Francesca Rudkin's Q&A with Director Tusi Tamasese for One Thousand Ropes
Thanks for taking the time to talk to Rialto Channel (RC) again Tusi.
RC: I believe this story started out as an idea for a short film – how did it grow into a feature film?
I wanted to make a film about an anti-hero, someone whose main conflict or flaw was his violence. I revisited the short film I had written about a traditional healer or masseur a few years back and was interesting to see the irony of violent hands that also had the power to heal or bring life. It took awhile to write - and in the earlier versions I gave to Catherine Fitzgerald (producer) behind the messy script she saw the same interesting concept - which was very encouraging. The challenge for was how to meld together a story about an anti-hero, midwifery and a ghost.
(Film Still Credit - Himiona Grace) Catherine Fitzgerald and Tusi Tamasese on set in Maea's house, Tusi Tamasese - director; Catherine Fitzgerald - producer
RC: The casting is excellent – how did you know that Uelese Petaia was right for Maea and did you have him in mind from the beginning?
In the script I had a more physically intimidating version of Maea. But fortunately my mother and brother reminded me of Uelese who was living in Samoa - and I have not met before. When I saw him in the casting video - he was the opposite of the brutal image I had been thinking of - he looked gentle - more like Santa. But in performance, the brewing rage Uelese hide inside in his portrayal was something very special. It was good that we weren’t fixated on the script - good to be open. What Uelese brought was the reversal of what we had in mind - brutality and violence hides inside the most gentle of things.
RC: Frankie Adams is a young actress on the rise, and she is wonderful as Maea’s daughter. What was it like working with her?
We were very fortunate to work with Frankie. Frankie had a massive task at hand, she needed to show us the despair faced by a young, abused, defeated pregnant woman. And later, reveal the inner strength, hope and forgiveness inside the same character Ilisa. Frankie is extremely talented - always fearless, always exploring, always challenging and improving the character. On set it was her dedication, her ability in recognising and communicating the minor details that made her character Ilisa unique and alive.
RC: The mix of social realism, supernatural and even horror is nicely balanced in this film – was it easy finding that balance?
Having believable grounded characters with believable flaws, wants, needs was crucial. This was the goal from the onset - strong characters would carry any story no matter what world you place them in.
2. Editing, music, grade and sound design were played against or defused the norm of a horror film.
RC: You had an incredible team working on this film. What’s your directorial style on set?
On set I’m mostly around the actors - focusing on performances. I have conversations with HODs of before shoot but then let them do their thing on set - so I don’t say too much unless I need to if something is not right. But the crew were fantastic. I have one of the Best DOPs (Leon Narbey) in the business who I discuss shots with then he takes it from there and perfects them. I have a great Producer (Catherine Fitzgerald) that keeps the ball rolling - makes things very easy for a director to work.
I think on set the most important thing is a happy functioning production - makes a happy director.
Tusi directs a bakery scene, (clockwise from bottom left corner) Chris Ulutupu - Art Director; MAEA - Uelese Petaia; Lesley Parker - 3rd AD; Tusi Tamasese - Director; MOLESI - Beulah Koale; Leon Narbey - Cinematographer; Pete Cunningham - 1st AC; Melissa Ririnui - Key Grip
RC: One Thousand Ropes is exhausting to watch – in a good, moving and thought provoking way. Was it exhausting to make? Which aspects of making a film do you enjoy the most?
It is an exhausting film, and difficult to make because of the subject matter and themes of violence and family abuse. But it is an important film to make. But it is also a film of hope and redemption.
I enjoyed post production - it’s more like writing but instead of words you have images, sound, music, visual effects and colour grade to work with. Plus - it was at Park Road Post.
Also Annie (film editor) and Claire (colourist) bake the best cakes!
RC: What’s been the reaction to the film from local and international audiences?
We had a good reaction when the film had its World Premiere in the Berlin Film Festival this year. Audience were intrigued and curious about the characters, the world of the film and its cast. We’ve been fortunate with good feedback from New Zealand reviewers as well.
RC: And for that pesky final question… are you working on anything at the moment, and can you tell us anything about it?
I am working on a few ideas - something funny and different hopefully
RC: Thanks Tusi!
(Film still - Actors Frankie Adams and Uelese Petaia in One Thousand Ropes)
One Thousand Ropes has its NZ Television Premiere on Wednesday 29 November at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Watch the promo here