EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews indieWIRE will be running with the filmmakers screening in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival’s Discovery program.
I grew up in a small country town. I’m sure if I went to school now I would be diagnosed with ADD. I’m dyslexic. I married my teenage crush; we have been together 15 years. We have two children, Ollie 6, and Rosebud, 2. I’ve just starting eating meat after 16 years of being vegetarian. I’m horrified but it’s fantastic.
I think I was drawn to film because I couldn’t play music. My Dad was a music teacher, I had one lesson when I was kid and it ended in tears.
Your Filmmaking Career and Process…
When I turned 25 I had an early mid-life crisis. I was working as a graphic designer, but all I wanted to do was make films. I quit my job and applied for film school. I went and studied documentary film, it was one of the best years of my life. I came away with a purist vision of only wanting to make long form observational docs. The idea of doing a “fiction” film of any kind seemed dirty. Then one day I had an idea for a short film about something that happened to me when I was kid, which I made like I would have made it if I was making a documentary back then. The short film “Cracker Bag” went to the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and won the Palm d’Or for short film that year.
That brought a lot of offers and opportunities with it, but I wanted to discover the film that I really wanted to make. After a year or so, an early draft of “Last Ride” was sent to me. I knew ten pages in that I was going to make the film. It felt like it had been written for and about me. It just got under my skin and I don’t think it will ever leave. It was like a gift.
Apart from my time as a graphic designer, I have always been a working film and TV director. I’ve never worked in any other crew role, perhaps to my disadvantage. The first time I walked on set with a full crew was the first time I had been “onset” at all. I kind of bluffed my way through it and learnt pretty quick. I feel most comfortable and most ‘myself’ when I’m shooting. I think it’s the best job in the world. Not that it even feels like a “job.”
“Last Ride” is a road movie that we shot quite literally on the road. The small cast and crew drove over 5000 km to make the film. The landscape is really important to the story and to the nature of the film. Well before preproduction started I did a lot of recces and found incredible places, some that related directly to the script and others that inspired me to go back change the script. I would then go back to Mac Gudgeon who wrote the screenplay and we would work the new locations into the script. In this way we developed the locations like how you might rewrite and develop a character after rehearsal.
The script was always very open like this. I definitely see a script as a map to somewhere and not the destination, and I’m open to anything and everything along the way that might bring a new or different life to the written pages. Mac was very open to this. Early on he said “I’ll write the film you want to make,” which gave me a lot of freedom, but also, I felt, a great desire and responsibility to make the film that Mac wanted to write. Mac is clever like that. It was a great collaboration.
The crew was made up of friends who I had been working with for years on Shorts, music clips and commercials. I felt very lucky and very supported to be surrounded by who I considered some of Australia’s best filmmakers but also my best friends. The budget was small but i never really felt like I needed anything more. I don’t like using much film equipment and I have always found small budgets a way of having to be creative with your time and resources.
The film stars Hugo Weaving, who is an amazingly talented and experienced actor, he stars along side 10 year old Tom Russell who had never acted before. It was tricky as a director swinging between the experience of Hugo and the freshness of Tom. Hugo was very generous with his time and energy. Tom learned a lot from Hugo and I know Hugo learned allot from Tom. It was a great thing to observe.
The last 5 years of development and in particular the last year or so where I have been on the film full time has been the most exciting, anxious, creative, stressful, inspiring, exhausting, humbling, terrifying, satisfying and ultimately the most privileged time of my life. Every minute of it (even the really bad ones) has been a dream come true.
I’m influenced and constantly inspired by a never ending list of people, places and things. Talkback radio, paintings, heavy metal, high-end fashion magazines, lyrics and sounds. It all filters through and somehow makes sense to me.
I’m definitely a visual person, but I think about and love working with sound more. Sound to me is the ultimate. And I’m sure I make films so I can play with sound, more than play with images. I’m always thinking things like “How could I make a film that feels like Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’, or Alice In Chains’ ‘Would?’?” Can you make a film like a song?
Werner Herzog inspires me. I see him more like a father, than a filmmaker.
“Last Ride” in particular was inspired by the landscape in which it was filmed. The deserts and endless roads of Southern Australia.
I would still love to do a feature documentary and I still see it as perhaps the truest form of cinema, but I just love filmmaking regardless of what or how I’m telling the story. The idea of placing two moving images together and running some sound underneath just excites me to no end.
If I could go from feature to feature that would be my dream come true. It’s such a privileged thing to be doing: the places you go, the people you meet. I try never to take it for granted.