Kelly Fremon Craig has accomplished something that few first-time directors do. Her film, The Edge Of Seventeen, has been nominated for 11 major awards so far, including the Critics Choice Award for Best Comedy, the Golden Globe for Best Actress — Motion Picture Comedy Or Musical, and the New York Film Critics Circle for Best First Film, which Craig won.
But the accolades were a long time coming for Craig, who started her career as a screenwriter — she wrote the screenplay for the Alexis Bledel flop Post Grad, which Fremon Craig says was unrecognizable to her in its final form. After that experience, Craig knew she had to go into directing if she wanted the stories she writes to be told the way they should be — and she found a friend and ally in producer Jim Brooks, who knew, when she showed him the meticulously researched and written screenplay for the Edge of Seventeen, that she was the only one who could direct the film the way it should be.
As the title indicates, the Edge of Seventeen follows a seventeen-year-old girl, Nadine (Steinfeld) as she fights with her friend, brother, and mother; finds out her crush is a jerk and falls for someone else; and grieves the death of her father, who died suddenly in front of her four years earlier. She finds a confidant of sorts in her teacher (Woody Harrelson), who soon becomes the only one Nadine can really talk to about her life — but who doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for her.
If you haven't seen it yet, the Edge of Seventeen will be available on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, February 14th (it's already available on Digital HD). BUST called Craig to talk about how the Edge of Seventeen got made, making a movie about teens that’s not a “teen movie,” and the Oscars — both Hailee Steinfeld’s snub and the complete lack of nominations for women directors.
I know this is your first film as a director, though you had been a screenwriter before. Had you been wanting to direct for a while, or was it something about this particular story that made you want to direct?
I had been wanting to direct since I was growing up. When I was 12 or 13, I started to make little films. And it was just play. I loved picking up the camera and just shooting things, but I never really thought of it as “Oh, I could make a career out of this” — it was way too fun for that to ever enter my mind. And then I started to write and had the experience of having my first film made, and through that process, I realized just how much feature filmmaking is a director’s medium. I could just see so clearly that if I really wanted to see something realized, that I would have to find a way to direct.
Do you feel like the film you worked on as a screenwriter, when watching it, it wasn’t what you had written?
Oh, totally. That was painful. It’s incredibly hard because you have something that’s in your head and you see it, and it’s just such a distant, distant, distant cousin. I don’t even know if it’s still related. And you have no control over that. It’s hard because you put so much of your heart and soul into something and you’re obsessive over every word and every period and comma. But again, it’s a director’s medium, so it all kind of gets thrown out the window. As it should! The director should make their choices and figure out what movie they want to make.
With the Edge of Seventeen, after you wrote the script, did you feel any pressure to hand it off to a different director?
I got really lucky because when I first wrote the script and I sat down with [producer] Jim Brooks, I was prepared to pitch myself to direct it. Instead, in that first meeting, he said, “I think the voice is really specific, so I think that you should direct it.” I wish somebody had a video of me when he said that, because I don’t know how well I hid the shock on my face, but probably not that well.
Where did the first idea for the Edge Of Seventeen come from?
I was interested in exploring a feeling that I remember vividly at that age: this kind of gnawing loneliness, when you really feel like you’re the only person in the world who feels like that. You’re confused and lost and emotional and unsure of yourself, and you’re positive everybody else is happy and confident and having fun all the time.
How did you go about your research? It seems like technology means what it’s like to be in high school changes so quickly.
It’s interesting, because I found that the core issues are just the same as when I went to high school in the late ‘90s, it’s just technology amplifying the same things that were always there. I really was struck by just how easily I could remember those feelings.
I did a lot of interviews. I talked to probably 50 or 60 teenagers from all over the country. I sat down with them, I went to high schools and sat in the back of the class or at lunch to just observe, I went to a high school dance...I really was just trying to remember what it was like, and feel that feeling, and write from that place.
There have been some pieces out there that are like, “Do we call this a teen movie? Do we not?”
It was always really, really important to us that we weren’t a teen movie and we weren’t trying to be. We were just trying to be a great movie that happened to be about a teenage girl — but never wanting to fall into genre. We really just wanted to make a movie about a character show you this girl’s internal life. At the same time, there are certain quote-unquote teen movies that I love just desperately, but I think it’s because they’re dealing with something that’s larger than that age. I love Say Anything, I love the Breakfast Club, those movies just make me feel deeply. They made me laugh, they made me cry. It’s not necessarily about the age, it’s just about what about life they were dealing with.
Could you tell me about finding Hailee Steinfeld for the lead role?
The casting process was insane. I personally saw over 1,000 girls over the course of a year. And it was grueling, and at some point I started to think, I don’t know if we can make this movie because we just can’t find somebody who’s just it. And then Hailee walked in the door very late in the game. She just knocked me over. She was so deeply, deeply Nadine. And Hailee Steinfeld herself isn’t Nadine — she isn’t like her. This was incredibly impeccable character acting. Her whole physicality changed when she was the character. It was like she knew who this person was, and she could become her, down to a cellular level. It was like witnessing something miraculous.
Do you feel like Hailee Steinfeld should have gotten an Oscar nomination? She’s been named in a lot of the snubs lists.
You know what, I would completely, completely agree. I absolutely think, especially after having auditioned everybody on earth and knowing how hard this role was to do, that nobody could do it but her. Somehow she makes it seem like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and that’s to her enormous credit. She’s that talented of an actress that you never see the work. She’s just it. I think she should win every award there ever is, from here until the rest of her life.
And also, there are zero women nominated for the Best Director Oscar this year.
Yeah. This has been such a big topic lately, and it seems like things are moving in the right direction, and then we get studies that say we’re backsliding, which is not great to hear. But these things take a while. And I myself have experienced a lot of opportunities and been sent a lot of scripts. I feel really lucky that it feels like it’s changing, or there’s enough of a conversation about it that it’s starting to.
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