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