GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH NEASA HARDIMAN
When a trawler hits an unseen object and becomes marooned in Neasa Hardiman’s feature directorial debut SEA FEVER, marine biology student Siobhan’s (Hermione Corfield) research excursion takes an unexpected twist. As the crew of six, led by husband and wife Gerard (Dougray Scott) and Freya (Connie Nielsen), learn that a mysterious water-borne parasite has infected their water supply, they find themselves in a struggle for survival.
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST Paul Risker, Hardiman whose credits include HAPPY VALLEY for the BBC and the finale of MARVEL/NETFLIX’S JESSICA JONES, discussed her desire to reframe the genre language in SEA FEVER, and why the film’s political point resonates so strongly in pandemic stricken 2020.
FRIGHTFEST: Interviewing filmmaker Pablo Larraín, he spoke of how you discover the film in the final cut. Would you agree that filmmaking is a process of discovery?
NEASA HARDIMAN: There’s the old adage that you write a film three times - one when you write it, one when you shoot it, and one when you cut it. I think that’s true and I worked with Slawomir Idziak, a brilliant director of photography who shot Krzysztof Kieślowski’s films, and went onto shoot on a whole load of big fabulous Hollywood movies. He said about filmmaking, “It’s a little bit like being pregnant and when you’re shooting you’re absolutely sure you’re having a boy, and then you come to edit and you find this girl.” [Laughs].
It’s another version of that same idea that when you come to the edit, while you have a blueprint in the screenplay that is your intention, when shooting the film you are collaborating with the embodied presence of those characters through your actors, and they will deliver an extra kind of humanity and spin that may inflect the story in certain directions. So when you capture all of that material and bring it into the edit, your job is to be sensitive to how those inflections are playing. Once it’s embodied, once it’s physically present onscreen, it’s something slightly different, and you experience the screenplay in a different way to how you experience a film.
The old cliches are true that what has to be written on the page can simply be the most fleeting of expressions in the actors eyes, and everyone in the audience will understand. There are those transformations that automatically happen, then there’s the transformations that happen just by the virtue of choosing either this actor or that actor.
Two actors can have a certain sensibility that creates an inflection in the screenplay that you either want to lean into, or away from depending on how you want the audience to feel. The result of the story should emanate like an emerging property from all those individual scenes – it’s an alchemical process in one sense.
FF: As well as the interaction with the actors, what did your collaboration with the genre form contribute to your initial intent?
NH: I’m not that interested in heavy genre; it’s just not my thing. I love films that use the artillery of cinema, that use that dream reality of the ‘what if?’ I love cinema as spectacle when it is connected to something that feels grounded and rooted in character and reality, that articulates real genuine source bots culturally that we need to address.
The films I responded to myself were ARRIVAL, ANNIHILATION and ANOTHER EARTH, those that use that sci-fi ‘what if?’ element to explore something truthful, authentic and human. What I wanted to do with SEA FEVER was to say, “We all share this genre vocabulary, and I want to quote from that and then reframe it, and use it to say something different and more grounded.” I hope that has a resonance.
SEA FEVER is essentially a story about the conflict between the individual and global need, and the competing needs of economic survival and ecological survival. It’s essentially a story about value and reason in the scientific method when it butts up against magical thinking and superstition, and how all those things inflect one another.
We have this bad habit in our sci-fi storytelling of castigating and demonising the scientist, of making them the person who has no moral compass. I wanted to carefully position a scientist in the story that looks like that cliche because she’s difficult and cold, and she struggles to communicate with people, to then try to reframe that by unearthing what may be the origins of the cliché, and look at her as mirror divergent – to look at her as somebody that is cognitively different, who struggles to catch nuance, but is also very lonely, is struggling and is in pain. Then to put her as the moral centre of the story, saying the point of the scientific method is that we acknowledge that we don’t know, and we look for the answers truthfully, rather than reaching for the most emotionally convenient answer for our big problem. So that was the essence of what I wanted to do with the story.