Filmed in Perth’s lush green backyard of the Swan Valley and its surrounds, Bad Girl is a low-budget thriller garnering widespread critical acclaim. After premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August last year, the film scored a WA Screen Award for Best Long Form Drama.
However, the process of bringing the project from page to screen wasn’t a smooth one. Built on a confronting cornerstone of destructive family units and domestic in-fighting, Bad Girl suffered through a long and tricky gestation before finding its true voice, as Hooked on Film found out when it sat down to chat with writer/director Fin Edquist. After working on a range of popular Aussie TV staples (House Husbands, The Secret Daughter, Home and Away) and animated children’s films (Blinky Bill the Movie), Edquist put together a wildly different beast in Bad Girl.
RGD: Bad Girl is a project that took several years to truly come to fruition – what is the story behind this lengthy development process?
FE: I was approached by Stephen Kearney (one of the producers for Bad Girl) about 10 years ago to write a generic revenge-based thriller. That isn’t usually how I set about a new project; usually I get inspired by one aspect and work from the inside out.
But this one went the other way. We spent a couple of years writing around the idea of a father whose family is brought under siege by a girl who may or may not be his long-lost biological daughter. The script read okay but we couldn’t get much interest in it, so we thought we’d make a brief teaser, take it to Cannes and try and get some interest over there.
We had a couple of actors lined up for the father, but they weren’t going to do a teaser for nothing and said, “forget it”. But we realised we could get a couple of up-and-coming teenage girls for the peripheral supporting roles and I wrote a couple of scenes with these two girls specifically for the purpose of being a teaser.
After we filmed it, we realised that this was the story – this was the really interesting angle. The story of two girls fighting over a family is great. They have all their mistakes in front of them and they’re at a crossroads, like a lot of people are at 17. The decisions you make can largely affect how your life turns out.
RGD: So that’s the hook that got you interested again?
FE: Absolutely. I rewrote the screenplay with them at the centre and from that point onwards, everyone got interested.
RGD: Were Sara West and Samara Weaving (who play lead characters Amy and Chloe respectively) attached at this point?
FE: Sara featured in the teaser; we auditioned for the role of Chloe and it was a long process. We really needed someone who could match and counterpoint Sara, who is a really strong actor. Eventually, on the second last day of auditions, Samara rocked up and immediately it was one of those moments where it all came together.
RGD: How did you as a filmmaker alter your approach towards the movie and its characters once you had made that decision to change direction?
FE: It was quite a large shift. It was liberating too. Prior to that, the story was pretty straight-up with clearly defined characters, both good and bad people. I actually drew a lot on my experience of having two warring sisters as teenagers and enjoyed deepening the characters from there. I brought a lot of relatable domestic experience to the new angle. It’s called Bad Girl but both girls are bad and both have positive qualities.
RGD: So that’s where the central idea of family and the notion of belonging stemmed from?
FE: I think so; at that age, everyone goes through those questions of identity and where you fit in. My marriage had also recently broken down so I was channelling a lot of what was going on in my life at the time through the characters.
RGD: Sounds like a very deeply personal vein of inspiration.
FE: Definitely. Having these two girls articulate that in a different way was maybe cathartic to an extent, for sure.
RGD: Tell us a little bit about working with frequent Nick Cave collaborator Warren Ellis (Band member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; composer on Hell or High Water, Lawless, The Road) on the soundtrack. How did that come about?
FE: One of my producers, Bruno [Charlesworth], lives in France and has a lot to do with the entertainment and music industry. He knew Warren through that and approached him with the film at the script stage, and Warren really responded to it.
Warren is unlike other composers in that he doesn’t work off the picture or traditional cue points; he’ll get a feel for the sequence and will riff on that and develop a number of different themes that he feels speak to the sequence. The music he composed for Bad Girl works as both ambient noise and then it will swell and rise and catch you out. It increases and crescendos towards the end of the film until it’s hammering you at 100 per cent.
I really enjoyed working with him; he’d just pump out hundreds of samples and send them too me at all hours of the night. He composed everything on his bass guitar, a keyboard and a laptop – very lo-fi, but it suited the film. I didn’t want a lush orchestral score but something stripped back and menacing. The soundtrack is actually being released soon through his label.
RGD: What was it about the Swan Valley region, Kalamunda and Serpentine that suited the story you wanted to tell?
FE: The film was originally set in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne but the funding came through from ScreenWest. I had no idea what Perth was like, I thought it was going to be dry and hot…
RGD: Well, you’re not too far off – most of the time it is! What time of year did you shoot?
FE: September. We got very lucky, as it was suitably cold, grey and sombre. The Swan Valley really suited the film because of the house – we were looking for a house that could sustain the drama. It was perfect; I wanted a really austere and architecturally severe house, but the art department actually had to dress elements into the house to make it look like people who lived there! It was like a display home, not an item out of place.
WA was a really fantastic place to work in. ScreenWest were very enthusiastic and were keen to cultivate the industry. Everyone was keen to be involved.
RGD: Yeah we’ve got really cool industry chugging away over here!
FE: Hopefully I can make the next one over there too (laughs).
RGD: What is the next one – anything concrete lined up?
FE: I’m developing a project that is set off the northwest cape of WA. It’s a two-hander and a thriller also.
RGD: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Fin.
FE: My pleasure.
Bad Girl is available in Australian cinemas from April 27
Image courtesy of Curious Films