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IF Magazine

  • Cate Shortland on the set of 'Berlin Syndrome'.Œ

    Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland has only made three features: 2004’s Somersault, 2012’s Lore and now Berlin Syndrome, with the last two both set in Germany.

    “Like a lot of people I’m just drawn to the vibrancy of the culture,” says the filmmaker, “and I love living in Berlin.”

    Shortland’s partner is Australian filmmaker Tony Krawitz (Dead Europe), whose family is German Jew.

    “His grandmother is still alive, she’s 102, and she’s from Berlin,” Shortland tells IF. “We’ve lived in Berlin on and off for the last six years, our kids went to school there for a while. My German’s still really atrocious but I love living there.”

    Now the director has shot a feature in the city — adapted by Snowtown’s Shaun Grant from a novel by Melanie Joosten.

    Aquarius Films producer Polly Staniford was responsible for optioning the book and bringing both Grant and Shortland on board.

    Shortland was attracted to the relationship between the two lead characters, played in the film by Australian actress Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge) and German Max Riemelt (Sense8) — “how the space defined them and how it kind of mirrors a totalitarian state in a way.”

    “I just loved the complexities of the material and how you couldn’t really pin it down,” Shortland says. “I was interested in the sexual side and all the power stuff.”

    Developing the script took around four years, with the director particularly interested in developing the male character of Andy.

    “He became a much bigger character,” says Shortland. “We ended up fleshing out his life and his relationship with his father, and his life outside of the apartment at the school.”

    International sales agent Memento Films International, with whom Shortland had worked on Lore, came on board early, with eOne ANZ taking domestic rights.

    When it came time for casting, Memento suggested German star Riemelt, and Shortland was fascinated by the young actor.

    “He’s just such an interesting person because he looks so innocent but he’s had a really big life; he’s travelled a lot, he had children really young, his mother is from the GDR so he really understood the complexities of all the politics. And he’s a Berliner, so he has a Berlin accent, and German people can hear that accent.”

    For the female lead, Shortland auditioned half a dozen actresses, with Palmer snagging the role due to her “amazing mix of being both girl and woman.”

    “She’s got this innocence to her but she’s also a kind of warrior as well. And she wanted to do something really raw and not just based around how she looks. She’s ready to do more character-based stuff.”

    Shortland shot the film in the affluent Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg, where the director lived for the duration of the shoot, in an apartment opposite the one in which she was shooting.

    “I’d walk about ten metres every day to work, which was pretty awesome. The German crew was brilliant, and there’s a story in every building [and] you can just really feel it on screen.”

    Interiors were shot in Melbourne, with production designer Melinda Doring recreating the Berlin apartment at Docklands.

    Shortland credits DP Germain McMicking with “creating stories within the frame when there’s no dialogue.”

    “His documentary background just gives him so much freedom when he’s on set, because he’s really fluid and reactive instead of set in his ways, so he’s a really exciting collaborator.”

    Berlin Syndrome premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with Netflix scooping international rights prior to the premiere, which will go down in Sundance infamy.

    “First of all a man announced during a very early sex scene that if we were in car park D we had to move our car,” recalls Shortland.

    “And [then] all the sound left the auditorium, and then the film just stopped about 15 minutes before the end and we just sat there waiting for them to get it working again. But they couldn’t, and so Teresa, Max and I just said, let’s go straight down and start the Q&A now.”

    “Max and Teresa kind of acted out the ending in a really funny way. And you know what, in terms of stuff happening, because it was Trump’s inauguration day, it just seemed like a tiny blip. What had happened in the morning was so much more horrendous.”

  • Geoffrey Rush and Jai Courtney.Œ

    Geoffrey Rush and Jai Courtney will star in Shawn Seet’s Storm BoyŒremake, with the film gearing up to shoot in South Australia in July. Œ

    Rush will star as Mike 'Storm Boy' Kingley, while Courtney will play 'Hideaway Tom'.Œ

    Billed as a “contemporary retelling” of the 1976 film, Storm Boy's script has been written by Justin Monjo (The Secret Daughter, Spear).Œ

    Executive producer Robert Slaviero told IF last yearŒthat Monjo’s screenplay was "just spectacular."

    "One of the better scripts I’ve read in a long time, whether Australian or otherwise. Absolute cracker," he said, while also noting director Seet (The Code, Deep Water) had a great vision for the film. Œ

    Storm Boy will be produced by Ambience Entertainment’s Michael Boughen (Tomorrow, When the War Began, The Loved Ones) and Matthew Street (Tomorrow, When the War Began, The Bank Job).

    Finance has come from Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation, Piccadilly Pictures and Aurora Global Media Capital, and Salt Media and Entertainment. The shoot will take place in SA's Coorong region and Adelaide Studios.Œ

    Storm Boy is set for 2018 release in Australia and New Zealand via StudioCanal, while Kathy Morgan from KMI is repping international sales.Œ

  • 'Indigo Lake' is an Aussie neo-noir written and directed by Martin Simpson, produced by Brian Cobb and starring Andrew Cutcliffe, Miranda O’Hare, Marin Mimica and Pamela Shaw. Cutcliffe ('Home and Away', 'Wonderland') plays Jack, a painter who falls in love with his subject (Miranda O’Hare), to the chagrin of her gangster husband (Marin Mimica).Œ

    Simpson wrote the script in 2011 and brought it to Cobb, who put the budget together via private investors and the Offset. Beyond’s Martin Fabinyi, with whom Cobb worked under a Screen Australia Enterprise attachment, is executive producing. The indie feature made its world premiere in Canberra, the producer’s hometown, on April 23, followed by a screening at Sydney’s Dendy Newtown on April 26, where the stars, director and producer participated in a Q&A session.Œ

    International rights are being handled by KSM, and the filmmakers will head to Cannes in a couple of weeks, where 'Indigo Lake' is screening in the Marché. IF spoke to the film’s cinematographer, Rodrigo Vidal Dawson ('Observance', 'Skin Deep') about his approach to the film’s look and the challenges of ‘sunny noir’.

    What did you shoot Indigo Lake on?

    I shot on an ARRI package consisting of an Alexa and an Alexa MINI with a complement of Zeiss Master Primes and Zooms. All equipment was supplied by Video Australia Hire Sydney at Fox Studios.

    What was your approach to the look of the film?

    We wanted to pay homage to the look and feel of noir films from the 40s and 50s like Double Indemnity and Kiss Me Deadly. And also play with the colour saturation and contrast of 80s thrillers like Brian de Palma’s Body Double and Blow Out — but with our own Australian touch. In pre I sat down with production designer Jamie Craney and discussed the overall colour palette for the film, and Jamie and I wanted to be as precise as possible with colour hue and saturation levels, especially considering that ‘Indigo’ and ‘Lake’ were such important terms in the film for Martin [Simpson], the director.Œ

    How did you communicate what you were going for to HODs?

    Jamie created a colour swatch that every department could use as a starting point. We all discussed the colour schemes, contrast and saturation of 1980s Australian pop culture. From the paintings of Brett Whiteley to the songwriting of James Reyne and Australian Crawl to the colour advertising of old Winfield Blue advertising posters.Œ

    A lot of the film is set at night. Did that make Jack’s studio and other interiors challenging to shoot?

    Jamie and I spoke about giving specific importance to certain colours at different times of the day. For example we wanted Jack’s studio to be hot and bright; to feel like there was a lot of space to breathe. And then when it was night we wanted the shaft of colour coming from the exterior windows to make the same room feel almost claustrophobic. We wanted some of the textures to feel almost hyper real during the day and then a touch off at night. We were always going to play heavily with the contrast and push the shadow areas in the grade, so Jamie made sure that certain textures, in particular the set walls, had been saturated and had reflective finishes.Œ

    Was it tough going for that noir aesthetic with Australia's harsh light?

    The gaffer Grahame Dickson and I decided to embrace it as opposed to trying to control it. It was the beginning of summer. We borrowed a few ideas from theatrical lighting — using unconventional gel packs on either the key or fill lighting. And we incorporated environmental aspects into the lighting; making our key light flicker to subtly play on the emotional state of certain scenes, giving a slightly theatrical feel to the lighting.Œ

    Was that a risk on a film that’s set in the real world?

    Sure, but it is noir, and it was exciting to use a variety of gel packs that normally I wouldn’t use. We incorporated a lot of hard sources both day and night, only diffusing for certain close ups. I really enjoyed pushing the highlights around the set as well as the edge of the frame. We used gel packs that would really play with the transmission of the light source, as well as how it would be absorbed by the skin tone. Even if it looked a bit unnatural I would place hints of colour in highlights, backlighting characters or washing walls to add to the slightly noir world we were in. And then I would grade the saturation and hue point up or down to balance out with the emotional tone that Martin wanted for the scene.

    * This interview has been edited and condensed.

  • The new Aussie feature ‘The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One’, starring Kellan Lutz, Daniel MacPherson, Luke Ford and Rachel Griffiths, is set in a future where interplanetary colonisation is common.

    It tells the story of a drifter (Lutz) who teams up with an off-world military contractor (MacPherson) to rescue his daughter.

    Director Shane Abbess ('Infini', 'Gabriel') spoke to IF after wrapping up a roadshow of the film, which premiered in Australia at last month’s Gold Coast Film Festival after bowing at Austin’s Fantastic Fest last year.Œ

    The director and cast also participated in Q&As at Sydney and Melbourne screenings ahead of the film’s national release in Event and Village Cinemas on May 18.

    What’s the response to the film been like?

    Shock. The consistent thing is that people are surprised by the scope of the movie, because it’s quite large, and also the depth of performances. I knew these actors as people, and I felt that a lot of their humanity had never been shown in a movie. They’d never been pushed. And I knew from my last movie, Infini, where we adopted a very Australian way of doing things — in terms of full immersion, living on set — I knew that would help everybody with a film like this. Especially when everything’s working against you: the budget’s crazy tight, you’re a sci-film and you’re trying not to become a D-movie. We are a pulpy, Betamax, Sunday matinee film, but we do have a contemporary edge.

    How did the script develop?

    There was a really old script around called Last Stand, which had a family on a bus travelling through an apocalyptic wasteland. And then Brian [Cachia] and I had another script called Out of Order, which was based on the comics I had as a kid. I used to get them out of order, and I never really knew the origins of a character until I got to issue one. We combined both those ideas, and I pitched it to Brett [Thornquest] and Sid [Abbene] and Matt [Graham] and Steve [Matusko] and the whole team. It was a risky move to tell a film with chapters out of order. The original script was 15 chapters out of order.

    Was it a challenge to raise the money?

    No. The same team that financed Infini was right behind us to go again, because Infini had done quite well around the world, so it was kind of a no-brainer. Infini was designed to be an anarchy project; almost this protest against the typical formula and cohesion of structure. We wanted this one to have more of a commercial sensibility, but also have a narrative that was unpredictable. We were interested in the notion of taking a story and not giving you all of the information that you would normally want.

    How did you measure how far you could push it without losing that mainstream audience?

    Test screenings were hugely valuable. We tested every few months as we were editing and we’d get a really big audience — 100, 150 people. And it was always interesting. When we cut it like the script, people just had no idea which way was up. We’d gone way too far, and the process really was [about] trying to pare it back so that people had something to latch onto. A lot of people at festivals came back and watched it again, because you watch this film very differently when you know the end of it.

    How long did you have to shoot?

    We had eight weeks. No pick-ups, no overtime; eight weeks flat. I shot Gabriel in eight weeks, I shot Infini in 9 weeks, and this was a week less. I did feel on this one that there was no more room to squeeze anything else out of that budget and that crew. I think that’s where a lot of the pride on SFV1 comes from; we really took this one as far as you could stretch a budget. Even with the bus; it was a shell of a bus and then we built a sci-fi frame on it and had to ship it out to Coober Pedy. And it was the kind of film where you have one bus, four tires, one engine — if something went wrong, you couldn’t come back from that.

    Where else did you shoot?

    We had our own studio in Sydney where we converted a massive industrial space that was going to be turned into a Bunnings. We converted that into three different sound-stages. Same place we shot Infini. But we only had two stages on Infini, and now we have three plus a workshop.

    How many in-camera effects were you doing?

    There are 400 shots in the film that are CG, or CG-enhanced. But probably 250 of those have mostly practical elements to begin with. The creatures in the film were all practical. We only had one head that was animatronic and the rest were all moulds, so they had no movement inside them. We had to use a lot of old-school tricks to sell ideas of movement and action and things like that.

    What’s next?

    I have three different films right now [to choose from], things I’ve worked on for a long time. They’re shooting here but they’re bigger US, China-backed films.Œ

    * This interview has been edited and condensed.

  • In the era of reality television and social media, it seems easier than ever before for everyone and anyone to have 15 minutes of fame.

    It was a curiosity about this idea of accessible celebrity that inspired three Melbourne-based filmmakers — David Elliot-Jones, Lachlan Mcleod and Louis Dai — to head to Japan, where foreigners often score stardom.

    Now in post, the trio's documentary Big In Japan explores what fame is like for an ordinary person, and the motivations behind those who want to become famous.

    The three co-directors, who operate under the umbrella Walking Fish Productions, made their first film back in 2012: an interactive doco for SBS, Convenient Education.ŒArmed with enough money for new equipment, they then moved to Japan for two years to begin their next project.Œ

    The idea behind Big in Japan was a ‘fame experiment’ with a simple goal: to try to make Elliot-Jones famous.

    Elliot-Jones told IF he was the guinea pig in part because McLeod and Dai had already been filming him for years.

    “They found me an interesting subject, especially when I’d had too many drinks. They called Dave-cam for a while. It was really embarrassing for me. But I have always been a yes person, and I like the idea of a gonzo type of storytelling,” he said.

    “I was aware that it was going to be hard, it was going to be humiliating, but I was curious about what [fame] would involve and what the repercussions of that would be.”

    The three wanted to explore fame as it operated through ‘traditional’ mediums, like television, and the new culture of fame that was emerging online.

    Once in Japan, Elliot-Jones was signed up to a talent agency and began appearing as an extra in TV shows, ads and music videos.

    He also immersed himself in the Japanese vlogging community, and established a YouTube persona, Mr Jonesu. Under the banner, the three made videos in which he would perform stunts dressed as different charactersŒ—Œincluding Onigiri Man (a semi naked Japanese onigiri or rice ball).

    David Elliot-Jones in 'Big in Japan'.Œ

    Elliot-Jones describes his experiences with fame as “a hoot”Œ—Œbut strange. He was surprised at how successful he was on Japanese TV.

    “At one point I was landing these ads as a scientist in a major brand commercial, and I’m getting paid like a few thousand dollars for a two day shoot.Œ I can’t act — I’ve never done anything like this before. It was just so surreal.”

    Big in Japan also follows three other foreigners at varying stages of their fame journey in Japan.

    These include American wrestler Bob 'The Beast' Sapp, Rick 'Ladybeard' Magarey, a crossdressing heavy-metal singer from Adelaide, and Kesley Parnigoni, a young Canadian woman trying to crack into the J-pop idol market.

    “It was interesting because Bob Sapp was an established celebrity," said Elliot-Jones. "We were exploring his fame, having been at the top of the game for 20 years. Ladybeard was, on the other hand, this self-made star in the making and he had been working really, really hard to craft his fame.”

    “And [with] Kelsey, we were looking for someone at the start of their fame journey... At the time we met her, she was working part time in a rabbit cafe, and she'd just joined an emerging idol group.”

    The filmmakers were trying to explore the full picture of what fame truly involves, particularly in a digital age, says Elliot-Jones.

    “When the architecture of social media beckons us to become celebrities somewhat, I think it’s important to have a nuanced version of what that involves; to see the reality of the experience,” Elliot-Jones said.

    “If fame is what you really want, then go for it by all means, but those traditional notions of fame as being something that is glamourous or [that] brings you great joy — I don’t know if they’re still valid anymore.”

    Making the film was not without challenges. A self-funded project, all three were working as English teachers to help finance their filmmaking efforts (as well as their Japanese lessons).Œ

    Now the trio are trying to raise funds to help with grading and licensing rights to music and television footage. Their crowdfunding campaign on Pozible ends 10pm AEST tomorrow (Thursday).

    Once they hit their target, the plan is to release the film around October through VOD platforms. If they hit their stretch target of $35,000, the plan is a for a cinema run, with airline partner Flyscoot to fly Ladybeard to Australia to play at the launch. Œ