Body & Bones (2019) is the feature debut of Newfoundland writer and director, Melanie Oates. She has been writing and directing since 2014 in films including Bait (2014/III), Distance (2014/IV), The Manor (2016) and Ida Here and there (2016). Her talents do not stop there as she also produces and is a costume designer.
Body & Bones, Melanie Oates feature debut is nothing but heart retching as the film portrays an insider perspective on a certain type of love. The type of love that is one sided, the type of love we have all seen in our lives, whether we’ve experienced it ourselves, or heard about it second hand from a family member, friend, or even a co-worker. This story follows Tess (Kelly Van Der Burg), a troubled teenager just looking for herself, but she soon stumbles upon a family friends' outcast older son, Danny, (Joel Thomas Hynes) and develops a relationship, a very dysfunctional relationship that leaves them both on different pages.
From my experience with this film, it felt very personal and intimate. When we shift from scene to scene it feels like we are the camera spying in on the lives of Tess and Danny. At times it feels almost too personal watching Tess in her most vulnerable moments, it feels wrong to continue to stare at the screen because it feels like the audience should not be there. But I couldn't look away, it was something that I, much like Tess, needed closure too. This film gives audience members a chance to look at this type of love presented in the film in an objective lens that allows them to reflect on why relationships like this are hard to maintain, but also why it is hard to not leave.
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with director Melanie Oates and ask her some questions about different aspects of how she shot this film, what inspired her, and what she has planned for the future.
Q: Did any of your past projects influence the way you shot this film?
A: I made a web series a while ago and it was very low budget, and all took place in one location. In one episode one of the characters is describing a dream she had, and I wanted to show it, but we couldn't shoot it literally because it would've required another location and another actor. We decided to make a more abstract version of the dream. It was so fun coming up with ways to tell the story, shooting it was so fun, and I loved how it turned out, so I knew going into Body & Bones that I wanted to continue to play with that. When it came to getting inside Tess's head, it seemed like a good fit so that's what we did with the underwater and dream sequences.
Q: Why make this story your feature debut? Why did you feel this perspective of this type of ‘love’ story had to be told?
A: I was reflecting on relationships. Relationships in my youth. Negotiating power dynamics in those relationships. How I compromised myself. How I could lose my head or become obsessive. And there's this strange drive to share the most shameful parts of myself. I'm not sure why. Maybe to have it validated through people relating or something. It was less a choice and more a compulsion, to be honest.
Q: When you write do you always have the big picture in mind and stick to it, or do you just allow yourself to write the story in whatever direction it takes you?
A: I usually have a character or a couple of characters in mind and a very loose idea about what they'll be grappling with and I let the rest unfold as I'm writing. That's the only way it works for me. I find the characters doing or saying things that are unplanned and surprising to me and I follow them there. It's definitely a slow way to write. It usually takes me a few drafts before the actual plot starts to firm up. I've tried doing it with outlines and a more structured plan, but I find that what I end up with is kind of lifeless and the process is pretty unfulfilling.
Q: I will admit I have not seen any of your works before and with this film it made me very uncomfortable at certain moments. Not in a way that I could not handle it, it's just that it felt very personal. Almost if I was standing in the room with the characters having to watch some of the most imitate moments. Was that the intention, to make this film feel very personal/intimate?
A: I'm so happy to hear that that was your experience of seeing the film. That's exactly what I was hoping for. After we premiered that film, we had a little celebration party and throughout the evening I had people come up to me and tell me how much the film meant to them. I was especially moved by a couple of women who told me that through seeing Tess's experience they were able to reflect on their own youth and see themselves with more compassion. To sort of be able to recognize and articulate experiences they'd had but hadn't really dealt with. That was so powerful and important to me.
Q: Throughout the film we see Tess listen to music to escape her reality to hang to the fantasy she has made up in her head. Does music influence your process of writing and directing, if so in what ways?
A: Music is a huge influence of mine. It's the art form that elicits the most immediate and visceral emotional response, I think. When I'm gearing up to write a certain scene, especially particularly emotional or vulnerable scenes, I'll use music to get myself in that head and heart space. I'll often listen to the same song over and over again as I write. I listened to a lot of Agnes Obel while writing Body & Bones. Particularly “September Song” and “Dorian.”
Q: On a final note, do you currently have anything in the works now or plan on doing in the future that you could possibly share?
A: I’m working on two feature film projects that I’m writing and will be directing. Hopefully we’ll be shooting the first of those in 2021. Other than that, I've been working on some fiction and have a novel that’s been sitting in my desk for a while that I need to give some attention and hopefully find a home for. This year with COVID19, I’ve been lucky to be able to spend time writing but I’m eager to get back to directing.
Once again I’d like to thank Melanie Oates for taking time out of her day to do this interview with me. If you’re interested in watching the film yourself, it is currently on Apple TV.