Can you tell us about your background and past projects?
My background is actually in theatre. I specialized in bare-boned theatre – no set, no props, just miming and dialogue. I began working on films in 2005, starting from the bottom as a runner. I did start creating some shorts during this time but it was all about trying out concepts and improving.
Working on Neill Blomkamp’s movies as the EPK producer was a big deal for me educationally. Not just from him, but the crew too. For District 9 I was there every day from the start to finish, I got to know the crew really well and speak to people about how things work. By the time I was working on set for the second and third movies, I was really familiar. I now realize how fortunate I was to work on such big movies because you’re really working with A-grade people in the profession.
How do you approach sitting down and writing a script for a short film?
I sat down and attempted to come up with 5 story ideas a day. Just as an exercise. During this exercise, one of the ideas was O.I. – it was something I wrote down and expanded upon later. I also thrive off of feedback, it’s important to get your stuff out there – you can be too close to judge objectively. It also helps to take around three weeks off, create some distance between yourself and your work.
How did you begin writing O.I.?
While I was working on other projects, I decided to look through the list of ideas and O.I really stood out, so I wrote it. Although the ending changed a lot since. I asked for feedback early on and the ending actually came from some feedback I received.
As far as writing goes, O.I. was the first time I sat down and worked out the structure of the story properly before I started writing. However, as soon as you move on – like all creative endeavors – you immediately see flaws. But it’s good because it helps you get better. I have a bunch of my old shorts on my YouTube channel which I was thinking about deleting but decided to leave them there. It’s good to know where you’ve been to help you arrive where you’re going. The first stuff you make is always going to be bad, I don’t care who you are! It’s a process.
In your own words, how would you describe the film’s concept?
I really wanted to explore what an original idea truly means. You can’t have an actual original idea – it’s all based on previously existing experiences. It’s about combining ideas from different angles. Maybe that can be classified as new but it’s not as original as people might think. Nobody comes up with something truly original – even Einstein needed years of previous work of other scientists to be able to put the theory of relativity together. In that sense, hundreds of people contributed – so the reality is an original idea is joining the pieces together. I just want people to think about it, and a comic tone can help with that.
How do you stay efficient on set?
I think my background in theatre really changes how I approach filmmaking and makes me quite different from other directors. I make sure we have as much rehearsal as possible and this helped me a lot. We had a 3-day shoot and the final cut was made in just under a year. We were self financed and relied on volunteers, which means you need to work around people’s schedules. People were doing us a big favor by helping out. If we had the money to pay everyone fully it probably would have been completed in around three months.
To give an example, on day one we filmed 16-pages with heavy dialogue at the Tiki Bar location. We were able to do this because we had so much rehearsal. It’s the only reason we could finish the day at all. The actors knew who the characters were and what they were doing. I also had my DOP on the final Rehearsal Day so we could plot out the camera moves. All we had to do was direct positioning.
Had you worked with any of the actors before?
Toby (The bartender) is a good friend of mine. But the other two actors I met through Kris & Kara Casting. Because we had no money, the casting agency basically gave us a few options of people and sent us videos of their previous work. We then rated them from one to five. We ended up with Ben and Kett which worked out perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast – they were up for anything, they were professional and they always knew exactly what they needed to do.
You can have as many blood explosions and VFX as you want but if the characters are not convincing or believable then it won’t work!
Can you think of a time your mind has been ‘blown’ by an idea?
The Matrix is the first time I really thought about the flimsy nature of reality. You’re really walking around in a sort of ‘meat suit’ – and that suit is there to move your conscious experience around. There’s so much room for error and the Matrix encapsulates that.
What is your upcoming film, Hunter’s Cabin about? What can viewers expect?
Hunter’s Cabin is about a man who runs his own cabin repair business. Set in the middle of the woods, the film begins with the lead character outside a cabin while he’s on the phone to his wife who’s looking after their newborn child at home. Suddenly, while talking to his wife, he starts having an uncontrollable episode, leading to a blackout, and…that’s about as much as I can say! It’s much more of a horror film than O.I. and there’s a twist that I’d rather not spoil before its release. Toby’s in that one too!
Do you have any other projects in the works? Maybe a feature?
Yes, I’ve been writing a feature film with my writing partner Den Atonakas. The script draft is finished and is currently being reviewed by friends and colleagues in the industry. I can’t reveal too much about the film right now, other than it’s a medical thriller with a female lead that’s currently named ‘An old man named Roy’. Den and I studied together but lost touch for a while after I moved to NZ with Victoria (O.I.’s producer). We have since connected again and decided to write a feature together. We came up with a bunch of ideas, shortlisted 5, and decided on Roy as the winner.
I’ve actually started working on scripted podcasts with Den too – they’re essentially radio plays, all voice acted with sound effects, but delivered in podcast form instead. They’re really taking off and it’s right up my street in terms of interests. It feels like going back to my roots in bare-boned theatre.
With a comedic quality that grips viewers to the narrative, O.I. takes the concept of being ‘mind-blown’ literally with a gory mix of practical and special effects. The story follows the protagonist Barry – played by Ben Cotton – after he wakes up one morning with an incredible new idea. The downside? He’s the only person that can handle it. In fact, telling the idea to anyone has devastating effects. Barry may have to face this burden alone – or so he thinks.
The film saw wide applause at several major film festivals, including Fantastic Fest (US), Clermont-Ferrand Int. Short Film Festival (France) and FilmQuest where it won Best Short Screenplay. Numerous other awards were received during O.I.’s festival run.