Andrew Steggall is a director with a brilliant mind, as someone who has studied philosophy, and clearly understands how complex life is when you are a teenager. Growing up in the big awkward world can be difficult for anyone, but as you develop sexual desires, it makes things even more confusing. That is why in his directorial debut, Steggall knows how to make a beautiful film about growing up. In Departure, he pays attention to the subtle and proper details that makes a coming of age film feel like a rich piece of art. Andrew found time out of his busy schedule to speak with AMovieGuy.com's Hot Seat about his new film Departure, working with his star Alex Lawther, and filming while holding onto a boat.
AMG.COM: You wrote Departure, can you talk a bit about what your inspiration was in making this film?
ANDREW STEGGALL: Like all first feature films it's a labor of love. There were a number of things that came together. Some friends of mine have a house in France that I was at over the holiday. The script became my response to the landscape surrounding this home, the mystery of this valley, and the reservoir hidden in the forrest. It provoked feelings to make a film about a group of characters undergoing transformation. It brought to mind a holiday I'd had when I was a teenager with my parents. I had an intuition, or premonition perhaps, about the state of my parents marriage. A feeling or recognition between us, about where they were in their lives and I was in mine. It was this main recollection, which was, in a way, a harbinger of the end of my parents marriage. This was embroiled in my burgeoning sexuality and a consciousness that I was wrong to think that I was so different from them. I thought I was capable of this vast life of such inter-conflict and they were, somehow blank canvases. I guess, in my self indulgent adolescence, I had imposed this upon them. I was interested in exploring all of those ideas of transformation and the idea of knowing things before you know them. How we, in a way, attempt to force change to bring the moment to a crisis, or we seek out the experience, as children, of losing our innocents, we seek it out, yet fear it. All of it is in the movie, those themes and a schoolboy knowledge of Freud, it made a provocative setting for Elliot's story.
AMG.COM: Working with your cinematographer Brian Fawcett, was it a point and shoot type of goal? Or did you storyboard and have the images in your head that you captured?
ANDREW STEGGALL: We didn't storyboard at all. The two of us fought very hard to secure an autumn shoot because, while often, coming of age films are set in the spring, and there is a feeling of new beginning's. I was interested in the death of a childhood, the end of a marriage, and the end of a chapter. Autumn felt to me like the most beautiful expression of transition and actually fresh green leaves look hideous on camera. They become big lime green incandescence, where autumn leaves are beautiful. We were lucky the weather held, mostly. Brian and I shot the scenes on the reservoir where the sun was just where you wanted it. Well, those scenes were where you wanted it, as long as the boat was facing the right way, and it was because I was paddling an adjoined boat constantly, with one arm, while looking at a monitor to keep the camera pointing into the sun. We wanted the boys to look haloed by the light. So we were working hard one way, we didn't have the means or the finance to re-shoot or wait a day, so we structured it so, that it was less cold in the day and we had more sunlight. There was always the question if we should delay and I said no, we would get it or have to wait another 12 months.
AMG.COM: Let's talk about your star Alex Lawther. What was the relationship like working with him on this film? There is obviously a strong connection between him and the material, his work here is quite excellent.
ANDREW STEGGALL: He's an incredibly intuitive person and actor. He's full of empathy and insight, so that was not a challenge. We were blessed by the fact that the shoot was actually delayed a year. We had cast him already, so he and I got to spend that year getting to know each other, reading books we both had read, ones that influenced me as a writer, and I thought the character Elliot would be conscious of. We watched some films that inspired Departure tangentially, then I took him to the house where we shot, and he decorated the room on his own. So, the pictures you see he had collected, and drawn in that notebook. He took control of a the opportunity, it was his first lead role, and I think he really enjoyed that space and time. The script even responded to him, there were some re-writes, because I was certainly conscious of his voice. He was particularly brave, to play this teenager, in a coming out film. He wasn't a standard, likable, everyman. He was prepared to take on a difficult character, to accept that his journey wasn't just a simple “I'm gay, I'm going to come out.” It was complex, that he saw the world one way, and I am going to gradually grow up to how I perceive the world. That required him to be difficult. Actors tend to want to be liked and he committed to playing the juvenile, who is narcissistic and self indulgent.
AMG.COM: The film develops into a complex triangle when Clement arrives, his presence reveals the flaws and desires for happiness that motivate Beatrice and Elliot, don't they?
ANDREW STEGGALL: Yeah, I think he's clearly a provocateur, but not intentionally. His presence in the film acts as a catalyst, causing Elliot and Beatrice’s internal desires to become more urgent. I think for Elliot he is a kind of opposite from Clement. I asked Phenix Brossard (actor who played Clement) what he thought his character felt about Elliot and he said “I think I fell in love with him in a way.” I'm really pleased he said that. He's not just the straight guy who's being lusted over. In the context of this strange isolated place, Clement was dealing with the course of his life with his dying mother, and he was open to the presence of this strange english boy. Where if he were out with his mates he might not be. I think he was able to be a different person here.
AMG.COM: What about his interactions with Beatrice?
ANDREW STEGGAL: For Beatrice, I think she is a character who has been long estranged from her romantic, sexual identity. She's been in a marriage with someone, who she knew has not desired her, and she has internalized that as a failing. And when someone arrives who is male and expressing an interest to her as a human being, he's expressing his need for a mother, she misunderstands that. Lacking that experience from being in this marriage, she acts rather clumsily. I didn't want to project Clement as a savvy forward French person, but he does occupy someone who is much more at home with his sexuality.
AMG.COM: Did you have any other films of reference or that inspired you while making Departure?
ANDREW STEGGALL: I don't know if there was anything that I was quoting, but there certainly were films that I have seen and I have loved, making me feel that I could make this. It would include films like, Ivul by Andrew Kotting, Damien Odoul's film Le Souffle (Deep Breath), and Wild Reeds by Andre Techine. Those are some films that really touched me. Also, Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love really moved me. Those are some of the films that I thought Elliot would watch and made up the world I would explore.
AMG.COM: Talk about working with the fantastic and talented Juliet Stevenson. What was it like to put your confidence in her, fully knowing she would give strong work?
ANDREW STEGGALL: Terrible women...Terrible..No she's amazing. She absolutely knows what she's doing and very much like Alex, they bonded over the course of the film. They share an intuitive approach to acting. We talked during rehearsal and spent time in London reading the script together, between takes we shared memories and would chat. She shared recollections of her childhood and also about being a mother. Ultimately, she took ownership on camera. She delivers. She was very loyal to the screenplay. She read it and said she didn't want anyone else to play that part. She did it with a lot of dignity.
AMG.COM: What is next for you in your future of filmmaking?
ANDREW STEGGALL: I am working with an American novelist to adapt some of his short stories. I also have an original idea, working on a script about a character who plays music and dealing with the condition of Parkinson’s. My next film will take place in Paris, France. I am very intrigued by learning a new language and making this movie set in Paris. So it's a treatment and hoping to get it from page to screen.