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.

Julian

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.

AFI | AACTA: Thank you for sharing your time with us.

Advertisements

AFIciaonados – Your Choice, Your Voice…

Now that the six nominees for the AFI Members’ Choice Award have been decided, we’ve been calling all AFI film aficionados* to submit a 200 word max response on why you thought these films were Australia’s best.

*aficiaonado – a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.

award-nominees-best-film

In the countdown to the announcement of the winner of the AFI Members’ Choice Award on 15 January at the Samsung AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Digital Pictures, we will be profiling two of the six nominated films per week on our blog, along with the best member responses on why you voted for them. This week we’re profiling The Eye of the Storm and The Hunter.

The Eye of the Storm

The Eye of the Storm

“The real feeling in this film was conveyed by the slowing down of the pace of the film to match the dying mother. Geoffrey Rush played the role of the greedy son to perfection.”
– AFI member Monica Jacomb, VIC.

“You could hardly get together a more sterling cast for an Australian film than The Eye of the Storm. Judy Davis, Geoffrey Rush and Charlotte Rampling all deliver brilliantly nuanced performances under the assured hand of Fred Schepisi’s direction. Add to that some outstanding production and costume design that evokes both 1970s Sydney and an aristocratic world gone by, and you’ve got a costume drama that can stand up to the best of its British cousins.”
– AFI member Michael Stokes, QLD.

The Hunter

The Hunter

“With its stunning cinematography, sweeping shots and spine-tingling vistas The Hunter captures the sublimity of the Tasmanian wilderness with poignancy and panache.”
– AFI member Lucy Manning, NSW.

“Loved it! It was moving, engaging and beautiful to watch. What wonderful performances by a suite of great actors! I’d like to give particular mention to the two youngsters, Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock…superb!”
– AFI member Jim Trawley, WA.

Next week we’ll be lavishing love on Mad Bastards and Oranges and Sunshine. Don’t miss out on winning a DVD pack of the top six Best Film Nominees for the AFI Audience Choice Award, send in your response today!

Entry Details:
Submit your entry (along with your AFI member number, full name and state in the subject line) to competition@afi.org.au
**Conditions apply: in order to have your response published you need to be an active  AFI member and be willing to have your full name and state disclosed on the AFI Blog **
Thanks to Madman Entertainment and Paramount Pictures for providing DVD copies of the films for our lucky winners!

Trancending the Elements: an interview with Daniel Nettheim, director of The Hunter

Director Daniel Nettheim on location in Tasmania.

Director Daniel Nettheim on location in Tasmania.

At first glance it seems that director Daniel Nettheim has come out of nowhere to direct The Hunter, an ambitious wilderness-set project boasting performances by actors of the calibre and stature of Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Frances O’Connor. But Nettheim has been honing his craft for years. After starting out as a photographer, he attended AFTRS, graduating in 1995. That same year his short film The Beat Manifesto won three AFI Awards – including two for Nettheim, for Best Short Film and Best Screenplay in a Short Film. He’s been steadily employed ever since as a director of commercials, multimedia and a raft of terrific television – including Spirited, Rush, All Saints, The Elephant Princess and The Secret Life of Us.

Based on the acclaimed 1999 novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter follows Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary sent from Europe by a sinister biotech company, to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger and extract its DNA. The search brings him into contact with a bereaved family, and with the competing interests of loggers and environmentalists. Produced by Porchlight’s Vincent Sheehan, with a screenplay by Alice Addison, the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Humphreys. Edited by Roland Gallois, with production design by Steven Jones-Evans and costume design from Emily Seresin, the atmospheric and haunting film features sound design by Sam Petty and Liam Egan, and an original score by Matteo Zingales, Michael Lira and Andrew Lancaster. In other words, it’s a hugely accomplished team, with a raft of credits and awards to their name. Yet as Daniel Nettheim admits, at the end of the day, it’s the director who has to provide answers to the numerous questions that arise as a film is made.

L-R: Daniel Nettheim, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill - on location for The Hunter

L-R: Daniel Nettheim, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill - on location for The Hunter.

In this interview, Nettheim talks about the the experience of shooting in remote and beautiful Tasmania, and explores why he thinks we continue to be fasinated by the elusive Tassie Tiger. He also identifies his most pleasurable and painful aspects of directing films and television, and the difficult art of compromise. He also shares his memories of that distant AFI Awards ceremony, 16 years ago, where he had to juggle his handful of old-style AFI Awards – a collection he was hoping to add to one day, to make up a set of legs for a glass-topped coffee table!

Australian Film Institute: Congratulations on the release of  The Hunter.  Why do you think we continue to be so fascinated with the Tasmanian Tiger? What’s that about?

Daniel Nettheim: It’s an interesting question. To me, and maybe to a lot of people, the Tasmanian Tiger represents the possibility of redemption, perhaps. The idea that if this creature is still out there somewhere, we’ve got a second chance to save it – to do the right thing and redress the wrongs of our colonial past. So I think the myth that it’s still out there somewhere is so attractive because maybe it represents a possibility of appeasing our collective guilt. You know, not just about the tiger, but about the damage we may have done to the environment in our past, when we were less enlightened. That’s one explanation. I also think that there’s just something attractive about the mythology of this creature that’s supposedly extinct, yet there are these intermittent reported sightings.

AFI: Are there really people saying that they’ve seen these creatures in recent years?

Daniel Nettheim: Completely. Oh yeah. We had a guy shooting behind-the-scenes video material when we were down in Tassie, and everywhere we stopped, he would do a little interview with some of the locals. Pretty much everyone had a story. It was either that they knew someone who knew someone, or it was a firsthand account. At the very least, people would have a story of their grandfather, who might have seen one well into the 1950s, twenty years after the last one supposedly died out. In fact, Madman have cut some of this footage together into a little voxpop documentary that they’re putting up on the Facebook page. [Posted below]

Daniel Nettheim: You do sense that there’s not just a hope, but a genuine belief spread amongst many quarters, that the thing is still out there. And the response as to what people would do if they saw one is also pretty telling, because most people say: “I would not say a thing!” or “I would never reveal its whereabouts.” So there’s this great kind of protective sense that’s pervading all these stories.

AFI: The landscape in this film looks absolutely amazing. It’s beautiful. Tasmania is beautiful, but it’s also quite… scary or sombre looking. It’s not really a cheerful landscape, is it?

Daniel Nettheim: It’s a very varied landscape, and we’ve made very conscious choices about how we portrayed it. We chose never to shoot in sunshine, for example. We tried to avoid it – which was pretty easy in the end, because there wasn’t a lot of sunshine! In those conditions it’s a really broody, haunting and compelling landscape. But it can look completely different when the sun comes out. People say that the seasons can change up to four times in any one hour in certain parts of that landscape, and that was true. We saw it. One of the greatest challenges of filming there was just consistency of light, you know. Over the time it takes to shoot one scene, you got clouds, you got sun, you got rain, you got fog.  Vincent [Sheehan, producer of The Hunter] screened the film in Tasmania for some people associated with Tourism Tasmania, and the comment was made that we’ve shown the landscape differently to how many other filmmakers have before.
The joys of location shooting in the Tasmanian wilderness.

The joys of location shooting in the Tasmanian wilderness.

AFI: In what way is the landscape different in your film?

Daniel Nettheim: I think a lot of other filmmakers who travel down to Tasmania are really attracted to the kind of dark, very closed-in forests, whereas we picked out some of those more open, button-grass plains and some of that more sparsely wooded kind of alpine territory.

AFI: Apparently it’s still very easy to get lost there.

Daniel Nettheim: Yes, when you look at the map, something like 33% of the island is either world heritage or protected national parks that can never be built on, can never be developed. And there’s a lot of rugged, thick bush. You can see this huge green swathe with no roads down the entire West coast. There are national park areas that have never had a tree chopped, and never will now. So it’s quite impressive from that perspective. And also, you can see why it can give rise to the myth that the Tasmania Tiger is still out there somewhere in these areas that people can’t access.

AFI: The Tiger could very well still be out there, somewhere.

Daniel Nettheim: It really could, you know. And if it’s smart, it’s going to stay well away from where people go!

AFI: In your film you use an iconic piece of old and damaged footage of the last Tiger in captivity. How did you work with that?

Daniel Nettheim:  There’s something like six minutes of moving footage that exists in the world. And two different bodies that own different section of them. So we had to apply to two different bodies for permission to use it – the NFSA and the Hobart Museum,. [Watch the National Film and Sound Archive’s footage online here on the ASO Australian Screen website.] We were being provided with very kind of low-res, bad-quality digital versions of it. You know, when we went to do our title sequence, we looked at the blow-up for the first time and it just didn’t cut it. And we were asking repeatedly: “Do you have a better version? Do you have a better transfer?” And in the end, they sent us the negative or the original print, whatever they had so we were able to do the first really great quality, high-res version of it. Having worked on those sequences for so long with that low-res digital version, it was just so amazing when we saw it projected for the first time and you could just see the crispness of the fur on that animal’s back. Of course, it’s all scratched and degraded and the temptation would easily be there to clean it all up, which we didn’t want to do, because part of the value of the footage is its age.

Director of Photography Robert Humphreys with crew on location for The Hunter.

Director of Photography Robert Humphreys with crew on location for The Hunter.

AFI: How long was this film in development, from the optioning of the novel by Julia Leigh, until now?

Daniel Nettheim: We optioned it in 2001, so that’s a good ten years before the financing of the film was locked in place.

AFI: Did you think it was going to happen?

Daniel Nettheim: Ah, look, you always keep working on these things as if they are going to happen. You can’t let yourself doubt or you just lose heart. I think there was always enough interest to get it up. From the start, there was so much beauty in the novel and a lot of awareness of the novel and even the early screenplays did justice to that, even when we hadn’t quite nailed the story. There was always enough there to maintain a sufficient level of interest in terms of getting another draft written, getting development funding and so forth. But obviously, Vincent and I were always working on other things at the same time.

AFI: Have you worked with producer Vincent Sheehan before?

Daniel Nettheim: I’ve never worked with Vincent before, but I’ve known him for a very long time. We were at art school together, circa 1984, and I was flatmates with Vincent when he was producing Mullet (2001) and saw how hard he worked as a producer. We talked for ages about the possibility of doing something together, and this book ended up being that project.

AFI: You graduated from film school in 1995, so it’s been a little while between graduating and making your first feature. Did you always want to make feature films?

Willem Dafoe as The Hunter

Willem Dafoe as The Hunter

Daniel Nettheim:  I did. But I also looked at the reality, even when I was at film school. I looked at the reality of the industry and saw that you couldn’t sustain yourself professionally purely by doing features. So I consciously angled myself towards getting work in television drama when I first got out of film school. And for the bulk of the last ten years that’s what I’ve been doing. That really was a very wise choice, because if I’d purely been trying to develop The Hunter and get it funded, I would have been driven insane!

AFI: You’ve done some wonderful television, and from the look of your credits, it’s kept you very busy.

Daniel Nettheim: Absolutely. I’ve kind of been non-stop for ten years and you know, I’ve been privileged that I’ve gotten to work on some of the really quality shows that are being made in this country.

AFI: Is the main difference between working on a feature and working on television the greater pace of television shoots?

Daniel Nettheim: Definitely the pace is the main difference.  I definitely learned a lot of skills from doing fast-turnaround television drama. That helped and informed the making of this film. But there’s a certain kind of onus, a certain imperative in shooting television drama to get the day done. So, you’re constantly balancing compromises that may need to be made. You’re aiming for 100%, but you’re realistically expecting to get 85%. And you just want to make sure that you make the right decisions in the right areas. With television you get used to cutting corners – trying to do that in an effective way. So it was almost a lesson in reminding myself on the film: “Okay, I don’t have to be cutting corners now. This has got to last a long time, so be looking to get the best option, not just the quickest option.”

AFI: “This is Art!”

Daniel Nettheim: Yeah, well television is art as well. There wasn’t even that kind of differentiation of quality. It was really just about the differentiation of working practice.  I guess I’ve become skilled at certain working practices required for TV, which is to really kind of, you know, make good decisions very quickly. And you know, the film was more like making good decisions with a little more time for reflection and little more time to think about how we can push to do better.

AFI: What are the aspects of directing that you enjoy the most?

Daniel Nettheim: What I love is being surrounded by a bunch of people who are really excelling in their craft. I find that really inspiring. When I started out at film school, I would have loved to have pursued cinematography or editing or production design. But you know, pursuing one would have been at the exclusion of all others and what I’ve realised about directing is that I get to keep a finger in the pie of all those areas. So that’s inspiring, being able to talk to a bunch of different creative people in a bunch of different languages, but all telling the same story. I actually do enjoy the on-set work. I like that kind of pressure-cooker situation where everything’s about exactly what’s happening in the moment. And I enjoy just the craft of working with the actors to bring that story alive and seeing those characters kind of lift beyond what’s on the page in front of your very eyes, and what these actors bring to it.

A kind of alchemy - characters made flesh. Frances O'Connor and Morgana Davies in The Hunter.

A kind of alchemy - characters become flesh. Frances O'Connor and Morgana Davies in The Hunter.

AFI: It’s a bit like alchemy or magic, seeing those written characters become flesh?

Daneil Nettheim: It is! It really is, because when you’re making a film or a television program, what you’re aiming for is for the sum of the parts to be greater than the whole. That’s the kind of thing that you’re hoping for as a director. It’s not just to deliver an audiovisual version of the source material, but to transcend it and combine the elements into something that can really, ultimately, move audiences.

AFI: It’s a truism that the most difficult thing about working in Australia is the low budgets and the difficulty in raising finance for films, but apart from that, what’s the hardest or least pleasurable aspect of your working life?
Daniel Nettheim: Hmm, the hardest…? Having to compromise is hard –  it’s the least pleasurable. I remember working with a First AD (Assistant Director) who does a lot of films, and he said he’d given up doing television, because he was sick of telling everybody they couldn’t do their job well. You know, like telling people: “No, you don’t have time to do that. You’ve got to compromise, you’ve got to deliver something that’s not as good as what you’re capable of.” So, look, you know, it’s not pleasurable telling people: “Near enough is good enough.” You know, you’ve just got to accept that and move on. Also, another aspect which is the least pleasurable – and it’s not just local to Australia, but I think it’s universal, is the long hours you’ve got to put in. Shooting days are really exhausting, and everybody – the director probably no more so than anyone else –  has to maintain a very intense level of focus from the start of shooting in the morning until the end of the ten hour day. As a director, you’ve then got to go home and prep for the next day. And you’ve got to be completely on your toes and ready to answer the hundreds of questions. It is exhausting. You get to the end of a shoot and you’re just shattered.
Sam Neill and Frances O'Connor, The Hunter

Sam Neill and Frances O'Connor in The Hunter.

AFI: One final question. You won two AFI Awards back in 1995 for your short film The Beat Manifesto – Best Short Fiction Film and Best Screenplay in a Short Film. What can you remember about receiving those? Were you at the Ceremony?

Daniel Nettheim: Yeah I was there! Absolutely. It was really exciting. What I remember particularly was that, because I co-wrote the screenplay with two other people – one was Tony McNamara, who’s a pretty prolific television writer, and the other co-writer was Matt Schulz, who’s a novelist – neither of them were there to collect their Awards. So, I walked away with four statuettes. There was an afterparty and we had to stand in a queue with a whole lot of other people, holding statuettes and waiting to check them in, so we could go in and, you know, have a dance at the party. And then when the afterparty closed down, we went on to some bar somewhere in Melbourne and so, you know, I was clutching these four statuettes all night!

AFI: They’re heavy too! Have you seen the new golden AACTA statuette that we have just unveiled?

Daneil Nettheim? I’ve seen pictures. It looks really pretty. I’ll tell you my only disappointment: it’s that the previous statues made great table legs! And I was hoping to collect four in my career so that I could prop up glass-top tables with them! But I’m happy to have them on the shelf. And look, receiving those awards was such a boost. The Beat Manifesto was just my film school short, and I think those awards really kick-started my career. I’m sure it got me in the door of the first TV producers that I worked with.

AFI: Thanks for your time, and all the best with The Hunter in this year’s AACTA Awards!

Daniel Nettheim: Thanks!

The Hunter released nationally on 6 October, and was opening night film for the Samsung AFI | AACTA Festival of Film. It is one of the 21 Feature Films in Competition for the inaugural Samsung AACTA Awards.

Extra Reading & Research:

Watch the trailer for The Hunter, below:

Watch behind the scenes of The Hunter, below:

 

Watch Nettheim’s AFI Award-winning 18-minute short film The Beat Manifesto, or read an excellent Senses of Cinema essay on that film here.