Interview With The Writer/Director Of The Singing Bones, Danishka Esterhazy

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FLB: I know you are a musician (harpist?). How does that training help your filmmaking?  What music  do you listen to and how involved are you in picking the score for your films?

DE: I think that my background as a musician gives me a strong sense of pacing. This has certainly helped me in the editing room. I often edit my own films and I usually cut to music - either temp tracks or original score. And when I write, I usually prepare long playlists for each project - to evoke the mood of the story. So music is an important element to me at every stage of filmmaking.

FLB: When did you first know you wanted to make films? What is your training?

DE: I came to filmmaking later in life - after earning a history degree and after a career as a musician. I did not grow up around filmmaking and so it took me a while to stumble upon this career and to discover that it was what I was meant to do all along. I started my training at a quirky little film co-op called The Winnipeg Film Group. Then, while making my own independent shorts, I went onto more advanced training at the National Screen Institute. And, finally, I trained at Canada's top film school -- the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto.

FLB: We share an interest in dark retellings of classic fairy tales. What do these tales mean to you? You’ve based work on Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood and The Snow Queen (as well as Bluebeard in The Singing Bones). What do these specific tales represent for you? What other tales are important in your  life? Who introduced you to these stories?

DE: My mother read fairy tales to me and encouraged me to be an avid reader. So I have her to thank. She has always liked ghost stories, too, so I grew up hearing a lot of fabulous scary tales. But what I love about retelling fables is the power of layered meaning that becomes possible when a story is ancient and well-known. The audience is already familiar with the characters, with the plot, so you have a shorthand for communicating ideas. You can draw attention to important themes in a powerful way. And I love to take a story where the moral is all about a woman's need to conform - to turn that upside down - and make it about empowerment.

FLB: You wrote the screenplay for all of your films, yes? Any tips for screenwriters?

DE: Screenwriting is a very deep art form. My advice is to study with the best. To never stop training. And to write, write, write.

FLB: On the set of The Singing Bones (and during preproduction when we lost  our Canadian actors at the last minute) you were so calm. How do you maintain calm in situations where so much is going on at once and so many people need you at the same time? Is this a natural part of who you are (it seems so) or did you have to work at it?

DE: I definitely have to work on it! Filmmaking is such a tough art form because the industry or business side of the work is just as important as the creative and personal side of the work. And the business side is full of obstacles, rejection and disasters. Filmmakers need a tough skin and flexible outlook to adapt to the constant challenges and disappointments of preproduction - before they even make it to set. You have to be an Amazon. You have to fight through production to earn the right to make films.

FLB: Your cast and crew  fall in love with you because of this calm, mixed with your passion and the respectful way you treat everyone. I guess this isn’t a question! But do you have any thoughts on how to work with a large group of people and keep everyone feeling so good  and so invested in the project?

DE: I doesn't always work! Film crews are large and made up of so many diverse personalities. But I try to foster a sense of mutual respect on set. Less screaming, more play. One of the great elements of independent film is that - while we may not make much money - we work on sets where creativity and collaboration can bloom. Where everyone can contribute. And, although the hours are long and we are often exhausted, I love it when set becomes a fun place to be. I want the crew to be excited about coming to set each day.

FLB: Can you give us a general timeline for The Singing Bones? What does post production consist of? When can we see the film? And where?

DE: Post will take about 3 months. Then we hope to have a film festival premiere in spring 2016. We will also have some private screenings for our Indiegogo supporters and for cast and crew. Then, after a few more festival screenings, the film should be online at the end of 2016.

FLB: What are  some books you’d like to adapt for film? I keep thinking of Angela Carter and Kelly Link as good fits for your work!

DE: Those are two great writers! I also dream of adapting something by Margaret Atwood.

FLB: Yes! Hear that, MA? D, who are some of your influences and inspirations?

DE: In film, I am inspired by Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola. I find history a constant inspiration - especially women's history. I love opera - especially Baroque opera. And I am always drawn back to the Pre-Raphaelites. I've been working on a screenplay about Elizabeth Siddal for many years. Her story breaks my heart.

FLB: Who are the people in your life who have supported you the most and how important has this been to your growth and success as an artist thus far? What are you reading, listening to, looking at, being generally turned-on by?

DE: My husband Jonathan is my biggest supporter. He helps on every film set, he comes to every festival screening, he makes my coffee and pulls me out of bed when I'm too tired to get up after a 16 hour day.
I'm currently reading Kelsey's biography of Sir Francis Drake. It is an eye opening account of very dark times. I'm listening to music by Alex Winston, MØ, The New Division, Glass Animals and Operators. I'm also looking forward to the new Metric album. And I've been rereading an old graphic novel, Moonshadow, because I love the art of Jon J. Muth.

FLB: What’s next for you?

DE: I have a feature film in development called Level 16. A story that I really love and which will hopefully reunite me with one of my favorite actors - Sara Canning.

FLB: I love Sara, too. Thanks for suggesting she take my online class.  When can you and I work together again?

DE:  Now? Let's make another movie.

FLB: I'm in.