After overseeing two shorts and a segment in the horror anthology Fun Size Horror: Volume 2, Karen Gillan realized that the time was nigh for her to finally make her feature film directorial debut.
“The Guardians Of The Galaxy” and “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” actress knew exactly where she was going to set the film, too. Her home-town of Inverness, Scotland, especially after she had discovered an unsettling statistic about the high rate of male suicides in the area.
I recently had the chance to talk to Karen Gillan about “The Party’s Just Beginning,” during which time she discussed her approach to this sensitive subject, what she took away most from working behind the camera, and revealed exactly why it “was just the best experience” of her life.
Where did the idea for “The Party’s Just Beginning” come from?
It is set in my hometown of Inverness in the highlands of Scotland. I knew that I wanted to write a script and I had recently read a statistic that suicides were significantly higher in that part of the country than the rest of Scotland. I found that so strange because it is such an idyllic place to live. So this film is my way of examining such a dark statistic that looms over it.
What was the biggest challenge with writing it?
The main challenge was that I was writing about a subject that I hadn’t personally experienced. The suicide story is completely fictional. I took some inspiration from people that I know. I had to do a lot of research and use my imagination. But I just wanted to treat the subject matter with respect and sensitivity.
Do you get homesick?
I am constantly homesick now. Because I am in New York, too. I was in Los Angeles, but now I feel like I have compromised and met my family halfway.
Was this your way of trying to combat that?
I started writing this film 6 years ago. Before I had moved to America. I was still in the UK, writing this thing, and then I moved here in the middle of it. I knew the first story I wanted to tell had to be set where I originated. It just felt like the right thing to do and what I wanted to do. Because it is a place I hadn’t seen before on screen. Except for the movie “Loch Ness,” starring Ted Danson. So I wanted to add something to the Highlands’ cinematic repertoire.
Your accent sounds stronger in the film, was that just a result of being back there?
My accent has been really diluted by moving around. So I decided to use a more Invernession accent in the film. I had to get it back to my original accent. Because that’s what I sounded like growing up.
Talk about the different skillset you needed for finding funds for the film.
The whole process was so interesting. I am just used to getting hired, jumping into it quickly, shooting it, it disappearing for ages, and then it comes out. So it was amazing to fill in all the blanks of all the months where you are not working on the film. After I wrote the script I paired up with a producer from Los Angeles, and then we just started going to so many meetings for funding. It took us years to get the money. There was one day in London where we literally exhausted ourselves getting meetings. And then finally one of them worked. They wanted to fund our film to support a female filmmaker and I was really grateful for that. But then all of the other challenges were laying ahead of us to actually shoot the movie. And I remember that that year I had shot “Guardians of The Galaxy,” an indie movie and then “Jumanji” and then I went straight into directing this. So I was coming off three films back to back, so it was really intense. It was a challenge but it was great.
What was your biggest take away from working as a director?
That I love it so much! It was just the best experience of my life. I felt so stimulated all day. I am used to acting in short bursts, having excitement, and then sitting around all day. But with this everyone is looking at you for answers all the time. It took some while to get used to being in a leadership position. But it just felt natural. I loved having input into all of these decisions. Especially as everyone involved managed to elevate the material.
What about the biggest challenge of directing?
Acting while directing. Which is something I don’t think I will do again because it was frustrating. I love working with the actors and talking to them. But I equally loved the visual storytelling of the film. And I couldn’t sit behind the monitor, because I was in front of the camera. So I had to gauge it in real time. Plus we didn’t have that much time or money so I couldn’t watch playback. I had to trust everything went as we had planned in rehearsals.
Talk about being in the editing suite.
That’s the main thing that I learnt. This might sound stupid, but I realized that my writing has consequences. Like, someone is going to be sat in the editing suite dealing with this, whether it is good or bad. I have written since and I feel like everything has much more clear intention behind it. Which came from me realizing the consequences that come from my writing and directing. I am not just scribbling out all of my thoughts. I am thinking, ‘Why is this here. And what is it going to do to the overall story.’
What are you working on next as a director? Have you asked to direct a Marvel film yet?
That was obviously my first enquiry. I said, ‘What is your next movie. You are going to need me to direct it.’ I am still waiting to hear back from them on that [laughs]. No. Directing a Marvel movie feels like a whole different experience. I mean we shot this in 18 days. I have already written a new script that I probably shouldn’t talk about yet. But it is ready to go and hopefully is a progression from the last one. I am excited. I am also reading a lot of different scripts that I might direct.
Do you still want to act?
Yes. But I think I am just waiting to see what happens naturally. See what happens next and then go with it.
“The Party’s Just Beginning” will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival, which unfolds in New York City between April 18 and April 29.