Back in the Big Chair – Director Kimble Rendall on his ’90-minute popcorn film’, shark thriller Bait 3D

Director Kimble Rendall on the set of BAIT 3D.

Director Kimble Rendall is under no illusions about the artistic or social merits of his ‘sharks in a supermarket’ horror thriller Bait 3D. It’s a 90-minute popcorn film,” he says matter-of-factly. “You’re not trying to solve all the problems of the world!” Which made it even more surprising when it was announced that the prestigious Venice International Film Festival had selected Bait 3D for its out-of-competition midnight screening slot.

“I was just working on my emails and this invitation to Venice popped up as an email,” explains Rendall. “I thought, ‘this is unusual – this can’t be real! A 3D horror movie being invited to a prestigious festival like Venice.’ But it was real. So off we went. I talked to the director of the festival and asked him why we were chosen, and he said they really wanted to make the festival different; change the mix and have a range of entertaining stuff.”

Which begs the question, who sent a copy of Bait 3D into the festival for consideration? “I hadn’t, but somebody had,” says Rendall. “I think it was Screen Australia, one of the investors in the film, who screened it to the Venice selector when he came out to look at all the Australian films. He picked ours, and so we became one of fifty films worldwide to be in festival. It’s very gratifying. We had a midnight screening in one of the big cinemas there and it was the first time I’d seen the film with a whole lot of people. The horror fans came and they loved it, screaming at the scary bits! The Italian press seemed really positive and now it’s a big release in Italy. It’s all over the place there, with bulletin boards and videos on railway stations. Huge!”

Which is not to say everyone is going to love this unashamedly cheesy shark thriller, which many critics are saying is not quite cheesy, gory or scary enough to qualify for full-blown B-movie glory. No matter. The film is getting a huge release on 1,700 screens in China, as well as in numerous other territories, including Italy, Germany, Cambodia and Russia. Teenage girls all over the world will get to gleefully clutch their boyfriends’ arms as they watch the stalking Great White sharks pick off the survivors from the submerged supermarket shelves, one by one. It’s no spoiler to reveal that lead actor, heartthrob Xavier Samuel, will survive to see another day.

Tall, amiable and unpretentious, Kimble Rendall is veteran of the music and film industries and over the past four decades has been able to spread his skills across a huge range of projects – from being a starting member of bands XL-Capris and The Hoodoo Gurus in the 70s and 80s, to editing at the ABC and the BBC, working on documentaries, current affairs and drama. As a freelance editor he produced and cut Essie Coffey’s award-winning 1978 documentary My Survival as an Aboriginal. Then came a high profile career as a hugely commercials director (for which he won a Cannes Lion) and a music video director for bands such as Mental as Anything, Cold Chisel, the Angels and Hunters and Collectors. “My two passions are music and film and I’ve always done the two simultaneously,” he explains, “starting from when I was about twelve, making experimental films and playing guitar. When I was playing in a band at night, I was editing during the day. Then I did music videos that led out of that. It’s kind of a stereotypical path now – to move from music videos to film, but I was doing it back then.”

Rendall’s first feature as director was Australian teen comedy horror film Cut (2000), starring Molly Ringwald, Jessica Napier and featuring Kylie Minogue. Produced by Mushroom Pictures and Beyond Films, Cut was not a critical or commercial success in Australia, but it was sold to all markets in the world, with particular success in France and Hong Kong.

Rendall’s career as an above-the-title  film director stalled at this point, but took off in another highly successful direction – as a Second Unit director on high budget Hollywood productions, from the Matrix sequels, to I Robot, Casanova, Ghost Rider and Knowing. While the first unit on a film typically shoots the key drama between principal actors, a second unit (which has its own cinematographer and director) films action sequences and pickups not requiring the key actors. Asked for his advice on second unit directing, Rendall says exuberantly, “You’ve got to love blowing things up! Boys’ toys, fast cars and all that jazz. It is great fun.”

Having said that, Rendall intially resisted the move to second unit directing. “When I was offered the Matrix work, I thought ‘I don’t really want to just go and do Second Unit on somebody else’s films. I want to direct my own films!’ Then a friend of mine, Steve Owen, who’s an AD who does all this assistant directing work on all these big films, he rang me and said ‘you’re an idiot. I’ll ring you back and ask you again. This is Warner Bros and it’s a great opportunity.’ So I went into that world of Hollywood filmmaking and it was just incredible, being on the set, working with Woo-ping [Yuen], the Hong Kong action guy who was largely responsible for bringing all that into Western filmmaking. He’s the master of this. He’s got a team of ten, and he sat next to me and I got to see how they do it. You learn how to do things on a big scale. It ended up being a good thing for me. For the last ten years I’ve just worked for Hollywood studios– haven’t worked for Australian films at all, and I’ve gone all around the world doing second unit. I worked with Lasse Halstrom on Cassanova and was in Venice for six months, and it was just amazing. A director normally doesn’t get to see how another director works, but working second unit you get to watch all these great directors and see how they work.”

Before the sharks came… Actors Sharni Vinson and Xavier Samuel play young lovers in BAIT 3D.

Rendall admits it felt very good to be “back in the big chair” as a director. “I loved it. On Bait everybody else was down in the water on the shelves and I had my own little area above it all. I got to sit up there and shout down at everyone with my microphone!” Asked whether this made the cold and wet cast feel a little bit grumpy, Rendall says, “They were wet all the time, and yes, at times a little bit grumpy. Phoebe (Tonkin) and Cariba (Heine) have spent most of their careers in the water being mermaids in television series H2O, so this was nothing new for them. We  had to keep the water the right temperature and we looked after them and paid a lot of attention to make them as comfortable as possible. They were all a great bunch. At times they’d get a bit tense, but I’d just use that – it was quite good for the characters! As time went on, and some of the characters would get eaten – because we shot in sequence – I always played a special song for them as they went. Dan Wyllie’s song was [Talking Heads’] ‘Psycho Killer’ – and then they were gone! Suddenly there was one less actor in the room.”

Dan Wyllie in BAIT 3D

Originating from an idea by Russell Mulcahy (the director of Razorback and Highlander, who is credited here as co-writer and executive producer), Bait 3D follows a group of people trapped in a flooded Gold Coast supermarket after a freak tsunami washes in, along with a bunch of trapped killer sharks. The cast includes Australian actors turned Hollywood up-and-comers like Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Phoebe Tonkin, Sharni Vinson and Cariba Heine, as well as Aussie stalwarts Dan Wyllie and Martin Sacks. Various degrees of seriousness are adopted by these actors – from Samuel’s ‘straight as a die’ heroics to Wyllie’s hilariously broad depiction of a crazy ocker criminal. Speaking of actors, the animatronic sharks behave in ways that serious shark experts may question. For instance, they have inexhaustible appetites for human flesh and a tendency to leap very high out of the water to crunch a body in half.

Rendall is philosophical. “There are a couple of maneuvers that real sharks might not make.  But it’s a horror movie. It’s a supermarket where the laws are reversed; the shoppers are the food source for the sharks. The sharks in our movie had to eat people, and had to be hungry!”

Bait 3D’s main claims to fame within the Australian industry include the fact that it’s the first Australia/Singapore co-production and first 3D genre feature to be shot in Australia. “We tried to make it a 3D movie that was good to watch,” explains Rendall. “Sometimes 3D can be a bit alienating and give you a ‘brain tear’ they call it. It can give you a bit of a headache. We tried to make it very comfortable to watch. You’re totally immersed in the world of the movie and then suddenly there’s 3D elements.” It’s true the 3D effects appear judiciously sprinkled throughout and at their best they are pleasingly shocking: the dispersal of blood in the water before your eyes; or the appearance of millions of tiny crab-like sea creatures crawling in front of you.

Phoebe Tonkin and Martin Sacks play an estranged daughter and father in BAIT 3D.

“This is my first experience with 3D,” says Rendall, who admits the challenges. “Not many people in Australia have used it yet. It’s the first 3D horror feature to be made here and the first 3D experience for most of the crew. There’s two cameras one for the right and left eye. And they have to into this box that’s as big as that chair over there. Each camera weighed 64 kilos and we had to put it on a crane that could hardly hold it and then balance everything. Getting the cameras into position they have to have cable running  into them and stereographers running around and so forth, and you’ve got to have a whole entourage to set it up. But once it’s all set up, you have these big beautiful screens and you can actually see what you’re doing in 3D which is really good as a director. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to do it in 3D if you had the chance. It is a bit more time-consuming – like changing lenses takes you an hour, whereas on a normal camera you can do it in about five minutes. You’ve got two cameras and you’ve got to line them up. If they get out of alignment that causes real problems. We had these  great zoom lenses, so we just stuck on those. We had lots of clever ways of dealing with supposed problems. For instance, the problem of moisture in the cameras because we were shooting round water: we invented these little fans to get rid of the moisture. Lots of things like that. We’re just clever Aussies. We worked it out.”

One of the aspects of the film which may cause irritation for Australian audiences is the mix of local and American accents – sometimes, inadvertently, within the one performance. Rendall explains the rationale for the mix of American and Australian accents. “Originally we were going to make all the accents American. It was a directive that came from the American sales company and they said ‘It’s very hard to understand Australian accents and we cannot sell the film. Broad Australian accents don’t work.’  Most of the young actors we were casting do work in America anyway, and for them it’s no big deal to do American accents. We thought only Australians will pick it up anyway. So we did it all and then we looked at it and thought, ‘Hmm,  it’s set in Australia, some characters  could be American and some could be Australian. So we just worked out for each character and went back to having some Australian accents and some American accents. That’s how it came about.”

Kimble Rendall at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, wearing 3D glasses. Photo: AFP

Rendall is unapologetic about the decision. “It was about selling the film. I think we should be making more of these kind of films because there’s an audience for them, and we’ve got to make films you can sell. Filmmakers  have got to think ‘how do I market my film?’ and sometimes you have to do things like this with the accents  – if it’s not going to wreck the film – to make it sell internationally, instead of just making it for Australia. We were lucky. We sort of got away with it. With some films it would just be too silly.”

So, does Rendall mind the ‘Ozploitation’ genre tag? “Hmm, people are calling it ‘Sharksploitation’ but I’m not sure about that. It is also about the drama of the characters as well, so do you call it ‘people-sploitation’? But let’s face it, it is about sharks in a supermarket, so I guess we’ll have to go with that.” He grimaces, and says slowly, “‘Oz-ploi-tation”. Then continues. “Well, it reminds me of when I did some photo shoots in China and Italy and they asked me to put on the 3D glasses for the photo, and I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to be the only photo of me that anyone ever looks at for the rest of my life – me standing around with 3D glasses on!’ Then I thought, well, it is a 3D movie. What the hell? You can’t be too precious about all this stuff!”

Xavier Samuel with big gun in BAIT 3D.

Bait 3D – Fast Facts

  • Bait is the first Australian 3D action genre production as well as the first ever co-production between Australia and Singapore.
  • Bait was filmed on the Gold Coast at Warner Roadshow Studios.
  • The budget was an estimated $A20 million, with investment by Singapore’s Media Development Authority and Blackmagic design, as well as Screen Australia and Screen Queensland.
  • The film’s international premiere was a midnight screening at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival on Saturday, 1 September, 2012.
  • Bait is releasing in Australia on 20 September 2012 (through Paramount), as well as in other territories, including Italy, Singapore, China, Germany and the US. In some territories it is known as Shark 3D.
  • IMDB | Facebook |

Bait 3D – Key Cast & Crew

Director: Kimble Rendall
Writers: Russell Mulcahy and John Kim
Producers: Gary Hamilton, Todd Fellman & Peter Barber
Executive Producers: Chris Brown, Ian Maycock, Mike Gabrawy, Ying Ye, Russell Mulcahy
Key Cast: Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Lincoln Lewis, Alex Russell, Cariba Heine, Adrian Pang, Qi Yuwu, Martin Sacks, Alice Parkinson
Director of Photography: Ross Emery
Production Designer: Nicholas McCallum
Editor: Rodgrigo Balart
Composers: Joe Ng & Alex Oh
Visual Effects Supervisor: Marc Varisco
Special Effects Designer & Shark Designer: Steven Boyle
Sound Designer: Robert Mackenzie
Costume Designer: Phill Eagles
Key Makeup and Hair Designer: Shane Thomas

Peter Templeman: Not Suitable for Children

Letting go of a cherished project is never easy, especially if you’ve been working on it for five years. When director Peter Templeman finished production on his debut feature film Not Suitable for Children in March 2012, he found it rather wrenching to let go. “It was full on,” he recalls. “The same week that I finished the film was the week that my partner and I saw our little six-year-old daughter go off to school for the first time and sent her out into the world… off into the jungle of the primary school – the ruthless school-yard!  I’m ashamed to say that it was actually easier to do that than to let the film go. I could have just kept chiselling away at it.”

Speaking on the phone from Perth just a week before Not Suitable for Children debuted as opening night film at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival, Templeman is obviously excited and “humbled to be playing in a big room like that, and to that particular audience.” But he has the laconic self-effacing manner of the West Australian surfer, musician and physiotherapist that he used to be, way back before his talents drew him into the world of acting, writing and directing.

A graduate of directing and writing degrees at AFTRS (the Australian Film, Television and Radio School), Templeman’s short films made during his student years won numerous national and international awards, most notably an Oscar nomination in 2007 for The Saviour, his thoughtful and humourous tale of a Mormon doorknocker who falls in love with one of his prospective converts. Templeman has also worked as director and writer on a number of television series, including Dead Gorgeous, Bogan Pride and Lockie Leonard, the latter for which he was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2007, for the episode entitled ‘Ladder of Love’.

Not Suitable for Children offers a unique twist on the increasingly popular sub-genre of ‘biological clock’ comedies. Instead of a female lead racing against the clock to conceive a baby before she hits menopause, this story puts an irresponsible Sydney party-boy, Jonah (played by Ryan Kwanten), into the midst of an urgent fertility crisis, spawned by testicular cancer. When his donated sperm samples refuse to freeze, Jonah has just three weeks before ‘ball removal’ in order to impregnate a willing woman, starting off with his disgruntled ex-girlfriend, Ava (Bojana Novakovic). Assisting him in the madcap quest are Jonah’s two housemates – the hedonistic Gus (Ryan Corr), and the sensible, streetwise Stevie (Sarah Snook).

Hedonistic housemates: Gus (Ryan Corr), Stevie (Sarah Snook) and Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) in ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

Produced by Jodi Matterson (Razzle Dazzle) and executive produced by Bruna Papandrea (Milk, Better Than Sex), Not Suitable for Children is written by Michael Lucas, a long-time writing partner of Templeman’s who has honed his script skills in recent years with top writing credits on Offspring and Tangle. Like those television dramas, Not Suitable for Children feels totally contemporary. Believable, humourous and candid Australian dialogue is combined with nimbly handled sex scenes and a confident sense of pace, rhythm and romance. In fact, you may be tempted to call the film a romantic comedy, but director Templeman would prefer that you didn’t.

Bedtime antics. Ryan Kwanten in ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

“In terms of it being a ‘rom-com’, I think Screen Australia appreciated the fact that the story in some ways falls into that genre, and quite early in the development process that was an attraction for them to the project,” says Templeman. “But personally, I never like to think of it in those terms. I always thought of the story as more of a coming-of-age comedy, with love as the core theme that emerges by the end. Structurally, it’s quite different to the way rom-coms usually present. In most rom-coms, you usually know who the romantic leads are in the opening scenes. There’s some kind of chemistry or sparks, and then you watch that play out over the course of the film. I hope that the tone and the style of our film does a lot to subvert that genre. I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of genre when you’re making choices based on the story and the characters, and I think Mike (writer Michael Lucas) feels the same way. But in saying that, I’m very much in favour of pitching it however it should be pitched to attract the most people to come and see it, for sure!”

Talking with Templeman, it’s clear he loves working with story and character, nutting out the nuances of personality, motivation and chemistry. It’s evident from the way he talks that the film’s script underwent multiple drafts, with every scene interrogated for its plausibility and its contribution to the audience’s understanding and enjoyment.

Ryan Kwanten and director Peter Templeman on the set of ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

So how did this Perth surfer-musician-physiotherapist turn into an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker? Templeman himself is rather surprised. “If you told me back when I was a kid that I’d end up making films I wouldn’t have believed you,” he says. “I was into movies the same way any other kid was, but actually more interested in sport. I did love drawing and music too. And creative writing. Now that I look back on it, I can see that I was interested in all the elements that make up filmmaking, but I couldn’t see it then.”

Templeman’s trajectory after high school was no more direct. “After I finished school I had a year off, surfed, played guitar and lived in a caravan,” he says. “Then I went and played music full-time for a couple of years, then became a physiotherapist, and went overseas for a bit. When I came back I was into my late twenties, and that was when I fell into writing and acting. I wrote a couple of little one-act plays that got produced, and then a couple of films for other directors.  I started shooting and editing for other people, and directed a bit of theatre. Eventually I directed a little short film and got selected for AFTRS. That was the turning point when I thought, ‘Hang on, this might be more than a hobby,’ because at that time, I think I was doing one day a week as a physio and I was getting bits of work, writing copy for corporate videos and things like that. I’d composed for a set of commercials. I was just doing bits of everything, you know, and never really consolidating anything – just having fun, I guess. Going to AFTRS, I thought: ‘Okay now, focus on directing and maybe I can make a career of it.’”

While he was studying at AFTRS and making short films, Templeman became the only filmmaker to win the prestigious independent US Slamdance Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film two years in a row – first with the devastating drama Splintered in 2005 and then with The Savior in 2006. These awards, combined with the Oscar nomination in 2007, surely must have convinced him he’d taken the right path?

“I was lucky. Yeah I was lucky,” he says diffidently. “It’s nice, that’s for sure. And a great encouragement. If those three short films I’d made at AFTRS had been comprehensively unsuccessful would I have been able to keep going? I used to think when I won the awards, ‘Oh well, that’s just what a panel of judges think, and not necessarily a good indication of what the rest of the people will think.’ But now I realise that awards are the best praise I can get because they come from my peers, and you can only ever make stuff for your own tastes and the people that share those tastes with you, rather than pitching to a broader market.” He pauses and adds with a laugh, “I’m not sure if that makes any sense!” It does.

The casting of Ryan Kwanten in the lead role occurred about six months before the start of the shoot. Templeman, along with writer Lucas and producer Jodi Matterson, traveled to LA to discuss the part with Kwanten. “We got in a room with him for an hour and worked on one of the scenes and chatted about the role,” recalls Templeman. “It was great and I offered the part to him. Between then and the start of the shoot we skyped a few times, talking through the character and the script development. We also had three weeks of full-time rehearsal in the lead-up to shooting.”

Sarah Snook

The casting of  the AACTA Award-winning but still emerging Sarah Snook in the key role of Jonah’s friend and flatmate was a longer and more difficult process.

“It was a long process, casting for that role and a challenging one for me,” says Templeman, “because there are so many brilliant Australian actresses in that age bracket and we auditioned lots of people. Ultimately it came down to a couple of people. We took Sarah to LA and then got her in a room with Ryan working  for about three hours, and we filmed it all. Then I went away and watched it, and that was when I was completely sold.”

Templeman continues. “Apart from being an extraordinary actor with superb comic timing and a natural detail and nuance to her work, it was about the different and opposite energy Sarah brought to working with Ryan. There he was, still in his True Blood gear, all buff and tanned with his hair tipped. And there she was, just in her casual gear looking like the girl next door standing next to the Hollywood guy, and I loved that. But that was the least of it really. It was her ability to convey not only her own character, the Stevie character, but the character of Jonah through her reactions to him – or even to the person reading his part in the initial auditions. It was sort of like how your learn a lot about someone through their friends, and how their friends treat them.”

Director Peter Templeman and Producer Jodi Matterson on set.

Templeman is grateful to producer Jodi Matterson for shielding him from the business side of production. When asked if it was difficult to raise finance for the project (an estimated budget of $4.5 million), Templeman says, “I’m sure it was, but I was lucky I was protected from that stuff because [producer] Jodi [Matterson] was so brilliant at it. I know she did have some different investors on board at one stage who wanted to weigh in more heavily with the casting, and that was really tough for her, managing them and managing me and what I wanted. In the end, she suggested we should part ways with them, and I thought that was a great move. I felt really good about that. She really supported my vision for the film and wanted to have people around who support that as well. I think it’s really hard to raise money for a film in this current climate, so I think she really had her work cut out for her.”

As for what’s next for Templeman, he’s busy working with writer Michael Lucas on their next collaboration. “We’ve forged a pretty tight writing partnership since AFTRS, Mike and I.  I’ve been living in Perth for the last three years so we now do a fair bit of travelling to catch up and work. He comes over here and sleeps on the blow-up mattress in the back room, which is stinking hot in summer and Antarctic in winter and has my kid waking him up at 6am, jumping all over him. And then I go to Melbourne and stay in his family’s stunning log cabin on the Yarra and have my own five-star bedroom and his mum cooks amazing meals for us. It’s broken up between those two! We’re working on a feature project called KARMA – which stands for the ‘Kashmir Association of Revenge Management’ – it’s a black comedy. I’m also working on a feature version of The Saviour and another feature as well.” Sounds busy and industrious – but in a laid-back kind of way. “I hope to just write for the next year,” says Templeman, “and we’ll see what happens after that.”

Not Suitable for Children is in national release from 12 July.

Careless Love – An interview with John Duigan

Writer and director John Duigan with DOP Kathryn Milliss on the set of CARELESS LOVE.

John Duigan has a unique place among the Australian New Wave directors who came to prominence during the 1970s. His films weren’t based on national historical events or adapted from Great Australian Novels, nor did they seem at all concerned with issues of national identity. Instead, he preferred to write his own stories and interrogate his own experiences of society, with a strong focus on uncovering great performances by young actors – a gift which was directly recognised when Duigan received the 1991 Byron Kennedy Award.*

Graduating from Melbourne University in 1973 with a degree in philosophy, Duigan wrote novels, worked as an actor, director and writer in Melbourne’s vibrant theatrical eruptions of the 1970s and early 80s – this was, after all, the era of  La Mama and the Pram Factory – and then after some experimental films, made his first mainstream work, the AFI Award-winning Mouth to Mouth (1978), a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of the drifting lives of unemployed young people.

Duigan’s films are a diverse collection, but almost without exception they’ve been original in the particular ways they’ve probed and questioned the complexities of interpersonal relationships, gender politics and the hypocrisies of society. There was Winter of our Dreams (1981),  starring a young Judy Davis as a Kings Cross prostitute; and the iconic, beautifully observed coming-of-age films  The Year My Voice Broke (1987) with its unforgettable teen trio of Noah Taylor, Ben Mendelsohn and Loene Carmen; as well as Flirting (1991) with Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Thandie Newton lighting up the screen as school girls, and Sirens (1994) with its depiction of artist Norman Lindsay and his nymph-like models (famously played by Elle McPherson, Portia de Rossi and Kate Fischer).

Subsequent films made in the UK and the USA include the tender probing of an adult/child friendship in Lawn Dogs (1997), starring Sam Rockwell and Micha Barton; The Leading Man (1996) with an unexpectedly stunning turn by Jon Bon Jovi; and Head in the Clouds (2004) with Charlize Theron and Penélope Cruz as lovers. For all their diversity, in these films Duigan seemed to be on the side of those who pushed against the status quo. Now he’s back with Careless Love, an extremely low budget Australian film that queries societal assumptions about sex, prostitution and even race.

Written and directed by Duigan, Careless Love is set in contemporary Sydney and tells the story of Linh (Nammi Le) a beautiful young Vietnamese-Australian university student who works at night as a prostitute. She sends the money home to her parents, who live in a depressed rural town and are at risk of defaulting on their mortgage. When Linh moves in with her Australian boyfriend (Andrew Hazzard) it becomes increasingly difficult for her to keep her two lives separate. For one thing, there’s her tough but lovable pimp (David Field), and for another, her mysterious American client (Peter O’Brien), who seems to want more than a quick encounter.

Peter O’Brien and Nammi Le in CARELESS LOVE.

In this interview we talk to Duigan about the ideas behind his story, the challenges of returning to work in Australia, and the importance of careful planning and rehearsals. He also discusses his ongoing labour of love – a textbook on secular ethics that takes him full circle – to studying philosophy again.

AFI: What were the seeds of this script and how long ago did you start working on it?

John Duigan: Well, it’s quite a long story. When I was at university in Melbourne many years ago, there was a girl I knew from a country part of Victoria who worked for two years as an escort to pay her way through university, and from time-to-time she would tell me bits and pieces about the work. It struck me always as being an interesting basis for a film subject. And then in recent years, in England and France in particular, there was a lot of coverage in the press about the increasing cost of university education, and a lot of interviews and articles about students who were paying their way through university by working for periods of time in the sex industry. I had the same impression from talking to people when I was back here in Australia – that there was a similar phenomenon, in part triggered by student costs and also the current recession, so I decided to take on that subject.

The contradictions in our attitudes towards prostitution – Nammi Le in CARELESS LOVE.

I was also interested in the general shifts in morality of the culture – the fact that there are these mainstream values that are espoused by all the political parties, [who] put the primacy of family values as being central. The sexual activities of prostitutes can be regarded as being quite contradictory to those mainstream values, and yet it’s interesting that the sex industry in most of its forms is legal here. I was interested in exploring that aspect as well as the sort of attitudes towards people who work in the sex industry, resulting from that contradiction.

AFI: Contrary to expectations, and perhaps contrary to clichés, the central character in your film  isn’t a victim. A casual reader of the synopsis – about a Vietnamese student who is working as a prostitute to send money back to her family – might automatically assume she’s a victim of circumstances. That’s not the way you choose to present it, is it?

John Duigan: No, she’s a strong-willed character who, while she doesn’t anticipate all the things that happen to her, goes into it in a clear-headed way, with a strong sense of herself and a conviction that the choice she’s making is valid in terms of her own personal values.  It was very important to me that she’s not a victim. Most of the stories about prostitutes in films fall into three different categories: the stories relating to sexual slavery and the way people are trafficked; another one is to do with people who are supporting drug habits; and the third is the more glamorised, up-market stories like the one told in that British TV series recently, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. And I don’t think that’s the experience of the majority of people. People go into the industry for all sorts of reasons, but most of them are, in fact, economic.

AFI: There seems to have been a recent spate of low-budget Australian films centring on the issue of sex workers – The Jammed, Black & White & Sex and  John Hewitt’s X. I wonder if you’ve seen any of those films and what you make of this trend?

David Field is the tough but tender pimp, with Nammi Le in CARELESS LOVE.

John Duigan: I saw X and I also saw Sleeping Beauty – that was another one. I think all of them are dealing with different aspects, but the fact that there are a number of films that have sex workers as their protagonists is probably indicative of the fact that it’s significant that Australia has substantially illegalised the sex industry. And you only need to look at papers like the [Daily] Telegraph and you’ll see three to four pages of ads for it. It’s interesting that there’s this contrast between this existence of the sex industry and the mainstream values. So it’s something that all these filmmakers are looking at in one way or another.

AFI: Careless Love is your first film made back in Australia for some time. How did this experience differ from your past films?

John Duigan: Well, it was about twenty years ago when I did Sirens, so it is quite a long time. I think the major difference is the attitude towards independent Australian films. When I was working here continuously – with Winter of our Dreams, Far East, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting and Sirens – all of those films had fairly successful theatrical releases. And now, for whatever reason, a lot of cinemas are much more reluctant to put on smaller Australian films. I think it’s really important for our culture that Australia is represented by a range of films and not just the large-budget films. I think quite a lot of small Australian films probably don’t get any kind of release and sort of disappear between the cracks. That’s tragic, really. And with fewer independent cinemas around, there’s the dominance of the multiplexes, which rather than actually putting on a wide range of films, often simply put on the big Titanics or what have you, on about four or five screens. This means that younger people are coming up who have had very little experience of seeing a range of independent films… It’s going to be much harder to get them in to see Australian films in the first place.

AFI: Was it difficult for you to secure a release for this film?

John Duigan: I would say it was harder than it was twenty years ago. Yes. I mean we have cinemas in all the major cities. So it’s certainly possible, but I think it has been more difficult.

AFI: How did you raise the finance to make the film, and what were the primary sources and approximate budget?

John Duigan: It’s all private money. We choose not to release the actual budget figure, simply because it can affect the way people see the film. I was showing it to a few people overseas… I had one independent of great experience who saw it and thought that the budget was $7 million, and the budget is very, very much lower than that. As far as sources are concerned, it all comes from four individuals. Each one put small amounts in and one person put in rather more. We didn’t have any input from Screen Australia.

AFI: Did you want any input from Screen Australia, or was it always your intention to go down the completely independent route?

John Duigan: At the time I made the film, I was keen to go into production rather than wait for another year, because while I’d been working on my labour of love on the ethics front [the ethics textbook Duigan has been writing] I’d been attached to a Canadian and a French-produced film for about three or four years. And each year it would seem, one or either of the two was going to come together. And then at the last minute it would fall through, usually because we weren’t able to get the key actor that we needed to trigger both projects or because an area of finance that had been promised fell through. In one case a company kind of went bankrupt. So after having that rather frustrating experience, which many other filmmakers have and continue to have, as you would know, I wanted to get into production with this small project fairly quickly. But it would have been good if we’d been able to get some money for the post [-production] from Screen Australia, which we weren’t able to get.

AFI:  The look of the film is very beautiful in parts. I wonder if you could talk about the production design and the look you were going for with this project?

John Duigan: Yes, the cinematographer Kathryn Milliss is somebody who had worked on a number of my films years ago as an assistant to Geoff Burton, who is one of the producers on this film, and so it was great to work with her again. Generally speaking, it is a naturalistic look and we tried to use warmer and cooler colours to complement the different strands of the story. At times when Linh is working at night, they’re often cooler colours, but sometimes actually slightly garish, with that yellow hue in some of the night exteriors. In contrast it it’s a warmer, sort of more temperate feel in the world that she has with her boyfriend and family. But it all sort goes off the rails towards the end. The production designer is Colin Gibson, who actually did a marvellous job. Again, he’s somebody who I worked with on films like The Year My Voice Broke and others from a long time ago. He mainly works on extremely big films – he’s the production designer on the new Mad Max film that George Miller is making in Southern Africa. But I think he enjoyed actually working back on something that was shorter and demanded the use of real imagination to compensate for a lack of budget. He’s an incredibly industrious, hard-working character and managed, I think, to give the film a look and a detail which is way above what the budget was.

A double life – Linh (Nammi Le) struggles to reconcile her two lives when she falls in love with Jack (Andrew Hazzard).

AFI: How long was the shoot and what were the key locations?

John Duigan: It was a 30-day shoot. We did six five-day weeks. The key locations are all in and around Sydney. A lot of the locations are owned by friends or relatives or by myself.  The major location is my flat in Coogee!

AFI: You’ve been making films for nearly 40 years now. Are there any essential ways you’ve changed your working method, or key lessons you’ve learned?

John Duigan: Not really. In many ways, with Careless Love, it felt like I was working in the style that I worked in and with the sort of budgetary restraints of quite a lot of earlier films that I did, like Mouth to Mouth and Winter of Our Dreams. Always, the key thing for me has been to do as much preparation as possible. I like to try to minimise the decisions that one needs to make on the set, based from a logistical point of view and from the point of view of how one is working with the cast. So through rehearsal, you aim to articulate everything that the performance needs to achieve in every scene, and where the scenes occur in terms of the character’s arc and all that sort of thing. It’s good if everybody knows exactly what they are attempting to achieve on each day and in each scene and on each set. This means a lot of detailed conversation and planning in the pre-production stage, and as much rehearsal as you can get with all of the principal actors.

I have generally used that model, whether I’m working on a larger budget or on a small budget, but it’s probably particularly important on a small budget. Obviously there are huge changes that are required from time-to-time, if one is hit by unexpected light changes or weather problems, or if an actor gets sick or something like that, but if you’ve got everything planned out in detail, it’s much easier to react to circumstances and keep the film following the arc that you want it to follow.

AFI: Are you involved in planning the promotional and release strategy with the film’s distributor, Antidote Films?

John Duigan: Yes, I’m working on that with Jenny Day and Geoff Burton, the producers, and with Gil Scrine, the distributor. We are opening at a central cinema in each of the major cities, and hopefully in a couple of the cities we’ll have a couple of other screens as well. Perhaps, if the film manages to deliver, it can expand and pick up some other screens in the suburbs. We think in general that it’s good to have a key cinema in each of the cities that you can focus on, rather than sharing out the audience to a number of locations. If you can actually get the film to perform in one main cinema, then that is going to help the film’s longevity, and also give it the opportunity of spreading out later.

AFI:  You live between Sydney and England?

John Duigan: Yes, at the moment I’m spending a little bit more time over here than over there –  seven, eight months of the year here, and four or five months over there. I enjoy going backwards and forwards.

AFI: You’ve mentioned that you’ve been interspersing your filmmaking activities with writing a book on ethics and philosophy over the last few years. Can you tell us more about that?

John Duigan: My main area of study at university was philosophy and I contemplated the idea of actually going to Cambridge and doing a doctorate there, but ended up choosing to work in the film industry instead. I think that interest in ethics has always been an abiding one for me and, to an extent, has some sort of resonance in many of the films that I make, though not all of them.

I’d always intended, at some point in my life, to try and write a book on secular ethics. I think that ethics is a subject that should be taught in schools. I’ve thought that for a great many years. And now, increasingly – in New South Wales in particular – people are talking about that, and in fact, there’s a strong impulse, which is nurtured by places like the St James Ethics Centre, for ethics to be taught in schools, and it seems to me that it should be a secular ethics. I mean, our whole legal and governmental system is essentially a secular one and with the complexities of different moral positions that come from our increasingly multicultural society, to me a secular ethics could help potentially ameliorate some of the conflict between differing moralities coming from very different religious traditions.

AFI: Is your book on secular ethics being published soon?

John Duigan: I’m still working on it. I’m getting feedback from a number of sources now and we’ll do some more work on it and I would hope to get it published next year or in the next couple of years. Of course there’s no guarantee. It’s a complex subject, and the kind of thing that one could work on indefinitely!

AFI: Do you find it helpful to have such strong interests outside of filmmaking?

John Duigan: I think it’s really important and I always tell actors that it’s great to have other areas of interest. In part this is because you draw from those interests to enrich your work in acting or filmmaking or any of the arts.  I think that people who come from purely filmic backgrounds, who draw most of their inspiration from other films, could certainly benefit from drawing from more expanded areas of interest.

AFI: Thanks for speaking with us, and best wishes with Careless Love.

John Duigan: It’s been a pleasure, thanks.

Careless Love releases in Australia on 17 May 2012
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Official trailer below:

CARELESS LOVE – FAST FACTS

Writer/Director: John Duigan
Producers: Jenny Day and Geoff Burton
Presented by: Spirited Films & Luminous Pictures
Key Cast & Crew: Nammi Le, Peter O’Brien, Andrew Hazzard, Penny McNamee, Ivy Mak, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, David Field
Director of Photography: Kathryn Milliss
Editor: Mark Warner
Production Designer: Colin Gibson
Costume Designer: Loretta Egan

*JOHN DUIGAN AT THE AFI AWARDS

  • 1978 – Won the AFI Jury Prize for Mouth to Mouth. He was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Direction for that film.
  • 1981  – Nominated Best Director and Best Original or Adapted Screenplay for Winter of Our Dreams.
  • 1987 – Won the AFI Award for Best Director for The Year My Voice Broke and also won the AFI Award for Best Original Screenplay on that film.
  • 1991 –  Duigan was presented with the Byron Kennedy Award for “an impressive and original body of work both as writer and director, and through that work, his discovery and encouragement of new talent”.

L-R: John Duigan, Ben Mendelsohn, Loene Carmen, Noah Taylor, George Miller – THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE – at the 1987 AFI Awards



Sharing the Ride, WISH YOU WERE HERE: Kieran Darcy-Smith and Felicity Price

Kieran Darcy-Smith & Felicity Price - their film WISH YOU WERE HERE premiered as opening night selection at Sundance Film Festival 2012.

If you want to be an independent Australian filmmaker, it pays to have allies, friends – and even spouses –  who are working in the industry. All the better if your friends and lovers are able to perform multiple roles in this low-budget environment. Sophie Hyde and Brian Mayson (Life In Movement) and Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond (Mrs Carey’s Concert) come to mind, but there are many others, stretching all the way back to Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell. Kieran Darcy-Smith and Felicity Price are just the latest couple to make a film together, and as they’re keen to point out, the filmmaking life is an adventure, a creative partnership and a wild ride that they want to be on with each other, and with their young family.

Darcy-Smith and Price are the co-writers of the new Australian feature film Wish You Were Here.  Darcy-Smith is also the director, and Price is lead actress, in a career-making performance alongside Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer and Antony Starr. Wish You Were Here, which is produced by Angie Fielder of Aquarius Films, and premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January, released in Australia this week. It’s a taut contemporary thriller following four 30-something Australians who travel to Cambodia for a carefree holiday. When only three of them return, there’s escalating turmoil, and the secrets surrounding the disappearance are slowly and shockingly revealed.

The film works so well, in part, because the Australian characters, played by Price and Edgerton in particular, seem like just the kind of attractive middle-class fellow tourists we might run into on a holiday in Asia— the kind who love their kids but are still keen for the odd party drug or night on the town. Alice and Dave are the busy married couple of two young children, with another baby on the way. They leave their two kids at home with granny while they take off  for one last stab at freedom, invited by Alice’s younger sister (Teresa Palmer) who has a charismatic new boyfriend (Antony Starr) with business to conduct in the beautiful and tropical Southern Cambodia.

 

“When we were writing the script we were looking at our own world, our own friends, our own generation who were having kids but still partying, still keeping one foot in that other world,” says Price. “I was interested in exploring responsiblity and how parenthood changes you, and how you can sometimes long to be that person you were before you had kids. As parents you love your kids more than anything, but you still adore freedom. As Gen X-ers I think we’ve kind of paved a different way to parenthood where we want to have our cake and eat it too.”

Price and Darcy-Smith have two young children, who were born as the script took shape. The kids accompanied them on the Cambodian shoot (which Darcy-Smith insists was both hellish and wonderful) and the US promotional trip.

“Felicity fell pregnant not long after we started the first draft,” says Darcy-Smith, “and the whole story of Wish You Were Here became this incredible opportunity for us to expose and express ourselves and what we were going through as a couple. It was like a play-room, in a sense, and we’d come to it to express everything we felt about the human condition, about our place in the world at that point in our lives.”

A getaway gone wrong - Felicity Price and Joel Edgerton in WISH YOU WERE HERE

Price is keen to point out that the story is purely fictional – but that “the world of the characters is very familiar to us, and we poured a lot of our own experiences, and what we’d witnessed with friends, into the film, and we’d constantly ask ourselves and each other, ‘what would you do right now in that situation?’.”

Price is a revelation in the role of Alice, the feisty pregnant wife who’s prepared to fight for her family. She manages to be convincingly loving and angry, yet without being wholly sympathetic. An actress whose credits including playing the young Florence Broadhurst in Gillian Armstrong’s Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst, as well as extensive theatre and television credits, this is arguably the first screen role to fully feature her talent. Of course the fact that she wrote the role for herself, and that she gets to play the wife of long-time friend Edgerton (who was best man at her wedding and godfather of one of her children) certainly helps to add authenticity to the performance.

“Joel and Kieran have been best mates for ages and they went to drama school together,” says Price, “so I’ve known Joel for a long time. Also, he had read more drafts of the script than almost anyone, right back to the first draft. That kind of familiarity was helpful.  Also, as an audience we enter this relationship at a point where these two people are very familiar with each other – it’s not the first flush of love, but a very solid relationship. And Joel’s a very good actor, who’s 100 per cent there emotionally, so it was easy to create this couple.”

Darcy-Smith directs Joel Edgerton on set of WISH YOU WERE HERE in Cambodia.

Darcy-Smith is himself a recognisable actor, appearing in films like SeptemberAnimal Kingdom and the multi-award winning short film Miracle Fish, yet has has always been an actor with a keen interest in working behind the camera as well as in front of it. He is one of the co-founders of the prolific Blue-Tongue Films collective (established in 1995), together with Nash and Joel Edgerton, David Michôd, Luke Doolan and Spencer Susser. Although Wish You Were Here is Darcy-Smith’s first feature film as director, he’s been honing his craft with a number of award-winning short films, as well as curating the short film program of Sydney’s Homebake Festival since 2000.

Now aged in his late forties, Darcy-Smith admits in his director’s notes that he was frustrated to be one of the last of his colleagues to make the jump from short films to features. Yet it was essential that he find the right idea and a script worth fighting for. Luckily this came in the form of his wife’s script, one she was writing in order to create a strong and interesting role for herself. Together, the two of them worked on the screenplay, which was accepted into Screen NSW’s Aurora screenplay development workshop process .

“I really think the screenplay is everything,” Darcy-Smith says. “I decided many, many years ago that that’s what I was going to put my chief investment in. I was going to learn to write, because I recognised it was the greatest commodity you could have in this industry. And it doesn’t matter how good you get with cameras and tricks and blah blah blah. It means nothing if you’re not telling a story that people want to see. And so I think writing is absolutely everything.”

Director Kieran Darcy-Smith (left) and producer Angie Fielder on the set of WISH YOU WERE HERE in Cambodia.

It’s common to hear filmmakers talking about the importance of the script, but Darcy-Smith has invested genuine effort in honing his writing skills, working with acclaimed producer Andrew Mason (The Matrix Trilogy, Tomorrow When the War Began) and writing a number of award-winning screenplays  including the Inside Film Award for Best Unproduced Screenplay for Memorial Day and the Australian Writer’s Guild Mentorship Award for Little Sky Cambodia. (Incidentally, Memorial Day is his next movie, where he’ll collaborate again with Wish You Were Here producer Angie Fielder, with acclaimed US indie producer Ted Hope (21 Grams, Happiness) as executive producer.

Darcy-Smith admits he’s an active, nervy man with a short attention span, and thus it was essential to make a film that held similarly impatient audience members in its thrall. This manifested in a story structure that gradually and thrillingly delivers pieces of its puzzle.

“It was a very delicate dance of delivery of information,” he says. “It was about keeping the audience working. There’s a duality at play. You’ve got an overarching mystery genre thriller element that very early in the piece kicks a ball up in the air. The idea is to keep the audience suspended with the need to know how this is going to play out. What’s going to happen? What’s he going to do? What’s she going to do?  – Which is pretty cool to any kind of story, no matter what it’s about. You need that sense of ‘I need to turn the page’ or ‘I need to sit in my seat and stay here until the very end’. So that was one element of keeping the audience engaged. But more importantly, you had to get them to the end of that and have them really care about the characters and the outcome. So the real story is with the family and what’s taking place in this relationship between a husband and wife.”

A different world on our doorstep in South-East Asia - 'the smells, the sounds, the humidity that just drips off you...'

So why Cambodia? Why did part of the story need to take place there? Price admits that any part of South-East Asia would have fitted with her themes of a getaway gone wrong. Initially the setting was Bali. “The smells, the sounds, the humidity that just drips off you and hits you, we needed it to be this place that is on the doorstep of Australia, but is just a different world.”

“There’s a real heart of darkness, a real underbelly that’s present in Cambodia in particular,” says Darcy-Smith. “And you don’t have to dig too deep to sort witness it, if not participate in it. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling in South-East Asia and had always gravitated gravitated towards that sort of sketchier element of the society there, and had always been attracted to general case studies of people who got into trouble of there. There is a real wildness, a sense of lurking danger there, and a dark history. That presented this environment in which to credibly set up this situation that we were exploring. It needed to be entirely credible and that sense of integrity was critical to the overall telling of this story. It was our intention that people walk out of the cinema thinking or saying to one another: ‘that could so easily have been you or I. What would I have done had I been in that situation? What choices might I have made?’”

As for advice for a first time feature director? Darcy-Smith says he asked a lot of his friends for tips, but the only concrete directive he got was from Gregor Jordan – “to get a really comfortable pair of shoes, because you’re on your feet all day!” As for his own advice for filmmakers? “Apart from the importance of the script, which is almost everything, trust your gut. If it comes down to a choice between A and B, you have to go with your intuition. Test that intuition and inform it, but go with your gut.”

Watch: A great behind-the-scenes clip from the film Wish You Were Here.

Wish You Were Here – Fast Facts

Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith
Writers: Kieran Darcy-Smith & Felicity Price
Producer: Angie Fielder
Duration: 93 minutes
Genre: Pyschological Drama / Mystery
Shoot: Sydney, Australia & Cambodia
Camera & Shoot Format: HD, Arri Alexa HD
Release Format: 35mm and Digital

Key Cast & Crew

Joel Edgerton
Felicity Price
Teresa Palmer
Antony Starr

Cinematographer: Jules O’Loughlin
Editor: Jason Ballantine
Production Designer: Alex Holmes
Costume Designer: Joanna Park
Sound Design: Brooke Trezise
Music: Tim Rogers
Casting Director: Kirsty McGregor
Score: Rosie Chase

Australian release date: 25 April, 2012
Website: www.wishyouwereherethefilm.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/WishYouWereHereTheFilm
Twitter: @Wish_UWereHere

Sophie Hyde – Releasing Life in Movement

Documentary filmmakers in Australia have always needed to be energetic and creative in order to find an audience for their work – even more so if they’re trying to get their films off the festival circuit and into a general theatrical release. But South Australian writer/director/producer Sophie Hyde, along with her Closer Production teammates (Bryan Mason, Matthew Bate, Rebecca Summerton), is certainly at the forefront of hands-on promotion and distribution of her work. Life in Movement, released around Australia yesterday (12 April) and also available to view as part of Qantas in-flight movies, is a pleasingly poetic and intimate portrait of dancer and choreographer Tanja Liedtke. A feature-length film, gorgeously shot and skilfully edited, with an ultra-cool urban soundtrack, it’s a portrait of Liedtke’s life, her work, her untimely death, and the ensuing grief among those who knew her. Yet according to Hyde, the film is a tricky one to sell to audiences, requiring a strategy that harnesses the enthusiasm of those who have already seen it.

Writer/director Sophie Hyde, centre. With Bryan Mason, right, and Jonny Elk Walsh, left. AACTA Awards Luncheon, January 2012.

Nominated for two AACTA Awards earlier this year, Life in Movement was a very personal project for Sophie Hyde and her partner in life and work, Bryan Mason. Together the pair wrote, directed and produced the film, with Mason also performing cinematography and editing roles. (Incidentally, Mason also won an AACTA Award for his editing on another Closer Productions project, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure). Life in Movement premiered in March 2011 at the Adelaide Film Festival, and was a hit at other festivals it toured. But festival audiences are known to be uniquely supportive of Australian films – a stance not always mirrored outside of festivals.

With a view to releasing the film, Hyde and Mason were keen to pick up tips at the inaugural AACTA Awards Luncheon in January, from fellow guests Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond, the pair who had successfully self-distributed Mrs Carey’s Concert. A veteran documentary maker and self distributor, Connolly, together with Raymond, tapped into word of mouth popularity for their hard-sell film about a high school music department. The result was stunning, with the film grossing almost $1.2m and becoming the fourth highest grossing Australian documentary ever.

“Bob and Sophie did such an amazing release with Mrs. Carey’s Concert,” says Hyde. “They put so much energy into that release and it paid off. They’ve been really supportive of us, and of all the documentaries in competition last year and they talked to us about their experience working with music schools [to fuel word of mouth]. I think our idea of [harnessing] ‘champions’ probably came from the conversation with them.”

The ‘champions’ Hyde speaks of are those fans of the film who’ve signed up to help spread the word. In return these champions receive regular email updates, exclusive footage and fizzy ideas to assist in group bookings, promotions and discounts.

“The thing about Life in Movement is it’s really hard for people to get a hook on what it’s about,” says Hyde. “People look at it and go: ‘Oh, yeah, it’s about dance and it’s about someone who died’, and there’s not that straight, immediate interest in the concept. That first spark of interest is hard to ignite. But what we find is that people who have seen it really want to talk about it with others and they want other people to see it. So the champion idea felt like the right thing to do – formalising that impulse. We have almost no money to release the film, so if people like it and want to talk about it, then that’s really great for us. I only wish we had thought of the champions idea when we first released in festivals last year, because we’ve only been building the champions list up over the last few weeks, and it would have been better to do it earlier.”

In hindsight, Hyde also sees other drawbacks in trying to drum up new interest in the film so far after its initial festival buzz. “The film had quite a lot of press over the year that it was in festivals in Australia, and so a lot of media are saying ‘okay’ to reviewing it but they won’t do another feature on it now. But you know, when you’re first releasing at a festival you just have to go for it and get as much interest as possible while you can, and you can’t hold off. We may never have gotten a cinema release without that initial engagement.”

Tanja Liedtke. Photograph by Julian Crottism.

Life in Movement is being jointly distributed by Closer Screens (a subsidiary of Closer Productions) and the Brisbane-based Antidote Films (formerly Gil Scrine Films). “We’re trying to be a bit more in control of the rights of our films,” explains Hyde, “so we are co-distributing the film.  Antidote do a lot of the dealings with cinemas and we do a lot of the grassroots campaign.”

Made for an astonishingly tight budget of $308,000, Life in Movement was funded by the Adelaide Film Festival Fun, the South Australian Film Corporation’s Educational Content Fund, and Screen Australia’s Special Documentary Fund (now Signature Docs). There were also small donations from private investors and the Tanja Liedtke Foundation. Hyde laughs as she remembers trying to make the budget stretch. “It was crazy. That’s the total budget including development funding. We shot a lot of the film on development money, because we had to, and it took us four and a bit years to do it.”

Partners in life and work, filmmakers Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde.

Those four years began the day after the sudden death of Tanja Liedtke, a 29-year-old dancer and choreographer who had just made big news in the Australian arts community for her unexpected appointment as artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company. For Hyde and Mason however, the obsessive, driven and sometimes tortured Liedtke had already proved herself as a fascinating and accomplished artist, with two highly regarded productions under her belt – 12th Floor and Construct.

“We had already been working with Tanja,” says Hyde, whose career has ecompassed extensive experience in filming performance and dance (including the Necessary Games trilogy of short films with Restless Dance Theatre). “We had an idea years before to do a documentary about Tanja. So we had some footage that we’d already shot for that and for some other work we’d done with her. And then on the day Tanja died, Bryan [Mason] was just adamant that we were going to make a film. And we worked on it straight away.”

The filmmakers were also incredibly fortunate that their subject had been an avid recorder of her own development and work, filming herself from her early awkward years at school, through to her elegant and quirky dance pieces.  “Using a video is something that a lot of dancemakers do,” explains Hyde. “Some of them probably just film their shows or rehearsals and then have a look back at it. Some of them film phrases, like, a movement, so that they can remember it. I think Tanja was kind of at the extreme of using video because she had a camera from when she was a child, and she would use it whenever she had an idea or a response, and there was so much footage. She used the camera through every stage of her process, whereas most dancers probably use it at very particular moments.”

Self portrait by Tanja Liedtke.

Of course having so much footage can be both a blessing and a curse for the poor editor who has to shape it into 90 odd minutes of coherent beauty. “It was really hard to edit this film,” agrees Hyde. “Bryan is the editor and also the co-director and he spent a long time in the suite without me, kind of trawling through footage and piecing things together and trying to put it in a linear structure of Tanja’s life.  And that took a long long time, finding the structure, finding the right kind of way in and out of it. There were  really long nights in the edit suite for both of us. It was hard, really, really hard. But it was amazing to do. It was a creative experience like the one Tanja’s going through in the film. I think we kind of replicated that experience ourselves, digging down into this work and trying to make it work and becoming a bit blind to everything else at periods of time. Yeah… 3am in the morning, you know, delirium. Our daughter was asleep in our house with us editing in the studio out the back!”

Out of the shed and into the world, Hyde is now keen to reach out and connect the film with an audience, one she conceives as including “both people who understand what it is to be a creator, as well as those who haven’t had that experience.” She’s keen to point out that it’s not just  a film for dance fans and dancers, and that “a lot of people who really love it are very young, and one of the things they connect to is the great music and soundtrack by DJ TR!P that really ads to the whole experience.”

For Hyde, who identifies as an ‘artist’ herself, albeit a very collaborative one, part of the process of connecting with viewers and mobilising champions, includes an active presence in social media – from Twitter to Facebook and now, Pinterest.

“At first I didn’t really enjoy it and wasn’t sure what it would mean,” she says. “But recently I’ve realised I really, really want people to see my films. I know that sounds like a funny thing to say, but for a long time you’re just focused on making work, making the film. And then I suddenly thought, ‘I want people to actually see it!’ And I don’t want to just rely on somebody else. There’s that old idea that you hand over your film and someone else will release it, and maybe they’ll do an okay job of it, but maybe they won’t. Something shifted in me when I realised that social media isn’t about hassling people and saying, ‘Here I am, promoting my film’, but instead it’s about trying to engage a bit more outwardly; be a bit more open rather than head down, which I can be a lot. Now you can share your own work, and you can talk about someone else’s work too, and people are much more conversational now on social media. I enjoy Twitter and I’ve just started on Pinterest. I love that idea of just looking at images and sharing them with people. There is something beautiful about that.

Life in Movement released in Australia on 12 April.

Links  & Further Reading

Life in Movement website | Facebook | Pinterest|

Sophie Hyde is on Twitter @sophhyde.

Watch a clip of Twelfth Floor choreographed by Tanja Liedke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiYxTA4lEpM

Focus on the Television Nominees: Part 2 – Direction and Screenplay

In Part 1 of our Focus on the Television Nominees for this year’s Samsung AACTA Awards, we profiled the producers who are nominated this year for Best Television Drama Series and Best Telefeature, Mini Series or Short Run Series. Here we look at the nominees for the AACTA Awards for Best Direction in Television and Best Screenplay in Television.

Here we turn the spotlight onto the writers and the directors nominated in the television categories. It goes without saying that they’re integral to the stories we enjoy watching on the small screen, and yet they’re often in the shadows. It is perhaps unsurprising that the nominees this year in these categories are almost all seasoned professionals with rich, long credit lists – and many an AFI Award on their collective mantlepieces. Read on to find out more.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTION IN TELEVISION

And the nominees are:

Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo – Episode 1. Daina Reid. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 1 ‘Hector’. Jessica Hobbs. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 3 ‘Harry’. Matthew Saville. ABC1
Small Time Gangster – Episode 1 ‘Jingle Bells’. Jeffrey Walker. FOXTEL – Movie Network

Since leaving her acting and comedy days behind her, director Daina Reid has quickly established herself as an in-demand director of television (including episodes of City Homicide, Rush, Offspring and the upcoming Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). Last year, Reid also directed her first feature film, the romantic comedy I Love You Too. (Our 2010 AFI interview with Reid  ‘From Actor to Director’ is here.)  With Paper Giants, Reid brought a snappy pace, a great sense of timing and a finely tuned eye for performance to this fact-based girl-powered story. This is Daina Reid’s second AFI | AACTA nomination – her first nomination was in 2008 for her work as director on Satisfaction, Series 1.

Jessica Hobbs is an accomplished director of high quality television drama, with credits including Heartbreak High, Curtin, Tangle, Spirited, My Place, and of course two episodes of The Slap this year – the stage-setting first episode ‘Hector’ for which she is nominated, and the second episode, ‘Anouk’. Hobbs is also an executive producer on Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. She was nominated for her first AFI Award in 2004 (Best Short Fiction Film – So Close to Home) and has twice won the AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – in 2005 for Love My Way, and in 2006 for Answered by Fire. Jessica Hobbs is also one of the honorary councillors (Directing Chapter) in the newly formed Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA).

Like Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville is also nominated for his direction of episodes of The Slap  (‘Harry’ and ‘Sophie’). With a background in graphic design and advertising, Saville first came to notice in the 1990s when his short films revealed him to be a highly literate and original writer-director. Franz & Kafka won the 1997 Melbourne International Film Festival’s Best Australian Short Comedy award, while the melancholy comedy Roy Hollsdotter Live earned Saville an AFI nomination for Best Short Fiction Film in 2003.  His other television credits include The Secret Life of Us, The Surgeon, Tangle and We Can be Heroes – the latter for which he was nominated in 2005 for Best Direction in Television. In 2007, Saville was nominated again, for both direction and screenplay for his debut feature film Noise, but he won that year for another project – the telefeature based on the life of Graham Kennedy, The King. Click here to view a short video interview in which Saville talks about his recent work on The Slap. (We should probably also mention that Saville is director of all six hours of the AACTA nominated mini series Cloudstreet.)

At the tender age of 29, Jeffrey Walker has a huge IMDB listing, explained in part because of his early career as a very successful child actor. He appeared in shows like Round the Twist, Blue Heelers and Ocean Girl. At the age of eight he appeared as the ‘young Martin’ in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof – a fact we realised when he turned up to our 20 year anniversary screening of the film in Melbourne! Walker received the 1997 AFI Young Actor Award for his work in The Wayne Manifesto, but has since changed careers to directing after getting a start as an assistant producer to prolific children’s television creator Jonathan M. Shiff (who happens to be nominated this year for H2O: Just Add Water, Series 3). Jeffrey Walker’s directorial credits in television include: Rake; Wild Boys; the upcoming Jack Irish telemovies, starring Guy Pearce; and of course Small Time Gangster for which he is here nominated. Walker was also nominated in 2010 for Best Direction in Television for his work on the acclaimed teen series Dance Academy.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY IN TELEVISION

And the nominees are:

Cloudstreet – Part 3. Tim Winton, Ellen Fontana. FOXTEL – Showcase
Laid – Episode 3. Kirsty Fisher. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 1 ‘Hector’. Kris Mrksa. ABC1
The Slap – Episode 3 ‘Harry’. Brendan Cowell. ABC1

Tim Winton is a best-selling and much awarded writer of novels and short stories, many of which have been adapted into films, plays, or television series (That Eye the Sky, In the Winter Dark, the Lockie Leonard series, to name just a few). But it is Cloudstreet, the vast and rambling family saga novel, set in Perth from the 1940s, for which Winton is best known. Published in 1991, and winning the Miles Franklin Award in 1992, the book was voted Australia’s favourite book by ABC audiences in 2003. Now the novel has been adapted into a three-part six-hour mini series by Tim Winton, working together with US screenwriter Ellen Fontana. The producers of Cloudstreet have put together a great series of interviews and videos about the process of adapting the book, including great footage of Winton talking about why he was the least ‘attached’ person to adapt it – the person least likely to treat the book as a ‘sacred text’. You can find the interviews here. This is the first AFI | AACTA nomination for both Tim Winton and Ellen Fontana.

Screenwriter Kirsty Fisher wears a lot of hats when it comes to her role on comedy series Laid. Not only did she write the script, but is credited as co-creator and co-producer alongside her creative partner Marieke Hardy (Liz Watts of Porchlight Films is executive producer). Fisher has been working in television for many years as a script editor and screenwriter, with credits including H20 Just Add Water, Winners & Losers and Silversun. This is her first AFI |  AACTA nomination. You can read Paul Kalina’s Age interview with Kirsty Fisher and Marieke Hardy here.

Kris Mrksa is an AFI and AWGIE Award winning screenwriter whose credits include East West 101, Underbelly, Packed to the Rafters, Carla Cametti PD and The Secret Life of Us. He also co-wrote the telemovie The King (with Jaime Browne). Mrksa won his first AFI Award in 2001 for Best Screenplay in a Short Film (Sparky D Comes to Town), and his second AFI Award in 2009 for Best Screenplay in Television (Underbelly). This year he is nominated for his work on the first episode of The Slap – ‘Hector’. He also wrote the ‘Manolis’ episode – which anecdotally is for many audience members and readers a favourite section of both the novel and the series.

Brendan Cowell is an award winning actor, playwright and screenwriter. On television he has played hilarious handyman ‘Todd’ in SBS comedy series Life Support and the self destructive chef  ‘Tom’ in Foxtel’s Love My Way, while on film, he has played the central roles in Noise, Beneath Hill 60, I Love You Too and the upcoming comedy drama about amateur cricketers, Save Your Legs – on which he is also screenwriter. Cowell has written a number of plays and a novel, as well as episodes of Love My Way, and of course two episodes of The Slap – ‘Harry’ and ‘Richie’. He is nominated for the former. (Interestingly, Cowell also appears on screen in the ‘Richie’ episode where he plays ‘Craig’ – Richie’s lovable ocker dad.) Cowell has been nominated twice before for an AFI Award – in 2007 for Best Lead Actor in Noise, and in 2010 for Best Lead Actor in Beneath Hill 60.

To see video interviews with both Kris Mrksa and Brendan Cowell talking about their work on The Slap, click here.

So there they are: the directors and the writers who are up for AACTA Awards this year for their work in television. The winners of these two awards will be announced at the Samsung AACTA Awards Ceremony on Tuesday 31 January 2012, and broadcast on the Nine Network.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll take a closer look at the nominees for Best Lead Actor and Actress in a Television Drama, and Best Guest or Supporting Actor and Actress in a  Television Drama.