Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Shopping Q and A with director Louis Sutherland

Shopping Q and A with director Louis Sutherland

New Zealand movie Shopping hits cinemas on Thursday and I caught up with director Louis Sutherland to discuss the film ahead of the Wellington premiere at The Embassy Theatre tonight.

Tell us how you came up with the story for Shopping – how do you even begin with this?
We have always drawn from our kiwi heritage when creating the foundations of a story for our films. Our Short films Run and The Six Dollar Fifty Man and now our debut feature film, Shopping, are all inspired by bits and pieces of our lives. The fact we went to the same schools and grew up in the same beach side village means we have a shared language here. We were first forced to put pen to paper for Shopping when we went over to the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and needed something to discuss with distributors and sales people in the market place. We wrote the first story outline on a 24hour flight there. The bones of the narrative were there but it was pretty bloody terrible...

The attention to period detail is stunning – how did you manage to do that?
Again it starts with a strong understanding of where the world comes from. All the details are something we both lived and breathed through as youngies (and that's a long time ago) and were something we were both quite protective about re-creating. But of course pulling that detail off and realising it 20-30 odd years later comes down to our great team. Josh O'Neill and Lucy Mclay, production designer and wardrobe designer respectively, were stellar in pulling this era off for us. The fruitiness in the frame is not only accurate to the day but also off-sets some of the dramatic tones in the film. We know they, along with other heads of departments in our team such as fantastic director of Photography Ginny Loane, had many sleepless nights on a tight budget to help bring our vision to life.

The child actors in Shopping are wonderfully natural – tell us how you managed to cast these first time actors
We like to cast our films ourselves, We street cast the young actors in Shopping from shopping malls, colleges and primary schools. We try to choose people that have come from a similar place to the characters, and have similar attributes. For young cast you really need be looking in schools and on the
streets. Nicky Caro did it with Keisha Castle-Hughes, Jane Campion with Anna Paquin and Lee Tamahori cast Tangaroa Emile. There is an overwhelming amount of talent out there that don’t realise that they have ‘it’. You just have to roll up your sleeves and find it.

How did you grow their relationship – the bond they share in the film is heart-warming, natural and inspirational – was that easy to achieve?
Like any relationship, it took time. Our job was firstly to strengthen a bond, almost like uncles to them both, so they each trusted us. Then once we’d made strong ties with them we kind of slowly grew them together. Putting our lead actor Kevin (Willy) in the driving seat whenever he was with Julian (Solomon) gave him an big brother status. Kevin was given more responsibility and in the swimming lessons for example he became Julian's rock so to speak. Julian began to look up to him,and Kevin began to grow a sense of responsiblity to
him..The relationship seemed real because it was real. Above all though it came down to casting two young people that were intelligent, brave and pretty damn good actors to boot.

Shot in Wellington and with a cast of Wellington in many ways, how much did the capital play a part in the shaping of the film?
We come from the Kapiti Coast. Like any piece of geography it has its own energy and beauty. We were lucky growing up really in such a captivating place. Being able to use the coast as a backdrop to our films has been a blessing visually but also it always seems to be there for us somehow. Like we were told by Joe Nolan our first AD shooting through May in Wellington would be sketchy. ‘It’ll be sideways rain’ and as Wellingtonians we knew he was right so got all our wet weather gear ready. We can honestly say everyday we had an exterior in Paekakariki the sun shone. 70% of our film was shot outside and we were gettingot back to back to back sunsets.. Thank you Kapiti! People around the world have asked us where where we found our magical locations. We tell them ‘at home’. Film Wellington and the Kapiti Coast District council were very supportive and after having shot commercials all over the world it’s the easiest region to shoot in. Every chance we get we shoot here!

What was the first scene shot for the film?
Actually it was in Nae Nae where we found an amazing old dairy that looked just like the old one in Raumati beach when we were kids.

What was that like – getting to see the dream become a reality given that this is your debut feature film?
Bloody exciting all the way through the process. It wasn’t until we premiered in Sundance though to a room full of people that we really realised we’d done it -it's weird but that's when it hit us. Otherwise you are so busy head down, ass up you kind of don’t see the scenery passing or feel you are getting anywhere. It's just losing yourself in a very elongated journey with various creative demands.

It’s quite bleak in places, but offers up a lot of hope at the end; were you ever conscious that this story needed to have a resolution such as this?
We always earn our endings when we write. We heard some people write their ending and write toward it. We kind of start at the beginning and see where we end up - certainly for Shopping anyway. We penned about 20 different endings through the six years we wrote it. What was always important to us is that there was a feeling of hope, of achievement and change in the world of the film. We have never liked leaving the theatre feeling short changed as audience members so wanted to show our audience the same respect. This said, it's far from a classic Hollywood happy vanilla flavoured ending. That was never our intent.

What’s your favourite moment from the film – and why?
Probably many of the scenes with Kevin and Julian playing together. There are so many moments where they just shine in the film. They really free up the tone and allow us light and joy into the scenes. We loved watching them being together on set. Sometimes they made us forget we were actually making a film. They were that natural.

You’ve taken the film to Sundance, how has that experience been?
It's a real step up with a feature from winning there in 2010 with a short film. It's the biggest market and you realise pretty quickly that unless you have super heroes, a double figure body count, or an A-list american actor you aren’t going to create too many ripples. It's American-centric and so it should be as it's ultimately about their market place. We also learnt that in America we will need to subtitle this film. Apparently we have very thick accents although damned if we can hear it.
This film also went to Berlin where we won the Grand Prix (Best Film) prize in the generation section. We found the European audience to be a lot more multicultural and open to an international voice. 1200 people watched our opening night screening in Berlin and you could hear a pin drop at the climax of the film. They loved it. We really enjoyed the experience and it made us consider how we wanted to approach our next film project ‘Hell's Teeth’. More on that though in the months ahead...

You’ve had a taste of the awards life before with the Six Dollar Fifty Man, how does this compare?
Much the same really. Winning is winning eh. But where we really feel the burn is back at home. See here it's not about awards or international acclaim. It's about acceptance from our people. It's about kiwis going and watching a film we made essentially about them,. Our people's acceptance is more important than anything we could bring home from off-shore. Simple reason is because this is home, we grew up here and our kids will grow up here. Last thing we want is to have to avoid the neighbors until the next film because they think
we’re dicks...

What’s your next project?
Our next film is called ‘Hell's Teeth’. As Shopping was like our first short film Run growing up. ‘Hell's Teeth’ will be like The Six Dollar Fifty man grown up. It’s set on the Kapiti Coast again and is inspired by a friendship that Mark had. It’s a film about how a 16 year old boy uncovers his talents that lay hidden under
a painter's drop sheet in the family garage.....

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