SXSW 2008 - interview with SHUTTLE writer/director Edward Anderson & star Cameron Goodman

I had a chance to sit down and speak with Edward Anderson, writer / director of Shuttle and one of its stars, the lovely Cameron Goodman on Sunday morning following the film’s premier.

Collin: Congratulations on the film. I really enjoyed it.

Edward: So you saw it?

Collin: Last night, yeah.

Cameron: I did too – for the first time!

Edward: Well thanks for coming out to see it. We really appreciate it.

Cameron: I’m a little overly-revved about it right now. If you talk to me in a few days I’ll be a lot cooler – a lot more aloof about it.

Collin: This was a writer/director project and I think it really shows because the film has a very full, realized feel to it. What drove you to do this as a first-time filmmaker – what made you think this project would work? It’s very dark and uncompromising in its ideals.

Edward: I think, like a lot of filmmakers, I get a lot of ideas. You filter through them as you go along. If an idea stays with you for a while then maybe you’ll explore it, and if you explore it and it keeps going well then you’ll outline it, and if you outline it you might write it, and if you write it you might do some more drafts. The good ideas stay with you.

For me, I think of a lot of ideas, but it’s it difficult to think of something that’s appealing that I haven’t seen a hundred times. I love movies, but I get bored of seeing the same thing over and over again. I want to see something different. I love plot, and I love character. With movies that are dark thrillers like this is, everything gets escalated very quickly and you’re in, bang-bang-bang, and I feel like you have to spend time with your characters in order to get people to care about them so that later, when things are going badly, you’re interested. It’s a long way of saying I wanted to do something that wasn’t totally unfamiliar but also was done differently. I think the fact that we didn’t do this at a studio gave us the ability to be uncompromising as you say, to work with a lot of the reveals we can’t really talk about. It might be giving some studios short shrift - -

Cameron: You’re not, though. You’re not.

Edward: I don’t think most studios would’ve let us do this. They would’ve said, “Change the ending, change this, change that.” It’s cool – I get it. I respect they’re in a business, they need to make money. We all are. I want to make films that are interesting to see, that I would want to see. This film does that for me on a couple of levels. I love Dead Calm, I love Collateral, I love these contained movies where something happens in a short period of time and it gets really compressed and visceral. I was sitting on a shuttle bus at LAX one day and the idea just sort of happened, all on a 10-minute ride to my car.

Cameron: This movie is definitely written for a smart audience. You can watch it and enjoy the ride, just be freaked out, on the edge of your seat, ripping out your hair – like I was, last night. At the same time I ate up all the thought and discussion it generates afterward. I’m sitting in an interview this morning listening to Edward and I’m picking up more about the film I missed – and I filmed it. It’s layered.

Collin: Cameron, with your performance there was a lot of physical and emotional heavy lifting. Obviously there had to be a great deal of trust between you and Edward, because some of the things you were asked to do on-screen were rough. Could you talk a little about what it was like preparing to enter this dark world he had created?

Cameron: It’s an artform, as a director, to know how to treat your actors in order to get us to emote properly. But a lot of it to is, you just have to bring it. No one wants to sit there are get depressed and be sobbing and hysterical. It’s not fun – I don’t walk out afterward and say, “That was a great work day!” I go home and am just in a sort of state of shock, this body shock. But as a director, Edward really had to balance it. Do you give us downtime between scenes or just ask us to power through?

Edward: Cameron’s giving me way too much credit. I’m deadly serious – no bullshit. Cameron and Peyton (List, co-star) – you saw it last night, that’s like the highest level of effort. The thing is, it is a genre film and it isn’t. I think it blurs the lines between this dark thriller and a horror film – there’s some blood, but there aren’t any extremely gory elements. It plays in an honest way. But the reason it’s scary is because of the girls’ emotional ride – that’s them, they’re doing it. They came prepared every day and just did it. Watching them go through their arcs during the course of shooting, being beaten and stressed and traumatized, it was just amazing to watch.

Cameron: Peyton and I are friends. She had dated my roommate, so we were familiar with each other before we started the movie. I can’t stress how much working with Peyton has improved my acting. She’s a much more veteran performer than I am.

Collin: In casting the two girls and (co-star) Tony Curran, what was it like finding the actors? There are a very limited number of roles in this film and the greatest amount of interplay takes place between the three of them, so how did you know this would be the cast?

Edward: I gotta say, we were very fortunate. Casting is half the job. We were very fortunate. We read for all the parts – we read for Tony’s part. He’s very successful. He won the lead best actor in the British Independent Film awards last year, a Scottish BAFTA, nominated for the English BAFTAs, very well known for Underworld. He came and read for us and just blew me away. I said, “This is the guy.” With Peyton and Cameron we went through the same process and when it happened we just knew. We had them read very emotional scenes to see if they could do it in a credible way, not over the top. We wanted it gritty and raw and real. We had them read together. Then we sat down and met one-on-one and I told them, “Hey, this is going to be a nightmare. We’re shooting nights in Boston in the winter, it’s going to be really really hard.” I needed to know they were into it. I think you can learn a lot about a person just by spending time with them. Everybody says they want to do the part, but I think we invested the time to find people who really understood the film. Cameron – this is one of her first lead roles. She’s perfect for it. We saw a lot of actress with more experience, bigger names with longer resumes, but Cameron was the character of Jules to me.

Collin: A lot of people have been talking lately about getting back to the way films felt 20, 30 years ago, when there wasn’t such a high degree of stylization in production or performance. With a film like Shuttle that’s so intense everything could’ve melted into histrionics – and it still could’ve worked - but they didn’t. The film has a studied, stripped-down look and feel. What drove you to think that was the right decision for the material?

Edward: That’s a great question. That’s a filmmaker’s question. I sat down with the cinematographer, the actors, the production designers, and we looked at other movies that I wanted to draw from – I wanted to do something unique, but we looked for inspiration whether it be the look or the vibe or the tone. I loved the fact that this was set at night. It changes everything. I looked at a lot of the “night” films I love from Michael Mann, David Fincher. You have enough conversations and soon enough people just get it. They all understand what you’re talking about. We looked at a lot of films together and eventually it came out that we wanted to do something very hand-held, with a progressive look. The film starts off very clean, not hand-held at all, and as things get messier it gets erratic and tight. I looked at a lot of films that I thought might be helpful. One was Twelve Angry Men. It’s not visceral, but it has a very contained story, it takes place in one location, tremendous arc in terms of the camera, which is what we tried to do. We tried to progress through the film with the camera, with the sets, with the lighting, the costumes, so that when you first get in the shuttle on page 10 it’s a totally different experience then when you get out of it on page 80. Everything was very conscious. We tried to find the vibe, the unique DNA that would make this film what we knew it could be. Our goal was compression. We wanted it to get more claustrophobic as time went on so you could really experience what the characters were feeling. We wanted it to get darker. It should feel down and dirty and gritty and nasty – not the prettiest film ever shot. Mostly we just went with the vibe. It was the energy of the film that drove us. I’ve seen a lot of people trying to shoot stuff that’s more ‘70s, less stylized. We didn’t want to go completely “documentary,” but we wanted to stay away from stylization.

Collin: It sounds like it was an organic process. If you’re trying to graft whatever your definition of a given aesthetic is on top of a project without consideration it probably won’t work, but if it grows out of the material it probably will.

Edward: It came out of the script. Absolutely. The script felt like it should look like this to me, it felt that way to my cinematographer – he got it. It works because it came out of the script.

Collin: We’re getting the signal to wrap things up. I’d like to ask – last night at the Q&A you mentioned that isn’t a message film, but you can’t deny that there’s a measure – and that might even be putting it too lightly – of topicality in the film. It’s not something we’ve seen addressed very often. Talk a little about how you reconcile that topicality with what the film ultimately is, a suspense picture.

Cameron: I think that plays to our favor, you know?

Edward: I respect that question. What I meant last night, in that it’s not a message film, is that it’s not built around that point of view. You see Traffic and it’s about drugs – that’s not what this film is. This film touches on issues that are contemporary and I think that’s a good thing and I think that helps take it out of being lumped into one particular genre. It’s sort of like the violence in the film. The violence in the film isn’t the central feature. We didn’t make the film to make it violent. It’s set in reality and the violence is a function of the film, the violence happens because this is the way the story went. That topicality you spoke of is another function of the film. We didn’t make it to make a statement – to say this is bad or this is good. It’s hard to talk about without revealing too much. What we’re trying to do is not do anything too simple. I hope we don’t lose people because of it. We weren’t trying to stand up on a soapbox. We were trying to do something organic. There’s a social context to it, yes, but I hope that doesn’t confuse people. We didn’t do it to make that message, to pound that home.

Cameron: It’s not a documentary. I do think it will draw attention to things, and I think the more people see the movie the more people will become aware that we’re dealing with a serious problem within the story.

Edward: I look forward to talking with people about it off the record. As a filmmaker, you put something together, you involve all these talented people, but you never know how people are going to respond to it. I try to write scripts that are interesting to me. I don’t know what’s interesting to anyone else – we’ll see. We’re just getting a feel for it.

Cameron: It’s one of those scripts where you think, “That’s a great idea – why didn’t I think of that?” I know when I think that, it’s a good sign.

Thanks to Edward Anderson and Cameron Goodman!

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