Francesca Rudkin

Francesca Rudkin

Over the last 15 years Francesca Rudkin has been working in the media as a film and music reviewer (NZ Herald, Breakfast TV), a television presenter and producer, and voice over artist. Recently, Francesca joined Rialto Channel as their resident blogger, allowing her to indulge in her love of world cinema. Her next challenge is to convince her young children that being a “Cinephile” is a legitimate profession.

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Q & A with Anton Steel for THE Z-NAIL GANG

Posted on Wednesday 26/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

First-time feature director Anton Steel knows he couldn’t have made The Z-Nail Gang, an independently funded feature film, without the help of an entire community. Luckily for him, the locals in Bay of Plenty town of Te Puke were more than willing to help pull off this eco-action comedy that NZ On Screen describes as “Greenies meet The Castle”. The film was nominated at the 2014 NZ Film Awards for Best Self-Funded Film, and Best Supporting Actress (Vanessa Rare), and to celebrate its screening on Rialto Channel (Wednesday 26th October, 8.30pm), Anton kindly spoke to me about his experience of making The Z-Nail Gang.

 

Rialto: First tell us what to expect from your film?

The Z-Nail Gang is an eco- action Comedy based on incredibly true events that took place in the Coromandel Peninsula. It tells the story of a disparate community that comes together to defeat a multi-national mining corporation. I have attended a lot of community screenings for this film and had a lot of people come up to me afterwards, amazed at the story and what we pulled off, and telling me that it stands up there with Kiwi classics like Goodbye Pork Pie.

Rialto: What was the biggest challenge you faced making the film, and how did you overcome it?

Since this film is about a community coming together we made this film as a community project in our home of Te Puke / Pukehina. The idea was huge, the shoot window short, money was extremely tight and 80% of the crew were amateurs. When people are working for free you have to be respectful of the time and energy they are giving, be thankful for anything they bring to the table and also be understanding when they get it wrong. Our kaupapa was Connect, Create, Celebrate - Connect with people, encourage them to Create and Celebrate in everyone’s achievement! Having a different community group help with the catering every day, the wardrobe provided by the local opshops, and trucks provided by the local kiwifruit pack houses were some of the ways we made this shoot happen.

 

Rialto: How did you fund your film, and was any crowd funding involved? If so, would you recommend it?  

Originally this film was budgeted at around $6 million dollars, but utilising the Asset Based Community Development model we employed it only cost around $40,000. $10,000 of that was crowd funding. Crowdfunding is a way to raise money, but you have to realise that a lot of energy and effort is going to go into raising that money that could also be spent creatively driving your project forward.

Rialto: How many roles did you juggle on this project?

Where do you start? Researcher / Writer / Location Scout / Runner / Director / Editor / Distributor / Carpenter / Foley artist

Rialto: Can you tell us your best dinner party story about the making of your film?

I started this film by doing letter drop down Pukehina Parade with my then 3-year-old son. At our first community meeting we had 12 people, half of whom were children who wanted a starring role, but by the time we had our “World Premiere” in Te Puke there were over 400 people and organisations who had become part of this journey. We’ve changed people with the way we approached this project, given people a glimpse at the crazy energy of a film shoot and launched multiple people onto or back into careers in the industry. Being awarded the Trustpower Supreme Community Award for The Z-Nail Gang was a real pleasant surprise when it happened, and something we never expected when we set out to make a film.

 

Rialto: If you were giving a talk to a group of filmmaking students, what would you tell them about their chosen career path?

Make conscious media that informs, inspires and changes the world. So much effort goes into making a film whether its a short, a documentary or feature that you should make sure that all work is for something that truly counts in making the world a better place. And be extremely respectful and thankful to everyone person that helps you to achieve your vision.

Rialto: If you could pick one New Zealand actor or actress to work with, who would it be and why?

Cliff Curtis

Rialto: If you had to describe in three words the current state of the NZ film industry, what would they be?

Not enough funding! In Austria they have 8 million people and they make 45 films per year!

Rialto: What’s the last film that moved you?

Deadpool. I just watched it on a flight back from the AFCI Cineposium in Atlanta and everybody surrounding me on the plane heard me laugh out loud multiple times. I really like it when filmmakers are able to subvert and parody a genre and pull it off with such style. The film genuinely surprised me...especially in the super hero genre which is so boring and over the top these days. It always comes back to script and story and the creative team behind this were geniuses.

The Z-Nail Gang premieres Wednesday 26 October at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

Francesca's Weekly Wrap Up

Posted on Tuesday 25/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Q & A with Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader for THE GREAT MAIDEN'S BLUSH

Posted on Wednesday 19/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

This week on Rialto Channel’s series of New Zealand films, screening on Wednesday evenings, comes the third film from filmmaking duo Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader. The Great Maiden’s Blush is a rich character-driven drama that revolves around two very different first-time mothers who meet in a hospital post- natal ward. Both are facing the possibility of losing their children, and together they’re forced to confront their pasts, face the men in their lives and admit to the truth of the paternity of their newborn babies. Co-writers and co-directors Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader kindly talked us through the experience of making this beautiful and moving film that was shot by Alun Bollinger and Waka Attewell and edited by Annie Collins.

Rialto: First tell us what to expect from your film?

We always set out to make films that we hope will touch audiences on an emotional level.

Rialto: What was the biggest challenge you faced making the film, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was trying to work with the New Zealand Film Commission and their obsession with the minutiae of script, constantly changing demands, and the protracted bureaucratic process. We overcame it by making the film without them.

Rialto: How did you fund your film, and was any crowd funding involved? If so, would you recommend it?  

The majority of funds were raised by directly asking individuals for donations of between $1000 and $5000. Some people contributed substantially more. It does take courage to be upfront and honest about what one needs. It also requires one to accept a ‘no’ answer, without taking it personally, or letting it affect relationships. But the great thing about raising funds this way, is that you do build ongoing relationships and trust, and many of these donors have contributed to our earlier features.

We also had a small private low-interest loan, which we have paid back from distribution revenue.

A huge contribution to the funding of the film came from the generosity of our cast and crew, who were willing to work for deferrals and a very small weekly upfront payment. Additionally, various organisations and film companies contributed equipment and services for token or no charge. As well, we engaged with our community, got them onside, and as a result we managed to get crucial locations for no cost. Certainly not an ideal way to work, but in order for independent filmmaking to have a life in New Zealand, this is the reality. Goodwill and honesty gets you a long way, sometimes a lot further than dollars do.

We did a small amount of crowdfunding in the early stages, but it was it not very successful. 

Rialto: How many roles did you juggle on this project? 

We do all sorts of roles in both production and post-production phases, and again this is the reality of independent filmmaking in New Zealand. While it can stretch one, it does build a respect for and knowledge of the challenges every role in filmmaking has. How do we juggle these roles? If you drop the ball, the game is over, so you have to be extremely well organised and have a realistic time frame. We managed this by shooting in three separate blocks over a period of six months.

Rialto: Can you tell us your best dinner party story about the making of your film? 

One incredibly generous woman who let us film in her very beautiful house, thought there would be five people involved, and realised on the day we began shooting there, that there were five people around the camera alone!  Needless to say, she took it in her stride.

Working with babies meant that when they were on set, everyone had to very quiet and calm, so shoes came off (not OSH compliant) and everyone communicated through elaborate sign language.

Rialto: If you were giving a talk to a group of filmmaking students, what would you tell them about their chosen career path?

It is possible to have a career as part of a film crew. This is a good reason to have a specialised skill. However, independent filmmaking is not a career, it’s a calling. It requires you to have 100% commitment to your idea, to be humble, tenacious and have the ability to enrol and genuinely get on with a lot of different people.

The only way to get good at anything, is to practice, to simply do it. It means being prolific, giving oneself permission to make mistakes and giving up on the notion of perfection. So short and very short films are a good start, but even these take a lot longer than you can imagine. The Great Maiden’s Blush took eighteen years to realise.

Because filmmaking is, compared to the other arts, such an expensive medium, there is an unwritten expectation that from one’s very first film, it must be a success (however that is defined).  As a result, filmmaking is one of the most conservative of the arts; filmmakers tend not to push boundaries or take risks narratively and aesthetically, as they and funders alike, seek the ‘success formula’. And so the same old stories, the same old way of telling stories, and the same old way of making films continues, as filmmakers orient their work to what they see being funded.

Be courageous – make what you want to make, NOT what you think the funders will like.

Under the current model, distributors and exhibitors take the lion’s share of the box office. It is a perverse but universally accepted investment/recoupment system, which is explained as ‘last in, first out’. With a feature film, to make any return whatsoever, you must be prepared to self-distribute.

Rialto: If you could pick one New Zealand actor or actress to work with, who would it be and why? 

There are many highly skilled actors whom we have loved working with, and would do so again. The challenge that actors and directors face in the New Zealand industry is lack of investment in rehearsal and character development prior to shooting.  In our feature Hook, Line & Sinker, we spent five weeks working with the actors prior to shooting, and with The Great Maiden’s Blush, three weeks.  And we are NOT rehearsing the script, but simply developing character.

As a result of this intensive work, we are able to shoot rapidly and economically because the hard task of developing character and performance has largely been done during the rehearsal period. 

Rialto: If you had to describe in three words the current state of the NZ film industry, what would they be? 

Stylistically conservative, Hollywood-obsessed, and dominated by bureaucracy

Rialto: What’s the last film that moved you? 

The Band’s Visit is one of our favourite films. We’ve watched it five times and it never fails to move us.

The Great Maiden’s Blush premieres  29th October on Rialto Channel

Q & A with Finola Dwyer for BROOKLYN

Posted on Wednesday 19/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

BROOKLYN is a coming-of-age love story set in New York City in the 1950s. Based on Colm Tóibín's novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by author Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley. Brooklyn stars the luminescent Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who immigrates from her small hometown in Ireland to Brooklyn to build a new life. This charming and moving film was one of the darlings of the past awards season, and was produced by New Zealand born filmmaker Fiona Dwyer (An Education, Quartet). She kindly took the time to have a chat about Brooklyn, and life as a film producer. 

 

RC: Congratulations on the success you’ve had with Brooklyn, what are you proudest of about the film?

FD: It was a very personal story for me. It was my mother’s story to an extent; she came from Ireland to NZ in 1951 and missed Ireland terribly really all her life I would say. And then when I moved to London in the 90s I could understand what it was like for her. It was a very personal story, but I always thought it was very universal, so to option the book, get it made with such a great filmmaker as John [Crowley], and the fact it took us a few years from when I optioned the novel to when we were ready to make it.  Saoirse went from 15 to 20 so she became old enough to play the role. So there was a lot of stars aligning, and I just think we had very little money to make it, and I was extremely proud of the fact that we kept the bar high and it was really the film that I saw in my head from the get go. And then the fact it was commercial successful and audiences around the world related to it. That universality of how we all need to leave home and how you can never go back, and it’s different in every situation, but the fact it reached so many people. We make movies, tell stories and we want those films to connect with audiences.

RC: I can’t think of an immigration film that has a female protagonist, and the female perspective gives this film a beautiful intimacy and it felt like it was about the inner turmoil rather than the journey of just trying to make it.

FD: Totally, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons why it was hard to get it made and raise enough money - I didn’t just want to make a film, I wanted to make a really good film - and because people would read the script and go, ‘oh, you know, an immigration story’. And we’d say, ‘it’s never been told from the female perspective, we never had this story’, and [they’d say] ‘nothing really happens.’ But plenty was happening. It’s an intimate story in an epic landscape if you like; the world was epic around her what she walked into in Brooklyn. I think that’s why it did connect with audiences; on the page it wasn’t the easiest sell in the world.

RC: What was the biggest challenge – does it always come down to money?

FD: Well, it can be finding the right cast as well, and finding the right director. It’s not always money actually. There can be a lot of different factors, we didn’t have a lot to make it and it took me a while to figure out how I could make it and raise enough money, and where would we shoot as we wouldn’t be shooting at all in Brooklyn. Finding Emory Cohen who plays Tony took us quite some months actually. We cast Saoirse in February and didn’t really find Emory until September and we were looking at a lot of young guys and, because we cast her and she was on the younger side, we couldn’t have a guy like 30. We needed someone closer to her age. So, it took us a while to find someone who had all the qualities and the abilities as an actor to play that role.

RC: Does timing play a large part in pulling a film together?

FD: I think you need a lot of luck for sure, you can never take no for an answer and you keep pushing through. There are always a gazillion reasons why something can’t happen, but you keep going really and you have to have a lot of belief and perseverance that it’s going to come together when many people think it never will. It’s like, if I don’t believe in it, then I can’t persuade everybody else to believe in it and get in behind it. So belief is very important. And I never try and overthink it either, just keeping focused and keeping going is the most important thing, and try and pull something together.

RC: It feels like it came together so perfectly. I can’t imagine anyone other than Saoirse playing Eilis.

FD: Neither can we. And it was luck in a way because Nick Hornby who did the screenplay and is brilliant, we’d worked with him on An Education and we’re working with him again, he was like ‘you guys are taking so long’, but it was finding the right director. Then Saoirse’s agent rang me not long after John had come on board and he was like, ‘I know there’s someone else in the frame but you need to know Saoirse loves this book’, and I was like, ‘How old is she now?’ And then she was 18 coming up to 19 and when we filmed it was probably another year on from when he called me, a year and a half when we started filming, so looking back so yeah, she was 15 when I optioned the book. I remember looking it up and thinking, oh OK, she’s far too young and that’s never going to work. So when the day Chris rang me and said she’s nearly 19 I thought really? Has that much time passed? It was just perfect.  

RC: Do you have young actresses lining up asking you to get Nick Hornby to write them a part? He’s really good at it isn’t he – writing female roles.

FD: We don’t, but we should! They should be queuing up and knocking on our door for sure. He also wrote Oscar nominated Wild between An Education and Brooklyn, and we’re working on something else with him with another female in the lead – which is early days so I can’t say what it is  - but he can capture the female voice really well and it’s like an underserviced market. He’s like, there are all these fabulous actresses and people aren’t creating these great roles, so he thinks it’s just a win-win.

RC: My young hairdresser this morning was telling me she thought Julie Walters was one of the funniest people on earth – was she fun to work with?

FD: Oh she’s wonderful – she’s really, really wonderful, Julie. She such a pro, she is so funny and she’s doesn’t miss a trick. She’s a delight. She made Mrs Kehoe everything that was on the page and more. She’s just tremendous and she’s greatly loved.

RC: Out of all the Festivals and award shows this film has taken you to, which one was the most fun?

FD: Well the Oscars was the last and the Oscars is the pinnacle, and that was our second time there - we’d been there for An Education, and I don’t think we ever thought we’d be back again, and back again so soon. It was a real thrill. It was a great time the first time around, but ever more fun the second time around. I had George Miller and all the Mad Max: Fury Road guys sitting in front of me and that was really fun because I know him from a long time ago, and we were joking we were the antipodean corner in the room. It was the end of the journey as well. We’d been at Sundance the year before and has started shooting nearly two years before that, and we were all there together; John, Nick, Amanda (my producing partner), me and Saoirse. It was a great few days. Searchlight had done a tremendous job releasing it in the US and done a great campaign. And we’d won the BAFTA probably 2 weeks before. Each one was great fun and the BAFTA was very special because we weren’t expecting that – you never expect them, so that was fantastic. But the Oscar is like the ultimate and to be back there again… and lots of friends were nominated, and the Americans know how to do those shows like no one else somehow.

 

RC: How do you find projects – do you mostly source material yourself and then bring a team together, or do directors and screenwriters approach you with material?

FD: It’s a bit of a mix. I would say, with Brooklyn it was a friend of Colm Tóibín who recommended I read it. It was at dinner at my house, and he said ‘I think you’d like it’. And someone else was there and said, ‘I don’t think you’ll like Colm’s writing!’ And I read it and I did very much like it, but I thought about it for a long time because it is a very internal voice and how do you dramatise that?… I met Colm by chance and we just hit it off and he said, ‘other people are in negotiation but it’s yours if you want it’. Because it was such a personal piece for me it just kept happening right through the process on Brooklyn, things falling into place. They didn’t fall into place quickly but they fell into place, which helped us make the best version of the movie I think.

We tend to acquire rights, or come up with ideas, or Nick brings us things as well, and then with the film I am currently doing I was asked if I would like to produce it, which is rarer for me. But it’s an adaptation of a novel called Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and it’s really beautiful and it’s a great love story and about loneliness, and it’s got Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, so it was really hard to say no to that. I found the director, and Robert’s a producer on it as well and we’re in our second week of shooting

After the long journey of Brooklyn, it was just great to go, there’s a window for these actors availability, you’ve got to find a director – is it possible? And 12 weeks later we’re shooting. Which is refreshing after the long drawn out journeys we go on. It’s energising to mix it up.

 

RC: How do you normally feel on the first day of a film shoot?

FD: Oh I hate the first day. Not that I hate it, but I’m always glad when it’s over. A lot of the crew feel the same, but I didn’t really realise that until this shoot, even though I’ve done so many. A lot of people saying, ‘How did you sleep last night?’ and you realise that most of the crew didn’t really sleep well as you think you’re going to sleep in or be late. It’s like first day at school - first day nerves. It usually takes a few days for everyone to settle in and get their groove. So the first day I am always glad when it’s over and you have it behind you. You have a sense of how it’s going to be after the first day.

RC: What’s the one aspect of producing you’re not so keen on, and which parts of the job give you a thrill?

FD: I probably don’t dwell on that stuff. Every stage you’re at is the most important stage is what I always say, whether it’s getting the script rights, pre-production, how you put it together, finding your director. I love post-production as I started in editing, and I still love post-production, it’s a great time. I’m sure there are plenty of parts of it I don’t always enjoy. But it surprises me, I think with experience you can keep on bringing more and more to the process, which I love, and Ritesh Batra who’s directing this [Our Souls at Night], who did this beautifully Indian film called The Lunchbox, and is superbly talented and it’s only his 3rd film and it’s great having that collaboration. But I also enjoy working with much more experience directors too, so you kind of bring different things to each film.

RC Which is what keeps it interesting isn’t it?

FD: Totally, and every story is different. They’ve all got different challenges and it’s never the same twice. Your cast is obviously going to be different from one film to another and they have quirks, foibles and demands. It’s different every time - it’s never predictable. Things come at you from left field and you go, I would never have seen that coming. So yeah, it’s good. I love it. I certainly can’t imagine producing if I didn’t enjoy it, if I lost it or thought I’m done with this you wouldn’t do it because it’s really, really hard work and it’s hard to make a good film. You have to be very focused and dedicated, but it’s good. 

BROOKLYN premieres on Rialto Channel on Saturday 22 October at 8.30pm

Francesca's Weekly Wrap Up

Posted on Monday 17/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

“The Earth without Art is just ‘eh.” Rialto Documentary Art Season

Posted on Thursday 13/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

“The Earth without Art is just ‘eh’” pretty much sums up this month on Rialto Documentary. An eclectic array of art documentaries exploring Nazi looted art, New Yorker cartoonists, and the colourful life of art addict Peggy Guggenheim premiering Thursday evenings at 8.30pm.  

Portrait of Wally premieres Thursday 13th October, 8.30pm

This fascinating documentary tells the story of a Nazi looted painting by Agon Shelia, Portrait of Wally, that was discovered on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in 1997, and the 13 year long battle by the original Jewish owner’s family to retrieve it. It’s a well-structured and engrossing documentary about a painting that brought the story of Nazi looting out into the open. Interestingly it also provides an insight into the questionable behavior by MoMA and its Chairman Ronald Lauder, who resisted the family and American legal systems attempt to recover the painting. A political and legal thriller about a piece of art and restitution laws, history and humanity, director Andrew Shea certainly leaves you with plenty to think about.  

Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists: premieres Thursday 20th October, 8.30pm

This light and hugely engaging documentary about the cartoon department at the New Yorker, is as you’d expect; droll, humorous and observant. The periodical is well known for its whimsical and satirical cartoons, and director Leah Wolchok takes you behind the scenes to see how the department works, and how its cartoon editor of 20 years, Bob Mankoff, whittles 1000 cartoons a week down to 15. Through Mankoff, we’re introduced to a variety of cartoonists – some who have been in the business decades, others who are just making their mark - and they’re all intriguing characters. Fun, light and clever; this is a must see.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict  premieres Thursday 27th October, 8.30pm

 

Written and directed by Lisa Vreeland (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel), this film tells the story of colourful art collector Peggy Guggenheim who became a central figure in the modern art movement. As well known for sleeping with artists as she was for collecting art, Guggenheim was ahead of her time, in more ways than one. For all the fabulous stories and controversies that whirled around her, Vreeland’s documentary refocuses our attention on Guggenheim’s true love; art. In doing so, she presents us with a mini history lesson on the great art and artists of the 20th century. 

Q & A with Alastair Riddell for BROKEN HALLELUJAH

Posted on Wednesday 12/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Broken Hallelujah is a family affair. A beautiful and moving story about love, it was written and produced by one of the film’s stars Vanessa Riddell, and directed by her husband Alastair Riddell in his directorial debut. It’s no easy feat completing and distributing an independent film, and in this thought-provoking interview Alastair kindly shares his experience of bringing Broken Hallelujah to life, and talks about the ups and downs of making films in New Zealand.


Rialto: First tell us what to expect from your film?

Broken Hallelujah is an 'ensemble' film, so it is unusual in that the plot follows the interwoven lives of several protagonists and not just one (although the inter-lacing story lines do move particularly around Kirsty Preston and her husband Gary).  The film is set in West Auckland in early to mid 2000's with a cast that reflects ethnic mix of the area (Maori, Chinese and Pakeha) and where the drama and the ebb and flow of these stories finally culminate in a life challenging crisis that changes everything. The film is not a love story but rather a story about love and the power we have to find meaning from our trials and exultations. In the end and despite the elements of tragedy in the film, the story is a positive and life-affirming one.

Rialto: What was the biggest challenge you faced making the film, and how did you overcome it?

An ensemble film was an ambitious style to take on straight out of the blocks and the post-production process was an interesting and oftentimes steep learning curve.  Finally, and despite the huge effort of filming and post-production, the biggest and toughest hurdle was releasing and publicising the film. Getting the word 'out there' and creating an interest in the release was very hard. We took to contacting cinemas ourselves directly and to our surprise the response was very positive. Not only did we get a decent run at Rialto Cinemas, we also managed to get screenings in well over twenty boutique cinemas throughout the country. The film was picked up by Air New Zealand for international in-flight and we have a deal for DVD release in Australia and New Zealand (with likely UK release pending). The Producer, Cinematographer and myself went on a small tour of several North Island cinemas and enjoyed positive feedback from viewers at Q and A sessions (something we will definitely do again for our next feature West of Eden).

As a result the film has achieved a 7.1 rating on IMDB (and without any shill voting) which is high rating for a New Zealand film.

I would like to see a sea-change in the acknowledgement and encouragement of independent filmmakers in New Zealand. Sometimes I feel we are an irritation to the state-funded film industry people (and I am sure most independent film-makers would say the same). Also, and oddly, I don't think many people realise that most films made in NZ are created through a sort of 'design-by-committee' process through the NZFC. 

One of the biggest problems with making films through group analysis and dissection is the tendency towards making risk adverse decisions; I do not think anything dangerous or inspiring naturally flows from that kind of approach. Personally I would not have produced Out on the Street (my number one hit song) had I written it with a committee of other people. Creativity is something that wells up from the unconscious mind, from a synergy of personal inspiration and experience; the personal muse. Call it what you will, but my entire stage persona and branding (in modern parlance) was something that evolved out of my creative impulses, my passions, and a disregard for formulated and scheduled planning. No ticking of boxes was involved and I think this goes for the 1960s and 70s in general, when there was a flourishing of creativity in all the arts. Without overstating it, I think real creativity is being stifled today through a preoccupation with branding and a prescriptive, formulaic approach to creativity. It is interesting that there is a re-vitalisation in American television because they are breaking those 'rules'. I can't see a production like Mr Robot, The Night Of, Breaking Bad, True Detective or Fargo, being made in NZ for exactly the reasons I give. The same principles apply in film.

Art and personal expression should be helped by creative funding agencies and not defined by them. Film making does involve a balance between the necessary business requirements and artistic demands; still film should be in its highest aspirations, an art form, and the history of creativity shows that inspiration flows from individuals not collectives. 

Books like Save the Cat and screen-writing Gurus like Syd Field, have become the benchmarks for story and structure and sadly that produces prescriptive blueprints for film-making. We then become incensed and bewildered when our films are not picked for distribution overseas. I suppose it can help to learn the rules before you break them but the result of approaching creativity in this way is that we lose the opportunity to develop many distinctly individual voices or for that matter, a truly national style in cinema. Diversity and experimentation are positive and productive qualities and should not be micro-managed into oblivion.

Personally I prefer to make films about ordinary people and their dilemmas; films that offer a small light to real human existence. As Ken Loach said about Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) "It wasn't a film about stars, or riches or absurd adventures". Our next film is a period piece set in 1960 – that points up the changes that have occurred socially in NZ since that time when being gay was a crime.

Rialto: How did you fund your film, and was any crowd funding involved? If so, would you recommend it?

Most feature films are so expensive from concept to cinema that deep pocket investors, studios or state funding are still the best option. The problem with any other form of funding like Crowd Funding, is that involves many people, a lot of time and imponderables like how to create excitement about your project...more often easier said than done. Crowd Funding is ideal for short films. In fact, short films should probably be funded this way to free-up money from studios and state funding organisations for feature films. It also allows young or novice filmmakers to find out how important marketing is; contrary to some myths, even Crowd Funding does not work without clever marketing and too often an additional contribution from the filmmakers themselves. Generally, as the saying goes, there is “no free lunch."

Rialto: How many roles did you juggle on this project?

The nature of making an independent film (with limited resources) is that you inevitably have to put on a few different hats. Mine were: Director, Editor, Composer.

I particularly enjoy directing actors and the challenge of writing the music for the score.

I have juggled more roles with Broken Hallelujah than I would like to in future, but the upside is that it has given me a great understanding of how to get a project of this size from beginning to end. I now know what I didn't when I started: what is required and what is worth spending extra time or money on to better expedite the completion of a film...no small thing. 

Rialto: Can you tell us your best dinner party story about the making of your film?

Funny in retrospect but not so funny at the time: we were shooting a beach scene at Kariotahi Beach north of port Waikato. We had a digital feed to a blacked out van for checking shots from the camera as we progressed through the days shot-list. I was sitting in the dark in the van with our data wrangler Ciaran and a large 50 inch screen, which rather dominated the space as you can imagine. It was at the time displaying what was coming through live from the camera, which was pointed out to sea. It was framing a close-up of the waves. Suddenly Ciaran said "is that a large freak wave?" To our astonishment, we could see a large wave heading straight for us. We tumbled out of the van shouting our lungs out: the screen close-up had given us an early warning and no-one else, cast or crew, had spotted it. There was a mad scramble by everyone to pick up all the gear and the set (mainly picnic paraphernalia). Rather terrifyingly a rogue wave that came up to our knees, swept through the whole set washing everything away and when it subsided it carried some of the set off out to sea, never to be seen again. We did manage to keep all of the expensive gear dry, but the set was literally a wash-out. The makeup/costume tent further in shore remained unscathed but the van went down to its axles in the sand and we spent the next hour digging it out and then towing it out with the help of a friendly 4x4 owner. Needless to say it was the end of shooting for that day and it added another day on to our schedule. They say don't film with animals and children if you can help it so perhaps 'on beaches' should be added to the list (certainly the stories of freak waves on West Coast beaches are true!). In the event Broken Hallelujah has animals, children and beaches in it.

Rialto: If you were giving a talk to a group of filmmaking students, what would you tell them about their chosen career path?

Trying to stitch elements of vision, action and sound together to create a powerful and cohesive story can be immensely satisfying and hugely frustrating. It is a little like a juggling act where the elements have to be drawn together to create (you hope!!) some magic in the incandescent illusion.

As far as actually making films is concerned, I thing the only really important thing is to get going and start making doing it. There are some wonderful high definition cameras out there now, and if you can beg or borrow one, get going. There is nothing like actually making a film to teach you what you need, and don't need, to do. Read Werner Herzog on that subject. By actually doing it you will not only gather the knowledge on how to handle actors, shots, and schedules but you'll develop the confidence and faith to stand by your own decisions and vision. Developing and maintaining a body of work will put you in good stead for the future and as you move along you should view mistakes as an opportunity to learn and not dwell on their negativities.

The world has moved further and further in the direction of networking. There has been huge and emphasis put on the need to develop contacts and stratagems to get ahead, and whereas those things are no doubt important, I think too much weight has been put on them: concentrating on social media like Facebook can mean you are talking to a lot of people who are only really interested in what they are doing.  We can lose our creative insight, and all important intuition, being overwhelmed by the stream of 'successes' posted online daily. Actually making something tangible can say more about yourself than a ton of words or self promotion. Again some balance needs to be found in that, but finally results have a way of informing the world.  

Although film making can be hugely satisfying and creatively rewarding it is obviously a financially difficult undertaking. The best thing I ever did, as a creative person, was investing what income I received in the good times, into my security. That put me in better stead when times got harder. It is a difficult thing to confidently give advice on: on the one hand you have to follow your dream and have faith but on the other, economic reality can be a cruel mistress. To further compound matters the scope for making a decent living in the arts in NZ is always a tough one, so I suppose it's finally a balancing act. Having other interests outside of your chosen field is important to help you get through the tough times. 

It helps a director I think, if you are interested in the other creative arts, particularly painting and music. I found my Art History major was hugely helpful when it came to understanding composition and framing as well as light. My career in music was also hugely helpful in understanding how to use music to develop and evoke mood and emotion. 

Finally, I would say that film making is a collegial process and life is short; surrounding yourself with enthusiastic supportive people makes all the difference about how you feel about yourself and your achievements, in an often fickle, indifferent, and competitive world.

Rialto: If you could pick one New Zealand actor or actress to work with, who would it be and why?

Well there are a lot of terrific actors around; it is an area where New Zealand has a particular store of wonderful talent.

Still I would like to direct my old mate Russell Crowe (does he count?). We were friends many years ago and I'd love to find out what happened to the Randall amp I left with him when I went to England?!

Rialto: If you had to describe in three words the current state of the NZ film industry, what would they be?

Sorry to say they would have to be: enthusiastic, (but) formulaic and self-congratulating.

Rialto: What’s the last film that moved you?

Well I see a lot of films I like and appreciate, but being actually moved when you know the tricks is a little more difficult.

Surprisingly perhaps I got a wee bit emotional at the end of Lady in the Van. I've always had a soft spot for Alan Bennett. It was finally a very touching story (though I would have edited the end a little differently haha...!!), and of course all made possible by a brilliant performance by Maggie Smith!!

Don’t miss Broken Hallelujah, Wednesday 12th October at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

Francesca's Weekly Wrap Up

Posted on Monday 10/10/2016 October, 2016 by

Q&A with Paolo Rotondo for ORPHANS & KINGDOMS

Posted on Wednesday 5/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

 

Orphans & Kingdoms is the multiple award-winning feature film debut from New Zealand filmmakers Paolo Rotondo (Writer/Director) and Fraser Brown (Producer).

Described by Rotondo as a “drama about how adults need kids as much as kids need adults”, Orphans & Kingdoms tells the story of three teenagers on the run, who break into a fancy holiday home only to unexpectedly come face to face with the home’s owner, played by Colin Moy.

The film was part of The New Zealand Film Commission’s low budget Escalator scheme, and the entire film was shot on Waiheke Island. The film premiered at the 2014 Auckland Film Festival, before winning a Moa award for best editing.

Previously Rotondo and Brown worked together on the award-winning short film Dead Letters, and both have acted in some of New Zealand’s most well-known television series including Shortland Street and The Insiders Guide to Happiness.

Rialto: First tell us what to expect from your film?

PR: Orphans & Kingdoms is a moving and powerful film, filled with beauty, both in the humanity of our characters and in the stunning Waiheke Island scenery. It has audiences on the edge of their seats with some nail biting tension, superb performances and heartfelt story telling. This is powerhouse Kiwi filmmaking at its best. Orphans & Kingdoms has been hugely thought provoking for New Zealand audiences and resonated Internationally. You won’t be disappointed.

Rialto: What was the biggest challenge you faced making the film, and how did you overcome it?

PR: By far the biggest challenge was the effect a project had on my young family. Selling our house, while I wasn’t earning without a clear deadline in sight. Not spending as much time with my little ones and partner, especially when we were making a film about family. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the ‘mission’ that is your first film. You have to really love your work. The best approach was simply to go for it and make it worthwhile. I’m really proud that we had the naivety, humility and heart to try and really say something. I’ll be proud to show my kids when they get old enough to watch.

Rialto: How did you fund your film, and was any crowd funding involved? If so, would you recommend it?  

PR: We did things our way; we invented an egalitarian and essentially socialist approach. Everyone was paid the same daily rate (a pittance) and we structured the returns from the film to come back to the crew first. I think we only got away with this approach because we were tiny, but the principle is inspiring. The old-fashioned studio/corporate approach is not the only way and has different relevance nowadays. We crowd-funded, begged, borrowed and stole (not really the stealing…).  It was The New Zealand Film Commission that got us going by funding us through a Micro-budget scheme where they gave us a little bit of money and then let us go for it. The crowd funding worked at the time and gave us a little audience to begin a conversation with. I’m not sure if there is any novelty in that anymore, as the market place for crowd funding is ‘crowded’ (excuse the pun). We made a little ‘info-graphic’ to help explain how it all worked, which can be viewed here: http://orphansandkingdoms.com/micro-budget-methodology.

Rialto: How many roles did you juggle on this project?

PR: You couldn’t get more multi-tasking than Fraser Brown (the Producer) and myself. Fraser produced the film and had a role as the cop (which meant he was sometimes the producer in a NZ cop uniform on set). Fraser also read with the actors and assisted in all the casting. I conducted all the casting myself, co-produced, found locations, wrote script and directed.

Rialto: Can you tell us your best dinner party story about the making of your film?

PR: When we were filming we kept blowing up an electric power box supply to a whole street on Waiheke. Did we stop filming? Hell no! We were Micro-budget, we had to keep moving. So what did we do? We powered up on our tiny generator for making coffee and boiling water, and two minuscule lights. With these lights only illuminating a small area they were not bright enough for any wide shots. That’s when we shot the intimate/sex scene of the film. It was about the only thing we could do and its on screen now. Now that is a black out set.

Rialto: If you were giving a talk to a group of filmmaking students, what would you tell them about their chosen career path?

PR: I would ask them what have they got to say? There is a famous renaissance self-portrait of a painter staring back at us. A parchment next to him reads ‘Don’t speak, unless what you have to say is better than silence.’ I would ask them to figure out whether they want to be filmmakers for a job or as a vocation.

Rialto: If you could pick one New Zealand actor or actress to work with, who would it be and why?

PR: There is a lot of talent out there in New Zealand that are not ‘celebrities’ but little-known artists instead. However, my favourite performance on film in the last few years is Cliff Curtis’ Genesis Potini in Dark Horse

Rialto: If you had to describe in three words the current state of the NZ film industry, what would they be?

PR: Yeah, nah, good.

Rialto: What’s the last film that moved you?

PR: A hilarious Austrian comedy in the NZIFF called Toni Eardmann really surprised me.

ORPHANS & KINGDOMS premieres Wednesday 5 October on Rialto Channel 39

Interview with Alex Dimitriades for THE PRINCIPAL

Posted on Tuesday 4/10/2016 October, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Kicking off on Rialto Channel this month is a new Aussie TV series called The Principal  premiering Tuesday 4th October, 8.30pm.  

It’s a four-part drama series starring award-winning actor Alex Dimitriades (The Slap, Underbelly) as Matt Bashir, a former history teacher and Deputy Principal at a prestigious girls’ school, who is promoted to Principal of a notoriously violent and difficult Sydney school, Boxdale Boys High.

His appointment is a last ditch attempt to save the school from being shut down, although not everyone appreciates his radical approach to reform. Faced with conflict on all fronts, Bashir finds himself professionally and personally challenged; and when a student is found dead on school grounds, all hell breaks loose.

The Principal was created by award-winning producer Ian Collie (Saving Mr Banks, Rake), along with Rachel Turk and Kristen Dunphy, and directed by multi award-winning Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Boxing Day).

The new crime drama showcases a range of high calibre Australian talent, including AFI nominated Aden Young (Rectify) and AACTA award-winning Mirrah Foulkes (Animal Kingdom, Hawaii Five-0), as well as some fresh Australian talent, including Rahel Romahn (Underbelly, The Combination), Aliki Matangi (Jonah from Tonga), Tyler De Nawi and Thuso Lekwape.

Alex Dimitriades has been busy working on a couple of new projects since filming The Principal, but kindly took the time to chat about this confronting and real series. While it screened a year ago in Australia, people are still talking about the series, so we started off by talking about the public’s reaction.  

Rialto: The series screened in Australia in 2015 – what was the reaction like?

Really strong actually, it seemed to touch a lot of nerves in the right places. It was quite personal for a lot of people, even despite the fact they may not have come up through similar surroundings. It really touched a diverse range of people in a really special way that I hadn’t experienced first-hand like that in some time…it seemed to get a lot of people charged, talking and thinking. That real sense of touching, and really making them feel like they want to talk about it and discuss the issues, is a real win for me.

I suppose being involved to that degree, and with that type of part, social media was a lot to do with that as well and people hitting me up all the time. It was great, but a lot of hard work fielding all that. I lot of people really loved my part, and he was quite an inspirational man and the reaction was awesome. I couldn’t have hoped for better actually.

Rialto: On a boldness scale – how bold do you think the series was for Australian drama?

AD: Now, if someone was to do something like that again, maybe not so much. In June or July 2014, I was in Melbourne doing a show with a theatre company and one day a call came through from my agency; the agency boss wanted to talk about the series, and the director and the producer wanted to meet. She was “it will be really good - just from whose involved.” She told me a little bit about it and at the time I was like, umm, sounds really controversial and I don’t know about this. But I met up with the guys and we chattered and got on incredibly. You really put the trust in these people’s hands when you do something that is of a controversial nature. When it’s you who is the face of it and who will be at the front line of all the discussions, it’s tricky territory, you really are placing trust in those people’s hands.

It did feel very bold but we handled it with the right amount of care, and everything about the production did the controversy justice. So now looking back it doesn’t feel like a big deal, but I remember clearly at the time that feeling when I took that call – oh, I don’t know about this one, we’ll see, we’ll meet up with them and talk, but I can’t really say which way this is going to go.

Rialto: You won a Logie Award for your role – what does that kind of accolade mean to you? 

AD: At the time I wasn’t really fussed so much because I didn’t think I was going to win. I was also in the middle of another shoot and that was quite gruelling and there was a lot of travel involved weekly back and forth from Sydney to Melbourne. I was like, oh, an awards night, do I really care? I’m nominated, thanks, but I’ve been to these things before, I’m not going to win.

Rialto: So you didn’t prepare a speech?

AD: No speech prepared whatsoever. As it drew closer, something was telling me I might actually win. Which was kind of strange but I’m glad I turned up. I actually almost did not go and that’s no word of a lie. But after the fact I was really, really, super proud. It meant a lot more to me after the fact. I’m actually stoked that I have this award because I won a AACTA Award for Best Actor award for The Slap a few years back, and that meant a lot at the time, it’s a different organisation and it has a different type of credibility and in the industry it used to be seen as a little more important, the more serious awards. I have one of each now so that’s great. I underestimated how much a Logie is actually worth. It’s a great award and I finally got one. I use to say all the time, I’m never going to win, I didn’t think I fitted the mould, which is a stupid way to think.

Rialto: What was it like working with director Kriv Stenders – this being his first television series?

AD: It was great. He’s a really funny guy, we had a good time and the relationship was very easy and he’s obviously super smart. By watching the way he works, you can just tell. I’ve worked with directors like him before but no two people are the same in the way that they work, especially when they’re as experienced as that. He was great, always charging forward and kind of crazy and it worked. All the kids loved him and it was a real family affair.

I was a little apprehensive actually when I first went in. I thought, how am I going to handle all these teenage guys? I just imagined all of them to be like me – like, how am I going to be dealing with 50 younger versions of myself? What a nightmare! But they were all very sweet and very patient and respectful and just grateful to be there. They were an awesome bunch, and Kriv was like the funny uncle. He was great with them and they loved him and it was a good experience.

Rialto: Rialto Channel screens the series Rectify as well, but it’s nice to see Aden Young back in an Aussie production – had the two of you worked together before?

AD: Funnily enough we haven’t. He was one of the first actors after starting off, apart from the people in the first ever production I did, on a social level he was one of the first I ever met. He used to be with Claudia Karvan [his The Heartbreak Kid co-star] back in the day. In the early 90’s they were a young, hot film pair. He’s quite intimidating and he hasn’t changed a single bit, he’s definitely an interesting character who is on another level; an individual. But it was great to finally do something. I hadn’t seen him in a very, very long time so I didn’t know what to expect, no, I did know what to expect… he hasn’t changed one single bit and it was a good dynamic between those two characters. I think it worked out well.

Rialto: How did you prepare for the role? 

AD: It’s hard for me to say because you’re unconsciously preparing without even knowing it. I was non-stop thinking about this guy, where he’s coming from, where he’s going. Going on the journey and immersing yourself in it and thinking about that all the time. In terms of actual preparation, I took a visit down to the school where we actually shot, and hung out with the Principal for a day, and just followed him, basically shadowing his movements around the place. Witnessing his interaction with the kids up close and from afar as well, I was a bit of a spy that day. He was really lovely and helpful, and I kind of took a few character cues from him; the way he talks and walks in a particular way kind of stuck with me, I liked it and felt comfortable with it.

That was really beneficial because that’s always a thing, you’re trying to play the truth of the story as much as possible, but little character things like that - there’s always a risk it’s going to seem unacceptable or tacky, or like how much do I do, or how little do I do, so that was a nice additional angle to bring to it. And you know Kriv and I spoke a lot before the production rehearsals and had fun piecing it all together. It’s hard to talk about actually things. Every night you go to bed and that’s what’s on your mind – knowing or unknowingly. Once you’ve got your head around the scripts, it’s part of you, in your blood.

 Rialto: You’ve been acting now for over 20 years – are you still learning?

AD: Absolutely. That’s one of the great parts of this job – you never stop because humans are an interesting bunch, and artists are always serving up new and interesting different stories, so there’s inspiration to be found everywhere. I think it’s just never-ending and you yield to it with age, types of parts reach and find you and it’s an awesome job. I can do this forever. God willing! If I stay healthy and don’t go completely nuts.

Rialto: TV drama globally is in really good state – what’s it like in Australia at the moment?

AD: Pretty good. The job I just finished in Melbourne called Seven Types of Ambiguity is I think possibly one of the strongest things I have been involved with. Which is a big call, but we will wait and see when it comes out. It just felt really right and the talent involved is really super strong, so definitely in a healthy state at least from that point of view. Television is the place - it’s the format.

Rialto: If you could walk onto a film set with one Aussie actor tomorrow – who would it be?

AD: Probably Ben Mendelsohn. He’s just won an Emmy overnight. I’ve known Ben for long time, we’re not mates or anything but I’ve always liked him and always been a fan of his work and as a person as well. He’s a very lovable character and he’s been quite troubled over the years as we all have, it’s never just roses, and so it’s great to see him getting there. Was it about 5 or 6 years ago he did The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling, and since then we’ve seen him go in leaps and bounds. It would be great to work together.

Make sure you catch The Principal, Tuesday 4th October at 8.30pm.

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