You don't have to channel surf for long without finding a news story about a teacher discovered to be sleeping with her student. In "A Teacher," writer/director Hannah Fidell focuses less on the salacious and more on the psychological aspect of the relationship between a young teacher and one of her teenage students. Lindsay Burdge is the teacher in the film along with her willing student Eric (Will Brittain). Recently, the three of them sat down to discuss making the indie film that's sure to raise a few eyebrows.
Billy Tatum: Hannah, how was it directing your friend Lindsay.
Hannah Fidell: It's great, actually. I highly recommend it. (LAUGHS) I think there's a mutual trust, respect, and admiration for each other's work and ideas. Lindsay carries the movie so well.
Billy Tatum: Did you always have Austin in mind?
Hannah Fidell: Yes, I was living there. I didn't know that many people when I was writing the movie. I had just moved there, so it felt like a place full of loneliness and I just channeled that into the role.
Billy Tatum: It seems like you guys had fun. Was there a particular scene that was difficult to direct Lindsay in?
Hannah Fidell: I think it's hard for me to turn off when Lindsay needs some alone time to get into her character. I'll want to get out of directing character and say "Hey Lindsay, what are you doing in your room?" (LAUGHS) She's like "I need to be alone."
Lindsay Burdge: And I need to sleep in my bed alone tonight. And your dog, Marty, also needs not to be here.
Billy Tatum: You and Lindsay did sort of sequester yourselves and discuss the roles, right?
Hannah Fidell: Yes, in a trailer.
Lindsay Burdge: The three of us. With Marty the dog.
Will Brittain: I wasn't involved.
Billy Tatum: Had you two ever done anything like that before together or on other projects?
Hannah Fidell: No, but the reason I decided to do that was because Lindsay and I hadn't really hung out for a while for a few years.
Lindsay Burdge: She had been in Austin and I was still in Brooklyn. There was a distance between us.
Hannah Fidell: It was a good way to force each other to get that friendship going.
Lindsay Burdge: To reconnect. A seven hour drive holed up in a trailer in the freezing desert and drinking hot chocolate.
Will Brittain: When did that happen?
Lindsay Burdge: That was in Janurary. That was very smart on Hannah's part.
Hannah Fidell: I think I want to do that with everyone.
Lindsay Burdge: It was very smart. I wish I could do that on every film, honestly. Sometimes, you show up and you're shooting the next day and you're like "I don't even know these people. Just give me a second."
Billy Tatum: Did you gain a certain level of sympathy having researched the topic of female teachers having relationships with students?
Hannah Fidell: I don't know. I think I had the idea of not necessarily showing sympathy, but to have a protagonist who's doing something that is frowned upon by society, you have to make them somewhat sympathetic, otherwise, they're not going to watch the movie. So, she had to be. It's good, too, is that to dig down in ourselves and find things that we could use to make her relatable.
Lindsay Burdge: When we were doing the research on teachers who have been in these situations, it was helpful to see the kinds of people we didn't want her to be and then wait until we came across a psychology that I could embody. Somebody that I could go "Oh gosh, I identify." Not to the specifics of the situation, but to the feelings.
Hannah Fidell: Then, that gives us sort of an entry point.
Billy Tatum: With such heavy subject matter, when did you guys manage to have fun?
Will Brittain: We had a lot of fun at the ranch.
Hannah Fidell: That was a lot of fun.
Will Brittain: I was thinking "Is this my job right now? Seriously?" We went to this ranch in Central Texas and had four big scenes, but in between we sat by campfire and shot skeet and shot guns. Lindsay and I rode around offroading in my truck. It was great.
Lindsay Burdge: On this film, in particular, it seems crazy that it's just the three of us talking, because it was really like a family and every single person on the crew was so much a part of it. We all just had a lot of fun together.
Will Brittain: I looked forward to going to set every day.
Hannah Fidell: And eating all the delicious food in Austin on our days off. The shooting schedule was not too strenuous and I did that on purpose, so that if something wasn't working, I'd have the chance to rewrite it. For me, it was a great experience. There are certain scenes where I saw the movie really come together.
Billy Tatum: Now, when guys hear about a teacher seducing a student, we go into sort of a Quagmire mode...
Hannah Fidell: That's an amazing mode. (LAUGHS)
Billy Tatum: Will, what made you take the role and did you view of the character change over time?
Will Brittain: I took the role, because it was a fantastic opportunity. I almost didn't take the role because of school and work. I remember meeting Hannah and telling her that I don't think I can pull it off. She's like "You need to pull it off, because you're missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime." I was like "Alright. Ok, forget school." (LAUGHS) As far as the perception of the character, no. I thought that this guy must have some underlying needs for affection, so I made up a little personal story that helped me motivate the character, but my perception of who he was didn't really change much. He's sort of a spoiled dude. That was clear in physical thing. He has a nice car. He's the guy I wasn't in high school back to the sense of "bromanship" he has with his buddies. I can definitely relate to that.
Billy Tatum: How long did you and Will hang out before shooting?
Lindsay Burdge: Well, we had immediate chemistry which is helpful.
Hannah Fidell: Also, before we started shooting, I remember standing in the kitchen with both of you and saying "Ok, I need to know everything about you, Will..." (LAUGHS)
Will Brittain: She said "Will, have you shot a gun?"
Hannah Fidell: (LAUGHS) Did I say that?
Will Brittain: Yes, you asked me about that.
Hannah Fidell: How weird.
Will Brittain: I'm from Texas and I had a camouflage shirt on. I was very cliche.
Hannah Fidell: I said I need you to trust me and I'm thankful that you did trust me.
Will Brittain: Yeah, we were buddies for a while.
Lindsay Burdge: It was nice, because Hannah did bring me to Austin a week before we began, so it was time to ease into it. We had time to hang out. Will's a trainer, so I went to his boot camp. We got to hang out a little bit and eat or whatever.
Will Brittain: We're very similar people in little ways that actors tend to be.
Lindsay Burdge: And you just look for the similarities. We're both Leos, for example.
Will Brittain: We're both Leos, for example.
Lindsay Burdge: It was great because Hannah was so smart to get us together at the audition. By the time, he was cast, we already knew.
Will Brittain: If I could audition with the person with the person who was the lead in a film every time I audition...it's such a treat. You read with casting directors and you never even meet the person.
Billy Tatum: Which must make love scenes kind of awkward.
Will Brittain: I wouldn't know. (LAUGHS) I can imagine.
Lindsay Burdge: You do what you got to do. You make it work, but it's much better if you can not only try it out with different people, but then also have a bit of a say. I got to say to Hannah "I think this will be the best person." She was ultimately going to make the decision, of course, but it's so nice to know she cares.
Will Brittain: It took them a very long time to make that decision, by the way. I was biting my fingers off for a while.
Lindsay Burdge: We just wanted you to be waiting. (LAUGHS)
Will Brittain: Seriously, I was like "Man, I guess I didn't get it."
Billy Tatum: That's some Good Will Cruelty right there. So, what do you guys have coming up?
Will Brittain: I'm close on a couple of things that I hope pan out. I did a play in Austin called "Colossal" by Andrew Henricker this past May. I hope it makes its way to L.A. It's doing well right now.
Lindsay Burdge: I just finished a relationship indie in upstate New York called "Up the River" and another film called "Some Beast" which is sort of a mouthy film about homesteaders in Virginia. I also have a couple of horror things coming up.
Hannah Fidell: I'm remaking Ida Lapino's 1953 "The Hitchhiker." I'm also doing a young adult domestic violence relationship drama of Mark Duplass' pretty soon.