The short films of Nash Edgerton exist on the border of overlapping genres, cinematic categorizations simultaneously flexing their muscles to subvert audience expectations. One of the founding members of Australian collective “Blue Tongue Films”, Edgerton is a jack of all trades – director, actor, editor, and long time stuntman for Hollywood. His short films are hyper kinetic in the most potent sense, consistently driven in one direction by fast paced editing and impressive stunt work. But each packs a different kind of tonal wallop, whether it’s the devastating karmic ending in Spider or the tragically horrific metamorphosis in Fuel.
Edgerton’s debut feature film The Square, a contorted Neo-noir that twists everyday characters into dangerous psychological knots, exists in a collective quicksand box where deception and murder seem to organically spring from the best of intentions. The Square is now touring the United States after being a smash hit in his native Australia. I sat down with Nash Edgerton after a screenings of his short film Spider and The Square to discuss genre, the production process, and his future endeavors.
GLENN HEATH, JR: Many of your short films, from Loaded to Lucky, all contain an incredible amount of forward momentum in the narrative, no matter if it’s during chase scenes or dialogue driven moments. This stems not only from your fast paced editing but extreme physicality in the stunt work. Why was this approach so important to you as a young filmmaker?
NASH EDGERTON:I always liked the idea of movement and rhythm and I felt like filming it in that way gives the audience a sense of what those characters are experiencing. For me filmmaking is such a visual medium, I didn’t want it to be just about talking. I wanted to try and tell stories visually.
GHJ: Especially in the short film format, where you don’t have a lot of time to achieve this goal. There’s a real difference between your short films and THE SQUARE.
NE: With The Square, the story lent itself to a slower build, and if someone barraged you in that way for 90 minutes it would be quite hard to take. I set out with The Square to create a whirlpool effect, I mean to me Ray’s character is drowning, and I want to make it feel like it’s slowly creeping up on him and eventually his life starts spiraling out of control, and I wanted that feeling to come out in the film as more and more people get involved.
GHJ: Suffocation of the character, almost.
NE: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
GHJ: Genre also plays a key role in much of your work, the Crime Film (LOADED and LUCKY) and Horror (FUEL) being great examples. Why do these specific classic genres, interest you?
NE: I think it’s just what I grew up watching. I liked films that made me laugh, or shocked me. I really love the idea of entertaining an audience, and with my short films and The Square I wanted to entertain a crowd and have that vocal reaction.
GHJ: What genre films in particular caught your eye growing up?
NE: The first film that really blew me away, when I was ten was An American Werewolf in London. And I loved Jaws, and Reservoir Dogs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that film Magnolia, and Deliverance.
GHJ: And you get a sense of Deliverance in Fuel.
NE: Yeah, absolutely.
GHJ: You can definitely see the influence of 70’s Hollywood in your work. Where there any Australian directors that influenced your work?
NE: I loved Mad Max. I definitely get my sense of movement from that. I love that George Miller does action without these gratuitous shots or slow motion. It’s constant movement, fast like you’re alive and there, and you ask yourself “Did that just happen?”
GHJ: Like Mad Max, and especially with your films too, it’s as if the trajectory is never-ending, action in terms of the story.
NE: Yeah, if action is done well it helps create tension, just as much as good drama does.
GHJ: Of all your short films, Spider seems to be the one that defies categorization, disturbing in ways that the other films aren’t. It transcends genre in favor of a much more uncomfortable scenario, when a small moment in a relationship escalates into a shocking moment of fate. What were you trying to say with this sly mixture of character and violence?
NE: I wanted to see if I can make something and first play it really straight, and people wouldn’t know if it was a Drama or Comedy, and then it’s just down to your perspective in the end, whether your find it funny or disturbing. And after taking that approach with Spider I tried to play The Square in much the same way. Life is both, and ultimately it comes down to your perspective. Some people might laugh, and a few others might be horrified by it. The events in The Square are the same, since it’s all up to your perception of the tone. I have a very dry and dark sense of humor. For me these shifts are ironic, funny, and karmic.
GHJ: The line Jill speaks in Spider, telling Jack he “always goes one step too far”, it’s foreshadowing incarnate. And you really get that slow burn from the rest of the film.
NE: Yeah, you want to give that sense of dread, as if something terrible is going to happen. It makes it more effective. And then I try and play against people’s expectations. People think they’re going to crash the car, but they don’t. And when you think something is going to happen and it doesn’t, you let your guard down, leaving yourself open.
GHJ: How did working on big budget productions such as The Matrix, Star Wars, and The Thin Red Line prepare you for directing your first feature film?
NE: I think every film I’ve worked on, it’s always a learning experience, it seemed like film school to watch other people making films their own way. Watching how to do things in a certain amount of time, how not to do things. Every film you work on has a different approach, so each was adding to my knowledge.
GHJ: Film Noir is a genre that few Western filmmakers delve into these days. What drew you to this very stylized genre with THE SQUARE?
NE: I just love the idea of setting up an expectation that things are going to go bad, then coming up with an entertaining and engaging way to take people to that place. I felt like because it’s such an iconic genre I could play against expectations and use them to my advantage. I mean people might expect Carla to be a clear-cut femme fatale, and because everyone has expectations about what Carla is going to do, then you can play against that.
GHJ: One surprising thing I felt was that The Square isn’t about one specific deception, but about a collective, evolving organism of betrayal that keeps growing, getting worse as the film goes along.
NE: Everyone’s actions have consequences, and I feel that’s what happens in life. I wanted these characters in this situation to be complex, and grow. It’s not that this is the good guy, or this is the bad guy. People are far more complex than that. Carla’s husband Smithy is not a wife-beater, I mean he’s a small time criminal but he loves his wife and he just has a hard time communicating with her, and he’s upset at all the stuff that happens to him in the film. And when his violence does come out, he immediately is distraught about it, more like a real person. He’s not a cookie-cutter bad guy.
GHJ: Do you think these betrayals are based on the character’s weaknesses or more based on fate. Or a combination of the two?
NE: I think it’s a combination of the two. Fate definitely plays a hand. Whatever actions you make, and the consequences that become of that, and on top of that you’re dealing with the machinations of the world, like weather in The Square. There are some things that hit people sideways that they don’t see coming. While a lot of the story is out of Ray’s control, every little decision makes things a little bit worse. I tried to liken him as a bad chess player. He doesn’t think past the consequences of each move.
GHJ: Ray is a really interesting character in that he’s got moments of extreme aggression and then panic.
NE: I mean he’s completely out of his depth. He’s out of his normal moral code. Once he decides to do what he’s going to do, he’s totally stitched into a whole other world he knows nothing about. He starts this chain of events then is chasing his tail for the entire duration. It’s not like he’s a bad person, he just makes bad decisions, and it makes him more complex. Otherwise you wouldn’t sympathize with him.
GHJ: The two dream sequences in The Square are kind of like Ray’s visions of guilt, and they’re really potent visually. Why are these moments so important to Ray’s character?
NE: They really let you know he’s paranoid, he’s not sleeping, that it’s constantly on his mind and he’s really lost. It helps you empathise with him as a character, it shows that he’s not dealing with this situation very well.
GHJ: The women in your films always seem like they are in jeopardy but they don’t know it, and the men can’t protect them. And in these classic genres you’re working within, there are usually strong heroes. But in your films the male protagonists are far more layered and conflicted.
NE: There’s a sense of that. Yeah, the guys in my films are never really heroic. I guess guys often make selfish decisions and choices that affect women, sometimes with tragic results.
GHJ: In classic Film Noir fashion, all the main characters in The Square converge in a final chance meeting, a bloody scene of comeuppance. Why is this dynamic scene so important to your vision?
NE: I wanted tie up all of these characters in a very organic way, all together in the same place. Smithy coming home is one of the most important things, because he sees the entire situation right in front of him, and it’s kind of one of those what the f@$k moments.
GHJ: What about location in The Square. I mean usually Film Noir is set in the dark underbelly of the city, the urban sprawl. With The Square, the story occurs in the middle of suburbia.
NE: I wanted to show bad things happen in the daytime as well. Bad things happen to ordinary people. They don’t have to be detectives or anything. I wanted to make a Film Noir in the daytime, in suburbia, at Christmas time. Bad things don’t just happen in the shadows.
GHJ: Following the huge success of The Square, what’s your next directing project going to be?
NE: I’m writing a script right now, but it’s still a work in progress. It’s a road movie, unlike The Square which is very contained in one place. It’s going to have elements of crime, dark humor. It’s a bigger film.
GHJ: And I’m sure it will have some car chase scenes.
NE: I’m sure a bit of that. I do like cars.