One of the more provocative films to come out of the 2015 SXSW Film Festival’s Midnighters slate was co-writer/director Patrick Kennelly’s Excess Flesh- a harrowing and visceral exploration of identity that follows two roommates (Bethany Orr, Mary Loveless) as their fractured friendship is tested in unimaginable ways. Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Kennelly about the film during the fest earlier this week and heard from the first-time feature filmmaker about his approach to the story, working with his leading ladies and more.
So how did Excess Flesh come about originally?
Patrick Kennelly: Basically, I had written this idea down like 10 years ago where I even had the title sort of locked away. I had this basic idea but it was different than what we ended up doing with this film. But I was doing a lot of reading on eating disorders and anorexia and bulimia- all these extreme forms of eating disorders and how they can become a physicalization of extreme mental states. I was really fascinated by that research just because the kinds of stories I like to tell are about identity- the making of it and the unmaking of it- as well as the social and cultural forces that shape our identities.
These ideas seemed to be the right vehicle for this story. Plus, it tapped into the feelings I was having about Los Angeles and how isolating this town can be. It’s this huge place but everyone is always in their own little bubble so we’re all very disconnected. So then it was just a matter of putting together all the right people. Whenever I start a project, I don’t really know exactly just how it’s going to turn out or necessarily why I’m doing it in the first place and it’s only through that process of involving people and taking the journey with them do I finally see all the pieces fall into place.
Let’s talk about your leads in this- Bethany and Mary were both incredibly fearless and their performances go to some really dark and physically challenging places throughout the film. You really asked a lot of both actresses and they delivered some truly incredible work in the film.
Patrick Kennelly: Yeah, there’s a lot of trust that needs to be established when you’re working on a script like this. A big part of my background and the work that I’ve been doing over the last several years has been in theater so I’ve actually known Mary for a while now because of that. We went to the same school and when we were writing this, I was thinking about who could play these roles and I immediately thought of Mary. And having worked with her before, I knew she was going to understand that sort of experimental approach I was going to use on the film.
And Bethany, she was someone I discovered through the casting process. For her role, it was actually a very long process and finally she came in and we just clicked. So it then just all fell into place and most of what you see is on the page but I just wanted to keep pushing them both as actors. I really enjoy pushing people outside of their comfort zones so they can go to these unimaginable places. And we shot mostly in sequence so I could allow them to keep building their characters to this huge finale and continue to build these sort of character layers at the same time that added to what we reveal in the end.
I know that there are challenges with filmmaking at any level, but especially when you’re making an indie movie. Did you guys face anything during production that was difficult to overcome?
Patrick Kennelly: Every day was a challenge. This was a really difficult shoot but everyone that I was working with just completely understood the project so they were willing to go there and step up when things got tough. And I think also, because of the subject matter and just how far we push these characters, I think it also made some of the people working on the film a little uncomfortable at times but they hung in there with me.
And we shot this about a year ago; we had a 19-day shoot where we spent almost the entire time just on that one set so that was kind of an intense experience for everyone because it was so hot and so intimate. But it was an exciting process too because that seems to lend itself to the tensions you’re trying to establish in the story and it all worked well for the film. The claustrophobia we were all feeling while making it was there for us to unleash on the screen which only made the story that much more effective.