Camille Thoman is a fearless director. She's a student of the theatre, an artist, and a person who respects the craft. Her first feature film, Never Here, is a dreamy thriller with a stellar performance from Mireille Enos. It is also the last film for the late-great Sam Shepard. Anyone who sees this film will immediately understand that Camille Thoman is a director to keep an eye on. AMovieGuy.com had the chance to talk with Camille about her experience making the film, working with Sam Shepard, and some of the films that influenced her great work on Never Here:
AMG.COM: Can you tell me a little bit about where writing Never Here came from in your life?
CAMILLE THOMAN: I'm interested in two things: I'm interested in keeping an audience entertained and telling a story. I love genre, personally I love thrillers. On the other hand, I am passionate about reaching a spectator in unexpected ways. The idea that a movie doesn’t have to be filtered through your rational matrix. It doesn’t have to be head first. I understand what's happening in the plot, therefore I feel it in my body, in my heart. I'm trying to reach the spectators body first with images, which sounds abstract, but when coupled with something that is a genre, that becomes the plan. Create a story that keeps them interested as much as possible and ask probing questions of the audience. I try to reach them on a deeper level than a lot of films try to today.
AMG.COM: I saw a lot of inspiration in this film from references such as Hitchcock's Vertigo, Scorsese's After Hours, or even David Fincher's The Game. Am I hitting the right ones? Or did you have other inspirations for this film in mind?
CAMILLE THOMAN: Those films are very interesting choices. I personally looked at Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. That was a movie that I look at with awe. Certainly Rear Window, and Hitchcock in general, it was a big influence. A scene of The Lady Vanishes is actually in the movie, our lead character watches it at one point, and I actually named the journalist character in the film after the lead actress in The Lady Vanishes. I'd say my primary influence was a 1973 Nicolas Roeg film called Don't Look Now with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. That's really one of my favorite films. I've seen it a ton. That film was my primary cinematic influence and the novel The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. I really wanted to create intrigue and a detective fiction, but also look at deeper themes.
AMG.COM: Your working with Cinematographer Sebastian Wintero. The two of you use a lot of neon lighting at night and that creates a lot of scenes that look like a dream. Was this a look you were going for and can you talk about the approach the two of you took in shooting the film?
CAMILLE THOMAN: Definitely, you picked up on a lot of it. We wanted the world our lead character occupied to be very important. It was a character in the movie. Both Sebastian and I, and our production designer Chris Trujillo, who just got nominated for an Emmy for Stranger Things, we collaborated in creating a world that felt alternatively real, a big city with busy people, but also none of it's real. Where rooms, characters, what you see, none of it is real. It could all be happening in a dream or in our lead characters head. That's something that was important to me. To create zones of a genre where they look and see an indie film, but then they are destabilized. I wanted the spectators journey to mirror Miranda's journey. That's what's happening for her, she's creating, and breaking safety zones throughout the movie.
AMG.COM: The character of Miranda Fall is an artist that takes her passion for that art to the edge of danger. Is that obsession something that plagues all artists? Even yourself?
CAMILLE THOMAN: Right. And are we destructive to other people in our desire to hold up a lens or mirror to society? Those are all great questions. Um, I don't know if I can answer any of those. I know for myself personally, I've never gone as far as Miranda goes. Miranda does take it to an edge. I personally am not interested in doing that. I'm looking to lead a much more balanced existence. I do find it fascinating. People talk to me about how unlikeable Miranda is, specifically before we shot the film. One of the reasons it was hard to get made was people would say, “people like female protagonists to be likeable”, and I would think, “well maybe she's not completely likeable, but she's so interesting, her choices are weird, and devoted to her art.” I never found her to be monstrous, but yeah, those are all great questions and I think as artists we don't always know how to answer them, that's why we do it.
AMG.COM: Your lead actor is Mireille Enos, she delivers a powerful, very real performance here. Can you talk about what was it that made you decide on her for the role? And what impressed you the most about working with her on this film?
CAMILLE THOMAN: There is so much that impressed me about Mirelle and frankly everything she does. She has an ability to convey with just a look many facets of emotion. And this performance requires her to be many different things. She's in every scene of the film and she needed to be extremely raw. She dissolves into the role. In some scenes she's stylized and doing physical stuff. Going back to the likable thing, I think you needed to like her. There are a lot of actors that are talented, but you needed to feel for Miranda, and Mireille is someone who is impossible to not empathize with any character she's playing. Her essence is likeable, I think she's one of the most talented and extraordinary actors that we have working today. To me, I was privileged enough to work with her before, but I did write the character hoping to work with her again. I named the character Miranda obliquely after Mireille, which was wishful thinking on my part, and I'd say it turned out okay.
AMG.COM: I am sure you will get asked this a lot, and it's very hard to articulate, but can you try to express what it means to you that Never Here was Sam Shepard's last performance and what was his presence like on the set?
CAMILLE THOMAN: (Long pause) Sam was a deeply inspiring person for me to be around. And I think he had that effect on everyone. All of us. So, it's hard to find the words to say...what it means that this was Sam's last movie, because it's such a sad reality. And I also feel, I can't find words to express how grateful I am that he took the part and that he responded to the material. That I got a chance to work with him. He gave us a great gift.
AMG.COM: Yeah he has always been one of those actors that I was fascinated with when he was on the screen.
CAMILLE THOMAN: He's one of those actors that every take was different and he has a real...I've said, it's like watching a bolt of electricity go through a telephone pole. He just has an impetus go through his body physically and it would come out on the other end, every result was different. It made it challenging in the editing room, which take should we use? They were different, really embodied, and interesting. We would be amazed by him. He was amazing.
AMG.COM: I noticed throughout the film an impressive attention to details in the sets, including a Montgomery Clift biography, was attention to the mis en scene something you knew would bring out the eerie feeling in each scene?
CAMILLE THOMAN: I would say I have two different answers. The world was specific and took a long time to build. We location scouted for a long time because we wanted the city to feel like an archetypal, prototypical city, or could be any city Miranda was dreaming. At the same time, in some scenes it should be normal. I didn't want Gotham city. I wanted a pendulum feel of “oh, these characters are in a naturalistic environment.” And then that would shift. Go back and fourth between those frequencies to build up something in the viewer. The world was specific, the spaces, the camera work. All of it specific, by design. What I was looking for was an off-the-cuff vibe between the characters. There was a lot of play between Mireille, Sam, and Vince (Piazza). Or between Mireille and Nina (Arianda) in their first scene. With Goran Visnjic not at all because he had to be stylized the entire time. There was a lot of play, specifically between Mireille and Vince. Throw them in the sand box so you could feel it's natural and normal.
AMG.COM: The movie industry is making progress with more female directors, but here is a film where you wrote, directed, and even helped with editing. Is it just a matter of I wrote this script, I want to make this movie, so I'm going to go and do it?
CAMILLE THOMAN: Yes, that was very much how this first film of mine was. I think that's why it took so long to get it made, because it was not a conventional film. And it was directed by a female and the protagonist is a female. There were lots of marks against us getting this film made. And the marks for us, we had an amazing production team, Mireille was attached, we started to get people involved. After many years of coming together and falling apart, we finally were able to make it. It was very challenging for all those reasons. I'm to the extent now, I have made this film, and I am so proud of it, I love it so much, but I'm excited for my next film. The film I'm writing now has as much of my voice in it, but I want it to be more commercial. I want it to reach more people and still have that female lead. I think, I've done this, and I'm happy with it, so how can I take all that I have learned and reach more people?
AMG.COM: This was your first narrative feature, what would you say you learned from this first experience? And will this be a production you never forget?
CAMILLE THOMAN: Gosh, I've learned so much. I would say that's the biggest thing that I want to do next time. Take those skills, the voice that I have, and apply it to material that is more accessible. So much goes into making a film, so many years, and hours, but the dedicated hours of so many people is mind blowing. The amount of love and passion and commitment. It's truly humbling for me. The village it took to get it made. Now that its coming out, it's so beautiful. If were going to put in that much time, let's get it more accessible to people. Not that I would do anything different on this film. I wouldn't change it for anything.
AMG.COM: Never Here is playing at the Chicago International Film Festival and will be making other rounds, but what's next for you after this film?
CAMILLE THOMAN: Yes, that's fantastic, I hope so many people see it in Chicago! I'm excited to go and I wanted to shoot this in Chicago, but it didn't work out. I tried to avoid New York, but maybe my next one Leo will be in Chicago.
AMG.COM: Let's make it happen! I want to see more of your work, you did such a great job on this. Congratulations on Never Here.
CAMILLE THOMAN: Thank you! I really appreciate it.