With mentors that include director Peter Jackson and editor Jamie Selkirk, Queensland-born director David Gould was never far from visionary inspiration. Since relocating to Wellington, New Zealand, Gould rose to senior effects director on The Two Towers and The Return of The King, King Kong and The Adventures of Tintin, all the time working towards a director’s chair of his own. After the well-received shorts Inseparable Coil, Awaken and The Seed, Gould guided to fruition his self-penned feature debut, the low-budget/high-concept action thriller The Cure. Gould chatted with SCREEN-SPACE the morning after the Australian premiere at the recent Gold Coast Film Festival…
The film exudes a very international look and feel; the actors speak with US accents and, most impressively, Wellington stands in convincingly for San Diego…
There was an article in one of the papers that I was unaware of, but they had taken photos of the harbour area of San Diego and compared them to Wellington and they look very similar. Ultimately, because all the film takes place in the research facility, I didn’t need that big establishing shot, though I always had it in my mind when shooting.
It avoids many of the pitfalls that first-time filmmakers succumb to, such as over-reaching budgetary constraints.
The key thing for me was that, because I had had so much experience in visual effects and knew that I’d be doing the visual effects stuff all by myself, I knew what was going to be hard and what was going to be easy. I avoided green screen work, because that can be relatively expensive and time consuming, instead creating the overlaying images just on my set up at home (laughs). That starts all the way back in the scripting stage for me. When I’m writing, I’m conscious of how I’m going to shoot it and what set-ups I’ll need to get the shot.
The strong sense of story that you exhibited with the gentler dramatic short, The Seed, is still there in The Cure, despite it being a very different work. Was their much narrative that got fleshed out in post-production?
When it came to editing, I met with many of the best in the industry in Wellington, including Jamie Selkirk (pictured, left), who is retired now. I’d edit to a certain point then give it to him for feedback. John (Woodford) was also great, giving me notes. It is a really good process for a filmmaker to do. I’ve edited all my films and with a final vision in my head when shooting, it allows me to be really efficient with my set-ups. I also did all the effects work, and there are 141 effects shots in the film, which used all my experience and allowed me to work to a very clear vision.
Were there definite influences that occurred to you while shooting The Cure?
When I set out to do a high-concept film on a low budget, I had to define how best that would be achieved. I looked to Die Hard, a fully contained thriller that pretty much all takes pace indoors. I knew that would be important, especially shooting in Wellington and knowing what the weather can be like (laughs). So we blacked out all the windows of the studio to create that artificial light interior feel. The work that I aspire to includes that of James Cameron, whose very early films like The Terminator achieve an amazing level of action and quality on a limited budget (pictured, right; the director in pre-production on The Cure with department heads).
Like a lot of Cameron’s work, there is a strongly defined female central character who allows for an emotional core in the story. When did Antonia Prebble (pictured, left) come on board?
I had never seen her in anything before. We put the call out for auditions and news that there was a strong female action lead spread really quickly. We got all the actors with any experience applying, whether they were in Shortland Street or the theatre. When Antonia auditioned, I turned to my casting director Liz and we both just knew. She got the character completely on the first go. From there, she was the benchmark. What was remarkable about her performance was that she was often called on to get complex scenes, with both action and emotion, on the first or second take. She had worked on (TV series) The Tribe and Shortland Street, so knew how to shoot fast. We didn’t have time or budget for lots of multiple takes, and her experience helped immensely.
You’ve experienced the world of low-budget filmmaking both here and in New Zealand. Are there key differences?
Yeah, I’d made the short film Inseparable Coil here and had gone back to New Zealand principally for the work. I’d been there for two years, working in post-production on Peter Jackson’s films, before starting work on The Cure. I didn’t know anyone from the casting world, that whole pre-production sector, so I had to establish working relationships really quickly. The advantage of being based in Wellington is the influence that Peter Jackson has had on the local sector. So many people have become so cashed-up after working on his films, they can happily take time off to help on smaller projects like The Cure. And then there are the staunchly independent film crews, many of which passed on working on The Hobbit to work with my shoot, which I really appreciated. New Zealand crews are really passionate, dedicated people.
And now The Cure is finding appreciative audiences all over the world. What direction does your career take now?
I’ve just seen the Spanish dub of the film, which was a surreal experience (laughs). And I get the German language version next week, which will make another interesting addition to the film’s timeline. It played really well just a few weeks ago in Japan. The Cure has exceeded my expectations based upon its budget and its acceptance and will serve as a great calling-card, letting financiers and producers know I can make sellable, commercial action projects.