Jennifer Sheridan is a director to watch. Originally an editor who worked on shows like League of Gentlemen, she's since made many shorts and a five-part television series called The Snow Spider. Her feature length directorial debut Rose: A Love Story is a heart wrenching tale of love, loss and horror, and packs a punch. Now playing at the 64th BFI London Film Festival, Strand caught up with her to discuss it.
Rose: A Love Story follows devoted couple Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle) in their secluded existence on the outskirts of a small town. While Sam goes out for food and supplies, Rose stays at home, inhibited by a mysterious illness. But when an unexpected guest is forced to stay the night, their quiet lifestyle is threatened, and Rose’s darker side becomes harder to suppress.
Credit: BFI London Film Festival, image.net
Matt [Stokoe, who also stars] wrote the original script. How did you two work together to create Rose: A Love Story? What was the collaboration like?
Matt wrote the script alone, and then my agent sent it to me saying “you really should read this”, so I did, and I loved it. I met Matt in person and showed him my ideas, how I felt about a certain scene, and he felt exactly the same way. So then followed this two year collaboration, and Sophie Rundle came on board quite early as well. She’s so insightful, and she essentially got to shape Rose’s character, so when she actually played her, she already knew her so well. We all just creatively aligned.
The vibe on set must have been really fun then!
Honestly, it was such a crazy thing, we were in the middle of nowhere in this forest in Wales, completely snowed in, with no phone signal – you had to drive fifteen minutes down the road to get it! It was great, because we just got to hang out together, have communal dinners, and on days off – not that there were that many – we’d watch films. It was like a family, a bonding experience, and there was none of this hierarchy you often get on a film set. Everyone pitched in, carrying equipment through the snow. I get this warm, fuzzy feeling whenever I think about it now, I want to go back!
Sounds like you guys had a pre-lockdown lockdown then!
I always say to people that if they want to make a film during lockdown, they should just go to a forest in Wales.
I got a lot of different vibes from the film, like Light of My Life and A Quiet Place. What films inspired you before and during filming?
There’s this great horror film called It Comes At Night – I love it. I was watching a lot of films in the lead up to filming, and I watched The Hallow, which was hugely inspirational. Like Rose: A Love Story, it’s also set in the forest, it’s about a husband and wife, and it’s one of these films that goes under the radar and you never really know why. So I was inspired by films of course, but obviously when you’re on set, you get inspired by the location and it was the houses we were filming in, the nature, the general atmosphere that really helped as well.
Credit: BFI London Film Festival, image.net
Rose: A Love Story is categorised as a horror, but to me it felt like a lot more than that. What is the message or meaning behind Sam and Rose's relationship for you? What would you like viewers to take away from the story?
For me, the characters are doomed by the situation. They’re trying to protect each other, and Sam’s response in particular is quite a physical protection – it’s very logistical, he wants it to work out, and he thinks it will, as long as they stick to the rules. But as viewers, we see it won’t work out. A lot of couples in fact have to share this illusion. One will have to become a carer because the other gets a long-term illness, and it’s incredibly difficult to balance romance and a sex life with that. It might be a horror film, but audiences who are super horror fans might be a little disappointed in that sense because we didn’t want to undermine the realness of the situation with jump scares. Hopefully people will see that.
This is your first feature. What pushed the move from editor to director?
When I came out of university, I wanted to direct but I lacked the confidence, and I was so much more comfortable with editing. For many years, I edited and it was my passion, so I decided I wanted to edit films. I spoke to people who had edited films like Harry Potter and stuff like that, and the general consensus is that you have to meet a director who will become famous, and create a relationship with them. But it’s an incredibly tough industry, and only a few people make it, and I just wasn’t meeting those people. I didn’t want to rely on someone else’s success, so I started directing my own shorts. I did loads of them, some of them won awards, and then when I got my agent, I got the script and everything snowballed from there really. It took a while for the industry to see me as a director though. I would apply to direct a particular project, and people would tell me that it was a bit of a leap for me, but could I edit it instead. And it just got to a point where I wasn’t getting any directing jobs and I kept editing, so I decided to say no to all the editing jobs. It was tough but it was worth it. You need to develop a thick skin.
My next question was along those lines – do you have any advice for budding directors, or editors for that matter?
A thick skin! You’re going to get a lot more nos than yeses. Even now, the festival rejections, the missed opportunities for funding, it never stops really. You have to have determination, and learn to put one foot in front of the other. Develop your skills however you can. Any experience is valuable.
What are you looking forward to next?
I’m set to direct two episodes of Inside No. 9 next year, and I’d also like to explore horror further as well at some point. Everything seems to be next year at the moment! But there are so many possibilities to look forward to.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor