Filmmaker Claire Edmondson’s short Exit just made its world premiere at TIFF. “Maria Bello’s richly nuanced performance lends further texture, depth, and a rare sense of grace to Claire Edmondson’s affecting story of a woman facing the ramifications of a profound decision.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your backstory and how you came into filmmaking?
CLAIRE: I think I always wanted to get into film since high school. I directed something with my class and that kind of triggered my love for it. After that I went into fashion and costume design and started working in the wardrobe department. I spent a little bit of time on set in wardrobe and I clearly realized that I wanted to be the director. But, it was great. I basically stayed in wardrobe because it was a great way to make money and a great way to learn and then had some friends that let me make music videos and I kind of went for it.
Can you tell me a little bit about who or what inspires you as a filmmaker?
CLAIRE: The director I love the most is definitely David Lynch. That said, I don’t have any interest in copying David Lynch’s work. It’s more about his vibe and his mindset. A lot of people say they love David Lynch and then just copy his style. I have no interest in doing that. I really love the infusion of the surreal and the darkness. I also love how happy he is and he just makes such dark, weird shit.
How did Maria Bello first become attached to Exit?
CLAIRE: One of my producers, Al, is repped at UTA. He’s pretty successful, he made Brigsby Bear, and some other projects. He brought the script to UTA and said we’re looking for financing for this and would like a strong actor. Maria was always our top choice. We had other actors on the list, but she was really the one because she suited the role so much. I saw her in David Cronenberg’s History of Violence and I’ve been obsessed with her since then. UTA reps her and loved the script and said they ‘we’re going to show her the script next week.’ They said ‘we’re not going to send it to her we’re going to put it in front of her.’ She read it that day and then that night, She invited Al and I to meet her at SoHo House for drinks and by the end of the night she signed on. It took me a long time to actually get the film made, but once the right people came on board, it all came together really quickly.
For Exit, how did you first conceive of your protagonist [portrayed by Maria Bello]?
CLAIRE: Originally I had her as a girl in her twenties who was dying, and that was kind of cool, but after a while I thought what would pack an emotional punch is a mother saying bye to her kid and the kid doesn’t know why, that she doesn’t realize she’s saying “goodbye.” That, for me, made the story gel just a little bit more. It just occurred to me one day, I wasn’t really thinking about it too much. With most of my ideas, I know I want to change something and wait for the idea to come to me. I felt like there was a better version of the story to tell and one day it just clicked. It needs to be a story about a mother.
Agency, specifically female agency, is a big theme in your work. Is there anything specific about that subject that you’re trying to say or get across in your work?
CLAIRE: I think, for me, I don’t have any interest in writing super tragic characters. I think the world has been watching tragic women on film for years and it’s like, what else? We’re women, we’re human, and we’re a lot more complicated and a lot more nuanced than that and I think that’s what I’m drawn to, more complex women who do have some agency. But yeah, there’s going to be troubles and there’s going to be problems, but you know, they can deal with it.
Another theme/motif you tend to explore is women and violence in both Exit and your music video with Broken Social Scene. Do you have any specific thoughts about that? Would you say that it’s different than male violence?
CLAIRE: When I made the BSS video, it was very controversial at the time. I was just trying to make a beautiful, poetic video. I wasn’t trying to capture any violence at all. I think my narrative was something about the muse reclaiming her voice and the death was a bit of a metaphor. I wasn’t really thinking about the violence in that sense, I just wanted to make a poetic music video. So I made it and it became a very polarizing controversial video at the time. That really shocked me. And I guess the thing was that women don’t really “kill” in music videos and men were really mad – it was interesting. I think it was in 2011 or 2012 and I got a lot of trolls sending me Facebook messages saying I’m a horrible person and, specifically, men were so angry. I was like, ‘wait a minute, men kill an enormous amount all the time, and men kill women all the time. What’s the issue here?’ I think it wasn’t really a conversation back then. That was five years ago, so not like the way it is now. That whole controversy really took me by surprise. And then with Exit, it was more about exploring that she could go and kill herself with a gun, but she didn’t want to do that. That’s really messy and violent.
Being a woman in the industry right now, have you found that it’s important for you to create your own opportunities?
CLAIRE: Oh, yeah. You definitely need to create your own opportunities. Even in the past year, people’s views on women filmmakers has changed and we’re actually getting support now. Finally there was a reckoning where the industry finally admitted that we’ve been very dismissed over the years and don’t get the same opportunities as men, and I really do feel that changing in the past year. It’s been such a positive experience. I started back in 2011 and since then my male contemporaries have had opportunities handed to them and for us that’s not a thing. You have to prove yourself over and over again. It’s interesting because even going back to the BSS video and another video i did back then, both got so much attention, even international attention, and did really well. I would have male filmmaker friends put out music videos at the same time that did not do as well or were not as original, but they still got handed opportunities.
Right, you just have to work twice as hard.
CLAIRE: Like, five times as hard. It’s crazy.
What are your next steps moving forward? Do you have any project you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?
CLAIRE: have a film that I’ve written that is looking for funding right now. There’s also talk of turning Exit into a feature film. It’s not for sure yet, but i have a concept for that that’s quite different from the short. That’s kind of where I’m headed. I would love to get into features soon.