One of the standout films at this year’s STARBURST International Film Festival was The Good Neighbour. The film follows a woman struggling with a recent MS diagnosis who strikes a friendship with a man not from this world. As the film makes its way to Prime Video, we caught up with writer/director Jonathan Reid-Edwards and producer/writer Kate Tuck to find out more about the making of this engaging, very human sci-fi drama…
STARBURST: What was the genesis of the story?
Jonathan Reid-Edwards: Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during a pretty harsh relapse. I was juggling a day job and trying to get my first feature made and I couldn’t deal with the fact that I wasn’t as in control of my life as I thought I would be - I felt the disease was scuppering my chances at the life I wanted. In truth it was much simpler- I was too stubborn to ask for help.
Kate Tuck: When Jon started to feel a bit better, we went for a long walk and came up with the story for The Good Neighbour. We wanted to make something about the power found in asking for help and accepting it. It’s also important to us to tell stories from underseen points of view.
The film touches on the post-Brexit way of thinking, was it tempting to go further that way?
Jon: The initial script came about as the referendum was decided. Regardless of political opinion, it would have been impossible to not have Brexit leave a mark on the film. Yet at the same time, it was something we didn’t want to date the film, particularly as at the time of filming it was still up in the air with whether the Brexit process would actually go ahead. So we had to temper how far we went and keep the film universal.
Kate: If we were to go further into exploring the ramifications of Brexit, the film would have become about something else entirely. So as much as it was important to us to include the element of ’the fear of the other’ if we had delved too far deep into we would have lost the thrust of Jodie’s story.
You have a great cast, was it hard to find the right people?
Jon: It’s funny, we both went to drama school in our twenties and as a result a large proportion of our friends are working actors. It’s something we take for granted whenever starting a new project. In this instance, the lead roles were written with the actors in mind. From the very first round of ideas for the story, one thing was agreed: Fiona Hampton would be the lead, followed by George Taylor. Also, knowing them so well means you know the range available to them as actors - things a casting director may not be able to discern from the few roles they’ve seen them play.
Kate: The benefit of casting this way is that there is an in-built chemistry and ease of working. Jon, Fiona, and George are not only friends, but have worked together previously on several projects. Even when casting outside of our immediate circle, we were extremely lucky to be able to tap into the networks that our lead actors have developed through their own burgeoning careers. A great example of this is Fiona introducing us to Lucy Sheen, who plays her mother.
How long was the shooting schedule?
Kate: The shooting schedule was five weeks in total: four weeks on our main location - a farm in Saffron Walden - with another week shooting the remaining scenes including moving to a different location for the horse scenes. Before shooting we also had to build in time for some fight rehearsals and for Fiona to learn how to ride a horse. Shooting predominantly in one location meant that if need be, we could more flexible with the shooting schedule.
Jon: We had a lot of ambitious scenes to cram into the schedule that ultimately ended up not getting shot. As Kate said we had fight rehearsals - this was going to be for a grand action packed third act that half way through filming we realised wasn't true to the story. So we shut down for two days and re-wrote the end of the film. As a result, fights were scrapped as well as some truly fantastic practical effects. But we did the right thing serving the story, and I still have sleepless nights imagining how bad it would have been to have kept those scenes.
You went to Indiegogo to finance the post-production - what was that experience like?
Kate: It was really successful so over all it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. It was great to connect with new fans and future collaborators. Some of the higher contributors became associate and executive producers on this project and are interested in working with us on future projects, which is really amazing. However for anyone about to undertake their own crowdfunding campaign you must always bear in mind that it takes over your whole life- you have to commit to it one hundred percent.
Jon: Considering we managed to shoot the film for £36,000, the money raised in post was a gift from the gods. To save money we do everything in house, and I edited, graded, mixed, and sound designed the film in post myself. So we were able to use that money to secure a proper soundtrack, cover VFX and more. We made it go a really long way. That said, I did kind of feel like Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut in that the film took a much longer, more concentrated part of my life than I know any other film ever will in the future. Famous last words!
How does it feel to finally have the film out ‘in the wild’ for audiences to discover?
Jon: Having had this film such a huge part of my working life for so long, it’s a beautiful feeling handing it over. Kind of like sending the kids to university - I’m proud of it, obviously there are parts I would change if I could, but at the end of the day, it’s not mine any more. It’s about to start its life. Having seen the reaction to it at festivals both here and in the States, I’m excited by the fact that literally anyone can watch it now, that anyone can read whatever they want to into it.
Kate: The audience is the final component for any story, the element that completes the circle. So it feels great to finally put The Good Neighbour out there to see who it will connect with. We’ve been with this project for so long and it’s our first time going through the process of making and releasing a feature film. So it feels cathartic in a way, but we’re also really aware that the work isn’t over yet.
What’s next for you?
Jon: In terms of directing, I’m four drafts into what will hopefully be my second feature. It’s semi-autobiographical and with the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s suddenly become relevant. But it’s not a straight-up drama, it’s got a strong supernatural element - hence the stress on semi-autobiographical. I can’t wait to be able to talk about it.
Kate: As a filmmaking duo, I am working on the next film that we are going to make in-house, this time I’m writing and directing and Jon is producing. It’s going to be my debut feature as a director, I’m currently developing the script and we’re going to make it in the same way as The Good Neighbour. It’s written to be a low budget drama and we hope to be making it soon - but with the current pandemic, who knows?
The Good Neighbour will be available on Prime Video on August 7th.