Upon my latest review of the award-winning 2017 gothic psychological coming-of-age drama The Book of Birdie, I had the wonderful opportunity of having a chat with Elizabeth E. Schuch (pronounced shook, or “like a sneeze”, as she hilariously put it). Let me just say this was certainly a shining experience in my job as a critic and film lover.
First off—who is this Elizabeth? Having grown up in a Catholic family in Wisconsin, Mrs. Schuch came into the entertainment industry through theater and the visual arts, particularly the latter. Working as a storyboard and production artist on large-scale projects such as Wonder Woman and Pacific Rim: Uprising, Elizabeth soon began to write and direct shorts and films of her own (including the upcoming Twist Tie).
Meeting and talking with her was a joy; a warm and glowing presence in the comfort of her studio in Belgium, Elizabeth exudes friendliness as we discussed present projects and the making of Birdie. Excitedly, she went on to describe the conception of the film; she and writing partner (as well as costume designer) Tara Shucart purposefully set out challenges for themselves, challenges such as writing a character that could be portrayed by either gender, namely the love-interest character Julia. When watching Birdie as cold as I did, the first thing one does not notice is how the (well-rounded) cast is in actuality all-female. Honestly, it didn’t even strike me until after finishing the movie. I definitley made sure to point this out to Elizabeth, impressed how I the viewer didn’t have to rely on the point that Birdie featured only female characters in order to initially be impacted; the whole thing felt very organic that way. Unlike quite a few other films with less substance that try to claim credibility by pronouncing (and perhaps exploiting) a feminist purity of a sort, Elizabeth and company made sure to focus on a layered story with a relatable character and impactful visuals rather than relying on gimmicks to get ahead while still being able to pull off keeping the whole cast female.
“I really wanted to make sure we avoided all the cliches, when coming up with the story,” she states, impassioned. When I asked what her meaning was behind the film, she replied, “it’s about this religious, spiritual confusion we face when we’re growing up.” It’s about the struggles women go through and what happens when they’re kept in a box–the box in this case literally being represented by the dark and shut-in setting, which is undeniably an interesting place to keep an adolescent girl in a story. She adds: “the church was definitely a character in the film.” Can you tell she’s also a production designer? Because she is. And–sidenote–a bit of a chef: “it was so cold on-set… I was making potato soup for the crew.”
When I asked her if she could disclose any future projects of hers to me, she laughs and looks into the distance, choosing words: “well, I’ve been working on a screenplay. Definitely something feminist, just as feminist as Birdie, but since (The Book of Birdie) had all these themes of menstruation bleeding, trauma, religion… it’ll be a little different than that.”
One of my favorite parts of Book of Birdie is definitely the perfect casting of the protagonist, played by film newcomer Ilirida Memedovski. Auditions for the titular character were held Wisconsin, where Elizabeth had seen Ilirida in waiting in the line to be casted—the wide-eyed girl who already looked the part. Schuch remembers thinking “please be good!” before finally being able to audition Ilirida. Luckily—Ilirida fit the part exactly. Elizabeth describes her as “the sweetest person” and “so easy and laid back to work with.” During production, it turns out much of the Catholic imagery was new to Ilirida (20 at time of production), whose background is Muslim and is her family’s first generation in America.
Another cool part about the movie is that there are literal comic inserts—and yes, it only makes sense that the director herself drew them (and the comic book featured). She states one of her inspirations is Sandman, by Neil Gaiman.
Lastly, I asked Elizabeth: “Desert Island—what are two movies you’d take with you?” After a bit of a struggle, Elizabeth chose Notorious and What We Do In the Shadows.
I said it in my review for The Book of Birdie and I’ll say it again: I’m looking forward to what she produces next, and hopefully get to chat with her about it too. Thank you, Elizabeth Schuch!
You can find Elizabeth Schuch at her website here, on Facebook, and Instagram.