'Indigo Lake' is an Aussie neo-noir written and directed by Martin Simpson, produced by Brian Cobb and starring Andrew Cutcliffe, Miranda OHare, Marin Mimica and Pamela Shaw.
Cutcliffe ('Home and Away', 'Wonderland') plays Jack, a painter who falls in love with his subject (Miranda OHare), to the chagrin of her gangster husband (Marin Mimica).
Simpson wrote the script in 2011 and brought it to Cobb, who put the budget together via private investors and the Offset. Beyonds 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 producers hometown, on April 23, followed by a screening at Sydneys Dendy Newtown on Wednesday night, where the stars, director and producer participated in a Q&A session.
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 checked in with Cutcliffe before he jets off to talk about his first starring role, the challenges of shooting out of schedule and the perspective that comes with having two young children (and a third on the way).
How did you book this film?
Sophie Jermyn, my agent, sent it to me in desperation. She said, these guys cannot find someone. They had a name attached to it but he dropped [out] and I think with him falling out a bit of finance fell away as well. And then one of the Australian actors got cold feet and stayed in LA. So Brian [Cobb] the producer asked Soph, who said I was right for it. Brian was like, Who the fuck is Andrew (laughs)? So she sent me the script and said youve got to put a self-tape down tomorrow. Courtney my wife was away, and she normally reads opposite me. So I called Coeli, my sister, who is pretty au fait with reading scripts, and asked her to come up to my house to shoot this thing. It was pissing down with rain so the light was awful, and I know everyone in the street and they were walking past and I was there screaming at my sister, calling her a whore
You should have picked a different scene to test with!
It was the only one I had (laughs). They gave me the test scene. Anyway, I sent it in, and the next morning, Soph called me and asked me to get to Beyond in Artarmon. Brian was working out of Martin Fabinyis office under a Screen Australia Enterprise grant. Martins the EP. I was coming from a voiceover in the city and I went straight on to the tunnel and I was on the phone to her and then rocked up and met Brian and the director and booked it. That was three and a half weeks out from the beginning of principal.
Your first lead?
Yep. And I was pretty unhealthy. Hadnt been fit for a very long time. I wasnt overweight, but I was the frumpiest Ive ever been in my life. I read the script again sitting on the lounge, and theres a lot of skin. Courtney was back at this point, and I turned to her and said: Im going for a run. It was 10 oclock at night, and I literally put my shoes on and ran every single day until production stopped.
Push-ups before action?
I was doing everything. The gaffer came up to me with some dumbbells (laughs). But I wanted to drop weight because hes an artist and artists are rarely fat. Hes an artist whos not struggling financially, but hes tortured. Hes struggling with the artistic side of it when he falls head over heels for a blonde bombshell at a gallery opening, who it turns out is married to a gangster, and it all goes downhill from there.
Where did you shoot?
Sydney. Its a good city to shoot in: theres old and modern stuff, lots of national park land. Its a big movie set, really, you just have to deal with councils. We shot in Manly Dam for a lot of night shoots, which is beautiful. I had never been there. Then Redfern, a little bit in Paddington, [and] Fox [Studios] on a small soundstage with a big gaff-rig for stunt stuff. We had four or five weeks. But then they did pick-ups and completely reshot the ending, which I think was very beneficial. Made it more genre.
Was it scary to play your first lead in a feature?
Its funny, I dont freak out once Ive got a job — I freak out [about] getting the job, the audition and the pressure of that. But the older I get the less freaked out I get. Which is a big change from even two years ago, where I just put so much pressure on myself to get a job. I think its probably having kids. The priority is home and kids and family, and thats the stuff I should be worrying about if I have to worry about something.
Youve done some day-player stuff on TV shows. Was it helpful having more time with a character?
Thats the thing which made the most apprehensive, in a way. Shooting a TV show, whether youre a guestie or in a principal role, you typically shoot it in sequence. Typically. Some of it is shot out of order but you cant really shoot much of it out of order because directors work in blocks and thats only two or three episodes. And TV shows are normally really tight. This was tight as well, but we shot it completely out of sequence, and doing that is hard. Youve got to really stitch your arc in, then break it all up, and then nail where your points are. Its about finding a sense of stakes, and how the level is changing, in each scene; how important things mean to you at that point in time. Thats the hard part.
Even though this is an indie, its not micro-budget.
All the technicians were good at what they do. Rodrigo Vidal Dawson, who shot Observance, was the DOP. Michael Steele [DOP on Crushed] was first camera. I owe him a lot, he was so generous with me. By the end of it we could communicate with silent looks, making sure he was happy with his frame and focus. It was pretty indie but substantial: always three or four gaffers, always two or three grips. Bigger than most indies, man. You see most indies walking around with ten people in the crew, and we probably had 50. It was fun.
The filmmakers will screen their shorts at Dendy Opera Quays on June 13 during this years Sydney Film Festival.
One of the four, Anya Beyersdorf, teamed up with producer Nicole Coventry for her short How the Light Gets In, the story of a single mother who wakes up in the middle of the night to find that shes glowing.
Beyersdorf, who worked with Coventry on her previous short, Vampir, starring director Tony Rogers (Wilfred, Bruce), describes the Sydney shoot for her latest as very difficult.
I actually almost died, Beyersdorf says. On day two I woke up in the morning and I was so sick I couldnt even stand up. I literally couldnt even stand up in the shower. [DP] Warwick Field had to drive me to the doctors to get an anti-nausea wafer thing that they put under your tongue, because I had been vomiting all night and I had to go and shoot for four more days.
The directors illness coincided with a mad scramble to fill a key role after two high-profile actresses dropped out.
One of them injured herself and couldnt come, which was heartbreaking, Beyersdorf says. And the other one got stuck in Vancouver and couldnt fly because of bad weather. And this is Wednesday, when Im sick. And Sunday weve got to shoot her scenes.
Beyersdorf tasked Coventry with bringing Maori folk singer Whirimako Black to Australia to play the role on a couple of days notice.
I said to Nicole, I dont want to know about it, I dont want to know what it costs, bring her to me. I remember seeing Nicole still on the phone at midnight to agents.
She lived in regional New Zealand, and the agent tested her out to see if she would do it, says Coventry.
Friday night we were on a call in a paddock out the back of Helensburgh, trying to not disturb the shooting, because we had a night shoot. If she didnt do it, we were fucked. And we didnt have millions of dollars to make it happen. Luckily that agent was amenable. Shes in the film for such a short time but carries the whole weight of it.
After her experience in the Vampir cutting room, where the director often found herself short of coverage, Beyersdorf had two cameras this time, cross-shooting throughout the five-day shoot. On this one I was very aware of getting lots of footage, which we did.
Editor Christine Cheung (who also edited another Fellowship film, Outbreak Generation) cut the film at Definition Films, with Jamie Hediger completing the grade. VFX was handled by Heckler while rotoscoping was done on consignment out of India.
Beyersdorf admits the central conceit, of a woman whose body begins to glow, was a big risk.
Tony Rogers flat out told me not to do it; you cant have a woman who glows. Its a scary thing to do. Sometimes I had to walk away and go, oh my god we are making such a weird film right now; shes got LED lights attached to every surface. Our shooting was so slow because our gaffer had to light the whole caravan, and then he had to physically stick lights to her. But I think its actually worked well.
Coventry was in the process of negotiating the rights to the Leonard Cohen song that gives the film its name when the legendary singer-songwriter died in November.
It took months with Sony, recalls Coventry. We got the rights before he died but we hadnt signed the contract so we got very nervous. Luckily it didnt cause a complication, but we just have the publishing rights.
The key moment in the film is that song, Beyersdorf says. We shot with that song on playback on set, Leonard Cohen blasting through the walls of the caravan, and everybody was crying.
The song is covered in the film by the directors nieces, Swedish-Australian pop sensations Say Lou Lou.
Beyersdorf described the finished short as really weird but definitely a unique film.
I think its going to affect people. But I dont think you feel confident ever. I think the more money they give you to make something, the more scared you feel. Knowing it was going to screen at the Sydney Film Festival its so exciting, but you also think: well it had better be good (laughs).
Imagine youre a young woman from Brisbane, and you decide to quit your job taking photos for a real estate website, and head overseas for the first time, to the cool city where all the other cool young people seem to be heading —Berlin. There you meet a really nice guy, you go back to his, you have amazing sex. But fast forward to the morning after and you discover hes locked you in his creepy apartment, and so begins Berlin Syndrome, a dark fairy-tale of a thriller from Australian director Cate Shortland.
You might remember Cates first film, Somersault, which came out in 2004. That film probably rings a bell because you either loved it or hated it — it was dragged into a debate that raged at the time about how Australian cinema was in crisis. It was a particularly ill-informed, mostly useless exercise dominated by claims from the affirmative team that the films we were making in this country were depressing, niche, and didnt attract an audience. Somersault was the film of the moment that copped a lot of the flak. The solution, apparently, was that we needed to make more populist genre films in this country, and, anachronistically, some pointed back to a so-called golden age of Australian genre filmmaking in the 1970s as an example we should emulate. You might remember a snappy documentary that helped the case — Not Quite Hollywood — with Quentin Tarantino gushing over how much he loved us. Ignore Tarantino, theres actually scant evidence for this claim of a golden age — certainly Australia never made anywhere near the quality or quantity of hardboiled action movies and comedies churned out in places like Hong Kong or Italy in the 1970s, but that's by the by, mud was hurled, and Somersault, an accomplished, tender debut feature about a girls coming of age starring Abbie Cornish — got caught in the cross fire.
So how is Cate Shortland travelling now, 13 years later, on just her third feature after her well received World War IIdrama Lore in 2012, about a German girl who takes her siblings on a cross country trek after the collapse of the Nazi regime.
The answer is that shes still following a line that began with her early shorts at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Shortland is an auteur and the imprint of her style is unmistakable. Its a cinema that evokes the sensation of strong feeling. The camera seems to quiver, often hand held and coming in and out of focus. The lighting is wildly expressive and her actors — their faces streaked with tears and their clothes torn —deliver performances of intensity, pain, and strength. The difference with Berlin Syndrome — based on the novel by Melanie Joosten and adapted for the screen by Jasper Jones and Snowtown screenwriter Shaun Grant — is that its the first time Shortland has dealt with source material that has a clear commercial appeal.
The matchup between her ethereal style and the brutality of a kidnapping thriller isnt always a happy one. The film cant quite sustain the tension, nor can it follow through on some of the ideas it stops to signpost.
Just what is it about? Like the central character Clare — a young woman who takes loving photos of crumbling East German architecture but almost visibly squirms with embarrassment at the mention of her home town of Brisbane — it suffers from something of an identity crisis. Is this a moral tale, then, about tourists who indulge in superficial fantasies about societies they dont understand? Or is it a film about Max Reimelts angel faced psycho Andi — the son of a communist father and a mother who defected to the West — whose inability to reconcile with a fragmented past is a symbol for Germany itself?
Shortland tries to make it about both, but ultimately settles for something simpler, a coming of age story told through a prism of escalating violence and manipulation, that lacks, however, the exterior journey through expansive landscapes featured in her previous films. Andis grey apartment — beautifully recreated on a Melbourne sound stage with shadowy nooks, crannies, and a secret room — is the main backdrop, and Shortland doesnt quite transcend the location.
The films mix of tragedy and farce — sometimes reminiscent of Rob Reiners Misery for the way both captor and captive invest in a make-believe version of their relationship — lacks nuance.
Palmer, whose piercing blue eyes become ever more determined, does convince as a victim who turns the tables on her abuser. But the overriding impression of the film is of a gifted auteur who hasnt quite managed to bend the material to her will.
Listen to Jason Di Rosso's interview with Cate Shortland here.
Australia-China co-pro 'Guardians of the Tomb' (formerly 'Nest') stars Chinese mega-star Li Bingbing.
The official co-production treaty between China and Australia entered into force in 2008. Since then, despite growing interest in working with the burgeoning film power, only a handful of official co-productions have been made. They include The Dragon Pearl, 33 Postcardsand The Children of the Silk Road (made under a MOU prior to the signing of the treaty).
However in the past 18 months, things have started to shift. The biggest co-pro to date, Kimble Rendalls Guardians of the Tomb (formerly Nest), shot on the Gold Coast early last year, and gangster film Dog Fight shot in Victoria last September. Both films are now in post.
Two other projects, Pauline Chans My Extraordinary Wedding and Nadia Tass and David Parkers Tying the Knot,have been issued provisional approval but are yet to enter production.
This week, at a networking event in Beijing, the latest China-Australia co-pro was unveiled.
A collaboration between Chinas Monumental Films and Australias Rodman Films and Story Bridge Films, At Lastfollows a couple from Beijing who become caught in a complex art heist while on holiday in Australia. The writer-director is Yiwei Liu and producers are Jackie Jiao, Todd Fellman, Charles Fan and Vanessa Wu.
Casting is currently underway with production expected to kick off in Queensland in mid-July. Financing will be provided by Orient Image Entertainment, Gravity Films, Shineland Media, China Lion and Screen Queensland.
Screen Australias head of business and audience Richard Harris said there has been increased interest in Australian-Chinese co-productions of late, with four announced since late 2015.
This upswing in activity is the result of seven years of engagement with the Chinese screen industry and the sustained support of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television in China, he said.
China is currently the worlds second-largest movie-going market and co-productions are an essential growth stream for the Australian industry. This is over and above the existing appetite for Chinese television and film productions being shot in Australia.
Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieria estimated At Lasts Queensland shoot would provide around 200 jobs and $10.8 million for the states economy.
Queensland producers have been working extensively to build relationships with Chinese producers and it is fantastic to see another official co-production in our State, she said.
At Lastwas announced at a Beijingevent hosted in partnership with Ausfilm and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, designed to further Australian-Chinese working relationships and identify co-production opportunities.
In attendance were Ausfilm members including Screen NSW, Film Victoria, Screen Queensland, Screenwest, City of Gold Coast, Soundfirm, Spectrum Films, Show Group, Stage & Screen and The Appointment Group.
Standalone production companies were also present, including Sydney Films, which announced a slate of 14 films that will be developed to qualify as co-productions. Overall, the company plans to identify 20 existing or potential co-production films with an investment budget of $400 million.
Ausfilm has been actively working to build the Australia-China relationship, hosting the Australia China Film Industry Exchange in partnership with Screen Australia and the Australian Embassy in Beijing for the last seven years. More recently, it has brought delegations of Chinese filmmakers to Australia under its Familiarisation Program to scout locations and meet with Ausfilm member companies, line producers and HODs.
Heyi Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures Asia shot in Sydney for six weeks this year on Jackie Chan sci-fi Bleeding Steel as a direct result of these ongoing intiatives, says Ausfilm CEO Debra Richards.
While the official co-production treaty only covers features, many Aussie producers are also finding success producing TV with China. The first Chinese TV drama to shoot in Australia, Speed,recently wrapped filming in South Australia with 57 Films handling local production.
Upcoming project Butterflies Across the Seawill be the biggest budget Chinese television series to have been filmed outside of China. It's set to shoot between May and October around Sydney and is a co-production between Horgos Buer Culture Media and Pauline Chan and Deidre Kitcher's Opal Films International.
While China grants only a small number of foreign films a theatrical release each year, Aussie films have enjoyed some box office success in China of late. Hacksaw Ridgegrossed $80 million and was granted an extended theatrical release, a rare feat for a foreign film. Kimble Rendall'sBait 3Dalso grossed some AUD$24.4 million back in 2012.
The Death and Life of Otto Bloom has also been shortlisted for the Tiantan Award at the 2017 Beijing International Film Festival.
Tickets are now on sale for the world premiere of four short films directed by the recipients of the 2016 Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship. Anya Beyersdorf, Brooke Goldfinch, Alex Ryan and Alex Murawski will screen their films at Dendy Opera Quays on June 13 during this years Sydney Film Festival.The next crop of Fellows to receive $50,000 will be announced on the night.
IF checked in with Goldfinch earlier this year, as the filmmaker was editing her film, 'Outbreak Generation', about a woman who finds herself the sole carer of an eight-year-old boy in the middle of a global epidemic. Goldfinch previously directed short 'Red Rover' in the States while studying filmmaking at NYU, and completed a directors attachment on the set of 'Alien: Covenant' with Ridley Scott last year.
Where did you shoot Outbreak Generation, and how many days did you have?
We did most of our exteriors in Kurnell, and we did some scenes at Royal North Shore Hospital. And at Lisa [Shaunessy] the producers house in Leichhardt. We shot for five days. We needed every minute. I didnt realise Australians shoot for 10 hours and not 12, so that was a big learning curve. But its such a great opportunity, because filmmaking isnt like painting. You cant do it in your bedroom by yourself. Having the opportunity to hone your craft is so important. The Lexus program allows people to experiment and I think theres not enough of that here. Its so expensive to make films. And we wrote this film in the world of my feature, and it was really great to throw ideas up on the screen and see what works and what doesnt.
Was the script an excerpt from the feature?
No I wrote a separate thing. Trying to condense a feature into a short is a bit of a fools errand. We tried to just have elements of the world and not so much the story of the feature, so its quite different. My features a sci-fi, set in the not-too-distant future, so its good to look at it and see what the audience will buy.
How do you audition?
We had a casting agent, Marianne Jade, but I had someone in mind for the lead. Id seen Gen Hegney in a couple of different things. She does a lot of comedy, she was in The Little Death. Shes got a really great comedic sensibility and the character in my film is very depressed and I needed somebody who had this really snide, sarcastic quality. Gen has this ability to inhabit a character and play things really dry. And not ham things up. Even though this films a drama, I really wanted somebody that could get in to the few comedic moments and really sell them to give the audience a bit of reprieve from the [grimness].
And for her son?
In the audition this little boy stormed up to us and said, Ive only been doing this for three months and Ive already booked three gigs. He had this incredible in-your-face attitude that I thought was perfect for the role. Often when kids have booked commercials and stuff, theyre very rehearsed and fakey. Theyre just really big. Because hes so fresh, Oscar didnt have any of that overly rehearsed [quality]. He was really good but also really natural.
Are you working with any collaborators from Red Rover?
Yeah, we did all the post production here [in Australia]. Christine [Cheung] edited that as well. Were doing our post again at Spectrum. But its mostly new people.
Now youre in the edit, is the film looking different to how you imagined?
Yeah it is. I was really thrown by the fact we only shoot 10 hours a day. Id signed off on a couple of days thinking they were 12 hours. So its taken a bit of work to reconfigure things. And I learnt a lot about light in Australia. It is so bright here. In the Northern Hemisphere, where I have most of my experience, the golden hours last much longer and you can shoot outdoors for much longer. Here at 9am, its like: the lights are on. Its so harsh. And shooting in summer you only have so many daylight hours, so you dont have the flexibility of shooting in the morning and the evening because thats too long a day. Stuff like that was such a big learning curve for me.