Ditching responsibilities and going off the grid to live with a group of friends is a concept that undoubtedly sounds like a dream for many young adults. However, when the social politics of teenage girls are at play, what is at first an idyllic scenario can quickly become a harrowing — and downright horrifying — experience. This is the idea behind young filmmaker Avalon Fast’s debut feature Honeycomb, which she directed herself and co-wrote alongside Emmett Roiko. I had the chance to talk to Fast about the film around the time of its premiere at Slamdance back in February, and our conversation spanned everything from the many different hats she wore during production, to the obvious topics of bees and girl cults.
Hayley Paskevich: So I had the opportunity to watch Honeycomb a few days ago. And I really enjoyed it, I thought it was fun and original. And I was curious, when did you first come up with the initial idea for Honeycomb?
Avalon Fast: I came up with the idea— I started kind of formulating what Honeycomb was going to be the summer after I graduated high school. So that would have been the summer of 2018.
HP: And you filmed it in the summer of 2019, am I correct?
AF: Yeah, that’s right.
HP: Since it was your first feature film— congrats on that, by the way— what was it like taking on so many different roles? Writing, directing, editing— I noticed your name in the credits a ton. While making it all happen, were there any unforeseen challenges that arose?
AF: Yeah. I think the most noticeable challenge, especially, like, while we were actually making it, like filming it, was just— for one, having so many different roles. So not being able to focus directly on being a director or, you know, like, there is— I just was taking on so much with that. And a lot of that was really fun. And it was good. But another part of it was really stressful, especially since I was working with my friends. And we had a lot of conflicting schedules. I— myself and my partner Henri, who plays PJ in the film, were the only ones who had actually taken the time off that summer to make the film. Everybody else was working either part time or full time and would— so it was just, you know, finding that time where we could all be together. A lot of working with people’s different schedules. So that was really challenging, but we made it work.
HP: That actually leads well into the next question I have. Because I was wondering, since you made the film with a group of friends, what was it like leading a production where you had already established bonds with the cast and crew going into it?
AF: Yeah, um, it was— it was challenging. A lot of it was so fun. And I have made shorts in the past with the same group of people. But it was— it was a lot different when we were— it was more, it was a bigger deal. It took a lot longer, you know, with the four— when I would make shorts with them, it was like, one day after school, we’d all get together, you know, at my house and make a short film. Like it wasn’t as intense as this was. This was a lot of days of all getting together, spending long days in the sun.
HP: It wasn’t a big hour-long production, yeah.
AF: But yeah, at the same time, it was so fun. Because, you know, for those shots where we’re having a party or hanging out, it was just like we were having a party or hanging out. There was a lot of really fun moments that came from working with my friends, and I think I’d like to continue that with the rest of my career as well.
HP: That would be cool to do for sure. I know a lot of directors sort of have an established group of people that they pull from in future projects. So that’s something you could totally do, is be like “hey, wanna come work on another film?”
AF: Yeah, I was just talking with one of my friends downstairs, and we were like, “Oh!” Like, it’s interesting right now because, you know, there’s so much going on with this. But we’re all still, you know, working and have to have, like, our regular jobs as well. And I was like— the goal here is, like, I can just take all my friends and we can be making money and making movies and just hanging out all the time. Like, that’d be the best, right?
HP: Oh yeah, that would be the dream.
AF: [Laughs] Yeah.
HP: I was also wondering if there was a particular scene— like looking back at the film, is there a particular scene that you’re especially proud of pulling off the way that you envisioned it?
AF: Yeah, I call it the ‘red evening scene,’ and that’s the scene where they’re in the cabin. It’s kind of the first party they throw, and all the girls are in their red dresses.
HP: The red dresses are great, because it was a nice way to sort of show unity and almost like this— they formed this little girl cult, but they also express their individual personalities.
AF: Yeah, that was a big thing for me. And collecting those red dresses was really fun for me, too. I spent— once I’d written the script, I spent from that time until the summer, you know, going to, like, little vintage shops and being like, “Okay, this is gonna be Willow’s dress, so this is going to be Jules’ dress.” And that part was really fun.
HP: It sounds fun for sure.
AF: And then that scene took— that was an insane location. For one, it was super remote. And we had to actually hike up a lot of the way with all the equipment. And we had to bring a generator up there ’cause there was no power. And the boys all had to carry all their instruments. And so it felt really real, like it felt like we were— which we were, going to this abandoned cabin, and hanging out. And I just love how that scene turned out ’cause it’s so authentic for me.
HP: It was definitely a fun scene to watch and it totally had that big party feel with all the crazy lights and stuff going on. I can’t believe you had to haul all the gear up.
AF: Yeah, that was really intense.
HP: I think you’ve answered this a little bit, but what was the most fun part overall about putting a film like this together?
AF: I think honestly, the most fun part— there was probably a lot of fun parts that happened back then I just can’t remember as well. Right now, it’s been how proud everybody is of themselves, you know? Like being able to share this with all of my friends. I live with a lot of them. And it’s just been such a, like, a group thing. It’s not— it’s not just me, like, it’s all of us together that made this. So it’s been so rewarding to have a space to share it and to be able to talk about it. Yeah, that’s been the most fun for me, just sharing it with them.
HP: Yeah, that’s super cool that you’re all sort of in this little bubble with it and it’s just recently emerged into the world. That you have this collective experience.
AF: Yeah, it’s been so cool.
HP: There’s been several other projects that have come out recently, that center on a group of isolated young women like The Wilds, and Yellowjackets. So I was wondering, what was it about this concept that you think people find so interesting, about these women who go off in isolation and essentially construct their own society?
AF: You know, I don’t know if I— I haven’t actually thought about that that much. For me, it was a— it was just something that I’d thought about myself, you know? Like, for me, there was a want to just be with my girlfriends, especially at that point in my life, you know, right after graduation, it was just something that I wanted. So I think— I guess a lot of women can probably relate to that, you know? Like, “I wanna do that, too.” I got this cute review on Letterboxd. So it was like, this girl, and she was like, “Every woman I know would do this.” [Laughs]
HP: Who doesn’t want to go off to some isolated place and just party with their friends all the time?
AF: So I think that’s it for me, just like that— that want for myself to have that experience in some way, you know?
HP: It was self-fulfilling.
AF: Yeah, exactly.
HP: There’s also a ritualistic element to the film, which contributes to its unsettling nature. What made you want to incorporate that particular aspect?
AF: Yeah, um, I mean, that— that added such a weird— I mean, that made it a horror movie, you know?
HP: Oh, totally.
AF: Like, for me, and, you know, a lot of my friends, like, we’ll have those kinds of experiences. Like, “oh, let’s do a ritual tonight.” We’ve all been into like, the witch stuff in the past. So I thought it would be cool to include that, and that is what made it a horror movie.
HP: I was definitely curious if you’re drawing from, like, personal interests there.
AF: Definitely a little bit, you know. And we never took it super seriously, but I think that’s why it was so fun to include it in the film. It made it, like, real and magical, and— yeah.
HP: Oh, totally. Another big motif of the film is the bee, so why did you choose to make that symbolism significant in telling the story? I mean, the title “Honeycomb” obviously comes from the whole bee thing, but what was it about bees in particular that appealed to you for this film?
AF: Somebody I think at some point had told me this fact that I show in the film that the queen bee can be killed off whenever it wants by the by the hive. And I just thought— I was like, that’s such, like, a metaphor for, like, bullying, almost. Like they’re like—
HP: Yeah, you have a kind of girl world and a leader, yeah.
AF: Yeah. It was like— you know, you think of the queen as being such, like, a leader and in charge, and— you know? And I just thought that was so interesting that the worker bees could just kill her off whenever they felt like it. And I think once I had that idea in my head, it worked well with like a, you know, girl cult, it just made sense in my head. And I just connected the two and went with it.
HP: It was a clever little parallel for sure, yeah. Bees and girl cults, why not run with that?
AF: [Laughs] Yeah.
HP: Which of the girls in the film do you feel you relate to most, and why?
AF: Definitely Willow. So that character is played by Sophie— and I actually came up with that connection recently, when I was doing the Q&A for Slamdance, I realized that she kind of was me writing that story and coming up with it. I felt like Willow, you know? And I’ve always felt like that in my life a little bit where I’ll have to kind of, like, coerce my friends into “let’s go do this, let’s go make a movie,” you know? Yeah, so I relate to her character a lot, um, yeah. Willow for sure. Yeah.
HP: That’s awesome. I see you have a bunch of films in the background too. So, I was curious who your biggest creative influences are, particularly as a female director?
AF: I’ve brought up Panos Cosmatos a lot. And he did Mandy, and I just love that film so much, I love the female influence in that film. And as a horror as well, it’s great. I love Sofia Coppola, and I’ve brought up the, like, similarities between Honeycomb and Virgin Suicides. My friend Jillian and I, who plays Jules, actually watched The Virgin Suicides before our first night of filming to kind of get—
HP: A bit of extra inspiration there.
AF: Yeah. And I love Greta Gerwig, like, so much. She’s probably my favourite director in general. I watched Lady Bird at such, like, an influential time in my life. It was like, right when I graduated, I was going to do, like, this open house for the Vancouver Film School. And I went to that, and I was like, “eh, that was okay. I’m gonna go see a movie, though.” ‘Cause I was in Victoria and I went and watched Lady Bird. And I was like, “okay, I wanna make movies.” [Laughs]
HP: I can see that one on the shelf behind you actually, so I’m definitely not surprised you mentioned it. Do you have any upcoming projects currently in the works? I know that things have sort of been in stall mode for some people with this whole pandemic that’s popped up after 2019. But any exciting things you can tell us about?
AF: Yeah, I wrote a screenplay right before Christmas called Camp. And it’s gonna be about a girl cult, but at a summer camp.
HP: Oh, so you just changed the setting a little.
AF: [Laughs] Exactly. Um, the biggest difference for me with this is that there’s gonna be a lot more, like, real, human connection between the characters. Like, more more realistic in that sense, where there’s, like, real relationships forming and, like, true bonds. And I’m really excited. It was really fun to write that way, and I’m really excited to direct that way as well.
HP: Do you plan on taking on all the roles again? Like, are you gonna edit it, are you gonna go shop for the vintage dresses?
AF: I mean, those actually— those two parts are my favourites. I don’t wanna hold the boom mic this time. [Laughs]
HP: That was something you found you didn’t enjoy, okay.
AF: Yeah. I don’t wanna drive the cars, I don’t wanna— you know, like, have to coordinate people, I don’t wanna go get the food for everybody. But I would— I love editing. So I think I’d still want to take on that role, maybe with some support to help. But yeah, definitely, I want less roles next time. [Laughs]
HP: Do you have any advice for other young filmmakers who are looking to get started in the industry?
AF: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, for me, there was like, not so much of a— I didn’t, like, have this plan. And I also didn’t start out with, like, any bigger connections than myself and my friends. So I think the best advice is just, like, to do it because it is so possible to have your stuff seen by the world. I mean, it was for me— it feels possible now and it didn’t back then all the time, you know? And to just, like, hang out with those people that make you feel motivated and encourage you. Because that was a big deal for me, having friends that were motivating and encouraging.
HP: Oh, totally, having that support system that you talked about, being surrounded by them. How did you decide what music you were gonna use in the film? I know there were all these sort of, like, underground bands and stuff. So where did you kind of delve into that?
AF: Um, so Max— Max Graham who did the score also has the band with Emmitt and Kyle and Denton, who were all in the film. So I mean, I’d heard their band play lots, and they’re really close to me. And I was like, “You guys are perfect, you’re gonna be in the film. I want you to do that.”
HP: So they’re an actual band, not just a fictional one.
AF: Yeah! They actually have changed their band name since— their band name is Dastard now. And they’re great, they’re doing more shows in Victoria now. And it’s just been— they’re so good. They’re like one of my favorite bands anyways, and I know them. So it’s just like, that worked out. But um, Max also did the score. And I think I just asked him, I was like, could you— it started really, like, I was just like, “Can you make this one— like, I need one song for this scene?” He did it and I was like, “Oh, that’s perfect. Like, can you do another one?” And we ended up just, you know, hanging out all the time. And just coming up with the score together. And yeah, just through knowing him, basically.
HP: That’s awesome. I was also wondering, because the opening of the film is so different from anything else in the film visually, where you have that sort of shot on the portrait, and then you have almost this weird little Claymation thing.
AF: Yeah. [Laughs]
HP: What made you choose to establish the film in that way?
AF: The opening shot with the big zoom from the portrait was an idea I’d come up with really early on. It was in the script that way, that’s how I saw it. And my friend Darcy Demerse painted that really last minute. Like, we didn’t know how we were gonna get that, and then Henry reached out to him. And he was like, “Hey, could you— could you paint this?” And it’s taken from a photo of Rowan, who played Millie, and he just painted that photo but with bees. And he did it in like a week and then brought it over here and I was like, “that’s perfect,” and then we did that scene. And then the Claymation— originally, I think I’d reached out over like my Instagram and been like, “can anybody do cool titles?” And nobody responded maybe. Like, it just— it wasn’t happening, not what I had envisioned. And I ended up just doing the Claymation myself, because I thought that that might look cool. And I ended up liking it. [Laughs]
HP: Ah, so that was another role that you spontaneously decided to take on, Claymation artist.
AF: Yeah, what the hell. [Laughs]
HP: What’s the experience of the film debuting at Slamdance been like for you?
AF: It’s been really, really fun. And the virtual thing has been more fun than I thought it was gonna be, you know? At first, it was obviously a little bit disappointing that we weren’t going to get to go down to Park City. But you know, it’s just been, like, myself and all my friends hanging out here, watching it on the TV and just, like, getting all the feedback and all the reviews. And it’s been so fun. And doing our Q&A the other night was so fun with KJ. And yeah, it just feels really supportive. And like, I’ve been talking to, like, the other filmmakers a lot. There’s like— it feels like a really good amount of films where I’ve been able to watch, you know, a lot of stuff that I’ve wanted to and reach out to people. It just feels like a little family almost already.
HP: That’s so cool. Because I know that some people have been a bit hesitant to embrace the virtual way that things have gone. But like you said, you get to experience it with your friends and know that the weird little thing you made is now out there in the world for people to respond to.
AF: Yeah, it feels really good.
HP: How would you describe Honeycomb in just a few words to someone who was wondering what the film is about? Without saying “bees” or “girl cult”.
AF: [Laughs] Oh, darn. I mean— you know, I’ve heard it described as a coming of age film, and I’m still trying to understand how I feel about that.
HP: You have complicated feelings about that label?
AF: [Laughs] Yeah, but I guess maybe because that’s not how I’d envisioned it for myself, you know? Like, you always feel like an adult before you are I guess. I never thought, like as I was writing it, like, “this is me coming of age,” but that’s how people have explained it. I mean, I have to use the word “girl,” I guess. I’ve explained it as “girl horror,” you know? This is, like, a girl horror movie. It’s slow burn in a way as well, you know, it’s drawn out. People have said, like, “psychedelic horror,” because it’s not as jumpscare-y, you know?
HP: “Psychedelic horror” is a cool way to put it too, especially with some of the visuals you see going on.
AF: Oh, “sun-soaked horror” was another one.
HP: Ooh, I like that.
AF: I like that one too. So yeah, those are a few words I can think of.
HP: Finally, is there a certain message you want people to take away from the film?
AF: Um, you know— and this came later, I think just— just that there’s a lot of, like, gender dynamics happening, you know? And I don’t know if there’s a certain message with this film, really, that I’m looking for people to take. But just to understand, like, the power of, like, females coming together, you know? And in this film, obviously, there’s, like, a bit of negativity that comes out in the end. And that wasn’t necessarily my overall message. There’s a lot of at— just the power of females, you know? That’s— for me that’s a big one. To like, not underestimate us.
HP: Right. You’re not advocating for female revenge. you’re advocating for female empowerment.
AF: Yeah, exactly. That’s a good way to put it. [Laughs]
HP: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about Honeycomb, and I’m looking forward to seeing what people have to say about it now that, like I said, it’s out there in the world at the festival. And I wish you the best of luck with it, as well as with your future projects.
AF: Thank you so much. It was so nice to talk with you.