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Friday
Aug282015

GRANDMA'S BOY: THE M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN INTERVIEW

Few films in recent memory have buzzed with such cinematic brio as The Visit, the terrifyingly entertaining story of teenage documentarian Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge), her kid brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and the unnerving week they spend with their off-kilter grandparents (Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie). It is the latest vision from M. Night Shyamalan, the auteur whose blockbusters The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) saw a Newsweek cover label him "The Next Spielberg". Yet The Visit represents a bold departure for the 45 year-old; his chilling, blackly funny script is brought to life using first-person perspectives and handheld camerawork. It exists in that ‘found-footage’ realm, but both deconstructs and revitalises the genre. The morning after a crowd-pleasing preview in Sydney’s cinema district, M. Night Shyamalan sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss his latest work…

There is a clarity, a leanness, about the storytelling in The Visit. I sensed that you were having a lot of fun making this film…

I’m so close to it still, but it seems like the most fun I’ve had making a film. I think it tops the last ‘most fun’ experience I’ve had, which was Signs. I think in both films you can sense a kind of buoyancy that was coming from me, like I was goofing around and having a good time playing with the movie. I think good energy comes from that.

After more than a decade of big studio projects, were there habits you had to unlearn or techniques you had to reassess when shooting the smaller scale, ‘first-person’ perspective used in The Visit?

I’m naturally a more intimate filmmaker. I think and view more in those terms. This idea of limitations and looking through one person’s perspective is naturally how I see things. Even when I’m shooting some big scene, with action and extras and all that stuff, I have to fight the instinct to see it as an intimate thing, to film it as one soldier’s perspective and examining it from the point of what they’re feeling. A story like this fits well for me, fits what I like to call the filmmaker's ‘accent.’ Some filmmakers are great journeyman directors. You hire them and they adapt and can be whatever you need them to be, but they don’t have a strong accent with the way they tell the story. In that way, The Visit is a really good match for me. I know I wrote it but I did that to match the story to my accent. I tend to come from a very optimistic place but do enjoy telling very dark stories, and my protagonists match that. (Pictured, above; Peter McRobbie as Pop-pop in The Visit)

In much of your work, your narratives centre on children in both lead roles (Wide Awake; The Sixth Sense; The Last Airbender; After Earth) and strong support parts (Signs). Why does childhood hold such a fascination for you?

It speaks to that period of time when we are growing up, let’s say between 10 and 15, that I find extraordinary but also sad and tragic. That’s when we stop believing, when we are throwing away childish beliefs and aspects of our imagination that help us be so present as children, and we start to believe instead in the real world. Those are sad moments. I spend a lot of time thinking about characters that are put in an extraordinary situation and then try to convince the adults, “Hey, something’s going on here.” And they are able to do this because they can still believe a little bit. I am anchored in that period because a lot of my movies are about faith and belief.

The casting of these two Australian actors, Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge, continues an incredible winning streak in your unearthing of child actors…

Casting is so critical and it is a very hard skill set to learn. You have to see something in them that you are going to have to draw out. That may be something that they may not have necessarily given you in the auditions, but you have to see it in them somewhere. It is their anchor; they are pivoting their emotions off this anchor, and you have to be able to say, “Ok, that’s it.” That’s hard to do, especially when casting early on and the material is still forming. I was very lucky with Ed and Olivia. I always look for a handful of traits when casting kids. I need them to be super smart, because we are going analyse the craft of acting in such a deep way I have to be able to talk to them about it as if they were adults. Secondly, they have to be good people, because that is what I want to bring out of the characters. And the third thing, perhaps the most important thing, is their family situation. Their parents need to be people who I can talk to and I can respect, because it is a team game when working with a child actor; I’ll push them and push them and I’ll eventually need to go through the parents to get to them. (Pictured, above; Shyamalan, left, directing Ed Oxenbould on the set of The Visit).

When directors place a camera in their character's hands, it is an opportunity to comment on the nature of their craft. What does Becca’s attitude to film reveal about you?

You know, both the kids represent two sides of me. Becca is kind of in awe of the art of filmmaking and an aspiring artist, even when it tips over into pretension or into a dogma about it, a pompousness that is stiff and unwavering. I feel all those things about filmmaking. Then there is the other side, that being ‘the entertainer’ and that’s Ed. Sometimes I just want to be a mischievious kid, capturing something shocking on film.

The core emotional arc in The Visit is about a family’s generational divide. How did this form?

Every story I write, I glimpse scenes and dialogue that ultimately pose the question, “What is the film about?” There’s a unifying thematic theory underneath it all, so that every scene represents a goal, one same thing. The Visit is about forgiveness. What happens when we do forgive, or when we don’t forgive. There’s a lot of pain in all the backstories of all the characters; the mum and her parents, or the kids and their dad. They are being juxtaposed throughout the film. When we don’t forgive, we eventually have to consider the years that are lost, the love that lost, the opportunities that are lost. That is the lesson that Becca comes to learn. (Pictured, above; Olivia DeJonge as Rebecca, left, and Deanna Dunagan as Nana in The Visit).

Prior to the screening last night, you made some very passionate points about the value of seeing films like The Visit as a shared, communal experience…

It is everything to me, that’s why I do what I do. Whenever someone tries to suggest that we can release across all these platforms, I just say, “No!” When I saw Raiders of The Lost Ark, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is it.” I saw it in an old theatre, something like 1500 seats, a sold-out session; I couldn’t sit with my friends. The experience I had bordered upon religious (laughs). And I use that word because it was like a group hysteria was happening. I was transported; this enormous crowd was transported. Now would I want to watch Raiders… for the first time, alone on my couch in my den? That’s sad! I would have been denied that shared experience. It is one of my great memories, seeing those great movies in great movie theatres. With The Visit, I was determined to make every gasp, every laugh, a crucial part of that shared experience. It is a film that is really about the responsibilities we, the filmmakers, take on when we choose to tell our stories to a group of strangers.

The Visit opens in US theatres on September 11; the film opens in Australia on September 24. Check local listings for other territories. 

Saturday
Aug222015

AUTHOR! AUTHOR!: UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS FROM MOVIE MUSICALS OF THE 1970s.

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey…” – The Criminologist (Charles Gray), The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In his new book, ‘We Can Be Who We Are: Movie Musicals from the 1970s’, author Lee Gambin delves deep into the decade when the movie musical became, in the author’s words, “a diverse, free thinking wild animal.” Referencing his mammoth work and its commitment to both the sublime (the Bob Fosse classics, Cabaret and All That Jazz; pictured, below) and the ridiculous (Nancy Walker's Can't Stop the Music), SCREEN-SPACE thought we had asked the impossible of the Melbourne-based writer; “Of the 200-odd movies, docos and TV specials featured, can you pick your five most memorable moments?” His response (edited for space, regrettably) provided insight into the mind of a passionate film academic and a compelling teaser for his exhaustingly researched, wonderfully entertaining ode…

“Chava’s Ballet” from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971)
Canadian director Norman Jewison was on a winning streak (The Cincinnati Kid, 1965; The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, 1966; In the Heat of the Night, 1967; The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968) when he helmed the adaptation one of the most successful stage musicals in history. With writer Joseph Stein and star Topol reprising roles that saw them become the toast of the theatrical world, Jewison delivered; the film won 3 Oscars, including the first of five for composer John Williams. Jewison double-downed on iconic 70’s musicals, following up Fiddler… with Jesus Christ Superstar.
Says Gambin, “Late in the mournful and downbeat second act, Golde (Norma Crane) tells Tevye (Topol) that Chava (Neva Small) has married a young Christian boy in an extreme act of tradition-breaking. Tevye, proclaiming angrily that Chava is “dead to us,” saddles himself to his cart (now without his lame horse, adding to the misery of the piece) and begins to plough the dead fields. The gorgeous fiddle, ringing out such a sorrowful tune, is outstanding. The staging of this dance, set in a dreamlike silhouette, is sheer movie magic.”

"It's Not Easy" from PETE'S DRAGON (1977)
Rarely spoken of amongst Disney’s classics, Pete’s Dragon nevertheless earned solid box-office numbers (including re-issues) and has grown in stature over time. A rare foray into the live-action/animation crossover genre, its turn-of-the-century setting and cast of ageing Hollywood greats (Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Jim Backus) seemed anachronistic for a film released in the late 70s, but its charm and innocence have endeared it to generations. Director Don Chaffey’s skill with non-human stars (Greyfriars Bobby, 1961; Ride a Wild Pony, 1975; The Magic of Lassie, 1978; C.H.O.M.P.S., 1979) and groundbreaking effects (Jason and The Argonauts, 1963; One Million Years BC, 1966) ensured the titular beast inspired real emotions; songstress Helen Reddy, as Nora, and cherubic tyke Sean Marshall, as Pete, warm hearts in Gambin’s favourite moment.
Says Gambin, “Here are two people who have found each other, and here in the lighthouse - a building used to lead ships to shore, reuniting the sea bound with the land - these two isolated characters come to understand that life and love are most certainly “not easy”. The lyrics are charming and work on a number of levels, as Nora sings “Now that you have him, hold him, treasure him from day to day”. While singing about this supposedly fabricated dragon, she is also lamenting her own personal angel, her absentee lover, a sailor believed to be missing at sea.”

"Jack and Jill" from OH! CALCUTTA! (1972)
(CONTENT WARNING – Sexually Graphic)
The off-Broadway play was a groundbreaker, tackling the counter-culture generation’s free-love vibe at the frontline of America’s theatrical traditions. Created by UK drama critic Kenneth Tynan, the full-frontal nudity and blunt, brutal satire made it the must-see stage event of the new decade. The film version, not so much. Critics savaged director Jacques Levy’s musical-revue take on sexual mores, despite contributions by such talented wordsmiths as Sam Shephard, Robert Benton, John Lennon and Jules Feiffer; Tynan disowned it. Tech issues didn’t help; Levy filmed a stage version on CCTV, before adapting the footage for theatrical distribution.
Says Gambin
, ”The sexually frustrated Jack (George Welbes) declares, “I got my imagination and I got my cock.” Jill (Patricia Hawkins) tells Jack that she is scared of him because “he is a boy” and she worries about him using her for sex before deserting her. Jack gains Jill’s trust, persuading her to measure his penis – hence, participating in the game. He then inserts the ruler into her vagina. Startled, Jill slowly begins to enjoy the penetration. Jack gets violent, raping Jill, before resorting to moving her mouth and forcing a smile to stretch across her face. This is a final insult and a brilliant condensation of male sexual dominance, implying that she will enjoy what she is dealt. Jack’s misogyny is a slap in the face to the sexual liberties of the late sixties and early seventies, which is what the musical is singing – and stripping – about.“

The argument at the dinner table in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)
One of the biggest ‘zeitgeist’ hits in Hollywood history, director John Badham’s urban drama/disco dazzler is remembered for John Travolta’s star-making dance floor moves, set to the Bee Gee’s bestselling music. But Gambin points to the film’s other great strength, namely it’s depiction of working class, inner city ethnicity and the inherent difficulties of the traditional patriarchal structure.
Says Gambin, “The dinner sequence features Tony draped in a table cloth to protect his clean silk shirt, like an ancient Roman; a leftover of Italian royalty stuck in a rut, living with his defeatist family. The film garnered some negative criticism regarding the stereotypical depiction of Italians, but director John Badham is not creating cartoons, rather concocting an acute dramatic portrayal of the distress that underlies percolating domestic violence. There is a subversive message here: this reincarnation of an Italian godlike superstar is not welcome in modern day Little Italy. When Tony enters the discos he frequents in and around Brooklyn, he becomes that god: he is in charge, carefree, highly sexual and the object of everyone’s admiration and affection.”

Staging and the use of Central Park in HAIR (1979)
The musical book from Gerome Ragni and James Rado filled out Milos Forman’s vast cinematic canvas in the acclaimed director’s bigscreen version of the iconic 60s story. Expectations were high - the stage play was the soundtrack to a generation of young people, whose social activism changed the course of American history; Forman had taken a four year break after sweeping the Oscars with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Critical response was mixed; Roger Ebert said the Czech director “brings life to the musical form in the same way that West Side Story did,” while Variety bemoaned, “The spirit and elan that captivated the Vietnam protest era are long gone.” Nearly 40 years since its release (and half a century since the events of its narrative), the debate continues as to Forman’s ambitious vision is masterpiece or folly.
Says Gambin, “Forman set the title song in a prison, highlighting freedom of expression. Long hair on men represents rebelliousness and a disregard for authority, whilst in jail (and in the military) short hair and crew cuts are mandatory, evidence of submission to dominant paradigm. The Be-In at Central Park is a beautiful piece, with the number Initials showcasing its dancers all in white and singing about the wonders of L.S.D. Forman sees the American context from an outsider’s perspective; he has a European eye, looking in and seeing suffering. Hair is an angry piece, but it also a funny, tender, moving piece of artistic expression. The film has its faults, but it is a successful translation of what is essentially a vaudevillian masterpiece, working a tribal element into this traditional theatrical style. Hair, a celebration and manifestation of Satanic panic, opened the same year as Rosemary’s Baby, evidence that Christianity was starting to be scrutinized and undervalued by the young."

We Can Be Who We Are is available on Amazon, via the publisher Bear Manor Media and via order where all good books are sold.
Read our interview with Lee Gambin about his last work, Murdered by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film.
Gambin is a regular contributor to Fangoria magazine; he is currently working on two new books - Blood Among The Stars: The Making of Carrie, and The Howling: Studies in The Horror Film. He is a key contributor to Melbourne's leading film appreciation group, Cinemaniacs.

Friday
Aug072015

BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS: THE RHIANNON BANNENBERG INTERVIEW.

Debutant director Rhiannon Bannenberg tackled her debut feature, the striking and thoughtful Ambrosia, with a bold self-belief rarely seen in first-time filmmakers. Thematically entwining loss, memory, grief and love, Bannenberg’s script follows a troubled young woman named India (Rebecca Montalti), who returns to her childhood home with family and friends to find peace; a chance meeting with an enigmatic stranger called Harriet (Natasha Velkova) changes the lives of everyone. A deeply personal, skillfully realized drama, Ambrosia puts the local industry on notice that Bannenberg is a unique talent. Hailing from the Illawarra region on the New South Wales southern coast (a key locale that her camera captures exquisitely), Bannenberg spoke to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of her film’s hometown debut…

The film exhibits a very strong European sensibility, comparable to the likes of Mia Hansen-Love; it will play very well in upscale festivals overseas. What filmmakers, artists, writers inspired your vision?

I grew up in an old house, with a family that encouraged me to value both the past and present. As I grew older, I was drawn to English literature, painting, poetry and history. I have a particular love for John Keats ‘Endymion’, John Fowles ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’, Gillian Armstrong’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’.

It is clearly a very personal film. But is it a recollection on a moment in your life or does the ‘personal’ extend to something more cathartic?

The film is in part drawn from my own experiences of chronic pain as a young adult, and also just as much a figment of my imagination. Now when I watch the film in its entirety, I can see the cathartic qualities that helped me accept and manage life with chronic pain.

The chemistry between the cast is very strong. Was there an extended rehearsal period or were they chosen from a core group of colleagues? Was there much improvisation?

I am very fortunate to have a supportive, energetic and creative group of friends – all of whom I recruited to become the cast and crew of Ambrosia. We didn’t have much rehearsal time, but we did have open discussions about the tone and style of the film and everyone was able to put their ideas forward. I knew if the cast and crew had a strong friendship, it would be reflected in the story we were telling on screen.  These friendships have lasted beyond Ambrosia and I hope to work with such a vibrant and talented group of people on another film. 

It is an exceedingly ‘beautiful’ film – it’s rich look, the beauty of all the cast members, the photogenic setting, the lush and varied music, the costuming. How does the ‘styling’ of your film, its aesthetic qualities, enhance the drama?

The visual tapestry of the film was influenced heavily by my home environment and my own desire to find and be immersed in beautiful, haunting places. I wanted the story of India and her experiences to take place in a slightly altered reality, one where there was an ambiguity of time and place. I also wanted to bring the characters to life in the very places I spent my own childhood – the beautiful Illawarra on the South Coast of NSW.

Be it painting or poetry or prose or even kite building, creativity and artistry fuels and defines every key character in your film. What does Ambrosia, your own artful creation, express about you?

In reality, I’d say I was quite pragmatic but in my imagination and creative expression, I am a complete romantic.  I’m fascinated by the idea of being connected to people and to places and I definitely have a romanticised nostalgia for the past. I am constantly driven forwards by the desire to connect to others and express human thoughts and emotions – and I think film is such an eloquent, powerful and experiential medium to express these stories beautifully.

Ambrosia will screen August 8 at the Gala Theatre in Warrawong; session and booking information can be found here. Further information about the film’s screening season can be found at Fan-Force.com

Wednesday
Jul152015

SOUTHLAND TALES: THE NIMA JAVIDI INTERVIEW

Two upwardly mobile Iranian students are hours away from departing their Tehran apartment for a new life in the titular Australian city when, asked to briefly care for a sleeping infant, their destinies take a harrowing turn. Debutant writer/director Nima Javidi’s complex, harrowing morality tale, one of the most anticipated films at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), plays out as both a tragic drama and riveting psychological thriller in its dissection of two lives altered in an instant. Despite a fine grasp of English, Javidi spoke to SCREEN-SPACE via a translator ("I want to concentrate on the answers, I don’t want to worry about my translation.”), only hours before being awarded the Best Screenplay honour at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) last November…

“It took me about 11 months to write the script,” says the 35 year-old filmmaker (pictured, above), eager to chat despite feeling the effects of jetlag, having only arrived in Brisbane for the APSA ceremony the morning of the interview.  “But before I even sat down to write, I spent a great deal of time on the structure of the story and how to create my characters. There any many layers to this film, both narratively and in the lead characters.” He cites a personal experience as the inspiration for the premise; six years ago, while staying at a mountain retreat with friends, he was left alone with a newborn and found himself gripped with anxiety while the child slept motionless.

As Amir and Sara, the couple whose lives are irrevocably altered by both fateful circumstance and desperate rationalization, Javidi sought two of Iranian’s most talented and bankable stars, Peyman Moaadi (About Elly, 2009; A Separation, 2011; Camp X-Ray, 2014) and Negar Javaherian (Tala va mes, 2011; Howze Naghashi, 2013; Tales, 2014). Each bought nuance and detail to the protagonist roles, working with the first-time feature director to flesh out the dark but very human dramatics of the story. “The characters undergo experiences that are universal – fear, doubt and the responsibility of being an adult,” notes Javidi.

Leading man Moaadi’s experience working with Iranian filmmaking great Asghar Farhadi on the international hit A Separation was particularly useful; critics have noted the similarities between Farhadi’s everyman protagonists and Javidi’s single-setting character study. Says Javidi of his actor, “He liked the script from the early stages and collaborated with me from very early on. (He was) especially aware of how best he could help a first time filmmaker. He is particularly strong when you need a very realistic presence in your film; he brings a grounded, very human quality to his characters.”

The presence of Moaadi and Javaherian was also a commercial coup, their profiles helping the film find a domestic and international prominence that a first-time director may not usually find forthcoming. “When you have a star name, the doors do swing a little more easily with regard to financing. But I never considered casting (them) as a means to get the film financed,” reassures the filmmaker. “I needed (actors) who could serve the characters and tell the story I wanted to tell.” On the back of universal acclaim (Variety praised the “gripping premise, craftily orchestrated”), Javidi has travelled with his film to Venice, where it opened the prestigious International Critics Week strand, as well as festival slots in Stockholm, Tokyo, Cairo, Lisbon and Zurich ahead of it’s MIFF showing. (Pictured, right; the director with his 2014 Best Screenplay APSA)

One key aspect in creating the intense drama is the rhythmic soundscape conjured by Javidi and his masterful sound designers, Vahid Maghadasi and Iraj Shahzadi. As the clock ticks towards the character’s departure time, ambient sounds begin to clip the actor’s dialogue and seep into the real world tension with shattering effect. “Most of those sounds – the mobile phone noise, the sound buzzer, the sirens – were written into the script, specifically complementing my intentions with the scenes,” says the director. “There was no music soundtrack in the film so it was crucial to use the detailed sound effects to convey the story in the best possible way.”

Finally, driven by the fiercely parochial Sydney-based mindset of the Screen-Space office, we had to ask Nima Javidi why he settled on the admittedly cosmopolitan but decidedly chilly climes of Melbourne as the dream destination for his young Iranians. The director laughed, finally explaining, “Two reasons. First, some surveys came out over the last ten years that nominated Melbourne as one of the best cities in the world, a title that I think it maybe earned a couple of years ago.* And then, I just like the way you guys pronounce it! The way you drop the ‘r’ and make it ‘Melbun’. That’s funny to me. Why waste all that ink!”

*"Melbourne named world's most livable city..." - ABC News, August 2014

Ticketing and venue information for all 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival sessions can be found at the official website here.

Read more about Melbourne in 'The SCREEN-SPACE Ten: Our Favourite Films of 2014'.

Wednesday
Jul012015

THE PLAYER: THE DAVIDSON COLE INTERVIEW.

When Davidson Cole announced his talent in 2002 with his feature debut Design, the film world took notice. The AV Club said his leading man turn had, “…Nicolas Cage-like volatility, (making) for a compelling, put-upon hero”; Variety called his direction, “…comparable to the David Lynch of Blue Velvet”. Thirteen years later, his multi-faceted talents utilised in fields such as video game design, short documentary and experimental filmmaking and fiction writing, the LA-based auteur brings audiences Hollywood, his slightly screwy, darkly-shaded, wildly engaging sophomore effort. Ahead of the international premiere of Hollywood at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, Cole spoke at length with SCREEN-SPACE about the passion it takes to stay committed to your vision, the origins of his latest narrative and the dark, funny love letter to film lore his new work represents…

You’ve a very eclectic film resume, from the documentary The 95th to Design and now Hollywood. Who are the artists and filmmakers that have inspired your creativity?

The movie that inspired me to make films was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I have no desire to ever make a movie like it, but the summer it was released, I must have seen it 20 times. I even knew the inflections of the dialogue by heart. This past year, my favorite film was Godard's Goodbye To Language. His work has always been a touchstone for me. Love Lynch, Altman and Cronenberg. I try to watch American Movie at least once a year, my favorite film about making movies. Sam Shepard's dialogue, especially how he navigates a monolog. Dogs inspire me too. Big fan of dogs.

Hollywood represents the type of adventurous but assured work audiences rarely get to see in this era of ‘palatable product.’ Was the determination to film Hollywood on your terms part of the reason it has been over a decade since Design, which Variety called, “a most auspicious narrative debut,” citing your “fascinatingly complex screenplay and bold direction”?

Following the Sundance premiere of Design, I planned on shooting Angels, this twisted, low sci-fi take on the after life; an ambitious project, tried for years to put it together, with actors attaching then moving on when we couldn't wrangle all the financing. It was frustrating. It can be a time-sink to remain too hopeful on a project getting financed at the expense of creating. The last couple years I've become more focused on what is possible with the resources at my disposal, shooting shorts or micro-budget features. I'm much happier with the prospect of shooting 3 to 4 films for next to nothing, than running around for 3 to 4 years trying to finance something for millions. That being said, I never stop trying to develop big ideas. Before we decided to make Hollywood we were tossing around this psycho-sexual nightmare titled Bathyal; insanely ambitious at the micro-budget level, but doable. After script reads and discussions with my producers Sam (Zuckerman) and Tom (Bailey) (pictured, above; on-set, with the director) and my cinematographer Dominique Martinez, Hollywood emerged as the film within reach, the one with the fiercest hold on my imagination at the time.

How did you pitch the look and decidedly offbeat narrative of Hollywood to potential investors?

I always make it clear to investors that I don't plan on playing it safe as a director but the discussion starts with the script. The narrative flourishes and visual style are rarely apparent for me at that stage. That develops, throughout the process, so I let the script and my past work be the pitch.

The heightened reality of Hollywood is brought to vivid life by some extraordinary characters.  How much of ‘Dave’, ‘Champagne’, ‘Brad Pitt’ and ‘Mary Elizabeth’ was on the page, and how much came alive in rehearsal and on-set?

I don't rehearse with my actors. I enjoy the danger of discovery on-set. I convey my own impressions of a character beforehand with a meeting or two, then rely on the actor to bring their own inner life, make their own choices, adjusting quickly on-set if need be. It seems counter-intuitive, on a micro-budget project, where time is so precious, but it works for me and keeps the cast and crew vibrant and focused on set, and when a moment really hits, is genuine, everyone knows it and that is contagious. (pictured, right; Michael Serrato as 'Brad Pitt', left, and William Belli as 'Champagne').

As important as the eccentric, larger-than-life cast is, the need for two central perfs that ground the film is even more crucial. Tell us about the creating the chemistry with Dana Melanie…

The role was a challenge for Dana, very different from anything else she had ever done. We knew going in Farrah was the toughest role to cast, to execute. My initial vision for the role changed to encompass the innocence Dana naturally brings to the screen, but then there is this strange fire and mischievous flicker that pops into her eyes when least expected. That combo is why we cast her. I was very proud of Dana. (pictured, below; Melanie as Farrah).

You dabble in some well-worn genre clichés – the hooker with the heart of gold; the Las Vegas gambler, in deep with The Mob; the flamboyant homosexual archetype. Yet the story beats, stylisation and drama feel fresh. Is Hollywood your take on classic B-movie lore?

The film is loaded with tropes and references, some more obvious than others, but all of them woven into the narrative with satirical intent. The big film biz is morbidly obsessed with trotting out the same clichés, the same narrative structures. Whenever someone mentions the "Hero's Journey", I get hit with a slight wave of nausea. Audiences are tired of it. As a framing device for the real narrative, I introduced overused tropes then push them into unexpected directions. Familiar territory quickly becomes unfamiliar, unsettling. It was fun finding opportunities to morph a trope then chisel it into our narrative.

Hollywood explores reconciling with one’s heritage. It is inherent to some of your other projects, too – your grandfather’s life and legacy in both The 95th and There is No Car, for example. Why do the ‘sins of the father’ hold such a thematic fascination for you?

While there are certain aspects of my relationship with my own dad in Hollywood, fearing the inability to avoid the failures of your bloodline is more reflective of my dad's experience with his father. Ultimately, as much as he tried to be different, in many ways he wound up making some of the same self-destructive decisions with his own family. It haunts him a bit, I'm sure. I think we all secretly dread the prospect of becoming just like a parent, no matter how healthy or toxic the relationship. The demons of a bloodline are difficult to shake, though.

The tech aspects are very slick – the production design; the cinematography. What was your ‘directorial mantra’ to the key creative crew?

Dominique (pictured, right; on-set) and I spent a lot of time crafting the shots beforehand. She has an amazing eye for composition and many of the most striking shots in the film were the result of her taking our initial ideas and adapting them to the confined space. I wanted long takes, wide shots, subtle moves. Let the action unfold within a single shot as often as possible, which proved a challenge to G & E and production design, since an entire room was in play most shots with the camera moving through the space. Given our limited resources and time, the skill and creative energy of the crew was vital to the visual style of the film.

From here on in, is your career geared towards being before the camera or behind the lens?

Acting for me is the loosest, most chaotic part of the process. I enjoy the physicality of acting and the immediacy of it, but I don't have much interest in pursuing a career as an actor. First and foremost, I consider myself a writer. My ideas always begin with character, with an exchange of dialogue. The narrative and visuals evolve from there. As a director, I base the visual beats of my scene off the characters - who currently has the power, whose point of view matters most at a particular moment - and move the lens accordingly.  Traditional coverage doesn't interest me. I rarely shoot a master shot. I almost never use them in post-production. If the opening beat of a scene warrants an extreme close-up, then we shoot that. If the next beat needs an uber wide to establish the tension of distance, we shoot that. No need to waste time shooting anything else, acquiring coverage. I love Werner Herzog's quote on coverage..."When you do open heart surgery you don't go for the appendix or toenails, you go straight for the beating heart".

Hollywood has its International Premiere at Revelation Perth International Film Festival on Saturday July 4, with further screenings to follow. Ticket and venue information can be found at the official website here.