AACTA Member Spotlight: Mandy Walker – Cinematographer

Mandy Walker on the set of AUSTRALIA

Mandy Walker knew she wanted to be a cinematographer from the tender age of 13. It was the only profession that united her deep loves of photography and the cinema so completely. As a child, Walker’s mother nourished her artistic tendencies with trips to the art gallery while her father whetted her appetite for foreign films with regular outings to the State Film Theatre in Melbourne.

Walker now lives and works predominantly in Los Angeles, but over the years she has shot a wide suite of Australian and international content, ranging from feature films to television shows and commercials. Her work includes: Australia, Lantana, Australian Rules, Love Serenade and Shattered Glass and advertisements for big name brands like: Chanel No. 5, Dior, Nike, Bonds, Telstra, Audi and BMW. Walker is enthralled by the collaborative process and loves working alongside talented and inspired directors who push her outside of her comfort zone.

Walker has been nominated and has won multiple awards for her craft both locally and internationally. In 1996, she won the AFI Award for Best Cinematography in a Non-Feature Film for Parklands and in 1997 was nominated for the AFI Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography for The Well.

Still a strong believer in the qualities of film as a capture medium, Walker has also embraced the digital revolution with open arms. When asked what advice she’d give up-and-coming cinematographers, her answer is simple: never stop learning, and be brave. Her favourite period of Australian filmmaking is perhaps indicative of this advice; she cites such films as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Breaker Morant and Gallipoli. These films had a unique cinematic style that went on to redefine Australian cinema internationally.

Read on for more insight into Walker’s early career moves, her working methods and her inspirations. It’s clear she’s been an incredibly self-motivated professional who’s kept extending her skills. Her answers also give great insight into the way each project can lead on to other opportunities.

Mandy Walker is one of our highly regarded AACTA members. We are proud to have film and television makers of this calibre as a part of the new Australian Academy. In coming months, we look forward to sharing more of these profiles as we turn the Member Spotlight onto more performers and practitioners – both those working at home and abroad.

AFI | AACTA: Whereabouts did you grow up and what impact (if any) do you think this has had on the style of your work?

Mandy Walker: I grew up in Melbourne but I don’t think that it has affected the style of my work. I feel like I’ve been more influenced by photography, art and cinema from all over the world. My mother had taken me to galleries from the age of two, and my father to foreign film screenings at the State Film Theatre, when I was at High School. I do think that growing up in Melbourne has influenced my approach to my work. In general, I find most Australians have a great work ethic. They are quite confident yet humble in their attitude towards work, and working relationships.

AFI | AACTA: Where do you predominantly live and work now?

Mandy Walker: I now live in Los Angeles. Most of the commercial work I do is here in town, with some projects overseas. The movies I have shot have been in Australia, and Canada. However, I did recently shoot a telemovie in Boston.

AFI | AACTA: What is your most vivid childhood memory?

Mandy Walker: The most vivid childhood memories I have are of holidays at Australian beaches with my family.

AFI | AACTA: When did you know that you wanted to be a cinematographer and what training did you undergo?

Mandy Walker: I knew from the age of about 13 that I wanted to become a cinematographer. I had always loved photography and the cinema. So for me it was an obvious choice to combine the two. I had a small black and white darkroom that my father set up for me in the back shed and I made a few Super 8 films at High School. In my final year at Preston Technical College, I studied Cinema Studies.

Eventually, by ringing Film Victoria, and a number of producers shooting films in Melbourne, I got a job as a runner on a feature film. I made everyone on that project aware that all I wanted was to get into the camera department. Through these contacts and working for free as a camera assistant on a couple of documentaries and music videos, I got promoted to being a clapper loader and then focus puller on dramas and documentaries. In about five years, I was shooting small projects myself. Looking back, I’m really glad I moved up this way, as I was able to learn from the cinematographers I was working for and develop my own skills alongside them.

AFI | AACTA: You worked as a camera assistant for seven years before gaining the opportunity to shoot docos and short films. How did you get your first big break as a cinematographer and what was the first major project you cut your teeth on?

Mandy Walker: During my time as a camera assistant, I also shot small music videos and student films for students at Swinburne. This was how I really learnt my craft, by actually lighting and exposing film, trying out different ideas, making mistakes, and discovering what worked and what didn’t. Ray Argall offered me my first big break. At that time, he was a cinematographer on features and a cinematographer/director on music videos and documentaries. I had been working on some of his bigger multi camera set-ups for music videos and live concerts as his focus puller and camera operator. When he was to direct his first feature film Return Home (1990) he asked me to be his Cinematographer. I was only 25 years old at the time. I had learnt a lot from him over the years, and it was a great experience to finally step up to the position to collaborate with him as a director.

Mandy and Baz on the set of AUSTRALIA

AFI | AACTA: What is it about the art of cinematography that particularly excites you? What do you enjoy most about your work? What are the worst or most challenging/tedious aspects of the job?

Mandy Walker: I think what excites me most about my job is that it is full of many varied experiences and challenges. I am constantly having to think of new ways to approach ideas or situations and combine them with a certain style, or invent a new one. The worst part of my job is that I am away a lot from home and family. My parents and my sister and her kids, all my relatives, reside in Melbourne. My husband’s family is in Wollongong.

AFI | AACTA: You have worked on a number of critically acclaimed Australian and international films, among them Australia, Lantana, Australian Rules, Love Serenade and Shattered Glass. How do you go about choosing your projects?

Mandy Walker: I definitely have directors that I really want to work with, and that combined with reading a really great script is how I decide. I also never want to pigeonhole myself with a certain genre so I try to read a lot of different ones.

AFI | AACTA: How much input do you typically have in determining the right “look” of a film and how would you describe the communication process between director and DOP?

Mandy Walker: It really varies depending on the relationship I have with a director. I feel I have to be open and adaptive to this. I would never go into a project and dictate to a director: “this is how the movie should look”. Some directors come to me with a very clear idea of their references or vision, which I then interpret into a visual language. It is my job to figure out how I can achieve the director’s vision cinematically, in collaboration with the director then the art department and costume department.

Mandy on the set of a NIKE commercial

Then there are those directors who come to you with a clear idea of what they want to say in the film, but not a very strong cinematic vision. This process involves searching for and trying out different ideas and reference materials that might appeal to their style of story telling. I will glean [from] art galleries, photography and art books, and other movies to find influential images or scenes that I feel resonate with the story, emotions, and journey of the characters in our film. Depending on the project, this collection of references will vary from one or two key elements to a comprehensive list.

Mandy on the set of AUSTRALIA

For other directors it’s about how we approach shooting the locations we’ve chosen. For example, with Lantana Ray Lawrence wanted to use natural available light as much as possible to capture the atmosphere of particular locations. He did not want the actors to feel restricted so we used the minimum amount of equipment and lighting. In some interior scenes, it was just the actors and a camera in the room. For a cinematographer, this wasn’t easy as I couldn’t control the light. I always shoot tests before we start a main shoot just to make sure that our ideas work.

AFI | AACTA: Australia was a big budget Australian epic and Baz Luhrmann is renowned for captivating audiences with visually spectacular films. Was this film especially difficult to shoot? What were the most important elements for you in choosing how you caught the action on camera?

Mandy Walker: Baz is a very inspiring director, and one who has a clear vision of his movies before he goes into pre-production. He and Catherine Martin are extremely thorough with their visual presentations of ideas early on. Their historic locations, costume and character references are always very well researched. The visual language of their project starts there. Baz then brings on myself and other key crew to collaborate. Australia was sometimes logistically difficult to shoot but with careful planning and execution we ensured that we were well rehearsed and properly crewed. Overall, it was an exciting project for me to be involved in, and a very positive creative experience.

Mandy and Baz Lurhmann on the set of AUSTRALIA

AFI | AACTA: You’ve won and been nominated for multiple cinematography awards both locally and internationally. For example, you won the AFI Award for Best Cinematography in a Non-Feature Film for Parklands in 1996 and were nominated for the AFI Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography for The Well in 1997, as well as being awarded a number of ACS Awards and the Hollywood DOP of the year in 2008. How does it feel to be regarded so highly by your peers for your craftsmanship?

Mandy Walker: I am very proud and appreciative of this acknowledgement and forever grateful to the people who have given me all my opportunities over the years.

AFI | AACTA: You’ve filmed commercials for a number of big name brands (Chanel No. 5, Dior, Nike, Bonds, Telstra, Audi, BMW etc.) and won numerous awards for your work in advertising, including a Bronze Lion at Cannes Advertising Festival and a Clio Silver Cinematography Award. How does filming a commercial differ to a film?

Mandy Walker: I really enjoy commercials as well as films. Commercials are shorter, more intense than a movie, but always varied. I get to work with many different directors and can often try out new gear, film stock, shooting styles and cameras depending on what the job requires. I also enjoy working regularly with a couple of particular directors, who are very talented and inspiring. Steve Rogers is one Australian director that I try to work with regularly, both in Australia and overseas. I have shot most of my best commercial work with him.

Mandy on the set of a MERCEDES commercial

AFI | AACTA: Do you find that you have a greater level of creative freedom to experiment with shooting styles in advertising? Or are you more restricted by branding and/or commercial interests?

Mandy Walker: Again, it really depends on the director and their vision. A director who is talented will be on a project because of their talent. Most agency’s and clients trust them in their execution, and their choice of cinematographer.

AFI | AACTA: What do you think is the greatest challenge or problem facing cinematographers working within the new digital landscape?

Mandy Walker: I think new digital cameras with extra capabilities and an ever increasing workflow is rapidly changing the digital landscape. Cinematographers have to be up to date. We need to consistently be using and testing new technologies to see what the real advantages and disadvantages are.

AFI | AACTA: Do you have a preferred capture medium?

Mandy Walker: It depends on what the project requires. You need to consider what the main objectives and obstacles are; for example, [the need to be] fast and mobile, or shooting in 3D, or the types of lighting required. Basically, I prefer whatever medium best serves the particular “look” that we are trying to achieve. However, I do think that, at this point in time, film is still the most flexible when it comes to creating different looks in-camera. It still has the highest definition, contrast and colour range available, although some HD cameras are now much more sensitive to low light, and are better for night shooting and/or shooting in 3D.

AFI | AACTA: What has been the highlight of your career so far? And is there some other part of filmmaking that you’d still like to try your hand at?

Mandy Walker: The highlights of my career so far would be: being recognised by my peers; being invited into the Cinematographers guild of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; being accredited by the Australian Cinematographers Society and the American Society of Cinematographers; and most recently becoming a member of the Cinematographers Chapter of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.

On the set of RED RIDING HOOD

AFI | AACTA: Can you tell us what you’ve been working on most recently?

Mandy Walker: The last feature I shot was Red Riding Hood. Earlier this year, I also shot a TV movie for ABC America, and since then I have been working on commercials full time.

AFI | AACTA: If you had to name three mentors or sources of inspiration, who would they be?

Mandy Walker: The first would have to be my Cinema Studies teacher at Preston Technical College, Brian Simpson. He introduced to us a whole world of wonderful films, and taught us about the concept of genre, how a director’s cinematic vision can influence the story and create an atmosphere that affects the audience’s experience of the overall film. I still use the movies he showed me when I was 18 as a point of reference for my own ideas.

The second would be Ray Argall for training me in the camera department and giving me the opportunity to shoot his feature length directorial debut. He gave me a strong understanding and appreciation for the collaboration required between a cinematographer and director.

The third would be Jan Chapman. I was orginally involved in working on an episode of her TV series Naked which was directed by Geoffrey Wright. Jan also introduced me to Shirley Barrett and Ray Lawrence whose films I subsequently went on to shoot. She has always been an amazingly positive and collaborative producer and has greatly influenced my career.

AFI | AACTA: Are you often asked to describe what it is like to be a woman and a mother working in the intense and male dominated craft of cinematography? And if so, how do you respond to such a question? Do you resent it?

Mandy on the set of AUSTRALIA

Mandy Walker: I have never looked at this as an issue in my life or career. I have worked as hard as anybody else in my field and between my husband Stuart and I, we have made sure our daughter Ruby is a big part of our lives and is well looked after. As far as being a woman cinematographer, I see no reason why there are not more of us!

AFI | AACTA: What advice would you give upcoming cinematographers wanting to break into the industry?

Mandy Walker: I think the most important things are to be dedicated, collaborative, amiable, and willing to try new techniques and equipment. Shoot, try and test the ideas you have, discover what works and what doesn’t. Learn from all of this and be brave. You have to grasp each opportunity and never behave like you know everything because no matter how long you have been shooting there is always something new to learn and discover. At the end of the day, you are there with all the other departments to help tell the film’s story.

AFI | AACTA: What are your all time favourite Australian films or television series?

Mandy Walker: My favourite Australian films are Gallipoli, Breaker Morant, and Picnic at Hanging Rock, mainly because I love that particular era of Australian filmmaking. For me they are the original representations of an era of Australian cinematic storytelling.

AFI | AACTA: Thanks for your sharing your time with us.

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AACTA Member Spotlight: Matthew Moore – Actor, Writer, Director

Matthew Moore

Actor, writer and director Matthew Moore

Matthew Moore caught the acting bug at the tender age of 11 when he reenacted Burke and Wills’ journey across Australia for his Year five class. Since then, he’s honed his craft by studying at WAAPA and scoring a supporting role in The Dish, thanks to his exceptional graduation performance. Over the years, Moore has worked across film, television and theatre, acting in everything from Home and Away, All Saints and Rake to The Dish and Burning Man. He claims his meatier rolls have come straight from the great bard himself, Shakespeare, but that the most fun he’s had was playing Jodee in Rob Carlton’s entertaining TV drama, Chandon Pictures.

Julian Poster

In what seems to have been a natural progression for Moore and his filmmaking talents, he has recently turned his hand towards writing and directing for the screen with his imaginative new short film, Julian. This shift to behind the camera appears to have paid off. Julian has recently earned Moore the Flickerfest Special Jury Prize for Best Short Film and the Crystal Bear Generation K+ at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival in February. He claims the key to creative success is simply not being afraid to create, of taking a good idea and making it into something tangible. Moore thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative filmmaking process and was particularly taken with his young cast. He is now keen to pursue a career that is both in front of and behind the camera. Perhaps, once again, inspiration can be traced back to Australia’s great auteur, Peter Weir.

Matthew Moore is one of our newest AACTA members, and we’re proud to welcome such emerging filmmakers into the new Australian Academy. In coming months, we look forward to sharing more of these profiles with you as we turn the Member Spotlight onto more performers and practitioners – both those working at home and abroad.

AFI | AACTA: Where did you grow up?

Matthew Moore: I was born in Frankston, Victoria but my formative years were in Canberra. I left Canberra at age 18 for University.

AFI | AACTA: What first inspired you to become an actor?

Matthew Moore: I wanted to be an actor from a very young age. I think the inspiration came from just doing it, experiencing it. I remember having to act out Burke and Wills’ journey across Australia in Year five and thinking then that this could be my thing. I would go to the local library and flick through old acting books. I’d pore over black and white photos of Ralph Richardson or Laurence Olivier wearing an outrageous latex nose, and be blown away by their ability to transform from role to role. By early high school, I knew that I wanted to audition for drama school.  But I kept it to myself until I absolutely had to come clean to a careers advisor in Year 12. Up to that point, acting was something I had only ever explored in drama class and in annual school musicals so I was hyper-aware of how ridiculous saying I wanted to act professionally would sound. My family was ultimately very supportive of my decision.

AFI | AACTA: You studied at WAAPA and were recruited for the role of Keith Morrison in The Dish, after Jane Kennedy saw your graduation showcase performance in 1998. This must’ve been an outstanding final performance and a bit of a dream come true. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like studying performing arts at WAAPA and then debuting in The Dish?

Matthew Moore: WAAPA was a special time for me and the work I did there still forms the foundations of my work. It prepared me for the industry. At that time, we had outstanding teachers at WAAPA such as Andrew LLoyd and Nick Enright. You’re working on your craft (voice, movement and acting) from 10am to 6pm, five days a week, and then performances on top of that, so it’s truly a vocational training. People either seem to love or hate drama school but I had a good balance of being challenged and nurtured.

Upon graduating, The Dish was my first professional gig. I had grown up listening to the D-Generation and watching The Late Show and Frontline. I was a huge fan of their (Working Dog’s) work. I remember in my first meeting with my agent, Lisa Mann, I said my dream would be to work with the guys from Working Dog. At the time, I didn’t know Jane Kennedy had seen my graduation show. A couple of weeks later, Working Dog asked me to fly down to Melbourne to meet them all and to discuss a role they had in mind for me. In hindsight, this may have set up somewhat unrealistic expectations for my next few meetings with Lisa Mann! Working on the film was as much fun as you’d expect. They are exceptional writers and have a great trust of actors.

AFI | AACTA: Since then, you have acted consistently across both film and television. Is there a significant difference to the way in which you approach these different formats? Do you prefer one to the other?

Matthew Moore: I really don’t have a preference. To be honest the majority of my work has been in the theatre. That’s where there is the most significant difference for the actor, the difference between the stage and any form of screen work. I think the joy is being able to work across stage, television and film. Each medium has different challenges and feeds you in a different way. The industry is likely to pull you in a particular direction but if you can find a balance it’s very rewarding.

AFI | AACTA: What is the meatiest role you’ve ever had?

Matthew Moore: Well the roles I would describe as ‘meaty’ would be the roles I have played in the theatre. That’s where I’ve had the opportunities to play some of the great roles in Shakespeare, Webster, Goldoni etc. In terms of film and television, I often think of what’s the most fun I’ve had. The most fun I’ve had in television was playing Jodee in Chandon Pictures, written and directed by Rob Carlton. I actually met Rob at the auditions for Chandon Pictures. I was the reader. We spent the day auditioning actors and just had a ball. He called me a week later and said he had written a role for me, playing Josh Lawson’s boss. Jodee was like a Wall Street Wolf. He was a finance man with a porche, a beautiful wife, a penchant for cocaine and happened to own a gay nightclub – only from the mind of Rob Carlton! When jobs are that fun, you just want the series to go on forever. Incidentally, it stopped at two series.

AFI | AACTA: Was turning away from acting towards writing, directing and producing your own short film a natural progression for you? How challenging and/or rewarding was this transition?

Matthew Moore: It was natural in that I’d always wanted to do it. When I was 16/17 years old I was equally interested in filmmaking and acting and made a couple of short films at the time. Then I just went down the acting path, training at WAAPA, spending years in the theatre and then on to working in film and television. By the time I looked up, more than ten years had gone by and I felt like it was time to start nurturing the filmmaking side of things again. I also felt it was important to create something myself. As an actor you are always helping to fulfill someone else’s creative vision. It’s a very healthy thing for an actor to do I think – to experience creativity from the other side and drive your own vision. I found it very empowering. It was great to work with all the different departments in a much more meaningful way. Film is so collaborative and by stepping behind the camera I really got to experience and appreciate the crew’s expertise much more.


Ed Oxenbould on the set of JULIAN

AFI |AACTA: Julian is your first short film. Where did the initial inspiration for this film come from? Was there anything in particular that you wanted to explore/capture in this film?

Matthew Moore: Before I had the idea for the film, I met Ed Oxenbould and Morgana Davies at an audition. They were both incredible little actors, both 10 years old, and I thought I’d love to make a short film with them one day, if I ever had the right idea. So, my initial inspiration was simply wanting to work with these two actors. About six months later, I had an idea for the first scene and the general conceit of the film. It was a good fit for the two of them. I won’t say what that general conceit was as there are some local festivals coming up and I’d love for people to experience the film afresh. The main idea I wanted to explore, however, was about a little boy who needs to speak his truth and identifying where that desire comes from. The original idea I’d come up with ended up becoming the icing on the cake.

AFI | AACTA: Is there a particular message that you are trying to communicate in this film or are you more interested in leaving it up to the individual to create his or her own meaning?

Matthew Moore: I think a level of ambiguity is always interesting and if you’ve managed to create discussion, I think you’ve had a win. The theme of speaking your truth is a clear one, I think, and the last line in the film gives a clue as to the side I personally lean towards. I certainly wanted the audience to follow and be with this little boy.

AFI|AACTA: Ed Oxenbould has been praised for his extremely convincing and disarming portrayal of the young Julian. Was this Ed’s first film performance?

Matthew Moore: Ed’s done some bits and pieces but he’s about to do a whole lot more. A friend of mine who is a writer saw the film, subsequently showed it to a very high profile producer and as a result Ed is about to make his debut in a new prime time TV show as a series regular. They cast him without an audition. I can’t say anymore than that at this stage. I believe it is being announced in the coming weeks. I’m thrilled for him.

Ed Oxenbould and Matthew Moore on the set of Julian

Ed Oxenbould and Matthew Moore on the set of JULIAN

AFI | AACTA: What was it like to be on the other side of the camera and to direct such a young person in this role?

Matthew Moore: Directing Ed and the other kids was really no different from directing adults. In some regards, it was easier. They are all very talented and professional. They had all been on sets before and knew the drill. They were open and available and took direction incredibly well. I think when working with kids it is important to have a very clear idea of what you want. We did have one rehearsal day, for an hour, where I got the three main kids together to run the main scene and I did have a moment that day, when I thought ‘Oh my god what was I thinking?’ The kids were sussing each other out and it was a little bit like spinning plates – one would get going and the others would lose focus. Sometimes I’d give direction and think ‘Nope, they’re not listening at all.’ But then we’d do a take and it would all be there. They were soaking everything up. Come shoot day, they were amazing. We had to move extremely quickly and they just bounced along. The best thing about Ed Oxenbould, Morgana Davies, Joseph Famularo and Will Cottle was that they are just such great people. They made the shoot fun.

AFI | AACTA: Julian has earned you the Special Jury Prize for Best Short Film at Flickerfest and more recently the Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. How does it feel to have won these prestigious awards with your first foray into filmmaking?

Crystal Bear

Matthew Moore (centre) accepting his Crystal Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival with Festival Section Director Maryanne Redpath and Section Co-director Florian Weghorn

Matthew Moore: Flickerfest was the first time I saw the film on the big screen and in front of an audience. That was very rewarding in itself. Listening to people react and enjoy the film in a festival atmosphere. Flickerfest has showcased a lot of local filmmaking talent over the years, many of whom have gone on to make feature films. It was great to compete against some of those filmmakers, filmmakers I’ve admired for a long time.

The Berlin International Film Festival had always been a dream for me. In the back of my mind, I’d always wanted to have a film screen in competition there. For some reason, it was the festival, of the big four, that had captured my imagination. So, it was quite surreal to experience it. Berlin’s an incredible city for artists all year round but during the festival it’s incredible. There are so many creative types in one place: directors, producers, writers, actors, cinematographers all smashed into Potsdammer Platz together. You’ll see an amazing Dutch feature in the morning, an independent American film in the afternoon, perhaps catch a program of shorts and then meet all the creative teams that night at the bar. You’ve seen all their work and they’ve seen yours. It’s incredibly exciting. Just in the shorts section alone, I competed against films from 23 countries. It’s like the United Nations of filmmaking. Winning the Crystal Bear at the end of those 10 days was very special. The whole experience has been an eye opener, a great focuser and very inspiring.

Crystal Bear

Matthew Moore with his wife Genevieve Hegney and the Crystal Bear Award

AFI | AACTA: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your career? What have been the highlights? What are you most looking forward to?

Matthew Moore: There are just so many challenging aspects of the industry that you have to navigate, particularly as an actor. I think, as actors, we try to make sense of these challenging aspects when often there is no sense to be made. Personally, I find not getting the opportunity to audition for a role harder than not getting a job. If you’ve had an audition, at least you’ve been in the mix and had an opportunity to act that day. More than once, I’ve had to fight like crazy to get into a room and then ultimately won the role. In terms of other challenges, watch Fiery Hawk on YouTube. Most actors I know who’ve seen it, regardless of personal success, feel like it sums up the actors experience… and it’s funny.

When I think of what my highlights have been I think of the people I have been lucky enough to work with. The relationships I’ve forged. The friendships I’ve made. For me, it’s the people. And what am I looking forward to? Well I’m looking forward to writing and directing more. I’m really excited by this shift and exploring my own creativity. I’m looking forward to nurturing my own ideas more and balancing that with my acting career.

AFI | AACTA: If you had to name three mentors, who would they be?

Matthew Moore: I actually love the idea of having a mentor. Whilst I haven’t really had an official mentor, I have been lucky enough to have people champion me and I have very talented and supportive friends. So, I have to mention more than three. Two of my closest friends happen to be writer/directors, which has been very handy as I move into this area.

Michael Petroni wrote and directed Till Human Voices Wake Us and has been working as a writer in Hollywood for many years, having written such films as: The Rite, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of Dawn Treader and Queen of the Damned. Michael was the first person I pitched Julian too and he encouraged me to write it just as I had pitched it. As Michael is now spending more time in Australia, it’s been great to bounce ideas off him, read each other’s scripts and get his advice.

Tony McNamara, who wrote and directed The Rage in Placid Lake and has written a prolific amount of television including Tangle, Love My Way and The Secret Life of Us, has also been great to bounce ideas off. More importantly, he also makes a delightful roast lamb with baked vegetables.

Steven Soderbergh was great when I told him I was planning on writing and directing my first short film. He gave me a fantastic reading list along with a list of films to watch for their various filmmaking aspects. There were some for editing, writing, cinematography (colour and black and white) and of course for directing. So, I’ve been devouring all of that.

John Bell has certainly been the most supportive and nurturing in regards to my acting career. He has given me many opportunities to play some of the great character roles in Shakespeare.

Annie Swann is a wonderful acting coach for both stage and screen and has been great to work with over the years.

My wife, Genevieve Hegney, insists she is both my muse and mentor. She has certainly been incredibly supportive and is, of course, the first person I bounce ideas off.

Finally, I often think about the late Nick Enright, writer, director, actor and extraordinary teacher. I was lucky enough to work with Nick in my 2nd and 3rd year at WAAPA and to this day, I still carry his wisdom and generosity with me.

AFI | AACTA: What advice would you give upcoming Australian filmmakers wanting to break into the industry?

Matthew Moore: Create something. There really isn’t any excuse these days. The technology is just so accessible. Julian was made for $7000. We didn’t receive any funding. We raised the money through a quiz night and through the generosity of friends and colleagues who either contributed their time, expertise or money. During the festival run, we’ve been competing against some films with budgets of over $150,000 but the great thing about short filmmaking is that it’s all about the strength of an idea. If you’ve got an idea, grab a 5D camera and make it. Create something.

AFI | AACTA: What is your all time favourite Australian film? Why?

Matthew Moore: I have to mention a few…The first Australian film I remember really having an impact on me in my youth was Peter Weir’s Gallipoli. Gallipoli is clearly an important part of our history that continues to define us and somehow Peter tapped into that in a profound way. I remember someone making the observation that the film was just as beautiful as the letters and poetry that the diggers would send back to their loved ones. Peter Weir is one of the top filmmakers working in the world today. His body of work is incredible.

Proof is one of my all time favourite Australian films. I love a writer/director with a unique voice. Jocelyn Moorhouse created an intimate, funny and moving film about trust. What a great pitch line it must have been… “Well, there’s this blind photographer…”

I also clearly remember the first time I saw Romper Stomper, from writer/director Geoffrey Wright. I had never seen Australia portrayed like that before, it was like a slap in the face. What I remember most from this film is the energy with which it was made and the power of the three main performances. Daniel Pollock, Jacqueline McKenzie and Russell Crowe.

Honourable mentions go to the Ausploitation films Razorback and Patrick for freaking me out and haunting my 10-year-old mind.

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AACTA Member Spotlight: Interview with Chris Bessounian

Chris Bessounian is Australia’s first recipient of the Academy Nicholl Fellows Award. The Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting is a $30,000 cash prize presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to a small selection of emerging screenwriters every year. This year, seven writers were selected for the prestigious award, and among them were Chris and his partner Tianna Langham, for their harrowing screenplay, Guns and Saris.

Chris and Tianna

Chris and Tianna accepting their Academy Nicholl Fellows Award

Inspired by true events, Guns and Saris follows the remarkable journey of a determined young Indian woman who, in response to upper-caste violence, forms an all-female militia. Guns and Saris is not Chris and Tianna’s first collaborative work. They also worked together on the short film The Kolaborator, which received accolades at the 2007 Angelus Student Film Festival. Theirs is a special kind of working relationship, an enviable creative partnership that operates in simpatico with the goal of producing art  imbued with character, strength and integrity.

Chris grew up in Sydney and spent time living abroad in both London and Brazil, before finally settling in Hollywood.  Over the years, he has turned his hand at acting, editing and cinematography, but his true calling is writing and directing for the screen. He promises to one day return to Australia – if we find the perfect underdog story, one full of intrigue and suspense, to lure him back!

Chris is not a fan of sitting in a darkened room in front of a computer and rather tellingly, his fascination with the human condition, the complexity of people’s ethical codes and the appeal of a good story can all be traced back to Peter Weir’s epic historical drama, Gallipoli. Here Chris speaks about his work, its challenges, his aspirations and what its like living in LA.

AFI: Where did you grow up in Australia?

Chris Bessounian: Sydney. I grew up in Chatswood, moved to Paddington, then Bondi after I left home.

AFI: What inspired you to become a screenwriter?

Chris Bessounian: My first intention was actually to become an actor. When I realised I wasn’t so good at it, I turned my interest to cinematography and editing. I never planned to pursue screenwriting until I made my short film, The Kolaborator, and enjoyed the process so much that my partner, Tianna, and I decided to write a feature film. The challenge of the craft was so invigorating and rewarding that we kept on writing more screenplays. I also loved the empowering aspect of screenwriting, how all it takes is your imagination to create something unlike almost every other role in film, which requires financing and endless logistics. With screenwriting, the only thing to stop you from doing it, is yourself.

AFI: What is your all time favourite Australian film? Why?

Chris Bessounian: Gallipoli. This film has had a great influence on me and on the stories I wish to tell. It was from this film that I first really learned about the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey, but also felt and experienced the emotional journeys of those involved. I love films that tackle the micro against the macro: love against war, friendship against a battlefield. Situations which force characters to tackle life’s most difficult moments, and make the most terrifying decisions, pushing us all to ask, “what would I do if I was in this situation?” One of my screenplays, Butcher of Bosnia, deals with similar themes and struggles as Gallipoli. But rather than against the backdrop of World War I, it’s set amidst a more recent conflict – the war in the Balkans.  If only Peter Weir would also direct that!

AFI: How long have you been living in LA? What first took you there?

Chris Bessounian: I’ve been in LA for 6 years. I studied drama in Sydney, did some theatre, decided it wasn’t for me. I fell into some camera operating gigs and loved the idea of working behind the scenes. Shortly after, I left Australia and spent a year in Brazil then two in London. I finally landed in LA, enrolled in film school with the intent of becoming an editor but realised I didn’t enjoy sitting in a dark room staring at a computer and decided to try to direct something. Just before this I had read a riveting book about the war in the Balkans so decided to dramatise some of the moments I read about, and craft them into a short film.

AFI: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced during your career?

Chris Bessounian: The kinds of stories both Tianna and I are drawn to aren’t the usual Hollywood fare. Guns and Saris is the story of an untouchable woman in rural India who takes up arms and creates an all-female militia to protect herself and other untouchable women from upper-caste violence.

Another of our screenplays is Butcher of Bosnia, based on real life events during the conflict in the Balkans concerning notorious Serbian General Ratko Mladic, currently on trial at The Hague.

It’s tough sticking to the stories you are drawn to when you receive constant pressure to “write something commercial,” something that will sell in Hollywood. I couldn’t count the amount of times we’ve heard the sentence, “I love the script, but I can’t do anything with this,” which is not particularly fun to hear. 

AFI: Inspired by true events, is there any particular personal motivation for exploring the harrowing premise of Guns and Saris?

Chris Bessounian: Both Tianna and I love to explore and learn about people, places and ideas that we may not normally be exposed to. I am very struck by underdog stories, tales of people overcoming great odds regardless of whether or not, on the surface, I have anything in common with them. Writing is a great way of constantly learning, constantly being moved by new people and ideas. That’s what Guns and Saris has done for me. It has made me passionately furious about the plight of millions of untouchable people, who, without writing the script and spending years researching, I may never know much about.

AFI: Is there a strong message that you want to get across in your scripts? Or do you prefer to leave it up to your audience to create their own meaning?

Chris Bessounian: Everything we write starts from a personal story, the events surrounding that personal story – war, politics, religion – are a backdrop. What is important to us and I think what resonates in our screenplays is how these grand events are more than just numbers in a newspaper, more than images we see for a second or two on the evening news. They have an incredibly profound and real effect on the individuals living through them, a human toll. If by exposing an audience to the small details of lives they’re not familiar with, and by doing so creating an emotional and/or intellectual response, I feel satisfied. I believe it’s by learning about the lives of others, by feeling an ounce of what they feel, that humanity is drawn closer together.  

AFI: You and your creative partner, Tianna Langham, previously worked together on the film The Kolaborator, how has this experience contributed to and/or shaped your current writing/script development style?

Chris Bessounian: This was the first screenplay we worked on as a team. We discovered that we worked well together and really understood each other. Obviously each of us has specific strengths and weaknesses, but it seems where I have a weakness, Tianna shows strength and visa versa. It’s a perfect balance. There’s also the added bonus of a male/female perspective. It seems to be working out.

AFI: You and Tianna won the Angelus Act One Screenplay Award for The Kolaborator in 2007 at The Angelus Student Film Festival, what does it mean for you now four years later to win an Academy fellowship for your craft?

Chris Bessounian: This was the first screenplay award we’d ever won and a huge boost to our confidence as writers. Even with a partner and a second perspective, sometimes you wonder if what you’ve been writing for the last 12 months is any good.

The Academy’s fellowship is a huge encouragement and validation. It made us believe that what we write, our voices, and not what some people in Hollywood suggest we should write, is what they responded to. It’s what made them recognise our screenplay and honour it with such a prestigious award. In fact that’s one strong message that came through from the Academy Committee during the awards week for the Nicholl Fellows. “Don’t write what you think you should write, don’t write something derivative, write what you care about and write it in your unique voice.”

AFI: How does it feel to be the first Australian to win this Award?

Chris Bessounian: Humbling, I know other Australians have come close, many have reached the Quarterfinals, Semi-finals and even the top 10, no mean feat considering, this year there were a record 6,730 submissions from 62 countries. The Quarterfinals are the top 320 or so, the Semi-finals the top 120 or so.

AFI: What advice would you give upcoming Australian screenwriters wanting to make it in Hollywood?

Chris Bessounian: Keep writing despite the disappointment and rejection that may come along the way. But beyond that I think the real skill is to be open to feedback, and learn how to dissect and apply it. None of our work would be much good if it wasn’t for the honesty of a trusted group of mentors and friends who read all of our work. Criticism hurts, but the pain pays off when the result is a much more compelling and better crafted screenplay.

AFI: Do you see yourself returning to work in Australia in the future?

Chris Bessounian: I’d love to. Tianna’s never been and is dying to. We have a couple of Australia-centric ideas floating around, not sure if it’ll be one of those. If anyone has a great Australian story that would make a riveting film, let us know!

Bill Hunter, the big Australian

Vale William John “Bill” Hunter,  1940 – 2011

Bill Hunter, Mel Gibson & William Anderson at the AFI Awards in 1981

Bill Hunter, Mel Gibson and William Anderson at the AFI Awards in 1981, where Hunter won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for 'Gallipoli'.

“(Acting) is a job. It is a craft, but there’s no art involved. Anyone who says there’s any more to it than that, is full of bullshit. That upsets the purists but never mind, they don’t work as much as I do.” – Bill Hunter

The Australian Film Institute mourns the loss of AFI Award winning actor Bill Hunter on Saturday 21 May 2011. He was aged 71. AFI Chair Alan Finney says: “It was my honour to work with Bill Hunter on many films and whether big or modest productions, he was always a professional.  His passion for our Industry and his strong personality has made him a powerful influence on us all. He played a most significant part in the success and credibility of our films over many years.”

Here Sarah Finney remembers and celebrates a great actor and a mate to many.

A stalwart of the Australian screen, Bill Hunter appeared in over 100 film and television productions over the past fifty years.

One of Australia’s greatest actors, Bill Hunter personified the Australian character. In a prolific career he starred in some of Australia’s most celebrated films and television series, creating some of the Australian screen’s most enduring and iconic characters.

While younger audiences will be most familiar with Bill Hunter from his roles in Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel’s Wedding, Hunter got his start in 1959 with a small role in Stanley Kramer’s adaptation of Nevil Shute’s classic novel On the Beach which starred Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and Ava Gardner.

Hunter then appeared in a number of TV series in the 1960s and early 1970s, most notably Spyforce, Division 4, Homicide and later Prisoner (1979).

At the forefront of the Renaissance

Hunter was at the forefront of the Australian cinema renaissance, appearing in Esben Storm’s 27A (one of his first leading roles), The Man from Hong Kong, Eliza Fraser, Mad Dog Morgan (his first AFI Award nominated performance), Backroads and In Search of Anna before taking on the role that would make him a star.

In 1978, Hunter played the starring role of Len Maguire in Philip Noyce’s Newsfront. Newsfront is set in the late 1940s and follows Cinetone newsreel cameraman Len and his colleagues during a time of great political and social change in Australia. Considered by many to be Australia’s finest film, Newsfront won 8 AFI Awards that year including Best Film. Hunter received his second AFI Award nomination and first win for Best Actor in a Lead Role.

Hunter went straight back to work, appearing in Hard Knocks (1980) and …Maybe This Time (1981).

Hunter soon followed up Newsfront with a pivotal role in another iconic Australian film Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981). Hunter played Major Barton, appearing in perhaps the most memorable final scene in Australian film history, for which he won his third AFI Award nomination and second win for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Gallipoli was followed by a string of film and television roles including Far East and he teamed up again with director Philip Noyce on Heatwave and The Dismissal. The Dismissal heralded the era of the great Australian mini-series and Hunter went onto appear in many of them including Scales of Justice, The Last Bastion, Eureka Stockade and A Fortunate Life. (Indeed it was this flourishing of television production in the early 1980s that led to the establishment of the AFI Awards for Television in 1986. In 1989 Hunter starred in the telemovie Police State, receiving his fourth AFI nomination and third win, for Best Lead Actor in a Telefeature that same year. Around this time Hunter was also in Rikky & Pete and Mull. Next came Esben Storm’s Deadly, mini-series The Leaving of Liverpool, Phoenix and Police Rescue.

A beloved fixture in the 1990s

In 1992 Hunter appeared in two of the most high profile Australian films that year, Gillian Armstrong’s The Last Days of Chez Nous (for which he was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and Baz Lurhmann’s Strictly Ballroom.

Hunter was next seen in Broken Highway, Shotgun Wedding, The Custodian and mini-series Stark. Hunter then shot two films back-to-back, Stephan Elliott’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and P.J. Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding. For some it’s the ABBA songs and similar ‘grotesque’ style that links these two films. For me it is Bill Hunter. In Priscilla, he played mechanic Bob, a fair dinkum Aussie bloke eking out an existence in the Outback. In Muriel’s Wedding, Bill played Bill Heslop, the big man in a small town who has little time for his wife and children.

Not surprisingly, Bill Hunter was again nominated for an AFI Award for his performance in Muriel’s Wedding. (The 1994 AFI Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role went to Hunter’s contemporary Max Cullen for Spider & Rose.)

As always, Hunter continued to work in film and television. He appeared in Blue Murder, Everynight… Everynight, River Street, Frontier, Road to Nhill, SeaChange and The Violent Earth to name a few.

Fittingly Hunter appeared in Russell Mulcahy’s television remake of On the Beach, in the small role of Prime Minister Smeaton.

The voice behind the face

In 2003 Hunter starred in Crackerjack, Bad Eggs and Horseplay and was one of the few Australian actors to ‘be heard’ in Pixar’s Finding Nemo.

Indeed, if Hunter is one of the most recognisable faces of the Australian screen, he is also without a doubt one of Australia’s most recognisable voices. Over the years Hunter has lent himself to many an advertising campaign, most famously as the face of BHP ‘the Big Australian’, the Keating Government’s Working Nation campaign, ALP campaigns and most recently for the AFL.

More film and television roles followed throughout the 2000s notably Tom White, The Square, Australia, The Pacific and most recently he lent his voice to the animated feature Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.

And we haven’t seen the last of his roles…

Hunter will be next seen in the soon to be released Kriv Stenders’ Red Dog, Simon Wincer’s The Cup (playing another legend, trainer Bart Cummings) and Amanda Jane’s The Wedding Party.

Hunter’s contribution to the Australian film and television industry was immeasurable. Constantly working, Hunter was one of the country’s most in demand  actors. A big man with a big heart, he will be greatly missed.

Bill was a big man with a big heart and he was a natural storyteller. I grew up watching him on screen, where he embodied the Australian character. I was privileged to know him a little. Under that gruff, sometimes intimidating exterior, he was warm, funny and kind. Hooroo Mate.

Sarah Finney

AFI Awards Note: To date, Hunter has won 3 AFI Awards and been nominated 6 times.

To see clips of Bill Hunter’s work on screen, visit this excellent collection on Australia Screen, the NFSA’s online resource.

A full list of Bill Hunter’s credits can be found here on IMDB

A memorial service for Bill Hunter will be held at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on Thursday 26 May at 2pm.

Do you remember Bill Hunter, personally, professionally or just as a film and television watcher? The AFI welcomes your anecdotes, comments and thoughts below this post.