Exclusive Interview With Neasa Hardiman, Director of “Sea Fever”

By Bianca Garner

“Sea Fever” is a fantastic psychological thriller which will be live streaming on Thursday, April 9th, 5:00pmPT/8:00pmET. Viewers can tune in to watch the official film premiere together, post their comments in a chatroom, and have their questions answered by the cast and crew via a moderated Q&A following the credits.  The event will kick-off the film’s on-demand and Digital release on April 10th. You can check out our review of the film here.

Bianca Garner spoke to the film’s director Neasa Hardiman about how timely the film is, what films inspired her and how they managed to shoot those incredible underwater scenes!

Hi Neasa, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It’s really interesting that your film “Sea Fever” is being released at this current time with the current COVID-19 outbreak. I really like how your film played into the psychological and body horror genre, it really ticked all the right boxes for me. How did the story and your film come about?

Neasa: It really is weird. The film opened at the Toronto Film Festival, I was there and it was quite nerve-racking but it got a brilliant response, that was last September. I went off to make another project so I haven’t seen the film until it played at the Dublin Film Festival just before COVID-19 changed our lives.

So, everybody was aware that the virus was coming and that it had been in the news and we sat down to watch the film and suddenly it just felt weirdly analogous. All of these things which are in the story, really specific things about contagion, about quarantine, all this stuff which is crucial to the story and causes a fight between the characters on the trawler, suddenly had this massive resonance with everyone in the room.

“Sea Fever” is a psychological thriller with a sci-fi element, which I hope also explores ethical questions and the central questions it asks are “how do we take responsibility for ourselves and for each other and for our world?” and that’s where it suddenly feels resonate and relevant in a way that I wish it didn’t!

sea fever neasa

It’s really is eerie how this has all happened. What was the initial response from the audience at the Toronto International Film Festival?

Neasa: We had a fantastic response at TIFF. I was actually blown away by the response, I hadn’t anticipated it. You go to a big festival like that and you’re just hoping your film has enough bums on seats and we were sold out at multiple showings that they had to put on extra ones. And, we got a massive amount of positive reviews so that was very exciting. The film was meant to get a release across the U.S. and Europe this month but of course, it’s not going to be a cinematic release but a VOD release which we celebrate and we hope people see it.

We hope so too! Can you tell people what the film is about?

Neasa: The film follows a marine biology student who prefers carrying out work in her lab rather than interacting with others, but for her doctorate, she has to endure a week on a ragged fishing trawler off the west coast of Ireland. She’s at miserable odds with the close-knit crew but out at the deep Atlantic there’s this unfathomable life form that snares the boat and then members of the crew start to succumb to a strange infection. It’s at that point that our biology student overcomes her alienation and she has to win the crew’s trust because she’s really the only one who will be able to navigate them home.

sea fever crew

When watching “Sea Fever” I couldn’t help but be reminded of classic sci-fi films such as “Alien” and “The Thing”, were those films in the back of your mind when developing the film, and if not what inspired you to make “Sea Fever”?

Neasa: Well, I love thrillers and I love grounded sci-fi. I also love stories that use the spectacle of cinema, light, image, surround sound and music to create a metaphor and a dreamlike world for real, intelligent, important questions for the audience. So, it’s that sweet spot where you expect the audience to be smart, able and ready to reach forward while being able to deliver something that is the enjoyable pleasures of all of cinema’s artillery.

I’m also super nerdy and I did a huge amount of research, I watched every film in this kind of idiom that I could find. “Alien” is an amazing film and a very layered one which is terrific. “The Thing” I like but I feel the characterisation in that is very thin but the central premise is so strong.

sea fever 1

The films that were most prominent in my mind were “Arrival” and “Annihilation” and Mike Cahill’s film “Another Earth”, they were all films that hit that sweet spot for me. Something that is grounded and emotionally truthful with a very rich characterisation that also contains that wonderful cinematic metaphor, that big “What if”  that is at the heart of the story.

I should also say that “Sea Fever” is not really ‘body horror’, there’s about nine frames of ‘body horror’ in the film. It’s not a big part of the story, it’s not a film like “The Thing”. It’s more of a psychological thriller with that sci-fi element in it.

Did you face any challenges while filming and if so how did you overcome them?

Neasa: It was a really hard shoot because it was an incredibly ambitious project and a really visually ambitious project. We had a budget of two and a half million Euros, which is not very much money to make a film with! My background is in design and CG which is where I started out and I am very comfortable in that world and knowing what we can and can’t do. So, I wrote the story with that in mind, knowing what we would be able to shoot, what we could afford to shoot and trying to maximise what we could well. 

sea fever water

One thing I didn’t want to do was to have the actors left on a green screen responding to a tennis ball. There’s a whole sequence where our marine biologists played by the wonderful Hermoine Corfield who is an amazing swimmer and diver and she has to dive down deep into the water where she comes face to face with this new life form from deep in the Atlantic. Of course, we know more about the surface of the moon then we know about the deep Atlantic. 

What I didn’t want was Hermoine reacting  to something that wasn’t there. We filmed that sequence in a big blacked out tank in Sweden and hired two brilliant puppeteers to build a puppet which is in the water along with the puppeteers in wetsuits and with Hermione when we are filming. The puppet is covered in LED lights so you get this shimmering effect. We captured that material and in post-production, we drew over it with CG, so she’s really looking at something and really responding to something with her whole body. 

sea fever 05

Hermoine is absolutely brilliant, how did she become involved in the project?

Neasa: My rule with casting is to get in the room with the actor. I’m not a big believer in just watching their other movies or looking at taped auditions, I much prefer being in the room and working with the actor for a few hours, see what they like, see what you like, see how they respond and see if you can work together. There were a small number of people I was interested in for the role and Hermoine was one of them. 

She was just so extraordinary when I met her, she’s got this incredible charisma, she’s really focused, super-intelligent, really collaborative, really funny and absolutely gorgeous. Her delivery when we were playing around with the character and improvising was just so extraordinary, she was so inventive and so subtle with what she did with that character, and she had so much emotional intelligence. It was clear to me that this was the woman we needed to give the role to. 

sea fever hermione

She walks this incredible tight rope in the movie because Siobhán is neurodivergent and thinks differently from other people, she comes across as quite direct and blunt towards other people and isn’t that great at picking up on subtext which means that she can hurt people by accident. All of this makes her very lonely and isolated, we see at the start she has become withdrawn as a result. 

For an actor that’s incredibly difficult because you’re trying to portray a character that gives nothing, and doesn’t read other people well and can’t transmit their emotional state very well, but at the same time you want the audience to understand that she’s lonely and she’s longing for intimacy but she’s not sure about how to go about getting it. I think we were so lucky that Hermoine agreed to the role because she brings that subtlety and emotional intelligence. The amount of research she brought to the story, as well as her intellect and emotions that she brought to that character, was really something else. 

sea fever photo

She did all of her own stunts as well! I actually cast her before I knew she was a professional swimmer and in the film, she does all of those deep dives without oxygen.

Are there any female filmmakers whose work you admire and has there been anything you’ve seen recently that you would like to recommend?

Neasa: My favourite film this year is Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”. I love Céline Sciamma, I think she’s the most brilliant filmmaker. I think “Portrait” is the kind of cinema we’ve been talking about, it’s cinema that is emotionally intelligent and it’s asking you really interesting and chewy questions that don’t have simple answers. It’s also really beautifully exploiting the language of cinema, everything is delicious: the images, the cinematography, the invention, the costumes, the make-up. It’s an absolutely beautiful, beautiful film.  

Gunpowder & Sky’s sci-fi label DUST will host the LIVE STREAM PREMIERE of SEA FEVER on Thursday, April 9th, 5:00pmPT/8:00pmET at https://seafever.watchdust.com.  Fans can tune in to watch the official film premiere together, post their comments in a chatroom, and have their questions answered by the cast and crew via a moderated Q&A following the credits.

This is THE FIRST-EVER live stream premiere of a feature film.  The event will kick-off the release of SEA FEVER On Demand and Digital release April 10th. Pre-order the film here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/sea-fever-2019/id1499131902?ls=1

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