Slamdance Interview: Avalon Fast for HONEYCOMB

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Avalon Fast, director/co-writer/editor of Honeycomb, which had its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival. Honeycomb tells the story of a group of girls who start a colony in the woods and discover the dangers of making your own rules. Fast discussed her psychedelic influences, the universality of female adolescence, and insight into what’s next for her. Check out my review of the film here, and read on for our conversation!

Congratulations on Slamdance. That’s amazing. How does that feel?

Avalon Fast: It feels so good. Yeah, the moment I got the call, it just like, it changed a lot in my world. And it’s been such a fun process so far. 

Anything exciting you can tell me about in terms of what has changed in your world? 

AF: I think just recognition, I guess. You know, I’ve talked about this a bit, but just having people care about what I’m doing is really exciting. And it legitimizes myself as a filmmaker, I think, you know? My parents ask about it now. And my friends, you know: “Avalon’s a filmmaker.” And that feels so good. That’s been the biggest thing for me. Obviously seeing articles written and hype about something I made is the best feeling ever. So yeah, that’s been exciting. 

So you made this with your friends, a really small cast and crew. These were all people that you’re really tight with, and that really comes through in the film. There’s a real sense of camaraderie that I just love. Can you tell me about the process of making it and any challenges you had, what it was like making it with your friends?

AF: Yeah, for the most part, overall, it was lovely. Because it’s so comfortable, you know, and so fun. And the script, you know, obviously it’s taken from things that we’ve experienced as a friend group. They’re like, “Oh, I know what you’re referencing there,” you know, that kind of stuff. So people really felt it. But challenges for sure…I wasn’t able to pay the cast and crew for the most part. So that was a challenge. All of my friends, it was their last, you know, it was the summer they’d graduated, they’re still working jobs, they’re working a job and making this feature film with me, you know, so it’d be like…schedules were really conflicting and lack of motivation towards the end, or just at certain times in their lives where something more important had come up. That was hard. And it’s hard being a boss to your friends, you know. It was really hard. That really took a toll on me towards the end, and then it was done. Then I could show them and everything kind of came back together. It was like, “Okay, we’re friends again.”

How did they react to seeing the finished film?

AF: They loved it. You know…I think the first time I really showed — it wasn’t final, but it was pretty close — and I was like, “Hey, I just want to show you guys.” And we put it up on the projector and I gave everyone a notepad and a pencil and I was like, “Okay, write down anything that you notice that’s wrong with it.” And my co-writer, I remember he was writing almost the whole time. Like, “Oh no, he doesn’t like it.” And it turned out he’d just been doodling this interesting thing. He was like, “Avalon, I loved it. There’s nothing — it’s great. It’s perfect.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.”

I see a lot of really stellar movies behind you [on the Zoom call]. Were there any influences that you drew from or anything that you just really love as a filmmaker that you draw inspiration from?

AF: Yeah, definitely. Panos Cosmatos is one of my favorite filmmakers. So Mandy was a huge inspiration for me: the light, the score, all of the female influence in that is big for me. I have talked about Midsommar as well, just with the setting, you know. Actually, I had come up with the idea for Honeycomb and the setting and the summer aspect where it’s going to be bright and hot and light the whole time. And then I saw the trailer for Midsommar and I was like, “Yeah, like that. Exactly like that.” (laughs) Those two were definitely big inspirations for me.

So where did the general concept come from? I know you had your co-writer, was that something that you came up with together or something independent of each other you were working on? 

AF: Yeah, I came up with the idea independently at first. Just the main tragedy was a thought in my brain one day, you know, kind of almost maybe a dream I’d had or something I’d thought of that would be scary. You know, like, “Oh, that would be an interesting horror movie scene.” And then I just built on that more and more. And the idea of bees came in really quickly. And that was a really good way to explain it to people, you know: “We’re going to have a group of girls and they’re kind of going to be like a bee colony. That’s what it’s going to represent,” and people really could see that and understand it. And then I went to a party the night I came up with the idea and I told my co-writer about it, and he was like, “I want to do that with you.”

A still from Honeycomb. Willow stands on a cliff overlooking a lake with her back to the camera. She has long strawberry blonde hair and wears a green velvet dress.

One of my favorite things about the movie is when it kind of veers into the surrealism and the psychedelia. I know you already mentioned Mandy, but are there other art forms you’ve been drawing from? And is that something you want to go into deeper in future movies?

AF: Yeah, my favorite thing about films, or one of my favorite things, is that it doesn’t need to be real, you know, you can cut shots and montage things and have art involved. And I love that, making it as weird as possible, having people’s dreams on screen, you know. That is so something I want to do. I actually was talking with my friend the other day. I would love to do a mixed media film, like half-animated or something like that. Or even have it involved in it, you know, like stars in the sky, but they’re animated stars. That kind of thing, I love that.

Yeah, I love the opening credit sequence with the stop-motion animation, and even the stop-motion “running away from home” letter…I loved that. That was such a cool little touch that I really enjoyed. What was it like doing that? Because that is so labor-intensive.

AF: Actually, this is an interesting story. I really wanted to submit to Fantastic Fest. That was something for me that, once I finished the film, I was like, “Okay, I want to do that.” And I needed 10 extra minutes on the film. (laughs) So those stop-motion scenes were actually a way to lengthen the film at first, like: “How can I make this longer and interesting? We can’t, obviously, go back to Cortes right now and shoot more there, so I have to think of something else.” And my friend and I came up with the stop-motion idea. I did the claymation stuff by myself. And then the letters, my friend Jillian [Frank], who played Jules, we did that together. It was her letter. So we just sat in her room and brought her things in, you know, and then moved them around together. But it did take a long time. That one letter probably took us, like, two hours. (laughs)

I bet! It was so perfect, though. I loved that. It seems like it was super collaborative with everybody, not just your co-writer. Can you talk more about that, if there was any improv or any input that you had from the cast or crew on it?

AF: Yeah, it was a lot, especially while I was working on the script. I would share it with all the cast once they had signed on and been like, “I want to do this.” And those letters written to home and even some of the monologues and dialogue of the characters came from things that I’d either heard them say…or their own ideas. I would get texts or calls throughout the days up until filming, and they’d be like, “I kind of want to say this” or “I think this would fit in here.” Like, I really can’t take all the credit for the writing, you know, because it was like — so much of that just came from them, themselves. And I’ve talked about this before, but their characters are their personalities, but largely exaggerated, you know. Like, those are who those people are. 

Yeah, I’m a really big fan of movies like that, where you can tell that someone’s kind of playing an otherworldly version of themselves, and it really comes across and you can really tell that these are actual friends. So that’s such a cool aspect of the film. 

AF: Yeah, I love that. I definitely think it’s going to become really nostalgic for me in that way, too, you know? Look back at our friendship at that point in my life, because I can see it there. And it’s funny, when I watch those scenes, I imagine myself sitting there with them because these are the kinds of conversations we have as friends. But, you know, not that dramatic. (laughs)

Yeah, I’m sure that people the same age as you are going to see themselves in this movie. Is it weird that something that is so personal and so specific to your friend group, that other people are going to be like, “Yeah, I lived that, too”?

AF: Yeah, I think I’ve heard that too. You know, like that, “Oh, you know, being a teenage girl is so scary.” And I’m like, “Oh yeah, like, you had the same experience.” (laughs) And yeah, I think that’s really cool. I mean, it’s really awesome. It’s that relatable factor about something that maybe shouldn’t be so relatable.

Yeah. I mean, I’m sure some people will probably make the Yellowjackets comparison because it’s, you know, bees and yellowjackets, but that’s such a universal thing: the fear of teenage girls. Like, you’ve got [a DVD copy of] The Craft behind you. This is not a new thing, and it’s not a trend or anything. This is just a fact of nature.

AF: Yeah. I mean, not that it’s a new thing, but that resentment for power being stolen by male friends is such a real thing, and something that even my friend group, as close as we all are, has experienced in maybe a smaller way, but, you know, feeling overshadowed. And it’s just, I think it’s cool because there’s — I mean, it even ties into the fact that this film was essentially made by females, you know? And it stands for itself in that way, which I really like…we do have power.

A still from Honeycomb. Four girls sit on a rock overlooking a large lake.

Exactly. I love that. One of my favorite lines in the film — ironically, it’s spoken by a male actor, but it’s about the female power in the film — is, “You don’t get it. We’re the ship.” I thought that was so brilliant. And I was like, that’s such a perfect way to say, you know, these girls are leaving you behind and finding their own power. I just wanted to compliment you on that, because I just loved that line so much. 

AF: Yeah, that’s my partner, Henri [Gillespi], he played that role. That’s one of my favorite lines as well, because it means so much, and I love that they were able to understand that. Emmett [Roiko] is the other person in that scene. They’re my co-writer, and they understood what that meant, too. You know, I actually think Emmett might have — we really collaborated on that whole dialogue thing. That was both of us working on that. So it was so cool for them to understand what I was getting at with that, you know?

Yeah. Was it a struggle — you know, obviously, women are going to relate to this; teenage girls are going to relate to this. Was it a struggle getting any of the men in the cast or crew to be like, “Okay, this is what we’re going for here”?

AF: You know, honestly, I don’t know if they all knew exactly what was happening. (laughs) We always had some, like — I mean, mostly in high school, I had some — all of my films have been very female-based. And I’ve had some resentment from males in the past, not males that I’m friends with, but males that are like, “I don’t get it.” But with this, them being my friends, they got it. And they understood and it was cool to see how excited they could be about it, something that they’re not the main characters in, you know? 

Yeah, I’m always excited to see a female-led film, a very female-centric story. That might sound silly, but it’s always so exciting, especially with a new filmmaker. Does it bother you if people call you a new filmmaker? Because you’ve made films before this…do you think, “No, there’s nothing new about what I’m doing”?

AF: No, I honestly have just been able to start referring to myself as a filmmaker. People ask me what I do, and I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, I’m a filmmaker. Yeah, that’s what I do.” And I think even just in the last few months, I’ve been able to start saying it with, like, a lot of confidence. So it feels new for me.

Well, good. I’m glad you can say it with confidence. 

AF: Yeah. (laughs) Yes.

So do you have other festivals or other work you’re working on, or anything that if people are really excited about Honeycomb they can say, “Oh, I’ve got this to look forward to”?

AF: Yeah, I mean, I’ve finished a script for a new film called Camp. And I really — we’re going to make that. I don’t know how we’re going to make it, but we’re going to make it. My friends are really excited about it again. So I’m like, “Okay, maybe we’ll have a similar cast again.” As for festivals for Honeycomb, I’m just kind of waiting right now to hear back. So, hopefully. I’m assuming something will happen. 

Yeah, fingers crossed.

AF: Yeah, I’m definitely excited to — like, my goal right now is to just make another thing. Even though Honeycomb is so exciting for me, in a way, for me, it is old news. I’ve seen it sooo many times now where I’m like, I’m just really excited to make something new as well.

Honeycomb is now streaming as part of the Slamdance Film Festival.

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