Two burgeoning Australian filmmakers speak frankly on how they hustled their ideas to the screen, worked with (and without) funding and what it will take to level the industry’s imbalances.
Each year, in conjunction with his annual Night Before the AACTA Awards party, hosted in collaboration with Collective Hub, Laurence Malkin has edited a creative takeover to celebrate unique voices in Australian cinema. Expanding on that initiative this year, he and producer Tania Chambers OAM have spotlighted four emerging female filmmakers to recognise their work and support the Gender Matters campaign launched by Screen Australia.
“When we started working together, one of the things that united us was our belief that all voices should have an equal opportunity to be heard. It’s vital that both women and men are portrayed as they really are – in all facets and all walks of life,” say Tania and Laurence. “Here are some new voices that are hoping to do just that. May they be among the many that challenge and change our perception of cinema and what it can and will be.”
Dubbed the “saviour of Australian cinema”, Luci’s background in fine arts and textile design informs her highly stylised work across fashion, film, commercials, video art and music videos such as ‘Georgia’ for Vance Joy and ‘Hands’ for Alpine. With accolades including The Cannes Young Director Award, an Aria Nomination and a J Award, her recent work, Slapper, won Best Live Action Short at the 2016 Sydney Film Festival and had its US premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Now busy with a virtual reality project, second short film and feature-length screenplay, Luci says, “As an artist you’re always insecure, there’s a fear of not finding the answer. I’m always trying things – but when I choose to do things I’m never shy about it, I just go all-out. The process guides you.”
You have to be able to risk [a project] not working. Because even when it doesn’t work, you actually learn a lot, and you learn what you’re going to do next time, better, so I think it’s important to look at success and failure equally. If you fail, you’re actually closer to making something special the next time. In some ways a success might not be as useful as a failure.
Don’t wait for people to tell you you’re good enough, or tell you how to do it, or let gender be a boundary. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there’s a limit because you’re female. It’s great that there’s so much attention around gender equality, but I wake up every day and I don’t think about my gender, I just go about what I’m doing. If you really love it you just keep doing it.
I used to be in the mindset that you needed $10-20,000 to make a short [film], but when I went to Sundance recently there was all these NYU [New York University] kids who had made a film about this assault on the subway and they’d just shot it all for $1500, just making use of the natural crowd. If you’re clever about it you can do it for less.
I had to do a lot of the grunt work [on Slapper] and did a lot of the casting myself, and edited a lot myself. Then, at a certain point, I got other people in to finish off elements or find a few extra people that I couldn’t, casting-wise. But it was a lot about the tenacity of just not giving up.
[Filmmaking is] hard for anyone – man or woman – it’s not an easy path. It sorts out the people who really, really want to do it, because you do have to, at times, sacrifice things to do it. Making something for love as opposed to money can render you quite poor.
A change in (university) course from environmental law to filmmaking saw Renée Webster on her way to becoming an internationally recognised TVC director. Her short films Scoff and Edgar and Elizabeth have screened at festivals from Toronto to Tokyo (both winning the WA Screen Award for Best Script along the way) and her feature screenplay, How to Pleasure A Woman, is in development with Screen Australia under the Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories initiative. As a mentor to other women in the industry, Renée says, “I’ll do everything that I can to make them stronger because another woman’s success, in a way, becomes our own. We can claim that.”
Until very recently I was the only female director in commercials in Perth. If I met with creatives in agencies, I’d have multiple people say, ‘Oh, I’ve never worked with a female director before’, and what do you say to that? It speaks volumes, I think, that you still can get those kinds of comments. [We need more female] writers and particularly directors – because there are so many creative decisions that will flow in a top-down way.
It’s about supporting other women. I’m mentoring another director… There’s not enough television commercial directors who are female, and I think that’s critical, because commercials are the things that inform what you think you want. And to always be told by men what we think we want, and what’s seductive and what’s good, just doesn’t feel right at all.
I really like the feeling when you feel like your work ‘lands’. That’s the thing that drives me – trying to emotionally reach the audience. And you can feel it when it works – there’s no language for it, but it’s something I’m always striving for.
Women, to a fault, can often not step forward enough and claim their share. I know I’m really guilty of that. I tend to be quite understated on set, but it can come at a cost, so we need to be prepared to step up and own our own abilities – and back ourselves. When you make your decisions you have to be really prepared to own them. For any filmmaker – man or woman – I think it’s about learning how to trust and work with your instincts. Because that’s what you’re bringing to the table that will make you distinct.