Join in our live Facebook chat with AACTA Award nominee Felicity Price

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Felicity Price is an actress and writer whose involvement with feature film Wish You Were Here is extensive. Not only did she co-write the script with her husband, director Kieran Darcy-Smith, but she stars in the lead role as Alice, a pregnant mother and wife whose carefree getaway to Cambodia goes horribly wrong. It’s a powerful film and a powerful performance, and Felicity is nominated for Best Lead Actress, and Best Original Screenplay (with Darcy-Smith). Join in our live discussion to chat about her creative processes and about the collaborative process of film writing and shooting.

How does it work? First, make sure you’re friends with us on the AACTA Facebook page. Click here to join our Felicity Price event page and when you join it will be added to your Facebook calendar. We’ll post event photo (above) to our FB page just before 12 midday on Tuesday. You can then comment on the image the way you would with any photo, and Felicity will log in to answer. Simple!

For background reading – and to remind you about the film Wish You Were Here, you can read this interview with Felicity and Kieran Darcy-Smith.

The winners of the 2nd AACTA Awards will be announced on 28th and 30th January. The winners of the AACTA Award categories in which Felicity is nominated will be announced on Wednesday 30 January at The Star Event Centre in Sydney, and broadcast on Network Ten at 9.30pm. Be watching on the night to catch all the action.

 

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

Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Cinematic Oasis: The Homebake Cinema Pavilion

Actor, writer and director Kieran Darcy-Smith is the curator of the short film program held at the Homebake Cinema Pavilion each year.

You’ll recognise Kieran Darcy-Smith from the numerous and varied roles he’s played in Australian film and television – including key performances in features like September, Animal Kingdom and the multi-award winning short film Miracle Fish. On television, he’s appeared in everything from Water Rats to Going Home to Stupid Stupid Man and My Place. Yet Darcy-Smith has always been an actor with a keen interest in working behind the camera as well as in front of it. He’s one of the co-founders of the prolific Blue-Tongue Films collective (together with Nash and Joel Edgerton, David Michôd, Luke Doolan and Spencer Susser). He’s been steadily honing his craft by writing and directing short films and several of these have been remarkably successful – Bloodlock won the Most Popular Film award at the 1999 Flickerfest International Film Festival as well as the St Kilda Film Festival prize, while The Island won the 2000 Tropfest Tropicana Award. In a few months time, we’ll see Darcy-Smith’s feature film directorial debut – Wish You Were Here, starring Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer and Felicity Price.

Right now, however, Darcy-Smith is busy preparing for the 2011 Homebake Music Film and Arts Festival, held in The Domain, in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens on Saturday, 3 December. Darcy-Smith is the curator of the short film program – an involvement stretching back ten years to 2000, when the film component was introduced.

Roy Billing in Aden Young's 'The Rose of Ba Ziz'.

The Homebake Cinema Pavilion is a showcase of Australian and New Zealand short filmmaking talent – and unlike competitive festivals, the films need not be premieres. This year’s line-up includes classic and well-known shorts like Nash Edgerton’s Spider, Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Cicada and Warwick Thornton’s Nana, as well as lesser-known titles – Russell Kilbey’s Rainman goes to RocKwiz; Aden Young’s The Rose of Ba Ziz; and Christopher Stollery’s Dik.

Here we chat to Darcy-Smith about the intricacies of curating the program, and the kinds of  short films that he loves – and hates. He also he paints a picture of what festival-goers can expect when they enter the quiet and darkened space of the Homebake Cinema Pavilion. And for those of you wondering what shooting his feature film on location in Cambodia was like, he makes it sound like it was both heaven and hell! Read on to find out more.

AFI: For those who’ve never been to Homebake before, can you describe how the cinema pavilion will fit in with the rest of the festival? Will it be hard to hear the films with the noise factor? What is the viewing venue actually like? How many screens, how much seating? Paint us a picture.

Kieran Darcy-Smith: Well, what began as a very modest, 50 seat, single screen, Beta tape arrangement in a canvas tent has now expanded somewhat. The last few years we’ve been based in the Pavilion Restaurant in the Domain – which we take over and re-dress/re-fit-out specifically for the event. It’s a great space and we’ve managed to design a screen and seating arrangement that makes full use of it. There are two large digital rear-projection screens (with a small live stage in between), two smaller plasma screens at either end of the room, state-of-the-art projection and audio to cater for both the films and the music acts – and the entire space is blacked out, with seating for around 150, plus loads of standing room. We’ve also configured things so as to pretty much eliminate the peripheral noise from the bands outside and it just all works really nicely. It’s comfortable and just a nice space to disappear to if you need to escape the music, the crowds or the weather for a while.

The set-up for the Homebake Cinema Pavilion. A space to escape the noise, the weather, the crowds..

AFI: How did the selection process work in terms of curating the program? Is there a call for entries? Do you have a team assisting you, or is it very much a personal project? Was it always a dead cert that a Blue Tongue film would be in there?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: The idea in the very beginning was just to provide a space for folks to relax away from the music and to enjoy some cool, locally-made short films. And of course there was always the bonus opportunity of our being able to promote any of our own work – which was something the promoters – as supporters of what we were doing and, I guess, of what we represented in terms of a local, pro-active arts collective – really encouraged us to do. So there’s always been something in the mix that’s come from Blue-Tongue, or that Blue-Tongue has some association with. It might be one or more of our short films, or the trailer and/or posters for an upcoming film. The selection process has become a little more tailored and specific over the years in terms of an overall charter I guess – but always, ultimately, it’s a clear-cut, two-way thing of keeping audiences entertained and happy throughout the day and promoting our local culture and filmmakers.

In terms of our own promotion this year we’ll be playing the trailer for my own upcoming feature, Wish You Were Here, (opening in March/April through Hopscotch) as well as repeating Nash’s Spider – which I’m repeating purely as it’s so often requested. That film is just so unbelievably popular and entertaining and people continue to want to see it, again and again. It’s kind of a bomb-proof audience pleaser.  In terms of the selection process in general – I essentially keep my ear to the ground over the 12 months between each Homebake, as well as email friends and colleagues who are attending a lot of short film festivals and try to gauge what’s been working for audiences and impressing folks. Often there are great new films out there but which have premiere restrictions and so we can’t screen them until the following year. Generally though there’ll be a strong handful of recent films from local filmmakers that I feel should be given as much exposure and awareness as possible, because I think they illuminate the incredible diversity of talent we have in this country. And Homebake provides a huge audience for their work. The films play in a repeat loop, so there’s a lot of people get a chance to see them throughout the day.

Daniel P. Jones in Amiel Courtin-Wilson's astonishing short film 'Cicada'.

Daniel P. Jones in Amiel Courtin-Wilson's astonishing short film 'Cicada'.

As well as the more recent films and the guaranteed crowd pleasers though (and on this crowd pleaser note, I always include a couple of the most popular Tropfest crowd pleasers from over the years; people simply love seeing them again), I do like to include early short films from filmmakers who have since gone on to work successfully as feature film or TV series directors and/or producers. I think these films provide a great source of inspiration as well as show how these filmmakers got their start. Over the years I’ve had films from Gregor Jordan, Greg Mclean, Rowan Woods, Sarah Watt, David Michod, Kriv Srenders, Glendyn Ivin and others. This year I’m repeating Cicada from Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Bastardy, Hail) and for a number of reasons: I think this Melbourne filmmaker is very special and original and brave – and I want people to be aware of his work. And Cicada is just such a great film in its own right; it’s strongly representative of the filmmaker’s individual approach and aesthetic and it’s extremely powerful, effective short-form story-telling. If enough people see Cicada and respond to it then they might look up some of this guy’s feature work. But he’s just one. Nana by Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) is another great example. As is Carmichael and Shane’, by Rob Carlton and Alex Weinress (Chandon Pictures).

James Lee and Hania Lee's striking animation, 'Tarboy'.

On the flip-side, each year there’s one or more great films by newcomers that I have just stumbled upon and simply want to get in front of people. Tarboy (James Lee) is one this year – a beautifully realised short animation. And a very special 30-min documentary from Russell Kilby – Rainman Goes To Rockwiz.


AFI: As an accomplished and very experienced short filmmaker yourself, what is it that you love about the format of short films? And what is it that you hate?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: I love short films that successfully move me (could be laughter, despair, shame, fury, warmth, inspiration… whatever) but which also illuminate something very particular about the filmmakers involved; could be their visual style, writing style, sense of rhythm/musicality, subject-matter, approach to sound design or performance… whatever. I love the personal/idiosyncratic. But I also need to be entertained on a fairly base level and not bullshitted. There are basic principles inherent in any/all good story-telling and in order for me to keep watching a story on screen, long or short, then I have a (personal this is) need for those principles to be at play; for them to have been considered and successfully integrated – even if on a purely intuitive, sub-conscious level – by the creators. I don’t like indulgence – and I have a very short attention span. A short film might be just one shot, 15 mins long, of a brick wall. But if the filmmaker has somehow managed to keep me looking at the screen and, as a result, I’ve walked away at the end of it feeling satisfied and moved in some way – then good. It’s worked. (Kinda hard to imagine that happening though.) Basically, if you want it to work well, and by that I mean that you manage to hook an audience from the get-go, suspend them and carry them along for a bit before spitting them out the other end feeling satisfied and (ideally) moved, then a short film is a very difficult thing to write and to execute. So hats off to anyone who can do that. And I guess the ones that don’t do that, for me (and we are taking about art here, so it’s all subjective anyway…), then those are the ones I don’t like.

AFI: As you mentioned before, the beauty of this program is that these films don’t have to be premieres – in fact a lot of them have done the rounds and will be seen by Homebake audiences  for the second or third time. Is this a positive way of building a kind of Australasian short film canon?

An old audience favourite, 2006 Tropfest winner 'Carmichael & Shane', written, produced and directed by Alex Wienress and Rob Carlton (pictured).

Kieran Darcy-Smith: …the short answer is yes. The idea of including a handful of older, previously successful  films means that those works don’t disappear. When I think of the Australian feature film canon, I think of a broad cross-section of movies from across several decades. The same obviously applies to music, literature and to most of the arts in general. I don’t think shorts should just be a one-off experience for either the filmmakers or the audience. They can be (and should be) considered to be unique, independent and personal pieces of work; snapshots representative not only of their time, both culturally and actually, but, moreover, of the filmmakers at that stage in their career.

AFI: If you could pick one film from the lineup that readers should seek out for its challenging, surprising or ground-breaking material, what would it be?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: Aden Young’s The Rose of Ba Ziz is very special and very unique; a wonderfully realised, highly stylised/idiosyncratic, ultra-resourceful and clearly personal piece of short cinematic art. One to look out for. And if you haven’t already seen it then Cicada certainly meets all of your (above) criteria. Definitely unique and effective.

AFI: We’re really looking forward to seeing your feature film Wish You Were Here. What has been the most challenging thing for you as a director in the move from shorts to features? And what can tell us about where the film is at right now?

Kieran Darcy-Smith: Thanks. Can’t wait for you to see it. I can tell you that the film will be released by Hopscotch locally, and Level K internationally, early next year (March/April at this stage) and that I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s everything I ever wanted it to be, and more, and I absolutely, honestly, don’t have a single regret. Wouldn’t change a frame. I also have to say I just relished the entire process of making it. Every bit and piece: pre-production (one of the happiest times of my life), shooting, cutting, sound, music, grading, titles, trailer, poster, the lot. Loved it. Didn’t want it to end. Of course there were challenges right throughout (fell into a sewer up to my neck on my first day in Cambodia; my Two-year-old fell out of bed onto his face on the concrete floor of our hotel room and smashed his teeth out; my wife and I both had dysentery and the flu concurrently, for a long time, umm….) but in a mad kind of way I really enjoyed them (the challenges) as well. Not sure what it was, but I really did get off on the pressure and the stakes. I’ve never felt more alive, put it that way.

Wish You Were Here

Still from 'Wish You Were Here', starring L-R: Felicity Collins, Antony Starr, Teresa Palmer & Joel Edgerton.

But….to answer your question: the most challenging thing for me, or for any director moving from shorts to a feature film is script. You have to have one. And if you’re not being given one then you have to find a story (not easy) and write it yourself. And it takes a long time to learn how to do that well. So, you kind of have to do your laps. But if you hang in there and you’re patient and dogged and passionate about why you’re doing it (and you’ve made sure to check with objective/outside opinion re whether or not you’re deluding yourself; i.e. not everyone can write a screenplay) – then it’ll all come together eventually. Certainly it  took me a long while. But yeah, script. 100%. Fundamentally the greatest challenge for anyone who wants to get a feature film off the ground.

AFI: Thanks for your time and good luck with the Homebake program!

The Homebake Classic Edition 2011 takes place Saturday, 3 December in Sydney’s Domain.

For Indiewire‘s ‘First Look’ at Wish You Were Here, click here.