Q&A night with AACTA nominated film directors.

Tonight is the ceremony for the 2011 Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts (AACTA) awards. 21 Feature films are in the running for an award.

Last night, along with Barry Watterson (Festival director of The Australian Film Festival), his partner Cynthia and a fellow intern Manar Doworry, I attended a Q&A evening hosted by Margaret Pomeranz (At The Movies) at AFTRS.

The panel consisted of directors Fred Schepsi (Eye of the Storm), Daniel Nettheim (The Hunter), Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) and Justin Kurzel (Snow Town).

Each of these directors had a film nominated for an AACTA award.

The night kick started with Pommeranz asking the directors a range of questions from the importance of casting choices to the biggest decisions they have faced in their careers. It was a fantastic panel who had a variety of experience. From Stenders having directed his first feature to Schepsi who is a veteran in the industry having shot 1000s of commercials and a large number of features. This variety led to an interesting array of feedback and suggestions.

Here are some of the things the directors had to say which I found particularly interesting.

The importance of casting:

Schepsi made the point of saying that casting can be 50% of the success of a film and your casting choices are what make your film. Each individual actor you could cast would give you a different kind of film.

When it come to getting the actor you want, sometimes even the greatest actors need to be given the confidence that the character is in them. If they can’t find it within themselves then they probably aren’t right for the film.

It is important to be straight from the beginning, especially if it is a challenging role.

Nettheim continued to say in terms of working with Willem Dafoe on ‘The Hunter’ “The mark of a good person is not making their experience affect others”. Where even when working with people from a range of experience, a good person is one that doesn’t rub it in your face and just gets the job done.

He mentioned the importance of researching actors. Kurzel agreed, adding that understanding the life of your actors can become important in connecting the actor to the character. “Someone’s life experience can mean more than acting experience”. Kurzel worked with almost completely inexperienced actors, finding people who had an understanding of the characters from their own experiences. This brought a raw and convincing edge to the performances.

It is important to find the right language with actors and develop their natural instincts. Give them a chance to react and act naturally instead of dumping forced action on them. If they have found the character the natural actions may be stronger.

At work as a Director

Many people fear new things. The idea of your first feature can be an intimidating one. Kurzel says that it is important to find a way so that fear doesn’t paralyze you. Schepsi added that the greatest disease is having someone second guess you. It is not uncommon to work on set and have some one mumbling under their breath “Oh he’s going to light it with a blah blah blah” ot “Oh that’s the such n such effect, i would have chosen this n that” He said if he has that encounter, he will turn around and tell the person politely  to #### off. It is important to take the time to work through your decisions prior to stepping onto set so that even the quietest whisper of someone second guessing your choices won’t throw you because you understand why you are doing what you are doing.

Stenders expressed the joy of working on set and facing problems as it’s “through pressure that you are forced to refine your skills. Invention comes through suffocating pressure and having to solve problems quickly.”

Working with crew

Schepsi pointed out the strengths of working with the same key crew. This saves you having to redevelop a language. On set the crew understand what is required and tend to get the job done as they understand how the director works and enough dialogue has passed in preproduction. He emphasised that “working with the same crew is great, but the day they stop pushing you and challenging themselves then you need to push them away. People can’t get too comfortable or else they stop being creative. Find someone else”.

Working with a writer

Each of the directors had adapted a novel into a screenplay. They discussed various points as to working with pre existing material and screenwriters.

All agreed that the most obvious approach is to read the material and discuss with the writer “what worked, what didn’t and what needs to be invented”. Nettheim stressed the point that when working with a writer it is important to ensure that you are both making the same film. Agree on a tone. Too much time is wasted when you are on different pages.

Another important thingis that the screenwriters need to find their own voice in the material. They need to w

rite out the voice of the novels author and find a way to express it through themselves. A film should have a single voice. Finding a writer who understands the context, who has ‘lived’ that world is a plus.

Overall the night was very rewarding. Afterwards we were invited to have a drink and mix with everyone. Here, Manar and I met some wonderful people. We had a brief chat with Fred Schepsi. He instructed us that we needed to make films constantly. It was the only way to find our independent voice. He was very encouraging and it was a delight to speak with him.

Afterwards we spoke with Justin Kurzel. We had quite a chat with him. He too told us to make as many films as possible.

He recommended that we look into Shane Meadows (This is England). Meadows had made over 150 short films before he had the chance to make his first feature.

Kurzel said it’s important not to be too precious, that you just need to keep creating. Even just so people can see you at work, developing your skills.

It was a great night. Very inspiring. Now i just need to figure out what my next project will be…


2 thoughts on “Q&A night with AACTA nominated film directors.

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