Adam Morris: The Unbearable Lightness of Edward and Isabella

COVID-19 has been a difficult period for many creatives, especially as Australian filmmakers and content creators have faced rolling lockdowns and border closures, but for celebrated novelist Adam Morris, whose book Bird received a nomination for a Miles Franklin Award, the forcefully imposed downtime presented the creative with an opportunity to shoot his first feature film, the stripped back relationship drama Edward and Isabella.

“I just needed something to completely consume me for a year and a half,” explains Morris with a hint of good-natured sarcasm. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but the technology wasn’t affordable for me at the time.

“But over the past five years or so, it’s become more accessible, and I thought if I didn’t jump in and do it, I’d be dead. Not that I’ve got a terminal illness or anything, but you know… I would be dead and there’d be nothing done.”

In fact, Morris’ approach to making his first feature length film was something of a baptism by fire, with his ambition far removed from available skill-sets, setting him on a remarkably a steep learning curve to learn the tricks and tools of the trade from his home computer.

“Oh, it’s definitely been a struggle, but it’s been incredible,” elaborates Morris. “It’s been thrilling and exhausting. It is exactly what I needed.

“I mean, when you’re doing everything, and you haven’t got loads of money, every single thing that you have to do, you have to learn how to do it yourself, as you’re doing it.

“What would normally take, say two or three months in editing, takes six months, because you’ve got to actually learn the program.

“Every time you think to yourself, ‘Oh, I’d like to be able to fade out and use that music’, you’ve got to Google how to fade out and use that music.

“And that means you’ve got to watch six hours of a teenager in Nigeria telling you how to do it and then an old guy in England telling you how to do it. Then your computer crashes and then… Let’s say, it’s definitely been a struggle, but a good struggle.”

With Edward and Isabella now complete, the film has slowly been making its way into the world, with a number of accolades beginning to roll in as Morris prepares his next step in the film’s release, taking his directorial debut into the festival circuit before hopefully finding a distributor.

“I haven’t got it out there yet,” laments the newbie filmmaker on the next challenge in his journey. “I’ve sent a screener to David Stratton who was very receptive of the film. I’d actually sent out an email to David Stratton, but it wasn’t the film critic – it was a 40-year-old bass player from New South Wales – so, two weeks later the actual David Stratton got back and said the other David Stratton forwarded the email to him.

“But we’ve also been offered a premiere spot at a film festival in early 2022, as well as winning the WA Screen Culture Award for Innovation in Narrative Feature Film with a Budget under $1 million.”

While it can be a daunting process getting an independent film to market, one card that Edward and Isabella definitely has to play is the casting of Chole Hurst in the title role of Isabella. Best known for supporting roles in the Shane Black crime comedy Nice Guys, opposite Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling, and the Amy Schumer comedy I Feel Pretty.

A stroke of luck that Morris admits came out of left field, but for which he was happy to take hold of.

“I only knew of Chloe through watching The Nice Guys. She has a small part in that movie, but I didn’t know that she was from Perth or anything like that. I didn’t even know she was here in Australia, but she had come back because of COVID, to be with her parents in Perth.

“I’d put the casting call out on a few actors’ groups on Facebook and she answered it. She just sent through an audition tape like everyone else, but hers was brilliant. And she went straight to the top of the list.

“And when I found who she was, and that she’d agreed to do the film, it was like, ‘Oh, this is really quite serious now’. It got very real.”

As for the film itself, Morris admits to having scripted his narrative toward a restrictive accord, crafting a story that would challenge his abilities without compromising its scope and impact. Leaning heavily into a romanticised 1970s European cinematic aesthetic, Edward and Isabella delivers an intimate, raw character study free of pretension and distraction.

“I needed to keep the film really small, so I only wanted to have two people in the film just to keep it as controllable as possible. It had to be a relationship film.  It could have been your relationship with your dad or between two sisters, one beautiful and one’s ugly. I basically just had to pick one and decide to go for it.

“But those small stories lend themselves to that kind of storytelling well. We couldn’t afford the car chases or the shootouts. We couldn’t even afford fake blood. So, when there’s no big dramatic scenes or anything like that, you’re dealing with a psychological landscape. I felt that late ’70s kind of Woody Allen, Mike Leigh, Bergman films, those kind of styled French films, would suit.

“But the substance of Edward and Isabella is trying to deal with the almost pornographic level of choice that we have in this modern age, especially with relationships. Even toothpaste, if you go to the supermarket there’s a wall of things that do exactly the same thing… and it’s overwhelming. It is for me.

“So, yeah, choosing toothpaste is a hard task, but then choosing a partner when everyone’s literally got so much choice… It’s a hard thing for modern people to contend with, without going completely bonkers. And then stick with one person… Yeah. It takes some mental discipline to do it. And so many people don’t.

“Relationships, marriage; is like a coin toss now. That dissatisfaction and the possibilities and the grass being greener and all that kind of stuff, I think it’s too much for… Well, it’s too much for 50% of people.”

Edward and Isabella screens at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, July 7 – 17, 2022

Dov Kornits

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