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A Talk with Nash Edgerton

A Talk with Nash Edgerton

by Tyler Foster

The Square is a taut thriller that keeps upping the ante at every turn. Building buzz for the Australian export has garnered brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton lofty (but deserved) comparisons to Body Heat and the work of the Coen Brothers, with more accolades pouring in as the film rolls out in select theaters across America. Joel, who co-wrote the film with Matthew Dabner and plays a supporting role as a local criminal-for-hire, is busy shooting the prequel to John Carpenter's version of The Thing, but director and producer Nash Edgerton stopped by Seattle, where DVDTalk writer Tyler Foster got a chance to speak with him.

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DVD Talk: So, your film revolves around a character finding a bag full of cash. This is a classic plot device in numerous movies. Do you think if you were presented with this situation in real life, it would be as hard to get away with the money as the movies make it look?

Nash Edgerton: I think in your mind it wouldn't be, but I think in reality it probably is. I don't know, I think there's something to be said for every time you do something you'd feel a little bit bad about, or you feel a little bit wrong. You kind of...create the bad circumstance for yourself just by...willing it, in some way? [laughs] In the same way you can kind of manifest good things, if you put that out in the universe, I think just by having that bad energy around you, it just makes bad things happen.

DVD Talk: Sort of like karma.

Nash Edgerton: Yeah! "Spider" [the short film playing in front of The Square in US theaters] is all about karma.

DVD Talk: So, if you were presented with this situation yourself, would you be tempted?

Nash Edgerton: Yeah, of course! [laughs] But I, you know, I'm a bit of a better chess player than Ray (David Roberts) is. I think a number of steps ahead. I feel like Ray thinks, like, one step at a time. Which is part of his downfall.

DVD Talk: Since there are other films out there with this plot, were there any genre cliches you wanted to avoid, and how much did you want yourself to be influenced by other movies that are out there?

Nash Edgerton: I think some of the things I tried to work against was that feeling that in a film noir, the girl has to be a femme fatale. I thought if I just made her a regular girl, she's doing these things, but she's not doing them with a specific ill intention in mind, or that she's going to double-cross the guy. Just because it's done so often, and people are going to assume that's what it's gonna be anyway, I won't have to do it. So, I guess there was that, and I kind of like the idea that bad things happen in the daytime just as much as bad things happen at night. [laughs] So, I didn't have to put everything in the shadows. And I just wanted to base it in some kind of reality. I thought if I could show that ordinary people get themselves into these kinds of situations as well, it might be more relatable, and more tense because of that.

DVD Talk: Yeah. I thought the movie was excellent, but I guess there is, on the note of the femme fatale, there is still a thought that the movie maybe portrays women in a lesser light than the male characters. Has anyone come up to you, or did you try to work on that?

Nash Edgerton: Yeah, I think it's just the nature of being a guy, like, you know, no secret that most guys can't write female characters as well as they can write guy characters. But, no, ultimately, I think it's Ray's story, not Carla's story...this guy, this square guy, who gets in over his head, and I think by nature of that...

DVD Talk: ...maybe you would say it's more Ray's responsibility to say no to her more than her responsibility not to ask him to take the money?

Nash Edgerton: Yeah, for sure! He kind of puts out there what he...he's the older one, he should be the more responsible one. He's not in a situation that he has to get out of, or feels he has to get out of. He just wants to get out of it.

DVD Talk: Yeah, you don't see that Ray's marriage is falling apart, the couple yelling at each other or anything.

Nash Edgerton: Exactly, I didn't want to make it that easy for him to leave, you know? I mean, even her husband, he's not a bad person. I mean, he does some criminal things, but it's not like...he's not a wifebeater, as much as he does hit her later in the film, but I wanted that to be the first time he's ever hit her, and when he does, he feels bad about it. I didn't think it should be that easy for either of them to get away. I didn't want his wife to be a nag or anything, it's just like, they've fallen out of love, and the reason he's the older guy is because, maybe if he's gonna do this, it might be his last shot.

DVD Talk: As the director, how much influence did you have on the writing process, if any?

Nash Edgerton: Oh, a lot. I was there, the whole deal, through the process, to guide it to the way I wanted...

DVD Talk: So, Joel and Matthew, they didn't write it and bring it to you, you were around while they were writing it?

Nash Edgerton: Yeah, Joel...when I first read it, just Joel had written it, and I just loved the idea. It didn't have the best structure at that time, because he was still learning how to write a film, but it was definitely great, and I said, 'Yeah, we should make this,' and we started working on it...at some point it needed something fresh, and I suggested we get someone else to have a go at it, because Joel was kind of exhausted by the process, and I said, 'Look, let's get someone to have a fresh go at it,' and I wanted to pick someone who was really good at structure, and I think Matthew really is, and Joel is really good at character and ideas. And I said, 'Look, if we don't like what he does, we've still got what you've done, so let's just see what happens,' and I think Matthew really re-shaped what was there. I think Joel liked what he did, and that gave him another fresh approach, and he did another pass, and then they kind of started working together. And the way I would work is that I would read it, and if I could visualize it while I read scenes, I'd go, 'Yeah, that's working,' and if I couldn't, then I knew there was something wrong, and I just kept kind of guiding and shaping them into how I wanted the film to be.

DVD Talk: I know lots of people say that making movies is sort of a waiting game, like you're waiting for deals to go through. I don't know how long ago The Square was written, but was it a conscious decision to make short films and then build to a feature film, or did you have the script a long time ago, and you were just waiting for it to happen, so you made the short films in the meantime?

Nash Edgerton: A bit of both. I first read it the end of 2003, and then I started working on it with Joel, and in the meantime he would go off and do acting jobs, and I was doing stunt jobs, and we didn't start showing to anyone to try to finance it for a good couple of years, until we thought it was in good shape, and then once we did, it probably took another couple of years to finance after that. We shot it in 2007, so we probably didn't start trying to finance it until the end of 2005, but...I just kept making shorts for my own confidence, practice, I had ideas I wanted to make, and I think that inevitably helped finance the film, because I was making these short films and starting to win festivals, and get into prestigious festivals, thins like that. It wasn't like 'this is the plan', we didn't have a specific plan, it just kind of worked out that way.

DVD Talk: When I do interviews I try and glance at the other interviews out there in an attempt -- a futile attempt -- to not ask the same questions. I saw you told Collider about this mock-up version of the movie, where you have stand-ins, like Joel, playing multiple roles...

Nash Edgerton: [laughs] Yeah!

DVD Talk: ...kind of like a video storyboard, and I was wondering where this idea came from, and...I know they're really rough takes, they're not at all like a finished film, but are you ever worried that you might be...like, shooting it once and then shooting it again, there's sort of a risk there that you might not have it again when you go back to do it for real.

Nash Edgerton: No, because when I do it with the video camera, it's so quick, and just sort of block it out, and just trying to use it more for the blocking, as opposed to the emotion or energy of it, and it's more just sort of, especially because I was shooting the film quite quickly, on one camera, I really wanted to have an idea of how I was going to cover it, and I can't storyboard it, because I can't draw very well, and I couldn't afford a storyboard artist. But I did have a video camera, and I knew how to edit, and I had actors, just some friends, to help things out.

DVD Talk: So, that was something you developed on this? You hadn't done it before?

Nash Edgerton: No, I've done it on music videos before, and on some of my shorts. There's a short I did called "Lucky", and I actually did the whole film like that, the film's only three or four minutes, because I had this script and no one understood what I was trying to do, so me and my friend Luke went out with a video camera to a car park, with a car, and I worked the whole thing out, and then I'd show crew members and they'd go, 'Oh! That's what you're trying to do!' And I just found...it was so much better than trying to explain to people, and the crew would just know how I was trying to do it, where I wanted to put the camera, what kind of things I wanted to do, and I could just have intelligent discussions about how to achieve the shots properly, at speed, in the desert, with equipment, on film, and all sorts of stuff, and that was probably the time I realized it really worked...I think initially I got the idea from...on the DVD of El Mariachi and Desperado...

DVD Talk: [laughs]

Nash Edgerton: ...Robert Rodriguez has those things he calls the "Ten Minute Film School", and there's one on Desperado, where he shows you his storyboards, and at one scene he says, 'and sometimes I'll video a bit', and he videos one of the shoot-outs like that, and it was just like...I just felt like...[laughs] It seemed so smart to me, and I thought 'I'm just going to try that'.

DVD Talk: Proof that DVD commentary, and extras are actually going to help people in the future!

Nash Edgerton: Totally educational, yeah! [laughs]

DVD Talk: [laughs] I'm not super-knowledgeable about Ben Lee, but my friend who went to the movie with me said that most of Ben Lee's songs are sort of poppy love songs. What made you go to him to do the songs for the movie?

Nash Edgerton: Well, because I wanted the songs to kind of be the love story in the film, and that's why, you know, Ben and I, as soon as we talked about it, and he said, 'You know, I don't think I should sing,' and I said, 'Good, I don't think you should sing either, I think it should be a girl,' and I wanted the songs to be her love story...I didn't want it to just be dark. [laughs] The idea of the film is already dark, and I wanted the score to kind of reflect that, and so I wanted some other element, and he just felt like the right guy to do that. And I've done a few of his videos, and he's written music for some of my films before, and I've been in a lot of movies with him...and I knew he had...because the songs, as much as they're love songs, they're also kind of dark, and I knew he had some of that in him as well.

DVD Talk: And I'm sure, when you do upbeat love songs, you want to find a way to...an outlet for that.

Nash Edgerton: Exactly.

DVD Talk: Whose idea was it to attach "Spider" before the movie, and was that in place when it opened in Australia?

Nash Edgerton: In Australia, I tried to get it to play in front, and at a couple of screenings, I did, and it always played really well, and then when I first came to America to show distributors, I had a screening in New York, and I put "Spider" on the front of it, and again it played really well, I thought. I just wanted to let people know what kind of film they're in for and what kind of sense of humor I had, and just to put people a little bit off...on edge before they've even started watching it.

DVD Talk: Yeah, I think it works really well, because the movie has a bit of a slow build, and you don't want the audience to be fidgeting in their seats, not sure where it's going to go, but then you see the short film, and you're totally prepared for the rest of the movie.

Nash Edgerton: Exactly, yeah. So I showed it like that to Bob Berney, who's releasing the film here with Apparition, he was at that screening, and he just responded really well to that, and he said 'Look, if I get to release the film, I want to release it with "Spider",' and I said, 'Great.'

DVD Talk: Presumably, the DVD will have that on it as well?

Nash Edgerton: It will, yeah.

DVD Talk: Do you think you're going to include any of your other short films on the DVD?

Nash Edgerton: I'm not sure, but there is going to be...I did shoot quite a lot of other material for the film. Some of the pre-vis things I did will be on there, to show you the comparison of some of the sequences that I shot on video, like I did some side-by-side comparisons of them.

DVD Talk: Just a couple of side questions, is that guy entering the hospital with the eyepatch an intentional reference to "Spider"?

Nash Edgerton: I did think he's got to go to the emergency ward at some point. It's his first opportunity to get there. [laughs] Actually, I kind of did that for myself, and I didn't know that people would register it, while they were watching the movie, but I love that they do. It's such a good tension-breaker.

DVD Talk: Something about it, your eyes are drawn right to it.

Nash Edgerton: Yeah.

DVD Talk: Also, I would have to mark this question as a spoiler, but I read in your Boxoffice interview that you guys said the original treatment was darker, and that you wheeled it back a little bit, and I guess in the back of my mind I might have thought, when David Roberts walks out the house at the very end that his wife might have been there to confont him. Am I imagining that?

Nash Edgerton: Yeah...the original treatment was darker, and it definitely ended differently at one stage. She [Claire] didn't die, she got away with the money. But I did shoot him coming home after killing her...I shot two versions, and I ended cutting them both out, and just having...I just liked the idea of doing the anti-hero shot, you know, normally you have the guy walking off into the sunset, and instead, I wanted him to walk off, and the sun's coming up, and he's not the hero, things have not worked out. [laughs]

DVD Talk: [laughs]

Nash Edgerton: But I did shoot him walking all the way home, and his wife's there, making him juice, and she doesn't even notice that he's all f---ed up, and covered in blood and stuff.

DVD Talk: [laughs]

Nash Edgerton: And I did shoot initially, a version with him making her juice, and they're just in their mundane routine, you know. And I also shot an ending where he walks all the way home and she wasn't there, she'd gone.

DVD Talk: Yeah, because there is that scene at the party where she seems to suspect that he's cheating on her, but it's the only domino in the movie that doesn't fall down.

Nash Edgerton: Yeah, well, I kind of like the idea that people will make up her own mind about whether she'll stay, because some people do, you know, they know their partners are cheating on them and they just put up with it, and others leave...I think I got to a point, with all of the stuff that was happening, the fact that he was having an affair was the least of his problems...but yeah, the other ending I shot was that he came home, and she wasn't there, and he starts making juice by himself, just in a sort of trance...but then it just felt like, just having him walk past his car enough, and allowing the audience to make up their minds about where he goes. (Spoilers end)

DVD Talk: And do you and Joel have anything else you're working on that you can talk about?

Nash Edgerton: Uh, we're writing something else, but it's not really formed enough...like, it hasn't got a title...it feels very different to The Square in many ways. The Square is kind of contained in one town, and this is kind of a road movie...

DVD Talk: More of a comedy, maybe?

Nash Edgerton: Um...It's probably more like "Spider" and my film "Lucky".

DVD Talk: Well, that's all the questions I have for you. Have a good time in Seattle.

Nash Edgerton: Yeah! And tell people to go see the movie when it comes out on Friday! [laughs]

DVD Talk: Well, I write for a website, DVDTalk, so my review is already up. It's a great movie, and I hope it does well.

Nash Edgerton: Awesome. Thanks!

The Square is currently playing in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Berkeley, Austin, Palm Springs, and Orange County. It opens this weekend in Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and San Diego, with more cities to come in following weeks. You can visit the film's official website to find out more about showtimes at www.squarethemovie.com, as well as becoming a fan on facebook, or following @bluetonguefilms on Twitter.

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