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Thursday
Aug082019

ALYSSA DE LEO WOWS MIFF AND SAVES LIVES WITH SHORT FILM CLASSIC 

Is the best film at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival an ad commissioned by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC)? Screening ahead of every MIFF session, ‘The Afterlife Bar’ imagines a social gathering of the celebrity souls, the drinking session quickly becoming a “How did you die?” chat. John Lennon, Che Guevara and Princess Di all recount their demise (it’s funnier than it sounds), before the camera settles on a young man named Jeremy; he admits, to the stunned patrons, he was texting while driving.

The concept and script is the inspired work of Alyssa De Leo, a 20 year-old RMIT filmmaking student. De Leo (pictured, above) penned a brilliant short-form comedy disguised as a road safety call-to-action; her script won the Split Second Film Competition and was shepherded into production by ad agency Taboo, production company Airbag and director Will Horne.  “From the beginning, I was always going to take the comedic approach,” the young writer told SCREEN-SPACE, enjoying the first high-profile creative triumph of what promises to be a fascinating film industry career….

SCREEN-SPACE: Let's go right back to the start. When/how did the inspiration for the concept of 'an afterlife bar' come to you? What was the germ of the idea?

ALYSSA: When I first heard about the competition, I knew MIFF and the TAC wanted something quite different and creative, I guess what you wouldn’t usually see in a typical TAC ad. I’ve always been fascinated by history and historical figures, especially as an avid movie watcher and reader. I enjoy biopics and would love to write one someday. As a writer I’m always thinking about characters and to me, historical figures are some of the best characters out there. So I kind of had those two ideas floating around in my head, historical figures and road safety - not things that usually go together! One day they just kind of clicked together in my head and I thought to myself ‘That’s bizarre but it could work.’ I love writing comedy and can’t help but inject it into most things I write, even if it's a serious subject. But I thought the comedic approach could be effective in getting that road safety message across, as it’s not only entertaining but educational too, and I think something like that might stick with you more.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did you settle on the 'dead celebs'? I conjured in my head a table that might have also used a more age-appropriate Paul Walker or a River Phoenix, or might that have been a bit too soon, too tragic?

ALYSSA: There was a huge mix of celebs I considered when I first came up with the idea. When writing the first draft, I looked at which celebrities had well known deaths, but also how their deaths could be interjected into jokes and punchlines effectively. In the original script I actually had Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi too, along with Princess Di, Mary Queen of Scots, Steve Jobs and Shakespeare. When I first met with Airbag and Taboo, we had a script workshop where we made a huge list of potential celebs to add - there was everyone from Charles Darwin, Neil Armstrong, and Joan of Arc. When choosing the final celebs, the key thing we looked at were people who you would recognise instantly. Cleopatra, Ned Kelly, John Lennon; you see that Egyptian dress, rusty helmet, round glasses, and you know who those people are. We also didn’t want to include anyone whose death was too recent. I remember Steve Irwin’s name came up and we just thought, too soon. I think Steve Jobs is the most recent death we have in there, but I think his part works, considering the ad is about not using your phone while driving, and he’s kind of responsible for how popular phones are nowadays.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was it tough shaping a creative vision that satisfied both you and the TAC brief? Can you envision a working life that balances both ad industry work and more independent short/feature output?

ALYSSA: I found it really rewarding working with everyone who was involved - the TAC, Airbag and Taboo. I was very involved throughout the whole process and they didn’t hinder my creative vision at all, which was great. They wanted to stick to the bone of my original script as much as possible. They were really open to any ideas I had, and while they suggested a couple of things to change or add, anything they said only made the project better. It was a super collaborative process. I can imagine myself balancing ad work and shorts and features in the future. My ideal goal would be to write for both television and film one day, but I’m super open to doing more ad work - it’s a really fun process and I’d love to make some more.

SCREEN-SPACE: Which makes me think - given its popularity and award-winning status, might you adapt The Afterlife Bar into a feature?

ALYSSA: (Laughs) It’s only a matter of time, isn’t it? I actually have thought about what an ‘Afterlife Bar’ feature film might look like. We could add a ton more celebrities, maybe explore the history of the bar, how it came to be, which celebs work there, and look at more of Jeremy’s backstory - maybe what he was like when he was alive, and the choices he made leading to his unfortunate fate. It would also be fun to expand the world of the afterlife. Afterlife salon? Afterlife stadium? Afterlife market? It could definitely happen.

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