knew exactly what I was looking for as I had lived and breathed these characters for almost 2 years whilst writing the script. The band was decided when we did group auditions and had 4 people for each band member, we would swap them around and they would perform scenes together.
It was in this process that Dan, Carolynne, Richard and Michael were cast. They performed a scene and it was breathtaking to watch them work together, I have to say it was quite an emotional moment for me personally seeing characters that had only been alive in my head suddenly become human before my eyes!Wayne was a joy to work with. He is a wonderful actor and played the role perfectly. Some may say a little over the top but I have to say, I based the way in which Edgar Harding speaks and his mannerisms on my bands former manager, David Arden and Wayne totally nailed it.
- How was it working with everyone, both the cast and the crew?Are there any stories from the set you could share with us?
Everyone who worked on the film was not only chosen for their talent and passion but also for how they would fit in with everyone else. The days were extremely long and the budget was extremely tight so it was always going to take a certain type of person to be able to cope with these situations. I sincerely could not have wished for a nicer bunch of people to work with on what essentially was a six week shoot collectively.
While on set everyone was completely professional and got on with whatever needed doing but as soon as the day was over we would all go for dinner and there was plenty of partying which in turn created a solid bond between the cast. The one on set story that always springs to mind is the kissing scene between Dan and Chris. We had to create the set from scratch in an old school which took most of the day so we were ready for when the sun set as it was a night shoot.
I had explained to Dan and Chris that I wanted an authentic kiss, as a gay man I have always hated when gay kisses in movies look awkward and forced. So on the first take action was called and they began to kiss, they kissed for about 5 minutes and I finally said cut and said ‘that was wonderful guys but you were supposed to stop after about 15 seconds and say your lines!’ I think at least it took away any awkwardness they felt….I think they did about 20 takes after that, I’m pleased with the end result.
- I watched the DVD interviews and commentaries from the actors and they all had nothing but kind words to say about working with you and with each other. Do you think that helped in creating the bond that seemed to exist between the band members on screen?
I think the fact that they all got along with each other and me definitely helped with on screen chemistry and I think the essential element was that they trusted my vision for the characters and I trusted their take on their own character. As a writer I had around 20 or so characters in my head whereas they just had their own so it would have been foolish of me to not trust that they understood how to play their given character probably better than I did.
- Was there any scene that was problematic to shoot? For you as a director and for the actors? In the commentary it was mentioned that the scene between Jack and Edgar had been quite difficult for the actors involved. Was it the same for you, behind the camera? Because it was quite hard to watch for me, I even had to pause it and start over after a while.
I think that scene in particular wasn’t problematic from a technical point of view as by that point we were established in the hotel room set after been on a different location everyday for two weeks. It was difficult from an emotional point of view though and was certainly a tense day. Richard Massara (photo) tried to stay in character for most of the day so obviously was quite hard to be around but that was important for him and for the film and the performance he delivers still gives me shivers when I watch it. I’m glad you found it hard to watch as that was the intention; it was not about pushing boundaries or exploitation but designed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable.
- Speaking of that scene, it was dealing with some difficult things, potential triggers for some people, but it was handled quite carefully and it didn’t come across as being made simply for the shock factor. The little hints that it had happened to James (Robert Bennie) as well were also a nice touch, though he seemed to handle it better than Jack. It seemed like you put a lot of thought into everything. How long did it take you to write the script?
The script took me nearly 18 months to write and then myself and the script editor Helen Cooke spent a further 6 months on it. I think when you are dealing with any story relating to abuse of any nature you have a responsibility to the audience to not sensationalise it. A lot of preparation went into that scene and we were careful not to add things for shock factor, this continued into the edit where we actually toned the scene down as it was actually too difficult to watch. I knew even when writing the scene that I wanted it to be a montage with Frankie’s performance of ‘People Like Us’ which was actually the first song I had ever wrote and my first attempt of expressing my feelings on abuse. That scene in particular is one of my proudest creative moments as it upsets me to watch it which in a strange way makes me feel I got it right.
- One of my favourite parts about the film was the ending, that little twist in which we discover that our “heroes” haven’t iterally gotten away with murder. Have you ever thought about ending it in a different fashion, in a way where they actually get the happy ending that most viewers might feel they all deserved?
Oh no…I don’t like happy endings, I’ll leave that to the big budget Hollywood films! Personally I like to leave a film with questions, I don’t like to be spoon fed the answers.
- Why was Edgar stuck in limbo for so long? It was released in 2011 if I’m not mistaken and it took almost three years for it to come out on DVD. That’s quite a long time.
There are a few factors to this. The edit was finished in 2011 and there was a premiere and a screening at the Bradford International Film Festival but at that point we had not secured any distribution deal. One of the main reasons for this was independent film was suffering due to the increase in illegal file sharing…quite simply there is very little money to be made in small films like ours.
Another factor though was I had personally lived and breathed Edgar for five years at this point and I was burnt out with it. I decided to take a break and go back to music so I put a band together and went on tour with 80’s band Bucks Fizz, who I got to know as Jay Aston from the band appeared in the film as Claudia Brite. I had a wonderful time and even played the London Palladium which was a childhood dream of mine.
Once this was over I got back to Edgar with fresh eyes and we did a few tweaks to the edit and created the DVD extra features. It certainly did take a while but I’m so pleased that it is now out and seems to be received well. I know Daniel Sharman and Teenwolf fans have a lot to do with the success so far and I know everyone who worked on the film appreciates their support.
- What was the thing you liked most filming and writing when it came to The Last Days of Edgar Harding?
Strangely, I actually think I preferred the writing stage of Edgar. As a song writer I love to get lost in this kind of creative process so writing the script was a wonderful and creative experience for me…almost like writing a very long song. I think also it was quite cathartic for me as it let me express certain issues that I have never really talked to anyone about both from my personal life and my time in the band…I feel like the process of writing the script helped me lay some demons to rest!
I did love the shooting of the film though mainly because I got to work with so many talented and artistic people who, to this day, are close friends. As a first time director it was wonderful working with people like Dan who had done a lot of acting already and spending time with him off set (Dan, Michael and Richard lived in my house for 6 weeks)was great as it gave me the opportunity to get to know them personally, Dan and I would constantly talk about our mutual love of LA and how we wanted to live there…6 months later he was!
- How long did it take to shoot the film?
We shot all interior scenes over a four week period in August 2008 with exterior scenes filmed in October 2008 (the film was set in Autumn so we had a few months break)
- I read on the film’s Facebook page, as well as on tumblr and twitter that everyone worked on this for free, from the actors to most of the crew, what do you think made people rally behind this project, especially when it involved them doing mostly volunteer work.
It’s not uncommon for people wanting to break into the movie business to do projects like this for free but I think the difference with ours was that although we had a tiny budget we had a very ambitious production schedule which meant long hours and very hard work. I think everyone involved could see that we had done our pre-production, we were organized and that they were getting involved with something that had the potential to be something worthy of their time.
- The soundtrack of this film was amazing, it was one of my favourite things about it, will it ever be released?
Thank you…that means a lot as I wrote several of the songs! There are discussions in place about a soundtrack but nothing concrete yet. The main song which the band perform ‘All These Years’ is a personal triumph as it had to be written from Jacks perspective so I had to dig deep for that one…half a bottle of JD helped a lot!
- There was a post from the Edgar Harding tumblr about the possibility of you writing a book in which we learn more about the future of the band, except this time it would revolve around the character of Harry. Can you confirm that and tell us more about it? If it’ll be successful, would you consider bringing it to the big screen?
Yes…I have started work on this. I suspect it will me a labour of love as the truth is these four characters over the years have become part of me and in the time away from Edgar I missed them as I would close friends so from a personal point of view I wanted to know what happened to them! I decided to write this one based mainly on Harry as I feel I connect with him the most,not just because we are both gay but also because he is so sensitive to his surroundings which makes him a really interesting character to write as putting him in any situation will ultimately create some kind of drama.
The book will be based around the band as they re- locate in the USA (Santa Cruz) to record an album. Without giving too much away, Harry takes a troubled young man under his wing with a disturbing back story….that’s all I can say for now but I do have a ‘twist and turn’ pin board above my desk so expect more of that! It would be amazing to make it into a film but the reality is that it probably won’t happen due to cast commitments…and I could never replace any of them…it just wouldn’t work! Never say never though.
- Are there any new projects for you, that we should keep an eye out for?
At present I am mainly making music videos and music documentaries but I do hope to make another feature film in the near future. Edgar was amazing to work on but draining at the same time due to the time it has taken to get it released. I’m actually really excited about the book and hope to write the adaptation of ‘The Last Days of Edgar Harding’ to book format too so the two will tie in together. I feel the four band members have a life beyond the film with many adventures ahead and they excite me the most at the moment.
- Any director that has inspired you in your work? And are there any actors/actresses you’d like working with in the future?
I love Gus Van Sant, he is a genius! Sean Penn blew me away with his direction of ‘Into the Wild’ and I love Steve McQueen’s films as every frame is like a piece of art. As far as actors…to be honest I love discovering new actors so I’m not one for big names. I would love to work with Michael Gamarano again (Taylor in Edgar) as he is such a great actor to direct, he now lives in LA and I hope he gets his big break out there. The only famous actor I would really like to work with is Emile Hirsch. I think he has the same quality as River Phoenix did in his early days and in a selfish way I don’t want him to get really famous as I don’t want him to be destroyed!
Here’s All These Years, one of my favourite songs from The Last Days of Edgar Harding, performed by the writer/director and musician Stephen Fox.