Andrew Steggall chats debut Departure

This week marked the release of Andrew Steggall’s debut feature, Departure, a stunning coming of age story starring Juliet Stevenson and Alex Lawther. We recently caught up with Steggall to chat a little about Departure, how he chose the fascinating location and what is next on the horizon for him.

1.       This is an outstanding feature debut, can you tell us a little more about the lead up to Departure – how did this production come together?

DepartureFilm 1Thanks for saying that. Well it’s a slog. The idea for the story first came in Autumn 2009 and I finally sat down to write it a year later. Naively I thought at that point we had something to start raising money with but the screenplay went through so many rewrites I lost count. Finding and working with my two producers, Guillaume Tobo and Pietro Greppi was an essential part of the process. Pietro in particular was very focused on refining the screenplay, a process that then continued with Jamie Wolpert at the BFI who supported the last part of the development. By this time it was 2012 I think, and we had secured some essential private financing. The game-changer was when the BFI came on board with production funding.  Further partners had to be found and of course more rewrites and castings and negotiating….eventually we ended up shooting it at the house where I had first come up with the idea and then wrote the film. It belongs to some people I know and they were incredibly generous in letting me use it to shoot in!

2.       The casting is practically perfect – the central three characters feel like real people; they have the same flaws and issues that people have in the real world and think their issues are the be all and end all. Could you say a little on the creation of the characters and how you got such incredible casting?

I really wanted them to be fallible and flawed. The pursuit of likeability in creating characters misses an opportunity to provoke recognition and maybe even catharsis in an audience. The coming-out / coming-of-age lead character is so often a kind of everyman hero – the writer’s best self. Elliot has lots of the worst qualities I had when I was his age. And indeed the point of Elliot’s journey is less one of “coming out” and more one of “growing up” – into a less obnoxious adult, into someone with more empathy and maturity. I was enormously lucky to get all of the actors – and it was a long process with all sorts of false starts and changes in direction. I first saw Alex Lawther when he was seventeen, acting in the West End in a play by David Hare called South Downs. I had him in my mind for Elliot ever since but it wasn’t until a few later that we met again and he read for the part. Juliet Stevenson I met not long before we were scheduled to start shooting and she was so obviously right for the part!

3.       How did you find the location for Departure, it is almost otherworldly – alienated from the rest of the reality, giving these characters a chance to work through their issues. What does this location mean to you?

I wrote the film in response to the location. It is a house that belongs to some people I know and I had been fortunate enough to spend some time there – cooking up Departure, writing it and then, finally shooting it there. Somewhere in all this I built a treehouse too which you can glimpse briefly in the back of one of the shots.  That bit of land with the forest, house, river and the distant mountains really provoked the idea of a very slightly mythical landscape that absolutely comes into its own in the autumn. For Beatrice and Elliot it is the “other space” that allows them to grow and change. In the story of course, it is the dream they are having to let go of. The failed idea that a house could make them happy.

4.       This is a touching and powerful story with a mother and son relationship at its centre – it would be great if you could expand a little more on this relationship for us and why it was important to explore this?

Yes, it is really a quiet love story between mother and son in which the act of love is the giving each other permission to be Departure_Quad_Finalfallible, complex and sexual beings. Their journeys of self-discover or of actualisation (is that a little American?) happen in parallel and are necessary to allow them to recognise in each other what they share – a longing to be loved and recognised.

5.       Departure is filled with references – writing, poetry, art; could you tell us a little more about why these were featured and how they found themselves in the script?

Partly they are a result of Elliot’s (and my lingering) pretension! But we don’t write and create in a bubble. There a hundred images and lines and tunes in my head all the time. They are coloured by my experience and by what the magpie in me is drawn to. I doubt Elliot has read Proust and only the least generous viewer would honestly believe him and not forgive him for this little lie. He will read it one day – or rather he’ll push past Combray (so too one day will I!) Some filmmakers quote films in their work all the time. I am probably less inclined to do that. But I am more likely to seek to express an image that is derived from something I have read or a painting. There are some images I have borrowed explicitly from photographers like Leonie Hampton (Elliot with the vacuum cleaner is a direct quote, as is the position of Beatrice in the bath).  Intertextuality is normal in most art forms. I try to avoid overt symbols as much as possible but rather find images or words that are expressive of something.

6.       The imagery in Departure is something that really sticks with you long after the film, was there ever a worry of relying a little too much on the sometimes fantastical nature of the film?

Phenix BrossardAlways – and you should see what I left on the cutting room floor. But there is an extent to which the possible authorship of the film by Elliot allows for some of the visual flights of fancy to be credited to him!

7.       LGBT cinema is moving very quickly, more than other genres, in terms of opportunities and ways of storytelling but for me, Departure isn’t necessarily a piece of LGBT cinema but rather an intelligent British drama that happens to feature an LGBT sensibility. What are your thoughts on this?

I agree!

8.       What is coming up next for you?

Hoping to be able to  make another film! I’m working on a piece inspired by a work by the Polish composer, Gorecki. It’s about fathers and sons and music amongst other things…

Departure is out now from Peccadillo Pictures in the UK. 

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