You might have to go and earn your stripes for the credibility that attracts funding, no matter where you are.
The interesting thing is that in this career there’s no real model. The joy, and also suffocation, of the corporate model is that you sit in your position and you’re moved along. You don’t move. They move you. I detest that, but at the same time I envy it. In this industry you don’t really have colleagues and you don’t have a human resources department to advise you every couple of months on how your career’s tracking. While the film industry has this beautiful mentoring aspect, there’s also this quiet hum of bitchiness. Everyone’s very aware that we’re playing musical chairs. The music stops regularly and there are only a couple of seats to accommodate everyone. At the same time, we have a great amount of empathy and respect for each other. It’s a complicated dynamic.
Can you name some of the people you look up to?
In Australia, the director whose film I most recently watched and loved is Kriv Stenders. He’s someone I can’t wait to meet. Last year Stenders made a film called Boxing Day, but it was never really released theatrically. That was another reason I seeped into a funk. One of the greatest films I’d ever seen hadn’t even made it into cinemas. I thought, how can you get so far and make such a brilliant film and still not penetrate the public conscience? The writer I most admire is an American called Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin created the television drama West Wing. Rosemary Blight, Daniel Scharf and Ann Darrouzet are producers among my role models. Ann amazes me. She has survived as an independent producer in the industry for 30 years, is bringing up two kids alone, studies law part time and runs marathons. Whenever I am fatigued I think of her and am inspired to suck it in and work harder.
What kind of films do you want to make? What threads will run through them? What do you want to be known for?
My partner asked me once who I made films for and, I think, when I know the answer to that I’ll probably retire. Ideally, you want to be able to communicate what’s burning inside you and what’s current for you. I find it really hard to resurrect an idea I had a year ago and feel as passionately about it as I did then. Even though I keep notebooks, it’s like trying to remember a dream – it’s just not as real the next day. One goal I have is to keep the audience firmly in mind when I’m working. You’re always made to serve so many different masters – a producer, a funding body, a zeitgeist – and in the effort to please them all style can win out over substance. A friend of mine recently shared with me a quote by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It was something about never trying to impress. It is crucial to make sure you’re serving your story and your impetus for telling it; what makes it your point of view and your perspective. In terms of the style of films I want to make my aesthetic influences are varied. My dad is French and I grew up at the Astor – an old cinema in Melbourne. He took me there two or three nights a week from the age of eight and I would watch five or six films a week that were predominantly old French cinema. To a degree, that work is ingrained in my cells. When I look at the work I’ve made so far I suppose I expect a lot from the audience in terms of participation. I’d like to be able to maintain that, where the story demands it. I want to make decisions that serve the story and the audience’s experience of it, not broad commercial concerns.
There’s nothing wrong with making people work a little bit. We’re lazy because we’ve spoon fed.
Yeah, I sometimes think my last film might have pushed that a little too far. The narrative might have been too ethereal. On each project the hardest thing is to listen to the right degree of feedback. There’s nothing better than being in a cinema audience and feeling their reaction to your work, but what you do with that is potentially dangerous. If it informs you too much you can find yourself trying to please with your next work and move away from your main creative directive. As you make more work it becomes harder still to create pure work because there’s more critique embedded in your conscience to haunt you when formulating the next plot. All of this is very much on my mind right now because I’m writing again. I found my first couple of drafts were just total crap and realised I was crowd-pleasing. I knew what to do in order to please and went, this is shit. I’m just scared of alienating the audience. I have to start writing from within again.
I wouldn’t have the first clue on writing a script. You must be thinking about so many things at once – the action, the dialogue and the shot.
For me it’s like method acting but it’s method writing. You tend to act as a medium. You need to find that pure unconscious space from where you can literally lift truth. That’s one part of the process, but there’s also an analytical stage where you mould that mental vomit into something crafted. It’s that thing about art not being an accident. People ask me if I find writing really easy. I’m like, why, because it involves pen and paper? Of all the things I’ve done writing is, by leagues, the hardest endeavour. It’s both scientific and artistic. It’s both emotional and rational. It requires discipline and diligence without prospect of reward. It’s personal and collective… it’s everything. They say it takes 10,000 hours of writing before you write that first good script. I’ve written four screenplays, for free, and they’re scripts I don’t anticipate will be made, or even read necessarily, and people ask me what I do it for. It’s like practice. The American screenwriting community is incredible. A television show will have nine writers developing the concept for six months before it even gets to the scriptwriting stage. Their standards are incredible. I try to take my lessons from their practice. I’m quite fanatical and am always trying to improve my craft. A major reason I haven’t pushed to shoot one of my feature scripts is I feel I haven’t yet written my best script. Until then I’m not going to waste the money, time and environmental resources on a masturbatory exercise.
People push you and tell you to do it now while you’ve got the momentum, but I feel like why bust my gut now to contribute to the wealth of shit work already out there.
There is plenty of that.
I’d rather eat beans for a bit longer and make something worthwhile when I’m capable.