Writer-director Fin Edquist on the slow birth of Bad Girl

Samara Weaving and Sara West in Bad Girl.

Bad Girl, set for its world premiere at MIFF tomorrow evening, is a film some 10 years in the making.

The psychological thriller charts the story of Amy (Sara West), a repeat juvenile offender who has been given one last chance by her adoptive parents.

She strikes up an unlikely friendship with a seemingly well-meaning local girl Chloe (Samara Weaving), but as secrets and obsessions are revealed, things quickly turn toxic. Amy finds herself fighting for her life and the future of the family she’d previously maligned.

Writer-director Fin Edquist told IF that the focus of the story is the meaning of family.

“What is a family, and who gets to decide who’s in and who’s out, and is blood thicker than water?,” he said.

Having already won best dramatic feature at the WA Screen Awards last month, Bad Girl sold out both its sessions at MIFF, leading the festival to announce a third encore screening.

That initial success is the result of a decade-long gestation process, as Edquist's script went through multiple evolutions.

Back in 2005, producer Steve Kearney originally pitched the idea of a film focused on a surrogate child seeking revenge. Both Kearney and Edquist initially thought the story should focus on a father figure.

“I developed several drafts through Film Victoria, and we got it to a stage [where] it was polished and it read pretty well, but it seemed a little beige… we felt it was like films that we’d seen before,” Edquist said.

“I suppose the sales agents and the distributors felt that way as well, because we didn’t really get much interest.”

To gain traction, Edquist and team decided to make a short teaser in 2012, with the aim to take it to Cannes.

With no budget for established adult actors to play the roles of the parents, Edquist wrote a few scenes specifically focused on the characters of the young girls, figuring he could at least get a few young up-and-comers attached. 

“During the [teaser] shoot, I realised and the producers realised, this is the story. If there’s any interest in the script that we have at the moment, it lies in the story of these two girls and their conflict,” he said.

Edquist refocused the entire script on Amy and Chloe, and interest soon followed, with Screenwest and the MIFF Premiere Fund coming on as financial backers.

A psychological thriller might seem a bit of a departure for Edquist, whose other writing credits include animated family films Blinky Bill The Movie and Maya the Bee Movie. However, Edquist says the key to writing anything successfully is an emotional connection to the story.

In Bad Girl, that came when refocusing the script around the issues of family facing the two teenage girls.

“At the time I was going through a crisis myself; my marriage had broken down. Questions about family and identity were really strong and pertinent to me at the time,” he says.

“I kind of went from the outside in on this one, but actually now it’s the most personal of all the projects I've developed.”

As well as writing the screenplay, Bad Girl also marks Edquist’s feature directorial debut, with last year's shoot taking place over four weeks around the Swan Valley, Kalamunda and Serpentine in WA.

The experience was not without its challenges, including logistics, inclement weather, budget restraints and a catering truck exploding  “like something out of a Bruce Willis film” after a gas leak. The chef was uninjured, Edquist assured IF.

“It was a pity we didn’t film it, we could have used it for something" (laughs).

Despite all that, Edquist is keen to direct again.

“Childbirth, they say it’s a horribly painful experience. But then once you’ve had a child you forget about the pain, and maybe you want another one. That’s kind of how I feel about filmmaking,” he says.

Overall Edquist says Bad Girl “is different from the film I imagined it would be at the start of the shoot. But in a good way, in ways that I’m proud of.”

“Sometimes I think if you get exactly what you ask for, you’re going to be disappointed. Because your imagination only goes so far – the combined imagination of you, the cinematographer, the actors and the editor add up to something far greater.”

“I think when you start out as a director you feel like you’ve got to do everything. But the real talent is to know when you’re getting the best out of people, when you’re directing that group effort.”

In particular, Edquist credits the two leads, West and Weaving, for “transcending the script”.

Another highlight was working with Warren Ellis, best known as one of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and the acclaimed composer of countless films with Cave.

Edquist said the chance to debut at MIFF, where the film screens tomorrow night, was both exciting and nerve-wracking, as he holds the festival responsible for own his love of film.

“But it’s also great to be able to sit down and watch it. That’s one reason I really want it to go to cinemas; I just want to sit there with the audience.”