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Entries in Independent Film (12)

Tuesday
Apr122016

WORKING CLASS MAN: THE HEATH DAVIS INTERVIEW

The burden of past glories and the crippling impact of addiction are dissected in Broke, a new Australian film from writer/director Heath Davis. Featuring a typically intense turn from the great Steve Le Marquand, the working class drama tells the story of Ben ‘BK’ Kelly, a once-great rugby league star whose gambling and self-medication through booze has led to desperate times; Claire van der Boom, as Terri, and Max Cullen as Cec are the strugglers who never lose faith in their fallen hero. In his narrative feature debut, Davis nails a hard-edged realism tinged with real heart. Ahead of the film’s theatrical season, Davis spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his small-scale, intrinsically ‘Aussie’ story that feels universally human… 

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a strong 'cinematic' feel to the characters, but more resonant is the 'blue collar' authenticity, the 'real people' that are BK and Cec and Terri. How did that dynamic emerge in the writing? Are these people from your background?

Davis: There's definitely a ‘real’ DNA, as I like to put it that runs through these characters. It was imperative that they and the movie ring true for identification purposes. BK for instance is a hybrid of people, ex-league players, I knew growing up in western Sydney. His character was pretty fleshed out on the page and then Steve made it his own. I encouraged that. He's been around these types of folk so it wasn't a big stretch for him. (Pictured, top; Davis on-set, with actors Claire van der Boom and Steve Le Marquand)

SCREEN-SPACE: Steve Le Marquand is that rare performer; an intense character-actor persona wrapped in a leading-man package. He must be an enormous asset in pre-production/rehearsal and then on-set. Describe what he brought to the character of BK and the relationship you, as his director, forged with him...

Davis: The obvious physicality and his unique bravado aside, Steve brought his life experience to the table. He's lived a rough-and-tumble existence and knows only too well the world these characters inhabit, so I knew we'd definitely have a believable lead character. He's really respected by his peers so when he came on board I knew he would draw other quality actors to the project. He's a very generous actor to not only his fellow cast but also crew. He made sure that there was no place for ego on set for anyone and that was crucial in creating the realism we were going for. (Pictured, right; Marquand with co-star Claire van der Boom)

SCREEN-SPACE: The National Rugby League (NRL) contributed to the funding of Broke. How and why did they become involved?

Davis: The NRL Education and Welfare Team came on board just before pre-production with some financial support. It was by no means a large sum but it was a lot to us. More importantly, we wanted their endorsement. And I think they realised it would be a good education tool to use for their players, especially juniors. (Pictured, left; Davis, left, on-set with actors William Zappa, Steve Le Marquand and Justin Rosniak)

SCREEN-SPACE: Thematically, Broke pits the facade of hero adulation against the reality of an addict’s self-destruction. Is it a celebration of hero worship or a warning of the dangers of fawning over false idols?

Davis: I've always been fascinated by the facade of celebrity. What you see is not always what you get. It's a human construct that simply isn't real yet we are so celebrity driven as a culture. I remember having troubles growing up understanding the context of how a footy player on a Sunday afternoon could be so adored yet so broken and lonely playing the pokies on a Tuesday night at the local. That juxtaposition makes for great drama. In the end I wanted to show that heroes in life are human and just because they have a specific skill set that doesn't necessarily equip them for life or make them role models.

SCREEN-SPACE: The final images in the film convey a beautifully complex, ambiguous future. Do you have hope for your characters?

Davis: Oh yes, I do. I see it as a bittersweet but honest conclusion. Without spoiling anything, I think BK gets what he needs and not what he wants, perhaps for the first time in his life, and he realises and accepts that. I think there's definitely good times ahead for this motley crew.

Following acclaim on the festival circuit, BROKE has its Sydney premiere on Wednesday, April 13 with other screenings to follow. Ticket and venue information can be found at the film's official website. 

Photographs by MK Creative Studios; Copyright Scope Red 2014

Thursday
Apr072016

AUSSIE AUTEUR PUTS 'FILM' BACK INTO SHORT FILM PRODUCTION.

For a moment, imagine that the arduous slog undertaken by the next-no-budget short film auteur is not already daunting enough. How could a filmmaker make the thankless journey exponentially more difficult? For Chris Elena, the answer was clear – forego all the burden-easing advancements made in digital camera tech and embrace every production problem presented by shooting on film. The result - a 15-minute contemporary drama called The Limited – is a testament to the drive and commitment synonymous with the origins of the art form…

“Film's aesthetic is warm and cinematic, which we wanted and needed for a film mostly set in small places with cold individuals,” says Elena, a respected voice and popular personality amongst the young turks of Sydney’s film-writing community. His vocal passion for the works of Paul Thomas Anderson fuels his own directorial flair for ‘pure cinema’; The Limited is a small-scale examination of the impact of schoolyard stories and macho posturing that soars emotionally and thematically through the use of Kodak 16mm stock. (Pictured, top; Elena, centre, with crew during the shoot).

“We needed to tell this story on 16mm, which has its own unique cinematic language,” say Elena, his script drawing upon his own experiences at an all-boy Catholic high school in the 2000s. “We shot on one location, with very little coverage, a narrative that is essentially four people telling each other lies that will impact their lives. We knew film (would) elevate that simplicity.”

With a ready-to-go script, Elena also knew that timing was crucial if he was to realise his ambitious production; once-giant film supplier Fujifilm had shuttered its film stock division in March 2013, with rumours circulating that Kodak were poised to do the same. “This was the medium I had learned about, had believed in the magic of since deciding to be a director at the age of 9,” he confides. “I wanted The Limited to be greater than the script I had written and for that, for me to be a better director and do this story and everyone who believed in it some justice, I needed film.” (Pictured, right; the young cast of The Limited)

Mentored into production by industry veteran, the late J. Harkness and employing an experienced DOP in Kym Vaitiekus, Elena realised a dream when he called ‘action’ on a tight 2-day shoot in 2014. “We had eight 400-foot reels, 3,200 feet of 16mm film,” he recalls. “As soon as you start rolling, you have 9½ minutes, or one standard roll of film, to get it perfect. We would shoot each take, change reels, place the film in a black bag and have it sent to be processed at the lab, all at once.” The process made for a focussed, energised set, with cast and crew fully aware of the limitations of film. “Each take has to be better,” says Elena. “When you're shooting on film, you allow yourself to trust whoever is looking at that monitor; they trust your word as they know this footage is precious.” 

Throughout the shoot and well into post-production, the young filmmaker was reminded of why film had fallen out of favour in the face of the digital revolution. “It’s horribly expensive,” Elena bemoans, despite an end-to-end budget of just in excess of A$5000 and made without any grant assistance. “Then the lab could get it wrong, the dallies don't look like what you saw in the monitor, sound editing and mixing is a nightmare with the noise from the camera making an appearance in every take.”

Having spent the best part of 2015 in the edit suite with Vaitiekus and cutter Leslie Heldzingen crafting his vision, Chris Elena is now in a position to consider the end product of his obsession with traditional celluloid. “We didn’t get the amount of coverage we wanted, but we made it work in the end,” he concludes. “We could've created this on digital but it never would have looked and felt this way. The raw dallies - without a colour grade, with minor scratches and dust on the frame - looked like what I always imagined films to look like. Every take we got, the work and effort was on display.” (Pictured, left; the director preparing a shot on the set of The Limited)

And, no, the director is not finished crusading for the existence of film stock. “I'll try to shoot on film until there's not a single reel left that Kodak can give me,” he declares. “The effort and potential for magic that comes with it is worth it in every way imaginable.”

Wednesday
Jan062016

ASHES AND DIAMONDS: THE ANNE RICHEY INTERVIEW

It would become known as ‘Black Saturday’, the day in February 2009 never to be forgotten by Australians. In the hinterland of the southern state of Victoria, bushfires decimated acres, laying to waste rural communities like Marysville, where 45 lives were lost. Filmmaker Anne Richey knew the area well and was devastated by the destruction. In the wake of the disaster, she was inspired to tell a story filled with hope and human spirit; and so was borne The Weatherman’s Umbrella, a fairy tale adventure bringing to life the unique artistry of a Marysville landmark, Bruno’s Sculpture Garden….

“I first visited Marysville for the National Screenwriters’ Conference about a year before the fires,” says Richey, ahead of a public screening of her film at Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD. “I fell in love with the gorgeous little town.” Central to its charms was the work of Bruno Torfs, a South American-born artist who had crafted unique life-sized figures that greeted guests who walked a rainforest track in the heart of Marysville known as the ‘Sculpture Garden’. The artist’s estate was all but destroyed by the ‘Black Saturday’ flames. Recalls Richey, “I kept returning to the images over the following year or so, and when I heard that the garden had reopened I visited the town to see if Bruno would mind if I wrote a film inspired by his gorgeous garden.”

Richey’s narrative framework uses much that family audiences will recognise from fairy tale lore. “Sarah’s journey echoes stories like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden,” she admits. Played by ingénue Lily Morrow (pictured, top), our heroine encounters various eccentric denizens of a mystical forest as she helps a dithering weatherman (local identity Daryl Hull; pictured, right, with Morrow) find his lost parasol. Unlike the evening news variety who merely report and predict, Sarah’s new friend creates weather, and without his umbrella the region will go without rain.

Early in the script’s development, Richey organised a reading for the Marysville community in which Australian acting great John Wood voiced the titular role (the actor’s prior commitments prevented his casting in the film). “It was very important to me that it be done this way. I wanted to make sure that everyone was okay with the content of the story before we began making the film,” says Richey. “Fortunately, we didn’t receive any negative comments, and I think it helped that people knew about the storyline (before) helping out.”

Ineligible for funding via both Screen Australia and Film Victoria, a determined Richey moved ahead with the shoot regardless, employing a no-budget work ethic that utilised non-pro actors (with the exception of industry veteran John Flaus, as Sarah’s Great Grandfather; pictured, right, with Morrow and co-star Jacob Vulfs) and crew drawn from the township and its surrounds. For Richey, this bare-bones approach proved a godsend. “It seemed as though every time I vaguely mentioned needing something, it (not only) appeared but was in a form which was so much better than I could have imagined,” she says. “It was a very lucky shoot in so many ways. When there’s virtually no budget, everything needs to be done creatively, and because of this it became a real community effort.”

It may be the ‘community effort’ - the spirited sense of small town unity that the 16-month weekend shooting schedule captured - which proves to be The Weatherman’s Umbrella greatest legacy. “It’s a film which showcases the amazing talents and extraordinary landscapes around Marysville,” Richey says, who fostered the sense of family by using key locations and props that held special meaning for locals in the wake of the bushfire disaster. “While we were making the film, quite a few people told me that (we) had arrived at the perfect time. (Our) film didn’t have anything to do with the fires but was just about making something fun. People had rebuilt their homes and I think were looking for a way of moving forward.”

For Richey, whatever positive energy the people of Marysville draw from her film merely reflects the unwavering commitment that they contributed. “It’s been great to see so many people in the area helping the film along its way,” she says. “The people involved in the film were so welcoming towards the project, and they were so inspiring. They’re such a generous, talented and kind group of people.”

Footnote: Bruno’s Sculpture Garden has been fully restored and now features over 120 of Torf’s original works; it was recently included amongst the 100 ‘Essential Experiences’ tourist sites in Victoria by the travel website Experience Oz. In The Weatherman’s Umbrella, Torf can be seen in the role of ‘Bearded Man’ (pictured, above).

Anne Richey will present The Weatherman’s Umbrella at a special event screening on Thursday, January 14 at Healesville Memorial Hall, Victoria. The film is available for community screening bookings via Fan-Force.

Wednesday
Dec162015

THE SHELTER: THE MICHAEL PARE INTERVIEW

Michael Paré is a rare talent, embodying the phrase ‘a great character actor in a leading man’s body’. His iconic roles – Tom Cody in Streets of Fire; Eddie in Eddie and The Cruisers; David in The Philadelphia Experiment – are recalled with reverential glee by a generation of moviegoers. Since those heady days, the Brooklyn native has worked ceaselessly, alongside such eclectic filmmaking talents as Roland Emmerich (Moon 44), Eric Red (Bad Moon; 100 Feet), John Carpenter (Village of The Damned), Uwe Boll (BloodRayne; Seed) and Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides). His latest is The Shelter, writer/director John Fallon’s dramatic psychological-thriller. Following the film’s recent screening at A Night of Horror Film Festival (ANOH) in Sydney, organisers determined that the time was right to honour Michael Paré for his contribution to cinema; he became the inaugural recipient of the event’s Career Achievement Award.

In the wake of the honour, Paré spoke with SCREEN-SPACE editor (and ANOH Jury President) Simon Foster from his LA home about his latest film, the actors who still inspire him and the time he spent Down Under…

Before we focus in on The Shelter, I want to ask you about Undercover, an Australian film you made what must feel like a hundred years ago. How did you end up in director David Steven’s comedy about women’s underwear?

(Laughs) Well, David was in LA casting and I got sent the script, right after I’d done Eddie and The Cruisers. I thought, ‘Wow, a period piece,’ but one that   wasn’t rock’n’roll and wasn’t action and seemed like a lot fun. I met David but I was a day late for the audition, he was getting ready to leave to fly home. And he gave me the job. It was my first job outside of the US. I needed to get a passport to make this film on the other side of the planet. I loved the experience; it was great time. I wish I could get back to Australia to work again. (Pictured, right; Paré with co-star Genevieve Picot in 1983's Undercover)

The Career Achievement honour at A Night of Horror was inspired by your performance in The Shelter. The complexity of your performance reflects a dedication to the craft nurtured over time. It is among your best work…

Thanks a lot, it was a great pleasure. It was a thing of love, not something that anyone thought was going to be very commercial. But it is a very dramatic story, great cinematography and a very impassioned crew and cast. It was a great experience.

Your character, Thomas, goes through a vast arc - guilt, grief, corrosive memories, the quest for redemption. Tell me about your impressions of the character when you first read John’s script…

The pain and suffering that a person can bring on themselves, the cost of not being aware of the impact of your actions on others; that misery and suffering and despair and guilt and remorse. These are incredibly powerful and painful emotions to experience. And they were brought on Thomas by his own actions, his own weakness. Not to pontificate, but a lot of pain and suffering is brought on by one’s own behaviour and it’s very sad. Nobody has to punish you, (yet) you often do it to yourself. It is an amazing thing to see. It is an interesting thing for me to explore, because I play a lot of heroes, cop stuff and detective stuff. But this was a small movie, filled with humanity.

How close did your interpretation of Thomas mesh with John’s vision?

The facts were all in the script. How they were going to manifest through me, the actor, hadn’t been worked out, of course. But John had seen a lot of my work and we were kind of buddies. He was there when we shot Bad Moon; he was with us in Hungary when we shot 100 Feet. Our mutual friend, Eric Red, and John and I have spent a lot of time together. So just talking with him about this subject matter, John could tell that I understood what he was going for. (Pictured, right: producer Donny Broussard, director John Fallon with Paré on the set of The Shelter)

I know your acting heroes are Brando and Dean; am I right in observing there is some of their dedication to character in your performance?

I didn’t try to imitate any other actor but I admired their performances so much and that they gave up so much of their souls to be photographed. So when you see such a powerful guy like Marlon Brando collapse in front of the apartment in A Streetcar Named Desire because he is so lonely and desperate and hungry for Stella, to see this brute is also such a baby. To find this strong, physical guy is so emotionally handicapped (means) a strong similarity between Stanley and Thomas exists. And in Rebel Without a Cause, Dean has that great scene when he’s watching his parents fight and he has that great line, “You’re tearing me apart,” because he cant figure out what is right or wrong anymore. Yeah, that’s inspiring. That’s Jimmy Dean, the coolest man in the world at the time and he’s willing to show this incredible vulnerability. So, yes, inspiration but not imitation.

Whether it’s the big studio pictures like The Lincoln Lawyer or the Uwe Boll stuff or smaller, prestige pics like The Shelter, 121 IMDb credits suggests an incredible work ethic. How would you sum up your philosophy of your craft and the industry you’ve been part of for so long?

It doesn’t matter what size the budget is, my job as an actor is the same. I have to do my preparation, be on time, hit my marks and create a performance. The tape on the floor isn’t that expensive (laughs). Whether it’s a $50,000 camera or some little handheld thing, my job’s the same. Ask any thespian; when they step on stage in some little town in the middle of nowhere, it is the same as stepping on a stage anywhere. The audiences might be big or small, the projects are never the same, but the job is always the same.

Wednesday
Oct282015

SCHLOCK AND AWE: THE CHRISTOPHER R MIHM INTERVIEW.

Schlock auteur Christopher R Mihm is the reigning Overlord of the ‘Mihmiverse’, a collection of films inspired by the B-movie, drive-in gems of the 1950s. The Minnesota-based maverick has been making next-to-no-budget sci-fi/horror visions since 2006, when his debut The Monster of Phantom Lake made a big splash at genre festivals. Inspired by fan response, he has produced, directed, edited and acted in a film a year ever since, including It Came From Another World (2007), Cave Women on Mars (2008), Attack of The Moon Zombies (2011) and The Giant Spider (2013). His latest, a kind of Goonies-meets-puppet-aliens thrill ride called Danny Johnson Saves The World, has its Australian premiere at the SciFi Film Festival in Sydney’s west this weekend. He spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his films, fans and family from his home…

You’re open about the role your late father plays in inspiring you. What were his skills as a storyteller that you adhere to when crafting your films?

My father was a fan of movies in general, particularly horror and science fiction. To this day, I treasure memories of him taking my family out to the local drive-in. I’m not sure I ever thought of my father as a storyteller (though he could tell an inappropriate joke better than anyone I’ve ever met) but he did have an appreciation for good stories, regardless of their ‘packaging.’ He never seemed to judge films by the ‘quality’ of their presentation but, instead, by the effectiveness of their stories. I think learning that from him is what allows me to truly enjoy those classic films for what they are, not for what people might wish them to be. I think of it like this: “tell a good story first, everything else comes second.” If I’m telling a compelling story, the ‘cheesiness’ of my films shouldn’t negatively affect the quality of the final product.

Is the casting and crewing of The Mihm Family in your productions your way of instilling similar values in your children?

As a person who adores movies and the movie-going experience, I’m mindfully exposing my children to some of the fun movie-related experiences I had as a child, from going to the drive-in to movie marathons. I make a point to see films in a theatre, not just in the comfort of our home. Some of the casting and crewing of family has more to do with sharing my passion for making movies with my kids. Most of my children were born after my filmmaking career began so this is something that’s always been a part of their lives. They took to the movie-making process very quickly. (Pictured, above - the young cast of Danny Johnson Saves The World).

Describe the balance you strive to achieve on-set that happily melds ‘Chris the dad/husband’ and ‘Chris the director’…

Well, I don’t know that the balance of dad/husband Chris and director Chris was always effectively struck [laughs]. Working with children in general is often difficult but having that familiarity of being their father made for some very interesting moments during shooting. Then again, I could always threaten to take away privileges if my kids acted out while filming so, maybe being so closely related to the people I’m working with, and having the luxury of being “the boss”, wasn’t all bad!

What was the genesis of Danny Johnson Saves The World?

My kids have been making it clear for some time that they wanted to make a movie starring them and for them. I sincerely believe they all have real talent and, seeing as they understand the process so well, I figured it was finally time to make a movie with them. My oldest son, Elliott (who played the title character) is now a teenager and I knew if we were ever going to capture those last moments of true child-like innocence, the time was now. The story itself was built on a character Elliott played in two previous films, as a five-year-old version of Danny Johnson in Terror from Beneath the Earth and a slightly older one in the opening scenes of The Giant Spider. All of my films take place in a shared universe, so it made sense to expand an already existing character into his own self-contained adventure. (Pictured, above - Mihm directing his son Elliott, centre, and daughter Alice).

Apart from your father, who inspires your work? Who are the filmmakers that you recall most fondly?

Roger Corman for his prolificacy; Bert I. Gordon (pictured, below) for his contributions to the special effects field when creating such gems as “Earth vs. The Spider” and “The Amazing Colossal Man”; George Lucas because every kid who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s loves Star Wars, including me; Steven Spielberg for his absolute mastery of the craft and for being a great storyteller in every sense; and, Tim Burton for having a truly unique cinematic point-of-view.

There have been films that mimic the ‘Golden Era of B-movies’, like Mars Attacks! (1996) and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), but many fail to capture the genre’s essence. Why do your films achieve that?

It’s a combination of a couple elements. First, a lack of resources forces me to do the best I can with what little I have. This mimics the ‘drive-in era’ of filmmaking, [when] filmmakers had to make things up as they went along. There was no CGI and not much that had come before to build upon. There was an innocence, because of the age in which they lived, but also because half the time they were just trying to make things work with no money - exactly like I do! Mars Attacks! is a fine movie but, with a budget that made anything possible, doesn’t have the authentic feel of those old movies. Second, I try to instil a sense of heavy seriousness into my direction. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (which is also a fine film) is a straightforward comedic spoof, poking fun at the wooden acting, low-budget effects and nonsensical plots. My scripts are serious attempts at making ‘good movies’ which are [then] presented in a very specific style. I direct actors to ignore the sometimes ridiculous nature of the situations their characters are in. I make it clear that, in the universe of these films, that man in a monster costume is a deadly creature and [my actors] should act as such. This earnest seriousness, and a palpable ‘community theatre vibe’, captures that old ‘look and feel’ so well.

Have the production techniques you employ during a shoot changed much since The Monster of Phantom Lake?

If one watched all ten films in the order they were released, it’s pretty clear that my ability, and the ability of my crew, to tell an effective story has improved. Budgets have generally stayed the same but we have expanded our reach in terms of locations and sets. However, at their core, my films retain the ‘fun factor’ of my first film. The biggest improvement has come mostly in pacing. The earlier films tend to be a touch more deliberate, like the older films which they emulate. The later ones, [notably] The Giant Spider (pictured, right) and Danny Johnson Saves The World, have picked up the pace to match modern audience expectations.

The festival love that your films receive and the fanbase that follow your films suggests what about the appeal of your films and this genre?

There are still folks out there who understand what it is I’m going for and that those old films still have a place in modern consciousness. The innocent ambience has broad appeal, especially in films that are just plain fun and aren’t necessarily challenging anyone’s preconceived notions. My films and the films they seek to emulate are often simplistic, with (pun intended, I suppose) black and white plots and character motivations. The world we live in is so caught up in the gray areas of life, people like to spend an hour or two in fantastical worlds where the good guys are good because they’re good and the bad guys are bad because they’re bad. Also, people sometimes want to enjoy films that aren’t made by hundreds of digital artists; they want movies where everything in them is ‘real,’ and though they may look very fake, they at least exist in the physical world.

When your first film wrapped, did you envision spending the next decade making a film a year? Was a reputation as America’s modern B-movie master, to the point where your films screen in Australian film festivals, the plan you had for your life?

When I finished The Monster from Phantom Lake (pictured, right), I thought that might be the end of it. I figured ten years down the road I’d still have 600 copies of the DVD sitting in my basement collecting dust. However, the first run of the film sold very well and it started me down a path which has taken me exactly where I wanted to go…into Australian film festivals [laughs]. I often brag at events that I have following in Australia, where the fans have been very good to me. Gaining a foothold in Australia can be directly attributed to Nigel Honeybone’s Schlocky Horror Picture Show. Without it, I have no idea how I would have ever had my films shown there, let alone at the Skyline Drive-in Blacktown! And I never would have met Norman Yeend, the amazing Australian artist who has created for us several stop-motion critters, including the show-stopping dinosaur seen in Danny Johnson Saves The World! Admittedly, I never imagined any of the great stuff that’s happened was going to happen. I’m grateful to be able to pursue my passion for filmmaking and introduce people to the glory of cheesy old movies!

The full catalogue of Christopher R Mihm's films can be found at his website, sainteuphoria.com .