As Claire Edmondson tells it, her career as a film and video director began four years ago when she found herself stuck in Toronto with an injured knee. Or maybe it was that day in London a year or two earlier when she realized she was sick of working for Bono. Or maybe it was all those teenagers’ funerals in Prince Rupert, B.C., back in the 1990s. The story behind the woman who may be Canada’s next great film director is circuitous.
The thirtysomething Torontonian, who has created music videos for such indie artists as Broken Social Scene, Austra and Kandle, is now working on a satirical video series called It Girl that spoofs the music and fashion industries through the experiences of an exasperated TV host who wants to rise above the inanity of celebrity interviews. Edmondson originally intended it as a Web series, but when she approached funders, industry insiders were soon encouraging her to make a pilot for a TV show. “Nothing is confirmed right now, but it’s definitely something” is how Edmondson puts it. “It’s on a lot of people’s radar; it’s taken on a life of its own. I am very thankful for that.”
In the enviable position of being acclaimed and courted for a project she has yet to produce, Edmondson herself is on a lot of people’s radar. Although the would-be filmmaker is still shopping around for the right medium, she is already recognized for her fluid, cinematic style and a feminist approach that is simultaneously girly and politically assertive.
A former stylist for rock musicians, she is an arty music-video director who is trying her hand at both television comedy and short films with a career as unpredictable and diffuse as the massively disrupted media industries in which she works. It’s an age when youth audiences are more likely to be watching webisodes than TV sitcoms; and when Much Music and MTV concentrate on reality shows, relegating the once-mighty music video to YouTube’s low-budget universe. So, maybe it is also an age when the fashion designer who created Feist’s iconic blue jumpsuit will become a noted auteur.
“There are not a lot of young up-and-coming female directors who have a stylistic approach like hers, rather than just trying to capture a trendy aesthetic,” says Emily Alden, a Vancouver distributor and producer who headhunts new talent and who has signed on to executive-produce a short film for Edmondson. “What she will be able to do in cinema is what I am looking forward to.”
Alden is talking about direction that is both indulgently beautiful, with lush camera work and rich styling, yet darkly critical of superficiality. Typically, Edmondson has her artistic cake and eats it too: Noting she shares a birthday with Hugh Hefner and Louis Vuitton designer Marc Jacobs, she recently posted a short video in which women dressed only in bras, panties and bunny ears cavort about with their Vuitton bags, flash their breasts and emerge from a fake cake, simultaneously critiquing fashion and celebrating their own hotness.
“I have an all-female crew and create this weird female energy on set. Women need their time in film,” Edmondson says, noting that the world of commercials, where she still works as a stylist to pay the bills, is almost exclusively male.
Filled with cameos and inside jokes from the fashion and music industries, It Girl also has things to say about sexy “girls” who might rather be women. The series follows thirtysomething TV interviewer Wren Marlowe’s disastrous attempts to grow up and rise above her superficial job: She describes herself as an adult who asks other adults what their pets are wearing this season.
It’s a plot that reflects the frustrations of many a young woman trying to make her way in the media world. Edmondson’s co-writer is Amil Niazi, a CBC news writer who wants to move into scripted; her star is Misty Fox, an actress and single mother who makes her living doing makeup on movie sets. As for Edmondson herself, she says, “Much of the show is based on my trying to get out of styling and be a director.”
Born in Liverpool, she immigrated to Canada when she was seven and grew up in Prince Rupert. Fascinated by both film and fashion in her teens, she moved to Vancouver to study fashion, and then to Toronto, gradually building herself a career designing clothes for the city’s indie rockers. Most famously, she created Feist’s blue sequined outfit in the video for her 2007 hit 1234. “It became a bit of a cultural reference,” she says, noting how U.S. comic Stephen Colbert pranced around in his own copy of the suit when Feist appeared on his show.