British horror film “Rose: A Love Story” enjoyed its world premiere at the 2020 London Film Festival. The film’s director and editor, Jennifer Sheridan, spoke to In Their Own League about making her directorial feature debut, and the fun of shooting a horror film in a remote Welsh forest.
[This interview has been edited to remove spoilers for the film.]
Congratulations on the release of “Rose: A Love Story”! This is your first feature as a director, how does it feel to have your feature debut premiere at the London Film Festival?
Sheridan: It’s a crazy experience because I had my first short film at the BFI premiere there last year, which was really exciting. So cut to a year later and my debut feature’s there…I remember thinking “one day that’s going to happen” but you think it’s a pipe dream when you see the big films there, but then it happens!
So as a director and editor, how was the move from short films to feature films, were there any unexpected challenges or surprises?
Sheridan: Well I’ve always loved editing, that’s been my passion for a really long time. It was such a great way to learn the ropes of directing, because you look at what other directors have done, how they’ve covered scenes and you see when things don’t work, and you have to fix them in the edit. That kind of experience is so valuable as a director, especially when you don’t have any money or time – we had to shoot “Rose” in fifteen days and it was tight! Sometimes in the evening I’d go and cut scenes just to go “okay it works, it works, it’s fine”.
We only had one day off a week and I’d be in the edit that day, just cutting stuff together, because if we needed pickups we had to get it within those four weeks, because once the sets were struck, they were gone. So that was a challenge, and quite stressful, but I think my editing background massively helped, because I knew what was going to cover the scene and then if you get time there’s all the creative stuff, luckily we had such great actors that we did end up with quite a bit of time to do that.
Getting into the film itself, the details of Rose’s condition have already been discussed a lot in reviews and in promotion for the film. Is that something that you were happy with being out there, or would you rather have people come to the film not knowing anything in advance?
Sheridan: If I’m honest, I totally would prefer that people wouldn’t watch the trailer or read anything about it first. I feel that part of the film’s strength is figuring out what’s going on, what the dynamic is, because it’s so unsure for some of the film; it’s not chucked in your face early on. I think that’s part of the enjoyment of watching the film and I hope that people don’t feel like that’s been spoiled. I was actually kind of surprised by the number of conversations I’ve been having around [the background of Rose’s condition]. I always saw Rose as someone who has this disease which turns her feral.
Rose and Sam’s relationship is much realer than [Rose’s condition], they’re actually dealing with quite domestic challenges. Although the film is called “Rose: A Love Story” and the film is very much about their love, I feel like it explores love in not so much a romantic way but a bit more realistically. If you had a partner who did have those tendencies, you would have to manage meal times, for example. You’d have to have rules and try to carve out a sex life!
There’s one line, “I’m the one living with this, not you.”; when talking to Matt (Stokoe, the film’s writer, who also plays Sam) in preparation for shooting, was there any experience he mentioned of people living with a disease – almost as a third person – in that relationship?
Sheridan: Yeah definitely, we talked a lot about that. A lot of us have experienced something quite similar in our own lives, having a partner going through something quite severe medically and for a while we’d take on that carer role in the relationship. It is a real challenge once going there to come back to the romance and so many people face it in real life, so we were excited to explore that, with some horror elements and some other cool stuff.
With the love story being so front and centre, how heavy did you and Matt want to go into the horror elements?
Sheridan: Well the whole film is a sort of dance between the horror side and the realist, romance drama elements, so it was something we were always trying to balance. We didn’t want it to feel clichéd and we didn’t want the horror elements to end up undercutting the ideas we were exploring in the story. It was a challenge and I think that’s what’s interesting about how people have ended up reacting, I think some hardcore horror fans might feel a bit cheated but some people who aren’t so into the genre might be able to watch “Rose” because there’s enough there for them to connect to the film.
The film has a real emphasis on darkness on show, how
Sheridan: I really wanted to create a parallel between Rose’s and Sam’s worlds, because Rose’s is so dark and closed-in, whereas Sam gets to go out into these beautiful forests and have a coffee by a lake which has frozen over, and I wanted to hint that him saying “it’ll be alright” and “this life’s going to work”, when you see him outside and relishing nature I want you to go “well it’s not really, is it?”. It was fascinating shooting the film in that way because we as a crew were inside for so long in the dark that when we got to go outside and shoot these amazing scenes, we felt exactly what Sam felt – it was so good to be out of the dark and among the trees!
The film’s location looks absolutely gorgeous, where did you shoot it?
Sheridan: It’s a stunning Welsh forest – I can’t remember the name now! – but we got snowed in, there was no phone signal so the isolation that Sam and Rose faced was shared by all of us. It was quite cool though and really bonding: we had every meal together, and if we wanted to hang out with someone we’d have to go and knock on their door. It felt very much like old times.
On the topic of the crew, was Matt always going to be playing Sam as well as writing the film?
Sheridan: Well Matt is so passionate and proud about the story and script he’s written – as he should be – but he was never saying “I’m going to play Sam” from the beginning, in fact he was determined to find the right person for that role. But when Sophie (Rundle, who plays Rose) came on board and got involved creatively, they already had such a shorthand and a relationship that was so warm, and they work so well together, that it kind of seemed crazy to find someone else to match with Sophie. It made absolute sense and I’m so glad we did it because they’re so professional and such good actors, and they made making a film in that time achievable. They don’t take many takes, they nail it which is great!
So now that “Rose” has premiered, what’s next in the pipeline for you?
Sheridan: Well I’ve been developing a feature script for a few years now. It’s not a horror, it’s more a gritty fish-out-of-water drama. I really want to go further into horror though, and I’d love to do a sci-fi! I get excited by genre pieces, you can have so much more fun with them. I love making pigskin and cauterising it on camera, and cutting hands open and making it look real on camera – that’s so fun!
You’ve worked on shows like “The League of Gentlemen”, so darker stories must appeal to you.
Sheridan: Editing “The League of Gentlemen” was the culmination of all my editing dreams coming true, I used to love it when I was a teenager and I felt like an outcast who likes this really weird stuff and everyone else didn’t get it. Fifteen years later and I’m editing the show and and thinking “this isn’t real!”.
Would you consider returning to their world at some point?
Sheridan: I’m actually lined up to direct two episodes of “Inside No. 9”, it was supposed to be this year but lockdown has changed things.
And can you say anything about those episodes?
Sheridan: Nope! They are brilliant though.
Well, we tried.