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Monday
Nov192012

IN HER WORDS: THE JULIETTA BOSCOLO INTERVIEW

Driven but humble to a fault, Julietta Boscolo would never acknowledge what many in the industry already know; the Perth-born director is at the forefront of the next wave of Australian feature filmmakers.  Graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011 with a Masters in Film and Television Directing (Narrative), she quickly made industry waves. She became the only Australian (amongst 35 world industry attendees) to be invited to the inaugural Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Talent Lab; her script Acoustic was a finalist in the Vegas Cine Fest Screenwriting Competition and the FirstGlance Screenplay Competition in Philadelphia. To date, her short Safe has secured festival acclaim the world over; her other works, including The Branch and Sam's Gold (pictured on-set, below), are generating serious industry buzz. In SCREEN-SPACE's biggest interview to-date, Boscolo granted generous time and insight into her Australian film industry experience...so far....  

Who were the earliest influences on your decision to become a film-maker?

My decision to become a filmmaker was driven solely by my perfectionist streak. After acting school I decided I wanted to create some work for myself. I saw an ad in the Sunday paper to make a short scene for the Comedy Channel and I thought: ‘How hard can it be to make a short film?’ I wasn’t happy with my first film so I sought ways to make a better one. I still do that with every film and thankfully they’ve been getting better. I’ve always been driven to tell stories. I can remember directing skits at primary school. For some reason, that was always my job, that and acting in them and the other kids just accepted that that was what I did, although I was incredibly shy otherwise. I also really love every aspect of creating a film and collaborating with talented people in order to tell a story.  It didn’t influence me to become a filmmaker but Chris Marker’s La Jetée, really resonated with me when I first starting making films. I think it was because it was so simple, composed of still images, yet expressed emotion so powerfully.

Which modern artists most influence your creativity?

Nowadays, I’m inspired by anyone who looks at the world in a fresh way. Whether it’s someone like the painter Franz Marc, the psychiatrist Norman Doidge, who writes about brain plasticity, or a graffiti artist. Although your question does remind me that I need to go look at some art; it’s been too long! Certain films rather than certain filmmakers inspire me. The Fisher King, Le Notti di Cabiria , Lantana, Muriel’s Wedding, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Miracolo a Milano, Life is Beautiful, Iris, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Films full of humour and magic and light. Walter Murch, because I’m really inspired by his original way of approaching sound design, even when he was working in mono. I haven’t even gotten started on inspiring documentaries but I saw two docos in Edinburgh, Calvet and Bombay Beach, that I thought were astounding. Oh and Jane’s Journey about Jane Goodall, there’s one inspiring woman right there!

What does the quote by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi that features on your website reveal about you and your films? Is there an archetypal 'Boscolo' character or theme forming in your works?

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought” doesn’t really reflect an archetypal character or theme but it does reflect my desire to make films which allow audiences to make emotional discoveries; to see the world and themselves as they never have before.  And be inspired to live their lives as completely and as compassionately as they can. Charlie Kaufman’s address to BAFTA on screenwriting also summed it up beautifully. He gave the example of carpenter ants who are infected by a fungus and turn into ‘zombie slaves’ of the fungus, acting against their own interests and the interests of their fellow ants to serve the needs of the fungus. Kaufman said: ‘…I want to do what I can to understand my carpenter ant self and not mindlessly disseminate the fungal spores of my masters’. This is what I want to express in my work, understand my carpenter ant self and the way people understand each other.

And to put that in the context of your narratives…

I’m interested in stories of people who are trying to live in everyday circumstances and find what we all want- love, acceptance, peace of mind, but who see the world differently. People who appear like everyone else but aren’t. Whether this is because of something they’ve been through in their past, the extreme example of this being that poor woman in Austria who was imprisoned by her father in the basement. Or whether it is a physical thing, such as a severe learning disability like that experienced by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, author of ‘The Woman Who Changed her Brain.’ Or because of something they’re fighting to achieve. I’m really interested in perception and portraying emotional states viscerally, so audiences can empathise with these characters and understand where they’re coming from. Humour is also very important as I think people can see it in even the worst circumstances; it’s a survival mechanism.

Safe (pictured, below) continues to enjoy acclaim at festivals worldwide. Why is this film connecting so profoundly with audiences, programmers and juries?

Safe is about a woman, Mia, who wants to fall in love but she never gets past the second date because she is too scared about answering questions about her past. So she goes online and orders ‘The Secrets Safe™’ , a machine that you tell your secrets to and it purports to store them away, encasing them in concrete blocks. But the question the film asks is, “Can you find love if you lock away your past?” No matter how small or trivial their secrets might seem to other people, most people can empathise with someone who wants to hide them away. People seem to either love or hate Safe, which I’m completely fine with. I’d prefer that they hate it, rather than think it ‘so-so’. It’s also been really nice to receive emails from strangers who were moved by the film and calls from actors who’d like to work with me after seeing it. There are things I would like to change in all my films and this also applies to Safe but I’m happy with how it turned out.

Many remark that Safe is a visually stunning work, a very bold vision...

Safe was my first collaboration with cinematographer Jeremy Rouse. For me it was really important to show Mia’s emotional perspective visually to convey how this impacted her relationships with men. So Jeremy and I collaborated on getting this across to an audience through the use of lenses and shot sizes. I’m also a big believer in shooting with natural light and Jeremy thinks natural light is the best light. Performance is also a strong focus of mine and Jeremy was very mindful of the cast. He suggested that rather than have the set of The Secrets Safe booth three-sided (leaving the fourth side open for lighting, camera and sound access), that we enclose the booth completely and just drill a hole for the lens to fit through. The whole thing would be lit from overhead or from within the booth. Effectively, Adrienne (Pickering, lead actress) was alone with the camera and I think that this really helped in what were some incredibly emotional scenes.

Was the production the usual struggle associated with getting short-film visions to the screen?

I was really lucky to find an amazing team that read the script, embraced my vision of it and helped to bring it to life. The beautiful Adrienne Pickering (pictured, left), who completely understood the character of Mia and delivered such an astounding performance in the film. The funny thing is that when we were shooting, Adrienne had just finished up on the first series of Rake and on paper, her character Missy could seem very similar to Mia. Both were women with pasts to hide. Yet Adrienne played them completely differently, a testament to her talent. On the production side, our producers, Fiona Leally and Janet Duncan, thought outside the box and made a difficult film happen logistically including arranging for us to shoot underwater in the Olympic diving pool at the Melbourne Aquatic Centre in the middle of the night. VCA also allowed me the freedom to tell the story I wanted to tell.

What lessons did you take from the Sam’s Gold shoot?

Sam’s Gold is about how sometimes stories are our way out. The film was made through Screen NSW’s Emerging Filmmakers Fund and it really helped having a little bit of money to pay everyone, although it was literally a little bit. Sam’s Gold was the first of my films I hadn’t written and I really enjoyed working with the writer, Rebecca Clarke, who wrote such a beautiful and original little script. Bec’s a close friend of mine and it was her first film and she was very open to feedback but also knew when to go with her instinct. Matt Reeder is a really creative producer and it was great to hear his input at every stage of the process. I’m really proud of the film. And although we’re just starting to send out to festivals, we’ve already been offered distribution from a large shorts distributor which is nice.

Describe the industry environment for the Australian short film-maker. Is there a commitment in the industry to mentoring young directors of short-films?.

I see myself as a storyteller who has started out telling short stories and is now moving into telling longer tales. I am also willing to tell stories of any length, as long as I tell them well. When I was first starting out, working as an assistant editor at a TVC cutting house, Ray Lawrence (pictured, right) was incredibly generous to me at a time when I was just starting to find my own voice. He read a short script of mine, sent me writings on story by Aristotle, lent me a copy of his favourite short film and gave me a book on screenwriting. Ray taught me: ‘You have to tell stories that you care about and want to share.’ I also was inspired to shoot with natural light after working with him. It was funny, as an Assistant Editor I often had to make Ray coffee on this professional coffee machine that we had in the office. Problem is, I don’t drink coffee. So I had really no idea how to make a good one.  And Ray had no problem expressing time and time again how bad the coffees were that I brought him. After I left my job at the editing place, Cate Jarman who was producing for Ray at the time, got me a job as runner on one of his TVCs. My job was to make coffee for the crew. I went around taking people’s orders but when I got to Ray, he said loudly: ‘She can’t make coffee… But she’s a good writer’. So rather than making coffees for the crew, I had to go to the shop and buy them for everyone instead. But I didn’t care.  I wasn’t planning a career as a barista. My long-term mentor is also a friend, Paul Goldman.  Paul has supported me for years, giving me references and advice, reading scripts, watching my work, giving me very honest, insightful but mindful criticism. I feel very honoured because I think Paul is an incredible director. It was also fantastic doing a Director’s Attachment with Tony Krawitz on the Sydney shoot for Dead Europe. I feel very blessed - lots of people in the industry have been incredibly supportive when I needed them; too many to mention although I do remember them. The industry is full of big-hearted, caring people.

What have been your highs and lows? What moments will you reflect upon when mentoring the next generation of film-makers?

There are a lot of lows but you move past them.  Struggling for money; being shortlisted but not getting funding; having to shoot incredibly quickly; not being able to pay people properly. It was also very difficult being at VCA while my partner Simon was in Sydney. That was probably the most difficult thing for me. The rest of it is transitory. Highs include being the only Australian at the inaugural Edinburgh Film Festival’s Talent Lab. Having someone quite high up in the international industry asking to read my script. It was also nice to be nominated for an If Award for Rising Talent, screen in some fantastic festivals and of course receiving the Emerging Filmmakers Fund grant from Screen NSW.  Acknowledgements are great as they help you get where you need to be and show you you’re not entirely crazy for pursuing what you want to do; you’re crazy for other reasons! Ultimately the high for me though, is when your film finishes and there is loaded silence before people start to respond. Or a stranger waits to talk to you so they can tell you how much it affected them. That means you’ve done your job well and makes all the hard work worth it.

Julietta Boscolo’s debut feature film script, Catching Sight, was short listed for Screen Australia’s Springboard Initiative and is currently in development.

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