Ed Gass-Donnelly is a Canadian-born filmmaker who got his start in theater, followed by short films. His feature length debut, 2008’s This Beautiful City, earned four nominations at the Genie Awards. In 2013, he burst onto the Hollywood horror genre when he directed The Last Exorcism Part II. His latest film, Lavender, has a old-school Shyamalan feel and will come to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD this Friday (March 3).
World Film Geek took the opportunity to speak with Gass-Donnelly about the film.
First of all Ed, thank you for taking the time to talk about Lavender.
I got to see the film last night and it was better than I expected. I got sort of a M. Night Shyamalam vibe to the film, and by that, I mean his older films.
Well, thank you very much!
So for those who are unfamiliar with your work, how did you get involved in filmmaking?
I got into directing theater when I was a kid and it was once upon a time meeting an actor so I got into that. Then it got to a point where I decided to get into movies. The technicality and the balancing and this was a time where Canada was coming out with the camera when I was about 15. So it was when you can make a movie with a mini-DV and I started making short films. Then I made the transition and I’ve been doing this now for about the past fifteen years or so, doing films and videos.
Awesome! So let’s talk about Lavender. How did the film come about?
The credit to that goes to my co-writer Colin [Frizzell]. The initial idea was originally his, and then he and I worked on a draft for a couple of years because it was one of those things that well, we couldn’t figure it out and put it back in the drawers, then take it back out years later. And then we’re trying to figure out how would the person deal with the situation now versus ten years earlier or ten years later.
It feels flippant and once we figured out someone who is always active and searching for things, you know subconsciously, we knew the main character had to be a photographer. She is always looking for stories and follows through, but yeah we found the inspiration in definitely M. Night Shyamalan, especially The Others. And there is the horror element but when it comes to the genre films, I really like the ones with a very strong character. And that movie has a great story and great characters that have to be very scary.
And you mentioned Shyamalan, I really liked The Sixth Sense. Not only did it have great characters but a great story that just happens to be scary versus just trying to make a movie to be scary. It really answers the question “Why” and I think it does that. When you have culture and depth, I think it truly is the sum of all of its parts and I don’t see M. Night Shyamalan as a horror filmmaker. He has a more broader depth and he makes his films constructually well done.
I felt that Abbie Cornish and Lola Flanery’s characters were the driving forces of the film. What was it like on the set with the cast?
Out of the movies I made, this was quite an easy film to make. I mean Lola’s character can be quite intimidating. It’s intimidating in the sense that you don’t have an automatic short hand in experienced actors. Yet at the same time, the more you treat kids like adults on the set, you can’t just make assumptions. If you give them just a little bit of space and you don’t treat them like kids, but treat them like adults, they can actually surprise you.
So I think if you work the kids too much, they will end up doing that crappy Disney, really schmaltzy kind of acting. And they are all like, “Hey this is the kind of acting I get paid to do” and while that’s fun, it’s not really grounded. And that was Lola’s first movie [2015’s Last Chance for Christmas]. There was just something fundamental that I recognized and it was something that I just couldn’t recognize because there was no demo reel or see her first movie. If I can see how she does it, I can shepherd her with her natural instincts down the line with what I needed for the film.
A major factor of the film is that it kept the viewer guessing in terms of figuring out its secret in its entirety and I absolutely love these types of movies. I felt it played “mind games” with the viewer. Was that the approach you were aiming for when making the film?
Yes definitely because one of the challenges, and this is one of the things when I make these kind of films that I find interesting is to bring the structure of using missing memories. And what I found interesting is the audience’s approach to solve mysteries. We decided to provide you with the same information as the characters in the film.
The protagonist Jane doesn’t have any more information as the audience does and as the film progresses, she is trying to figure everything out just as we are. And I love that kind of intrigue that engages the audience. I don’t like the whole, “I’m just going to pour this story on you”. I’m more into the whole, “I want to get drawn into this. I want to participate. I want to guess and put the pieces together.” It’s a much more engaging experience than having stuff just happen in front of you. The rest of that is pretty much intentional.
That’s exactly what I like. I like the films that bring you into the story, as if you are right there with the characters. I love that.
And that’s the approach we wanted to go for when we did the car accident scene. We were like, yeah we can blow up a car, flip a car. You know, people in Hollywood have been doing that forever. And that’s more of an exterior experience if you’re a viewer. But when you are in the car with her, it is like you are in the car with her. And that was experiential. It was a key scene and next, we had to think how to pull it off. But it really brings a sense of feeling to be there in the car with her. It makes for a more objective experience of the film.
Great! So finally, do you have another project in the works and do you have a message for the fans?
Well, I am working on something next but I can’t say anymore than that (laughs). All I can say is I am directing a new movie this spring and it will be a wide release and a genre movie, but I can’t say anymore than that.
My message for the fans is definitely see more movies in the theaters. Especially when we are working hard to bring them to the screens. I admit, I’m guilty and have seen movies on my phone, but it’s nothing compared to seeing them on the big screens, especially the genre movies because they are more creepy on the big screen.
I couldn’t agree more. Lavender comes to theaters, Video on Demand, and Digital HD on March 3. I hope everyone will get to see and enjoy the film as I did. Once again Ed, thank you for taking the time to talk about the film.
A Special Thank You goes out to Katrina Wan PR and Ed Gass-Donnelly for making this interview possible.