Category Archives: Directing

Here’s Why This Young Cannes Director Pre-Shoots His Entire Movie

After seeing Beanpole, you’d never imagine that Kantemir Balagov got his start on YouTube — or that he was 26 years old when he directed it. The film, which won the Un Certain Regard Best Director Award at Cannes earlier this year, has the kind of visual sophistication and narrative confidence that directors spend a career cultivating. But Balagov is far from an established auteur; Beanpole is only his second film. Balagov’s unseasonable mastery may, in part, be explained by an unusual element of his filmmaking process.

To pre-visualize their films, some directors draw 1,000 storyboards. Others build scenes with Legos. Balegov, however, pre-shoots his entire movie.

The preparation is writ large onscreen. Beanpole is rich with intentionality; each frame is meticulously designed, from the period details of the set to the cinematography, which carries the characters’ emotions in every camera movement. Set in Leningrad just after the end of World War II, Beanpole stars Viktoria Miroshnichenko as Iya, an inordinately tall young nurse (hence the nickname) who suffers from unpredictable bouts of paralysis as a result of an injury she suffered in the war. In the hospital where Iya works, soldiers beg to be euthanized. All across the city, fractured psyches cling to humanity by a single thread.

Even though Russia has emerged victorious, the war has wreaked unimaginable havoc on the bodies and souls of its citizens. Further proof of this devastation comes barrelling in as Iya’s friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) returns from the front lines with the energy of an unstable nuclear element, bringing with her the chaotic, emotionally-charged, selfish nihilism of war. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game of emotional debt-paying, romantic inclinations, and a futile quest for meaning in a world that seems indifferent to anyone’s future, let alone two young girls named Iya and Masha.

No Film School sat down with Balagov at this year’s New York Film Festival to discuss why he pre-shot the film, how he used the camera to capture the fraught intimacy between the characters, and more.


Kantemir Balagov: I just wanted to be a director! [Laughs] I was trying to find myself through photography and video games. I made some YouTube series and sent them to Alexander Sokurov [the Russian director, whose movie Russian Ark was filmed in a single shot]. One day, he took me into his studio.

“I wanted the cinematography to look like paintings.”

NFS: So Sokurov was kind of your portal into the industry?

Balagov: He created me as a person. He gave me self-awareness. He showed me a love of literature and it helped my filmmaking. He helped me find my voice.

NFS: So, you made your first feature with Sekulov, and this is your second. How did you come to the topic of Beanpole?

Balagov: I came to this topic a while working on my first feature, actually. I read the book, “The Woman, The Face of War”, in 2015. At the time, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make my first film about The Second World War because it would be too expensive of a production.

My first feature, Closeness, premiered at Cannes, and after that, I thought I could start working on Beanpole.

NFS: When you were thinking about the way that you wanted to bring this world to life, what were your visual inspirations?

Balagov: Dutch paintings. With my first film, I had visual references in documentary photography. For this one, I wanted the cinematography to look like paintings.


NFS: What was your process with your cinematographer to create this look?Balagov: We just tried to find a unique style for a period drama. There’s a lot of war movies about the Soviet Union. Our film looks unique because we wanted it to loo watchable for a young audience.

NFS: You have a lot of scenes that were one takes and I thought those were really well done. How did you approach those on set?

Balagov: For the one takes, I tried to put close-ups and wide shots into the same take. Like a montage inside of the frame. It’s hard to film because each actor and crew member has to move in the exact same way at the exact right time.

“Producers don’t want to take risks and invest in a new director.”

NFS: How do you get this precision?

Balagov: Before shooting, we pre-shoot the film. We took a video camera and all the actresses and just shoot the whole film.

I don’t do storyboards because I do prefer to work with real spaces. So when we had our locations, we do the pre-shoot. It helps me to cut some scenes before the actual shoot. It also helped actresses to feel the mis-en-scene, and how they should move in each frame. It helped the DP, too. Everyone was prepared on set—everyone knew how they should set up the lights and what we were going to shoot.


Pre-shooting also really helped me understand that the film was too long—the pre-shoot cut was 3 hours and 15 minutes.

“Pre-shoots are especially important for first-time directors.”

I think pre-shoots are especially important for first-time directors because you feel comfortable with the material and confident in yourself.

NFS: How long do you do the pre-shoot for?

Balagov: I think two and a half weeks.

NFS: And this is instead of doing rehearsals with the actors?

Balagov: No, we do rehearsals after. The pre-shoot was just for the physical understanding for the actresses.

NFS: How did you cast the film? I’m not sure if the two main actors were trained or if you found them a different way.

Balagov: They were studying. They were the fourth year, I think. But Sasha, the boy, used to sell the book in bookstores. We found him on social media. Also, the doctor is not a professional actor. He’s a musician.


Balagov: I would say that sometimes untrained actors give richer performances than professional actors because there’s more life in them. But there’s a risk that they won’t remember things from the take to take, so adjustments can be more difficult.

When I’m casting, the important thing to look for is charisma and personality.

“Sometimes, untrained actors give richer performances than professional actors because there’s more life in them.”

NFS: Do you have any advice for a new filmmaker who wants to make festival fare films, like you have, but doesn’t have a traditional path there?

Balagov: It’s really hard because producers don’t want to take risks and invest in a new director. And I’m saying that because with my first feature, even though I worked at Alexander’s studio, no one gave a shit about my script. I had so many no’s. It’s hard to make your first film. I just got lucky.

Some advice that Alexander’s studio gave is that you should read more books and watch [fewer] movies.

NFS: Do you think that you will continue to make films in the vein of your first two films?

Balagov: I really want to make an animated movie. I’m also really interested in directing a film inspired by a video game. I’m really into video games.

Samantha Lang joins Garth Davis/See-Saw Films joint venture

Lion and Mary Magdalene director Garth Davis and See-Saw Films have launched a production co-venture with Samantha Lang as head of development.

Entitled I Am That, the partnership will develop feature film and TV projects for Davis to direct and produce alongside See-Saw founders Iain Canning and Emile Sherman.

The president of the Australian Directors Guild, Lang has started work already, based at See-Saw Films’ Sydney office. “This is a really great fit,” Sam tells IF. “I really admire Garth and Emile and we look forward to creating beyond beautiful, large scale international film and TV projects together.”

Davis said: “I Am That stems from my long-standing relationship with both Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who have been incredibly supportive of me in my filmmaking journey and are wonderful partners.

“I also feel very lucky to have the talented Samantha Lang by our side in this new chapter, helping us unearth compelling stories for film and television. Bec Smith and Keya Khayatian of UTA continue to be an indispensable part of my team.”

In a statement Canning and Sherman added, “Garth is that rare director who has an auteur’s eye, can build complete worlds and is at home in the intimate creation of character and performance.

“We are also so pleased to have found Samantha Lang to drive the creative acquisition and development of projects across film and television. Her creative talents and intelligence are second to none and our tastes are all deeply aligned.”

As IF reported last year Lang has been developing several projects including Kill the Messenger, a romantic tragi-comedy adapted from Nakkiah Lui’s play about the couple at the centre of a post-colonial interracial love story; and Lucy and Linh, scripted by Michelle Law and based on the young adult novel by Alice Pung about the daughter of a Chinese migrant family who goes to an exclusive girls’ school dominated by a cabal of white girls known as the Cabinet.

See-Saw recently produced 10-part drama The End for Foxtel and the Emmy Award-winning State of the Union.

Its upcoming slate includes Jane Campion’s feature The Power of the Dog for Netflix, Francis Lee’s period romance Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Andrew Haigh’s BBC miniseries The North Water with Jack O’Connell and Colin Farrell and John Madden’s World War 2 drama Operation Mincemeat with Colin Firth.

05 November, 2019 by Don Groves IF Magazine

How Canada Became a Springboard for Female Directors

Perhaps Australia could learn from the Canadians about how to nurture the careers of our female directors.

This article by Etan Viessing of THR explains the Canadian success. Of note is their support for micro-budget features that have a chance to break through into the film festival circuit.

See below:

How Canada Became a Springboard for Female Directors: Multiple government initiatives are pushing for gender parity in the film business by 2020.
2/12/2018 by Etan Vlessing THR

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proudly displayed his progressive bona fides three years ago when he announced that his 30-member Cabinet would be the country’s first to represent men and women equally, 50- 50. When asked by a journalist why, he made global headlines with his blunt reply: “Because it’s 2015.”

Roughly a year later — and well before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — Telefilm Canada, the powerful, well-funded film financing arm of the Canadian government, followed Trudeau’s lead and unveiled its own ambitious drive to achieve gender parity in the film sector by 2020. The goal was clear: The agency would choose which films to finance based on whether projects were directed by, or revolved around, women (among other criteria).

The initiative already is having an effect: A 2017 Telefilm study shows a 27 percent increase in agency-backed projects directed by women since 2015. And it’s not just Telefilm: The National Film Board of Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Canada Media Fund also have unveiled plans to achieve gender parity by 2020.

But with its deep pockets — the agency invests around $100 million annually in homegrown filmmaking — Telefilm is leading the way.

“There are systemic barriers to funding,” says Federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, a close ally of Trudeau. “We believe that we should, as a feminist government, have a clear commitment to overcome these barriers.”

The practical initiatives from Telefilm include its Talent to Watch program, formerly the Micro-Budget Production Program. Telefilm renamed and revamped the 5-year-old micro-budget program in November with a mandate to back 50 first-time and, where possible, female-led features annually, with investments capped at $120,000 for each movie.

That in turn led organizers to consider how they could help maintain a young filmmaker’s momentum in the industry after completion of that all-important first project. So, also in late 2017, Telefilm unveiled its Fast Track program, which assures $500,000 in second-feature financing for filmmakers producing internationally recognized first features.

To promote female voices and visions, Telefilm, when considering funding for projects of equal value — determined by such factors as the script, talent attached and the production team — between a male or female applicant, is favoring projects directed and/or written by women. “We want to create a path to success,” says Telefilm executive director Carolle Brabant. “We want to reward the success of the first features by having emerging directors make their second film.”

Take Werewolf, writer-director Ashley McKenzie’s debut feature about youth and drug addiction in a small Nova Scotia mining town. The indie received microbudget financing from Telefilm and became a critical hit on the film festival circuit after bowing at Toronto and screening at Berlin.

Now McKenzie is eyeing possible Fast Track financing as she develops her second feature. “There’s a gap for filmmakers to take the next step after their first feature,” she says, adding that Telefilm has helped to shorten the time she and her producer Nelson MacDonald need to secure financing for their sophomore effort.

Brabant says Canada’s push for gender parity has helped alter long-standing perceptions in an industry where female filmmakers have become accustomed to discouraging barriers to the industry. “It has made women realize, ‘Well, it can happen,’ ” she says. “It’s comforting to know you can get your foot in the door,” adds Sonia Boileau, who leveraged Telefilm investment for her debut feature,Le Dep, to develop her second film, Rustic Oracle, about an 8-year-old Mohawk girl searching for a missing sister.

The push for gender parity has implications beyond Canada. Jordan Canning, who directed more than a dozen short films before completing her first and second features, We Were Wolves and Suck It Up, respectively, says Telefilm’s Talent to Watch and Fast Track programs can help open doors in the U.S. and other foreign markets.

“Once you have two features, you’re hopefully at a level where you can access funding in different countries and team up with international co-producers,” she says.

With the various gender-parity initiatives gaining steam, insiders say the lure of financing is also leading filmmakers to rethink projects from the conception point.

“In the general community at large, people are just hungry to attach women to projects and slates, because it’s smart from a tactical viewpoint. I’d do the same,” says Molly McGlynn, whose debut feature, Mary Goes Round, was produced through Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program.

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer says the initiatives help female filmmakers avoid “going up against the old guard.” After the success of her documentary short film Nucca, which screened at Sundance and Toronto, Latimer nabbed a yearlong filmmaking fellowship with Laura Poitras’ (Citizenfour) documentary unit Field of Vision.

“[Telefilm] is democratizing the way we secure film financing, and it’s particularly good for younger filmmakers who can’t go the regular financing route,” Latimer says.

The Canadian film sector is also focusing on hiring more women in key positions throughout the industry. Jane Tattersall, senior vp at Sim Post Toronto, who supervised the sound editing on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, says she’s hiring more women as mixers and editors in a traditionally male-dominated business.

“I’m not being idealistic or doing favors,” she says. “It’s much more selfish — the workplace is more interesting and more normal when you have a mix of women and men.”

Marjolaine Tremblay, VFX producer and supervisor at Rodeo FX, insists that the Canadian industry needs to allow women to move from management and backroom jobs to active creative roles, including overcoming technical VFX challenges. “I have a great employer now that believes in all of my skill sets and supports me all the way,” says Tremblay.

Another point of emphasis for Minister Joly is creating a healthy environment in the Time’s Up era. To that end, she says the Canadian industry now has a zero-tolerance policy for workplace harassment.

“The #MeToo movement for us is clearly a fundamental change of culture,” she says. “It’s changing the way people will interact with each other and make sure there’s more respect between men and women, and ensuring the entertainment-sector workplace, as all workplaces, is much safer.”

Australian director Kate Dennis continues to triumph

Melbourne director Kate Dennis, now based in the US, has continued to triumph with an Emmy nomination for The Handmaid’s Tale. This article by IF Magazine’s Don Groves talks about her dilemmas in choosing the projects she will work on after being deluged with offers of work.

Dennis continues to work in Australia as well, having directed Queensland based but global focussed Harrow, a co-production with ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International, which screens in Australian on March 9, according to Groves.

See article here:

Kate Dennis, go-to director for US networks, lands another US gig

Kate Dennis, go-to director for US networks, lands another US pilot
12 February, 2018 by Don Groves INSIDEFILM

If there were an award for the hardest working, most travelled and in-demand
Australian director in US and international TV drama, Kate Dennis would be a prime
candidate. Next month in New York she starts shooting an untitled, character-driven
medical drama for NBC that follows the maverick director of the city’s Bellevue
Hospital, her seventh US pilot which also happens to be the first shot on US soil.

Her burgeoning career got an adrenaline shot last year when she was nominated for a
prime-time Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale after directing episodes of multiple
series including Fear the Walking Dead, CSI: Cyber, Suits and TURN:
Washington’s Spies.

Last year Dennis was the set-up director of Harrow, Hoodlum’s 10-part crime
drama commissioned by the ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International,
which premieres in Oz on March 9.

Ioan Gruffudd plays Dr Daniel Harrow, a forensic psychologist who harbours a dark
secret, alongside Mirrah Foulkes, Remy Hii, Darren Gilshenan, Anna Lise Phillips,
Damien Garvey, Ella Newton, Hunter Page-Lochard and Robyn Malcolm.

Dennis was directing an episode of Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones when Hoodlum’s
Tracey Robertson offered her the gig but she was initially reluctant. “I told Tracey
that procedurals and me are probably not a good mix but I read the script and
thought this one was different and out of the box,” she tells IF via Skype from her
home in LA. “It’s very character-driven and there is the mystery of the man at its
core. I was very attracted to it.”

She created the look and tone of the show co-created by Stephen M. Irwin and Leigh
McGrath with Robert Humphreys, who was the DOP on the first five episodes
(Simon Chapman shot the remainder).

Dennis directed the first episode while Tony Krawitz (The Kettering Incident), Tony
Tilse (Wolf Creek, Underbelly), Daniel Nettheim (Doctor Who, Broadchurch),
Peter Salmon (Doctor Doctor, Rake) each handled two and Catriona McKenzie (The
Warriors) did one.

It was her third collaboration with Hoodlum following Secrets & Lies and the US
remake of the crime series created by the prolific Irwin.

The NBC drama is inspired by Dr. Eric Manheimer’s memoir Twelve Patients: Life
& Death at Bellevue Hospital, a facility billed as the only one in the world that can
treat Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers Island and the US President under one

She’s excited to be collaborating with David Schulner (Desperate Housewives, Trauma, Emerald City), the writer/creator and co- executive producer, and co-executive producer Peter Horton, who set up Grey’s Anatomy.

The creative team includes DoP Stuart Dryburgh (who was Oscar-nominated for The
Piano) and production designer Kristi Zea, a frequent collaborator with Martin
Scorsese. She likens the tone to West Wing in a hospital.

Her US credits include I’m Dying Up Here, the Showtime comedy/drama set in the
Los Angeles stand-up scene of the early 1970, which screened here on Stan; Damnation, a 1930s-set drama shot in Calgary about a preacher who rallies the townsfolk in Iowa to stand up against industrialists, which aired on the USA Network and on Netflix internationally; and GLOW, another Netflix show which revolves around US women wrestlers in the 1980s.

She also directed an episode of Heathers, a black comedy inspired by the 1988 movie
of the same name, which will premiere in the US on the Paramount Network on
March 7.

Dennis has just come back from Belfast where she directed Krypton, the story of
Superman’s grandfather as he fights for justice on his home planet, for the Syfy
channel. She was much impressed with the super-efficient showrunner, Australian
Cameron Welch.

Asked about the criteria she uses when deciding whether or not to accept offers,
particularly the barrage she has received since the Emmy nomination, she says, “I try
to keep myself out of a genre box. I like taking all sorts of work. It can be a high-risk
way to approach things but luckily it seems to have paid off.”

Number of women directors up slightly in 2017 but still only 11%

This article from Screen Daily by Orlando Parfitt (11 January 2018) indicated that there has been virtually no change in the participation of women directors.

Patty jenkins gal gadot clay enos dc comis

Source: Clay Enos, DC Comics. Patty Jenkins directing ‘Wonder Woman’

Women directed 11% of the 250 top-grossing films in the US last year, rising from 7% in 2016.

The figures come from an annual report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The study, entitled ‘Celluloid Ceiling’, shows that women comprised 18% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, a rise of 1% from 2016 but unchanged from 1998.

25% of all producers for the top 250 films were women, (up 1%); 16% of editors (down 1%) and only 4% of cinematographers (a decrease of 1%).

The number of women writers was down two percentage points, to 11%.

Once again, the report also flags up that almost all blockbuster films are directed by men. Only one film directed by a woman made the top 20 highest grossing films: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, the third highest grossing film of the year in the US with $412m.

The next highest was Pitch Perfect 3 directed by Trish Sie, at number 34 in the US chart.

Some more statistics from the study:

  • 88% had no women directors
  • 83% had no women writers
  • 45% had no women exec. producers 28% had no women producers
  • 80% had no women editors
  • 96% had no women cinematographers
  • 30% of films had no or 1 woman in the above roles

As in 2016, no women directors were nominated for a Golden Globe or a Bafta this year.

The Celluloid Ceiling report has been published annually since 1998.

Read more: Baftas 2018 – full list of nominations

2020 Vision Feature Film Forum by Film Victoria

Last week Film Victoria hosted an all-day 2020 Vision Feature Film Forum. It was well attended by local writers, directors and producers.

The event provided Film Vic’s take on the current state of the local feature film industry. It was an attempt to encourage filmmakers to ‘go the extra mile’ on script development, as outgoing CEO Jenni Tosi suggested that often scripts go into production before they are ready.

As others have noted such as producer Sue Maslin, this is in part because producers need cashflow to survive. It is difficult for producers to draw cash from government funding agencies during the development phase, which often takes years.

The task for writers in the audience was to take on board the sobering figures dished out over the day and yet remain positive and optimistic enough to put in the necessary work to refine a screenplay to the point where it is as good as it gets.

Over the day, a number of interesting points were made. Kristian Connelly, Manager of the Nova in Carlton, expressed surprise that despite the success of Animal Kingdom (2010), no similar works have emerged. Connelly also thought that New Zealanders have a much more worked-out sense of their national identity than Australians, who struggle with the notion of what it is to be Australian.

The point was also raised that today’s female-dominated cinema audiences are provided with few titles that star a strong female character who drives the action. Of course this is as true of the world as it is of Australia.

My final takeaway was a personal one; coming from Singapore, where the focus is so international, I was surprised to hear only about Australia, with a bit of Hollywood tantalisingly added but seeming somehow far away. The words China and India featured on a single slide, a reference to the number of films from these two countries being released on Australian screens.

No mention of 2017’s gamechanger and my personal fave, Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) directed by and starring Jing Wu, which managed to gross nearly US$900 million at the Chinese box office earlier this year. The film is set in Africa and 20% is in English as it was hoped to do well internationally. However its triumph with its domestic audience more than made up for its lack of international reach (it took only $2 million in the US).

I asked several of my producer films at the session whether they were thinking of approaching the expanding markets of China and India, but they felt that was too much of a stretch. And yes, despite our multiculturalism we are still a predominantly white Australian (and male) industry. But there is also an increasing number of Chinese and Indians who have settled in Australia, and hundreds of thousands more who come here to study. Can’t we access their contacts?

IF’s Don Goves has posted these two articles on the day:

Filmmakers challenged to aim high and know their audience

PG-rated films are increasingly popular in Oz while frequent moviegoers are going less often


Luc Besson on the Risks of ‘Valerian’ and That Time James Cameron “Took Me for a Moron”

As the EuropaCorp mogul — and THR’s International Producer of the Year — prepares to release the most expensive film of his career, he opens up about his arm’s-length relationship with Hollywood (“I do ‘Leon,’ they send me four ‘Leons'”) and his lifelong obsession with an “impossible”-to-film French comic book.

Luc Besson was 8 years old when he fell in love with the French graphic novel Valerian and Laureline, about two young adventurers who travel through space and time. Now, half a century later, the 58-year-old French producer-director is bringing his childhood infatuation to the screen. At $180 million, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is by far the most expensive picture he has ever made, with double the budget of his last sci-fi feature, 1997’s The Fifth Element. The STX release (which

opens July 21) is the biggest bet yet from a man who has made a career of them — from directing 1985’s Subway to 1990’s La Femme Nikita (one of the first action flicks centered on a woman) to 1994’s Leon: The Professional and 2014’s Lucy, not to mention producing franchises like Taxi and Taken.

But no matter how much Besson has riding on his new picture, he gives no sign of being perturbed when THR sits down with him in mid-May in the rather impersonal, two-room suite he maintains several floors above his high-tech studio just north of Paris, La Cite du Cinema. (It has an accompanying film school, L’Ecole de la Cite.) This is where Besson spends most of his time when he’s not at home in Beverly Hills, where he has lived for the past three years with his producer-wife, Virginie Besson- Silla, and their three children, ages 11 to 16.

Relaxed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, music wafting from his iPad, the filmmaker is expansive when talking about his family and personal life, but more reticent when it comes to addressing the business aspects of his career and company, EuropaCorp, in which he’s the largest shareholder. Perhaps that’s because, after years of success, EuropaCorp will post a loss of $136 million in 2016, just a few weeks after our meeting, the result of such misfires as Nine Lives, Shut In and Miss Sloane. Besson leaves talk of business to his company’s CEO, Marc Shmuger.

“EuropaCorp experienced significant losses this past year,” acknowledges Shmuger. “Over the course of the past year, we took necessary measures to strengthen the company’s treasury position. These measures include restructuring our first and second lien debt, a new capital raise from [Chinese production and distribution firm] Fundamental and sales of noncore assets [among them, theaters in Paris].”

They also include bringing in outside financiers to defray some of the cost of Valerian, whose downside already has been covered, he says, thanks to $30 million in French subsidies, outside equity and presales, reducing EuropaCorp’s investment to about 10 percent of the total budget.

The company signed a three-year exclusive (in the U.S.) distribution and marketing services pact with STX in early 2017 after extricating itself from a problematic joint venture with Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media. In leaving Relativity, it tightened its focus, going from an original plan to have up to 12 domestic releases per year to about four — all at much lower budgets than that of Valerian.

Those projects include another Taxi sequel, a follow-up to Lucy (possibly starring Scarlett Johansson again) and such European productions as Kursk (with Matthias Schoenaerts, Colin Firth and Lea Seydoux) and the horror film Underground (with Ben Kingsley and Peter Franzen).

It is for this prodigious output — and for his willingness to risk so much — that THR has named Besson its International Producer of the Year.

When did you start working on Valerian?

When I did The Fifth Element 20 years ago, the designer Jean-Claude Mezieres was saying, “Why are you not doing Valerian? Why are you doing this stupid Fifth

Element thing?” I said, “Because [Valerian] is impossible.” But then, little by little, the technique went up. I started to write, and I wrote for a couple of years just to see: Was it good enough? Was it worthwhile enough? And then it came to maturation.

How much of your own money is in the film?

My entire salary. [The budget is] not my money, but at the last minute, the financing fell short, so they asked me, “Can you put your entire salary in?” And I said yes.

When you saw Avatar, you threw away the Valerian script. Why?

Because it wasn’t good enough. Avatar was on such a [high] level that [I thought], “You’re not qualified. Go back to training,” like with the Olympic Games. You can’t go and ask for $180 million [without being ready].

Did you discuss Valerian with James Cameron?

He invited me on the set of Avatar in L.A. because I said, “I’m writing something sci- fi,” and he said, “Come and see how it’s working.” Being there, in the middle of the factory with nothing, and seeing the world on the screen — he took me for a moron at the beginning, because it was kind of complicated for me to understand. He looked at me like, “This moron doesn’t understand anything.” I don’t have a computer. I have this, an iPad, with music. Then we went for lunch, and I asked him a lot of questions, and he gave me some tips. He was such a gentleman, so secure. You know, the people who are secure are generous.

Are you secure?

Yes. Now. A little bit. But the first few years, you’re like, “Grrrrr.” You’re going to bite anyone who comes close to you.

When did you first realize you wanted to make films?

My parents worked [as SCUBA teachers] at Club Med, so I was watching shows every night. I started to write at 13, to take pictures at 14. It just came to me, like some people love baseball — me, it was photography and writing. I built my skills without noticing. Later, I said: “Hmm, movies, that’s probably a good way of expressing for me because I’m not good at anything [else].”

Was there a particular film that influenced you?

I never fell in love with films because I was not watching films at all. [After his parents split up] I had a stepfather who didn’t want TV and music at home; he didn’t want any way of expressing art in the house. He was working on Formula One, so it was all about cars. I was kind of frustrated.

Did you ever want to be anything other than a filmmaker?

When I was 16, I wanted to study dolphins, because I was in love with dolphins. And I got in a diving accident and the doctor told me, “You will never dive again.” This

guy broke me in two. He didn’t even realize what he had done because that was my life, diving, dolphins. And the day he said “forget about it” [was as if] basically you want to be a dancer and then you have no feet. I was very desperate. It was my worst moment. You’re 16, you’re in boarding school, and you’re broken by this doctor. I was really, really down. I remember asking myself, “What are you going to do with your life?” I took a piece of paper and I put a line down the middle, and on the left I said what I loved and on the right what I hated.

What did you love and what did you hate?

I can’t remember exactly. But when I read the left column, I realized almost everything was artistic. And it was the first time I said, “Wow, maybe cinema could be good.” And then a friend of a friend was shooting a short film in Paris, and I took the train and went there. And I arrived on the set and fell in love. I stayed two days, I slept on the set to keep an eye on the material, and I went back home to see my mom. I said, “I know what I’m going to do.” And the day after, I came down to breakfast with my suitcase and I said, “I’m leaving.”

Leaving home?

Yeah. Home and school. I came back from the set on a Sunday night, and on the Monday morning I went back to Paris. A friend [put me up] for a few nights. Then I was going from apartment to apartment, living on the couch, eating what was in the fridge — and usually on set they’d always have food. You eat twice a day and then you sleep. I really loved it. But the more you see on a set, the more you see other layers. You think it’s just a door, but no, after the door there are two other doors. I was so naive, I had no [frame of] reference, but I was not blocked by anything. I was like a kid who is not afraid of dogs and puts his hand in their mouths, you know? And I did my first short film 12 months later. I started my first long feature film at 19 [The Last Battle, about humans in a postapocalyptic world]. I turned 20 years old during the shooting. Sometimes we were shooting on the weekend — because when [the studios] have a big film shooting, they don’t shoot on the weekend, so you take the [equipment] and put it back on Sunday night. We did films with nothing, nothing. I was asking my mom to prep food for the team, because I couldn’t pay for the lunch. She’s a very good cook, so they were happy.

Did you ever study film?

No. But when I arrived in Paris at 17, I didn’t have a lot of money, and there was a [bookstore] just for films, near the Champs-Elysees [with anything that] you wanted to find on movies or how to make a script. And I stayed for hours and bought [a film industry version of the Yellow Pages], which was the most practical thing to get. Then I still had 20 francs in my hand, and I said to the girl, “For four bucks, do you have a little something I can buy?” She said, “In this big basket, there are used books.” I took a very small book, a treatise on directing [Notes of a Film Director]. I studied it, and it was quite complicated. I liked the book very much. What I didn’t know was that the writer was [Russian master Sergei] Eisenstein. And the treatise was very pragmatic and simple and clear, which is exactly what I needed at the time. So my basis is Eisenstein.

Do you watch films a lot now?

No. Cooking and eating are not the same job. My job is cooking.

Are there any filmmakers you particularly admire?

Actually, almost all of them, because it’s a hard job. Every time you feel the heart of the guy, I like it. What I don’t like is when you feel the studio too much and you don’t feel the guy. There are a couple of Marvels where I don’t feel the guy. The films are pretty good, but I don’t know who cooked them.

Are you friends with other filmmakers?

I am very friendly with them. I say “friendly” because I don’t see them enough. There’s a couple that I see: Ridley Scott sometimes, Darren Aronofsky. But I can’t say I am friends with them. What’s interesting is, I’ve never felt a [sense of] competition with any director. Never. The directors’ family is very, very friendly. I have a funny story: I had a film, I don’t remember [which one] but I was in New York, and I saw the poster [outside] the theater. There were two screens, and my film was playing [in the theater next to] a Pedro Almodovar film. I went in, just to smell the ambience, just for curiosity. And I opened the door and Pedro Almodovar bursts in. I said, “Oh, my God, Pedro, what are you doing here?” He was doing the same thing as me. We were laughing so much.

You’ve avoided working in the Hollywood studio system. Do they come after you?

I’ve received a script per week for 20 years. I’ve never stayed away from Hollywood. I always answer very politely, and I’m very honored. But no one comes with an Amadeus or something that I would love to do. When I do La Femme Nikita, they send me all the Nikitas — three, four, five. When I do Leon, they send me four Leons. When I do The Fifth Element, they send me all the sci-fi. That’s not interesting to me. I mean, if someone gave me Raging Bull, I would be thrilled.

The Fifth Element seems more of a success today than when it came out. Why?

Maybe the film at the time was too weird. Twenty years ago, there was no internet. And the film was wild. It was not conventional. The hero who saved the world [was] a girl with orange hair who doesn’t speak English. A classical singer extraterrestrial in space. It’s like, what the f— is this thing?

What do you do outside filmmaking?

The biggest thing is writing, in the morning. I love that. If I don’t write for a few days, I feel bad. I’m nervous and I’m not agreeable with people. It’s my gym.

Do you read a lot as well as write?

No, I don’t. Except scripts. I can’t concentrate on a book. You start the book and the guy is talking about a garden — and after two pages, I’m in the garden of my grandmother, and I think about my grandmother and that’s it, I’m out. For me, a book is a house without walls. I get in, and I can’t get out. And that’s what I love about film: You have to follow the thing; you can’t go backward or forward.

Do you enjoy producing as much as directing?

It’s not the same job. Producing is being on the bench and screaming to the players on the field, “Faster!” (Laughs.) Being a director is painful. It’s the hardest job, because you’re responsible for everything, you have people asking you questions every three seconds. You have to manage the emotional DNA of everyone on the set, especially the actors. You have to be the general of an army. And then you’re in the editing room. And you see an image of your film that is not your film, and when you’ve finished, you push the film out to the press, who most of the time kill you. It’s a hell of a job.

What makes a good producer?

I don’t know if I’m a good producer. Because a good director makes a good film, even with a bad producer. A producer is really at the service of the director, understands the qualities of the director and maybe the bad parts, and can tell him, “No, you are lying to yourself here.”

What’s the worst part of being a director?

You need to have an extra sensitivity, permanently, from the morning to the end of the day. It’s almost like you take your skin out and people are touching you all day. I remember going back to the hotel at 10 p.m. and watching TV, and they were talking about the opening of a salon of flowers, and you see some old people going there — and I’m crying. It’s terrible. And it’s terrible because you take the skin out and then every morning you put on armor, because you need both. You need to be absolutely nonsensitive. You need to be a general of an army and at the same time, if a flower [touches] your arm, you scream. It’s painful. And honestly, every time you start to film, you remember that. You say, “All right, OK, I’m going to make the film,” and you take the decision, you accept the pain. You never go, “Oh, my God, it’s going to be great! We’re going to do a film!” You know it’s going to be painful.

by Stephen Galloway THR July 17, 2017

Melbourne’s new breed of filmmakers exudes energy.

Melbourne’s no slouch at turning out Oscar candidates, but our only hope at this year’s Academy Awards is Ivanhoe-bred Cate Blanchett. She doesn’t even live here these days. Still, Australia’s overall Russell Crowe Rule allows us to claim her as one of our own.

Blanchett has already been up for five Oscars, including a win in the best supporting actress category for 2004’s The Aviator. She’s back in the running this year for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, and gambling types are putting her as a sure win (one betting site gives her odds of $1.05, with closest rival Amy Adams at $11).

But Blanchett has been on a steady course towards a win for the past decade – where are those just starting out on their journey? Cinematic prognostication is a science with too many variables, but we can take a few informed guesses.

Three of the best: Jonathan auf der Heide, Alethea Jones and Damon Gameau. Adam Arkapaw isn’t a household name, but anyone remotely connected to the biz will point to him as our new hope. The cinematographer, who studied at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, last year won an Emmy for miniseries Top of the Lake after a string of eye-grabbing films including Animal Kingdom, Lore and Snowtown.

He’s now lensing US series True Detective, and it’s a rare instance in which a show’s camerawork is as frequently commented on as its performances or writing. The New York Times, for instance, opened one review with a discussion of a six-minute tracking shot. Mr Arkapaw is ready for his close-up.

Arkapaw’s 2006 graduating film Catch Fish, was ”a very strong and moving piece of storytelling”, says Nicolette Freeman, head of the VCA’s School of Film of Television.

”Given that Adam was already displaying strong potential as a cinematographer, it was very telling that he chose to stick with the directing stream in his graduating year, rather than specialise in the craft of cinematography. He shot many graduating films that year anyway, but in the meantime developed his strengths as a storyteller by writing and directing Catch Fish.”

Director Justin Kurzel is another name that crops up regularly – he was named most outstanding postgraduate student when he left VCA in 2005, and his later work on Snowtown won him a gong for best direction at the AACTA awards and put him on the must-watch lists of critics across the nation. He is now in London directing a new version of Macbeth, a notoriously difficult play to film, but Kurzel collaborators hint at a possible hit. He has Arkapaw behind the lens, and the never-less-than-brilliant Michael Fassbender in the lead role.

Also starring in Macbeth will be actress Elizabeth Debicki. She might not yet be the next Blanchett but the 23-year-old has already shared a stage with her. In 2013 the VCA grad played opposite the star as well as French screen icon Isabelle Huppert in three-hander The Maids. The same year she appeared as Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby after Baz Lurhmann handpicked her from an audition reel and flew her to LA. She won best supporting actress for the role in this year’s Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards.

”I remember meeting her at VCA on the graduation day and she had a great air of confidence about her,” says director Jonathan auf der Heide. ”I found out later that it was because she’d already been cast in Gatsby, so she hadn’t even finished at VCA and she’d already landed a role. That’s quite a big leap.”

Auf der Heide was out of the gates almost as quickly. While studying at the VCA (where he now lectures) he teamed up with fellow student Maggie Miles to create their graduating film Hell’s Gates, based on the true story of colonial Tasmanian convict-turned-cannibal Alexander Pearce. ”It was a challenging film for a student filmmaker with a big story for a short film, a large ensemble cast, a minuscule budget and trying physical locations,” says Freeman. Auf der Heide and producer Miles ”were formidable”.

The two proved even more impressive by expanding their short into a full-length feature within two years of finishing their studies. ”I believe this was a first for our graduates,” says Freeman. Miles has since gone on to co-produce the Tim Winton anthology film The Turning with Rob Connolly, and auf der Heide was one of the 13 directors chosen to contribute a chapter to the work.

When creating The Turning, Connolly selected an intriguing roster of directors that included people who had never tried their hand at it before. He points to actress Mia Wasikowska as the kind of exciting new talent that was able to be discovered as a result.

”Her film’s amazing. She’s only 24. I love the film that she did. It’s a staggering, innovative direction,” he says.

But taking a gamble on untested youngsters such as Wasikowska is something the Australian film industry does only reluctantly, if at all, says Connolly. ”I actually have a general issue about how the screen industry hasn’t really embraced generational change.

”This idea of generational shift is important in any area of artistic endeavour. You look in music at the success of Lorde and you realise there are other areas of artistic endeavour that really value the voice of younger artists. Other areas look to youth to try and find those voices.”

Ariel Kleiman is the kind of filmmaker other filmmakers praise, with the drive to get things done. He’s currently finishing editing his first feature, Partisan, starring French actor Vincent Cassel. But in his experience, Connolly’s words ring true. His graduating short Deeper Than Yesterday won a jury prize at Sundance Film Festival, but the level of interest it generated abroad wasn’t matched by a similar enthusiasm back home.

”The amount of emails you get from people in Europe and America, wanting to see the film or inquiring about what you’ve got going on next, compared to the amount you get from Australia … in a way it very blatantly showed that attitude. That being said, (Partisan) is a fully Australian film. I’ve been really backed by the powers that be. I’m definitely not complaining. But there is something to that, compared to the rest of the world who are really hungry to find that next talent.”

Connelly says he is interested in new filmmakers who bring entrepreneurial spirit to get things done. Actor Victoria Thaine is one young filmmaker he puts in this category. She recently directed a short that was successfully crowdfunded: The Kingdom of Doug is a superbly acted drama about a suicidal cult, and Thaine’s campaign saw supporters given cult membership and fictional identities.

”I’m not a brash salesperson and the idea of asking people for money, I felt like it had to be done in a gracious way,” says Thaine.

”But I don’t know if there actually is any short film funding available at the moment in Victoria. So we really didn’t have a lot of choices when it came to getting money raised.”

The film went on to win Flickerfest, Australia’s largest short film competition. Thaine is trying to develop it into a full-length feature, and in the meantime is planning another short. ”I think when you’re an emerging director you’ve got to keep up the momentum. You’ve got to try and be prolific and show people that you’re serious. I don’t want to be just another actor who’s dabbled in making a couple of short films. I’d really like to have people see that I’m taking it seriously.”

Since it premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Kitty Green hasn’t stopped touring her documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel, which reveals the inside story on topless activists Femen. She was the first VCA grad ever to be invited to the prestigious showcase, and the subsequent demand for her debut isn’t surprising given it managed to garner more publicity than George Clooney did.

”It was insane,” says Green. ”So many photographers and journalists. Because we were revealing a story that was quite scandalous and we had topless women there on the red carpet. It was a bit of a frenzy. So we had the best premiere I could possibly dream of.”

Last week she was back in Melbourne briefly before jetting off for the film’s American premieres at the South by Southwest and True False films festivals.

”I’m exhausted. Every month I have to jet off again. Which looks glamorous on Facebook but the reality of it is quite hard.” Ironically, the film’s Facebook page was blocked by the site during the recent period of violent turmoil in Kiev after Facebook’s no-breasts-please filter picked up on a stray Femen nipple. ”Generally I censor them but sometimes one slips through. There’s so much going on I want to post about. All my friends are sending me terrifying photos and I’d love to be able to raise awareness but I’m locked out.”

Freeman says that Green’s VCA graduating film, Spilt, was a ”refreshing and innovative exploration of the burgeoning sexual awareness of young girls. As her lecturer at the time, I recall our studios being awash with giggly young girls, unherdable little grey kittens, and dripping creamy-looking paint. I knew then Spilt would be something out of the box.”

All of her film-school films were ”unpredictable and arresting,” she says, and ”it comes as no surprise that she has made the world sit up and pay attention” with her first feature.

Other Melburnians following this route include indie darling Amiel Courtin-Wilson, whose films such as Bastardy, Hail and Ruin have been critically adored, and up-and-comer Aaron Wilson, whose daring first feature Canopy, about a WWII Australian soldier and a Chinese refugee who must work together to survive, was shot on a shoestring in the Singapore jungle.

Then there are filmmakers such as Alethea Jones who are eager to embrace the commercial studio system. On the strength of her short films alone, Jones is about to move to LA to shoot her first feature. The actors who’ve read for it can’t be named here, but suffice to say that they’re at the top of Hollywood’s comedy tree.

Jones is also choreographing a short segment of actor Damon Gameau’s debut, That Sugar Film. The documentary is a Supersize Me-style exploration of the effects of sugar on the human system. Gameau has travelled the globe interviewing experts, all the while subsisting on the kind of typical diet that appears healthy but contains surprising levels of the sweet stuff.

So come Oscar night, whether or not it’s Blanchett, an actress will be thanking a bunch of people none of us have ever heard of. It’ll be boring. We’ll complain. But they’ll have earned it.

Local films to watch in 2014

The industry is in agreement that this year is one of the most exciting in local memory, with a hefty number of films hotly anticipated. Here are a few:


David Michod’s Animal Kingdom immediately put the director on the world map and earned an Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver. Word is that his script for this Guy Pearce/Robert Pattinson crime drama is a killer.


Tony Ayres’ new outing apparently has some of the same stylistic edge that marked out Animal Kingdom, and stars that film’s Sullivan Stapleton in a 1970s Melbourne thriller.


28-year-old Kitty Green spent a year living with the members of controversial feminist activists Femen in Ukraine to produce this documentary which went on to be the hit of last year’s Venice Film Festival.


A winner at Sundance, Sophie Hyde shot this film on every Tuesday of the year, shaping the story of a schoolgirl coming of age while her mother attempts to become a man.

John Bailey – SMH – March 2, 2014

The Menkoff Method set to roll in Melbourne

By Don Groves – INSIDEFILM – Wed 28/08/2013

Director David Parker will start shooting The Menkoff Method, billed as a quirky
“comedy of human resources,” in Melbourne on September 9. The screenplay is by
first-timer Zac Gillam. It’s the debut feature from White Hot Productions, the production arm of the White Hot Group. The producers are David Lee, Jan Bladier and John Kearney, with Ian Kirk as executive producer.

The plot follows David Cork, a young, introverted bank worker who’s more interested in drawing his comic book than his tedious job in the bank’s data processing centre.

All that changes when an enigmatic Russian HR consultant, Max Menkoff, introduces sweeping reforms with devastating effects.

Kirk, a director of White Hot Productions, met Gillam, a solicitor who took up screenwriting, through a mutual friend. Kirk, who owns ROAR Digital, mentored Gillam and introduced him to Bladier and Lee. White Hot Group was set up to develop a slate of films. The Menkoff Method is privately financed. Bladier and Lee produced Simon Wincer’s The Cup.

More Here:

‘Taut thriller’: Assange movie highlights teen struggle

IT IS a story full of complexity and trauma, and largely unknown to a wider audience who view its subject as merely a publisher of classified military intelligence. Yet the teenage years of Julian Assange – now the subject of a gripping film – will again stir vigorous debate.
Underground, the latest political thriller from writer-director Robert Connolly – which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night – homes in on Assange’s troubled upbringing, in an effort to make sense of his present predicament. The embattled WikiLeaks founder, currently holed up behind the walls of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, remains fearful of being extradited to the US for publishing the leaks.
“I knew a lot about the current situation, but had very little knowledge of that period in history,” says Connolly, whose previous political thrillers include Balibo and The Bank (which also both screened in Toronto). “It was something of a revelation to me.”

Continue reading ‘Taut thriller’: Assange movie highlights teen struggle