Back in March, the Boston Underground Film Festival brought us one of the most fascinating films we’ve seen in ages, writer/director Avalon Fast’s Honeycomb. Co-written with one of the film’s stars, Emmett Roiko, the film sees five girls stray from society and take over an abandoned cabin and, “as they develop a set of self-governing rules, things begin to unravel.”
It’s a beautiful and hallucinogenic film which alternates between sun-dazzled days and dark nights filled with psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, contrasting the young women who have chosen to set themselves apart from the young men who just don’t understand. Much like the films of fellow young director Kansas Bowling, the scrappy production is just as much about capturing the feeling of youth and that liminal state between high school and adulthood as it is about creating an atmosphere of terror.
I spoke with director Avalon Fast and one of the film’s actors, Henri Gillespi, during the festival about the art of crafting such a haunting and immersive film.
Cinepunx: You shot this three years ago on a camping trip?
Avalon Fast: Yeah, not quite. We went on a camping trip on an island nearby and that’s when I presented the script to the cast and crew, then we filmed that summer on Cortez island. It took about two months to shoot overall, but yeah, I showed them the script on a camping trip.
What made Cortez Island such a desirable place to shoot? I mean, in the end, it becomes a character in the film itself, but how did you discover it?
Avalon Fast: Half of my family live over there, so I spent a lot of time there growing up, in a way. Later on in my high school years, I’d spend my summers over there. It was just a more fun place to spend your summer. All the weird kids hung out over there.
Henri Gillespi: No police there. It’s just a really small community. The population goes from like 1500 people in the winter to like 10,000 people in the summer. A lot of people come in from all over the place, so there’d be friends from all over the world that you’d see only in the summer. You just got to get in the swing of going there in the summer, and then making all these new friends.
Avalon Fast: There’s also a lot of the lakes and the fields that we could hang out in and there’s enough people around that we could make this happen, but also not too many people, so we could have the whole lake to ourselves for a day. We got to shoot at these locations and not really ask for permission. It was just wide-open spaces that we were allowed to use, so that made it good.
How did the script develop, going from making short films to your first feature?
Avalon Fast: I don’t think I set into Honeycomb – when I started writing it – necessarily as though I was going to write a feature, but it just ended up being that long. It was the first time I’d written a script and really gone over it more than one time. With my shorts, it was a lot more experimental and Honeycomb, there was a lot of dialogue and then we were sticking to our script and so, it was different. That way I had to put more effort into it, but I really enjoyed doing it. I co-wrote it with Emmett, as well, so it probably took us like two or three months altogether.
The script is a combination of very naturalistic interactions and then, you have these monologues, essentially. How did that contrasting set of styles come about?
Avalon Fast: Yeah, I definitely went into that with those intentions. Like when the boys are talking about the bees when they’re at the skate park and it starts to turn into this thing that might mean a little bit more – I liked for most of their conversations to be that way, where it was this mundane chatter that eventually turned into like, “Oh, they’re saying something important. Something’s going on right now.”
I definitely was intentional and I don’t know exactly how I came up with that, but I just thought it would be interesting. I like when conversations go in that way in general, because that happens in life too – you can be having a mundane conversation and suddenly be like, “Oh wait, we’re talking about something real right now.”
That was the thing I really appreciated about the script, because that is how conversations go when you’re hanging out in the summer. These very banal discussions about whatever can all of a sudden, just sort of veer to where it’s like, “We’re talking about some real shit.” Henri, how is it for you, making that transition when you’re acting? How do you make that seem less of a hard delineation and more of a gradation? How do you do it to where it just sort of gradually occurs without having in the back of your mind, “Okay. I’ve got like a monologue coming up”?
Avalon Fast: Talk about shooting and how long it took to shoot that scene. Henri had to smoke like, two packs of cigarettes.
Henri Gillespi: The whole thing was big and I was not prepared for that scene specifically because we’re doing like a lot of other stuff. I had a lot of responsibility. I pretty much put the whole character component, like off to the side so that I could transport everyone, and try and worry about making sure there was as little continuity errors as possible and organizing just a bunch of crap.
Then it was like, “Oh, we’re shooting that scene.” We tried to shoot it in one of our friend’s backyards and I smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.
Avalon Fast: Do you remember finally getting it right or what that felt like?
Henri Gillespi: It was just like, I just felt like, “Don’t have to do that anymore.”
You kind of address that right there, but I was really curious as to what are the practicalities of shooting party scenes on a budget – how do you keep it going? How do you keep it from turning into an actual party?
Avalon Fast: There was a lot of times with the first one – I call that first party scene “the red evening” – and it started turning into one. Where we shot that was an abandoned cabin, actually really far away from civilization and cell service and suddenly everyone’s up there and somehow alcohol ended up there, as well.
I don’t know who had the time to carry that up the hill because we were carrying all the instruments and stuff, but it got up there. If you watch the outtake reel at the very end, there’s a couple of shots, and one of our friends that just can’t get their line right and then, “What’s my second line?” when they have like two words they have to say. There was a lot of that, but I kind of liked that and I feel like there should be a little bit of party on-set when you’re doing a scene like that – the way I think I want to shoot movies, anyways. It makes it authentic and I think it’s fun, as long as you can keep it together a little bit.
Henri Gillespi: If you have a party, everyone’s going to come. Everybody’s going to be on time. Everyone will be looking happy, at least. It’s one way to entice the whole cast to show up.
Controlled chaos seems to be an underlying sort of aspect of the film where the plot is very much one of “we’re going to start over,” but – while things never spiral out of control, things definitely change in ways that the characters can’t conceive of at the beginning. Did that happen for you making the film, as well?
Avalon Fast: That’s a good one. Yeah, definitely. I mean, there was so much. When you’re dealing with a friend group too, there’s a lot of different things that happened within the people that were not sure if they want to continue their summer making this movie or – just different things that would happen in relationships on set.
When we were up in that cabin, I remember us realizing that, in a way where those people have left the society were doing this weird thing and weird things were happening – of course they were, ’cause we were all in one space together. And so, the film turned out not exactly how I had it – and I don’t even remember exactly what I had – in my head for what I wanted Honeycomb to be. It definitely has a brain of its own it just. It did its thing. And I’m really proud of what it turned into.
When you were conceiving of what this film would look like visually, I have to imagine that that was very important because the mood just envelops you when you’re watching it. Were there films that you looked to, to get that idea. I know like a lot of people have referenced Lord of the Flies, but I see a lot of a Picnic at Hanging Rock vibe.
Avalon Fast: Yeah, I get Picnic at Hanging Rock a lot and I haven’t seen it, so I should, probably. But yeah, I watched Lord of the Flies afterwards, as well. A lot of these references that we’re getting are things that – I mean, I knew what Lord of the Flies was. I wrote that line into Honeycomb because I knew enough of that storyline and I knew that there were similarities there.
You know, I actually haven’t brought this one up yet. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Kings of Summer, but that honestly inspired me a lot when I was a young person and nobody’s brought that up yet. I’m almost glad because there’s a lot of similarities within it and I’m like, “Okay, nobody’s noticed that one yet.”
More so, there’s been some inspirations – the monologue scene with Willow was inspired by a poem that I read in a poetry book a lot of my friends like, too, written by an author that grew up on one of the islands we were shooting on. Also, a lot of my girlfriends and I read a book called The Girls by Emma Cline, which is about the Manson cult stuff. That’s like, my favorite book, so that definitely inspired the girl culty thing going on.
I like the idea that it’s a girl cult as opposed to like a girl gang. Even during the revenge aspect of it, it seems like it’s done with love.
Avalon Fast: I think that part is important, too. Is that it was just Leader trying to deal with her feelings and felt it was unjust that she wasn’t getting her feelings managed the same way that other people were? I like the part where Willow kind of takes a step back and she’s like, “What are we doing? This seems kinda messed up.” They’re still human. They’re still friends and they still think about their friends.