Fall Back Down may be “Canada’s first punk rock love story” according to the Whistler Film Festival program and dual New Zealander/Canadian Sara Beth Edwards may be just what the emerging genre ordered. In her feature directing debut following years in the art dept of such shows as Supernatural and Psych, Edwards weaves the tale of Nick (Andrew Dunbar), a disillusioned former street activist who drifts from dead-end job to dead-end job after his girlfriend Lizzie (Jacky Lai) abandons him for a humanitarian mission in Nigeria.
Finally hitting rock-bottom as the only white guy in an all-signs-point-to-illegal sweatshop, Nick butts heads with fiery young India transplant Reena (Aadila Dosani) who resents Nick’s lackadaisical presence from day one. But when one of their co-workers winds up missing under seriously shady circumstances, the two must put aside their differences to bring the culprits to justice. At least if they don’t destroy each other first.
I sat down with SB this week in Vancouver to discuss her genre-bending debut feature.
What was the genesis of this film?
A lot of my writing starts with a collision of characters that are coming to mind, like images usually. And then things I’m thinking about which tend to be political in nature. I mean most people have whatever is worrying or bothering them on their mind.
So this movie, I’ve been trying to make for 10 years and it’s great actually that it’s coming out first because I’ve written a lot of other things in the meantime. I think it’s really tied to my roots and the communities that I’m part of and that I want to put on screen. At that time I was just wondering why activists were not being celebrated. I’ve always felt that these are like our bravest people and they’re so aware and so informed.
I didn’t want to make a political movie like a documentary or something. I’m really into narrative. So I wanted to be in that world of queer culture and protest culture and tell a love story that was funny. Essentially that became this movie and according to Whistler, possibly a genre which I hope to continue making. I do have more planned. I think a punk romantic comedy. I would watch 100 of those if they were out there!
Punk RomCom as a new genre?
Yeah, and that’s a good fit. We’ve bandied that around but I guess it is the best kind of monicker. And then I also have this image of a boy cycling and just crying, having this moment that no one’s watching. That was before the whole “boys cry too” thing. I didn’t really think about gender and characters that much. Since then, I’ve written a lot of female-driven things, but you kinda have to honour what comes to you and Nick, that’s just who the character is.
It almost seems like the times have caught up with the film in the course of its development.
I know! I was like “I have to start having a career soon, because I’ll be passé at any moment.” I used to be too far ahead of the zeitgeist. Hopefully the stars will align.
I’m happy to just make this film for my people and the people who are in the film. But let’s say it gets momentum, that’s just gonna help everyone involved tell more stories like this. I think there’s an appetite, so anything that helps demonstrate that appetite to people who hold purse strings.
Actually, it’s funny though. More and more I realized that I don’t need those gatekeepers. There’s more ways to be independent now.
What did you look for when casting the characters?
Andrew was already attached for Nick. We’ve been wanting to make something for ages and he was just so onboard. There’s not that many people that take an interest in you when you’re no one and he always was like “This is a great script, it has heart, I wanna be in it.”
All the other characters, it was basically like open casting. Reena obviously has to be from a heritage that would be working in a sweatshop. Nick is supposed to be the only white person kinda randomly in there. He’s supposed to stick out and be in this other world and she doesn’t want him there.
Everyone else was written about the environment and the job they needed to do. We were emphasizing colour-blind casting; looking for diversity, looking for disabled actors. It was disturbing how general casting could not fulfill that. I was just looking through pages and pages of super average-looking white people and I was like “This is crazy! I can’t look at anymore pages like this.”
I was also doing street casting. I couldn’t find a street casting agent who wanted to do the project so we just did it. We basically just put flyers out, we used social media and I wanted punks! I was like “I can’t dress everyone up. We don’t have that much money.” Also it wouldn’t feel right. So I was looking for people with tattoos, piercings. We had an office at the Aboriginal Mother’s Centre and some people came in.
Dinah, who plays Nick’s sister Althea, was super brave. I think she came with her friends to be an extra. But she’s such a brave person and I said “Does anyone wanna look at a bigger part, have a read?” She auditioned and she was perfect. We paid for an acting coach so she could feel a bit more confident.
I had so many things going wrong that I was worried about, but I always felt good going to camera with the cast. It was the only thing I was confident about.
Did your prior experience in the art department influence your directing?
I wish it was more prior than it is. I always just thought I was losing time. I would work in IATSE and be on pretty big shows. I started on Supernatural which was really well-written, especially at the beginning by Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble. I had been secretly writing before that, so just reading those scripts for work gave me an expectation of what a script flows like and how quite a lot has to happen.
I also think that working in art department, you’re constantly immersed in how to make something look authentic. (For Fall Back Down), I bought some of Nick’s clothes, I bought some props. The biggest problem you have is if people don’t know the culture at all. So Anamarija Josipovic who did the production design, knew to leave all the dirt in the trailer that it came with. When Nick is leaving with the sandals in close-up, there’s just actual dirt from the rental there. That sort of worked for us, not having any time or money, so we used a lot of things where we embraced what we got.
The opening montage appears to contain footage and stills of actual protests.
That was shot in Toronto because at the time we needed the footage in editing, we had a very short window at Cineworks who let us edit there for three months which was invaluable. We realized as we were cutting the film together that you need more. We were like “why don’t we just do some pickups somewhere?” And then there was like no protests happening in Vancouver! (laughs)
This female DP we were put in touch with, she shot the Toronto stuff. The photos are from my editor’s friend who’s been shooting protests for years. So we kind of pulled it all together to give it a bit more life. The stunt people were great. The stuff where the stunts were going on, that was shot in a heat wave and they had to wear black bloc outfits! They were just stoic man. Stunts are really amazing!
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
I dunno, what did you take away?
Wow, I’ve never had that turned around on me! I guess I was taken aback at first. Having a black bloc/antifa-type protagonist, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. I guess I just felt like I was being taken into a world that I’d only seen on the margins like on the news in protests. I think it’s kinda exciting when you discover a world you weren’t privy to. It’s different from the typical blockbuster fare.
I 1000% agree. I think there’s a huge lack… it’s truly bizarre. If you look at the Drive, nobody here is on screen or ever shown unless they’re like stealing handbags or something. I feel like I wish people could know all the things I’ve written because it’s a project that has a lot of theme but also as a writer, it’s so easy to kill something. I tend to watch most of the activist attempts at film and they’re too busy trying to make a point. The reason they do that is because those things are valid.
My wish would be to do a TV show with this world, honestly. Over the drafts, I had to pare down other characters from the punk house. I think that’s the tricky thing is teasing out the politics, but not wanting to spend all your time ruining your actual narrative by over-explaining. I don’t know if it’s ever possible to get that right. I think the best thing that can happen is that people in these communities like it, people who live on the drive like the movie, and then somebody gives me a TV show! (laughs)
Tying into that, do you have any upcoming projects?
Reasonably far along in development is a thriller TV show called Nowhere that’s about twins in their mid-20s who were bullied in a small town when they were young. The sister cuts out, re-invents herself in the big city and is very cool and living this hip life and her brother is still stuck back there. Then there’s a murder, but the police (especially in small places) hate weirdos and he’s a suspect in it. So she ends up having to come home and try to clear his name because he’s not taking it seriously.
That is with Chris Moore who’s also an Executive Producer on this movie. He read the script in a contest a year or so ago and I won. We got to have a lunch and at first it was just like a regular lunch. By the end, I think he was comfortable and he started saying “I really like this girl, this sister in Nowhere.” I feel like he could want to watch her and this crime element unfolding.
Chris is actually taking that out in LA and maybe that can happen, that’d be cool. I have so many projects I write almost a pilot a year! I usually go down and pound the pavement during pilot season in LA. You always need new material to get meetings and I like writing. It makes me feel like I don’t need permission.
Any advice for aspiring directors?
I think my advice is just to start directing. Even if you don’t think you can direct or you don’t think you’re the best person for the job, I can almost guarantee that you are.
It’s astonishing the ways that somebody will misunderstand and misrepresent your script. When you see it in your mind, even your intention matters. Even if the movie isn’t exactly playing in your head, the world you know, it becomes part of the decision making in the directing. If you’re in a niche, you really are the best person to control it.
I would also say produce it. Be the producer. Let as few influences in as you can and then you’ll have something that you can honestly stand beside. Even if there’s only 100 people interested in it, those are your people.
Fall Back Down makes its world premiere as part of the Whistler Film Festival at the Village 8 Cinemas on Thursday, Dec 5 @ 8:30pm