There isn’t a lot to do around the small town where “Honeycomb” is set, where a group of young women watch the local boys at a skate park for their own good time and the chit chat after isn’t even enlivened by the presence of a joint or a 40-ounce to pass around. Director Avalon Fast had been wondering if this was what the future held for her in the first summer after graduating from high school in the humble confines of Cortes Island, BC., with a choice of leaving town and risk losing the friends she had made or staying put and start to resent everyone around her. Then a third option presented itself – she could leave town and take her friends with her to make a movie.
It was a better idea than to start a cult, though Fast gets to explore that as well in “Honeycomb,” which is one of the more endearing psychological thrillers you’ll see. With a scrappy production that has about as much money put into it as the plywood bunker that the quartet of Leader (Destini Stewart), Jules (Jillian Frank), Vicky (Mari Geraghty), and Millie (Rowan Wales) hole up in after putting the humdrum lives in their hometown behind them, “Honeycomb” has an awful lot of charm as the occasionally clipped dialogue of a nonprofessional cast and the other jagged edges of low budget filmmaking are corralled as part of the sense of discomfort and dread that the women are experiencing as they try to build a hive for themselves. Naturally, that entails a lot of stinging emotions as they impose rules on the new civilization they’re trying to create out in the middle of nowhere, built on full honesty to one another with a confessional process called “emptying” and engage in “suitable revenge” for when someone appears to have flouted their mutually agreed policy.
While the boys they left behind can only wonder if like the bees they emulate will die from fulfilling their full potential, it appears to be the birth of a quite promising career for Fast, who not only turns the limitations of the production into strengths but shows a wry sense of humor and overall vision for the film that’s about as engrossing as the one all her characters buy into, feeling there’s more out there for them than what the world expects. Shortly before the film’s premiere at Slamdance this week where it will be available online anywhere in the U.S. through February 6th, Fast spoke about wrangling all the elements she could to make “Honeycomb,” keeping a light tone as she directed her friends and starting to feel like a real filmmaker in the process.
How did this come about?
I came up with this idea the summer I was graduated. It was the main tragedy that entered my brain first, and I was on a walk on Cortes where it was filmed and literally something as small as seeing a bee fly by, I was like, “Let me think on that for a moment.” Then this began and I brought it up to some of my friends that night at a party, and I was just so excited. I was like, “Guys, I have this idea. We’re going to make a movie altogether again, but it’s be a feature length.” I already had my friends in mind when I would write their characters — their personalities are literally just my friends’ exaggerated. They were stoked and I was stoked and when I took the the finished script to them on a camping trip, I was like, “If you guys want to do this and you’re down, I’m down.” And they read the script and they loved it.
I can’t believe their first reading was in the wilderness, given what the film is.
Yeah, it was cool. There’s photos of us all in a circle on this camping trip in this field with all the guys in the background over by the fire and the girls all in the circle, reading this script, and it’s like a metaphor almost for the movie. They could see it as they were reading, “This is what’s happening right now. We’re here.”
Did you actually have a certain location in mind for the film?
Yeah, I was super lucky. I have a family home on Cortes Island where it was shot and we did some things there, but mostly we shot at Linnaea Farm, where Emmett, my co-writer, grew up. We used the outside of his family home as one of our settings and some of the fields down by the water there, then various places over Cortes. And every shot that is inside the cabin, that was all shot in one day, on one of our first days of filming. It was an extremely remote location. We got a key from one of our friend’s parents on Cortes to this gate, it was up this logging road so far away where our cars couldn’t get up the hill, so we had to pack the generators up. It took probably 12 hours of full just filming. Somebody would go out and get food and bring it back. [The shoot] was very unstructured, so the people were getting tired, and by the end of the day, I think I was the only one left with adrenaline, so I was just cleaning everything up at the end of the day. That was the most fun, but also the most exhausting.
Was there anything that was unanticipated about the shoot that you could embrace?
Yeah. just overall how into some of the characters my friends got, friends that aren’t necessarily actors or that wasn’t their first idea for what they want to do with their life and how well they did it. Destini [Stewart] who played Leader, that anger that came out for some of her scenes, I wasn’t expecting it, and it was so fun to work with. In the script, she was a little bit angry about things, but the way she took that role, she just went with that, and it was really cool to see that happen. With this, there weren’t even auditions for the roles]. It was like, “I want you to do this. If it is going well, we’ll just keep doing it.”
Did you cast the guys you did because they could play music or did they come in and the music was a side benefit?
I knew I wanted them to play music in it before, and I’ve found within my friend group, it’s easier to get the girls excited about acting in a film. Except for my partner, Henry, he’s always been very excited to work on these projects, but the boys were more like, “We want to skate” or “We want to hang out,” so I really had to encourage them. I was like, “Well, you guys can play music,” and then they got into it. There was a little bit of encouragement, “I’ll grab you a pack of beer after if you do the scene with us,” that kind of motivation.
You seem to lean into some of the more awkward moments that might come up because of the low-budget nature of the production to add to the feeling of discomfort that you want. Was that actually exciting for you?
Yeah, originally when I had this idea in my head, I saw it at a higher budget, and then realized as we were filming it, this is what’s happening, this is the resources that we have. I ended up loving how that turned out. There are a lot of things where I’m like, “This makes sense. I don’t know if this would’ve worked as well with a super great camera.” The whole movie’s weird and uncomfortable and some of the shots are as well. I actually don’t know that much about camera work, so we had somebody else doing that, but my one thing was, we need an automatic zoom. We’re out here and then we’re in there and it’s so slow, so you almost don’t notice it’s happening until you’re like, “Oh, whoa, what’s going on here?” That was a big thing. I had those huge zooms in my head before we started shooting, so I’m happy that worked out.
It fits in with the style of films that this hearkens back to in the ‘60s. What was it like to get that mood right with the production and costume design?
I think the outfits had a lot to do with that, especially in that scene the red evening where they’re dancing, those dresses just add so much. As for actual props around the place, a lot of the stuff that we used was just in the cabin. There were all these weird books and clearly, nobody had been to this place in a long time, so we were taking pages out of books and putting them up on the wall. We had a lot of weird candles that had been left there that we were putting up, there was an old fireplace. It just worked so well. All the boys were going outside and collecting branches and flowers to hang on the walls. It was really impromptu, with just what we had there with us.
You’ve got maybe the best end credits I’ve ever seen – every one would seem to lead to a far bigger story and under boom mic, you list in brackets “[everyone].” Was everyone doing everything on this movie?
Yeah, the first day we were like, “Okay, you’re on boom mic. You’re our camera guy.” Obviously, we have this set up and then somebody would get tired, somebody would get sick, somebody would get hungry, and it was like, “Okay, it doesn’t matter anymore.” I was holding the boom mic for a lot of it. I would be pointing at things and also doing the boom. Everyone was doing everything. But it worked out. Then I do all my own editing, which I love to do, but it took so long. I was kind of like, “I’ll get into it,” and for two months, I’d be doing it every day, and it still wouldn’t be done and I’d be like, “How is this going to happen?” This took me two-and-a-half to three years to fully edit, [which was] the biggest challenge.
You’ve got stop-motion animation as well. What was that like to work on?
I actually did that myself. I went out and got the clay because I love Claymation a lot, and always wanted to do that. I would love to actually work with somebody who’s good at it because it was just me in my little loft area, I just set it up one day and I was like, “I’m going to try to do this. If it looks cool, I’ll put it in. If not, I’ll reach out to somebody else,” but I ended up liking it.
What’s it like to get the film ready for its premiere?
It’s been so cool to have it legitimized. People care [about the film], and ask me about it now. I feel confident saying I’m a filmmaker now, whereas before I was always kind of hesitant, like, “I make films on the side. I did this this summer and I’m working on this now.” But now I feel I can just with confidence, say I’m a filmmaker, I made this, I’m proud of it and other people are proud of it. That’s a really, really good feeling.
“Honeycomb” is streaming as part of the all-virtual Slamdance Film Festival, running through January 28th through February 6th.