I got the idea to be a stuntman when I was 18. I looked up “stunt” in the phonebook. I didn’t know anyone in the industry at all. I found a number for an agency in Sydney that represents stunt people, so I called them, and they put me in contact with a stunt coordinator who was working on a film in Sydney. I went out to the set, and I met him and some stunt guys and started training with them. I would go to film sets and be the assistant. I was making coffee and just hanging out. I think the first job I got I was a dead body in a car wreck. It was an uncomfortable position to be in, so they needed a stunt guy. So that was the first film shoot I was getting paid to be on, just being a dead body.
My brother Joel and I made some videos in our backyard when we were younger, never thinking there was a career we could have in the film industry. I was trying to get stunt work and had been doing stunts for a couple of years. I was putting a show reel together and rather than just videotape myself doing stunts, I shot the video like an action sequence, made up a name of a movie and put it on my show reel. I thought people would think I had been in a real movie and that would get me work. My brother Joel had just finished drama school, and he was trying to get work as an actor, and he said “Oh, maybe that would work for me as an actor!” So Joel and my friend Kieran Darcy-Smith got together and wrote a scene, then the four of us got together and we shot it.
Yes. That was my first shoot. It was called Loaded. I wasn’t bad on a computer, so I bought Adobe Premiere Version 1, it had just come out, and I had a PC. So I digitized what we shot, and I learned to edit by putting it together. I had edited before, but with two VHS machines, so I was kind of learning as I went.So we shot a bit, and edited a little bit, and then go shoot some more. So that was the first actual directing experience I had, but it was very haphazard. We were making it up as we shot it, and we had no concept at all really.
Yeah we showed some people, and this guy was like “Hey, that’s a great short film!” We were like “What’s a short film?”(Laughs) He was saying you should enter a film festival, and we were like “What’s a film festival?”
Like 22 or 23.
We had so much fun making Loaded. Just the idea of making stuff was fun to us. We weren’t thinking of ourselves as directors or filmmakers. We were still stunt guys and actors. We just wanted to make stuff. I guess that’s where I got the directing bug. We ended up making quite a lot of short films, and one that I made by myself for about eighty dollars ended winning at a huge film festival in Australia called Tropfest, which was a big deal at the time. The film was called Deadline, and first prize was $5,000. It was screened in front of about 25,000 people. That was the first film I directed by myself.
Yes. I started getting called to direct for other people, but I still wasn’t thinking of myself as a director. I guess the first directing job where I got paid was a music video for a band called Eskimo Joe. All of the films I had made up to that point were action based with very fast editing. I was like I’m going do the opposite of that with this music video, and I made a one-shot video. It ended up winning a handful of awards, and it was a very popular video, and because of that video I started getting asked to do more music videos. I ended up doing a lot of videos over the years, and I still do them.
Stephen Pavlovic was a friend of mine and made the connection to Roman’s company, because he knew Mike Mills. I made a few videos and he said “Hey while you’re in the states you should look up Mike Mills.” I went and met Mike and showed him some of my shorts and music videos. He liked them and passed them around to his friends, but they weren’t really taking on any directors at that point. Then a couple of years later I was doing stunts on Star Wars, and there was a guy working on the film named Chris Neil. We became friends, and he saw some the films and videos i’d made, and said “I should show some of your stuff to my cousin Roman.” So he did and Roman liked the work, and that’s how I eventually joined The Bureau.
I did shoot tests with video cameras to try and figure out the ideas. I would go out and find a location, come up with an idea, and then we rehearsed it a lot. We’ll still go and shoot tests of a concept and edit it together and go yeah, this idea is going work. That test video becomes our moving storyboard, and I still do that on a lot of my films and music videos. Once I have an idea I always feel like I need to test to see if it will work, rather than figuring it out in front of 50 crew people and wasting time. I like to get a couple of friends together and work out the mechanics of the idea beforehand. When I finally get to set I don’t have to shoot it ten different ways, because I’ve already done that.
I was self-taught and didn’t have a lot of technical knowledge. When I would go to film festivals where my films were screening I met filmmakers who did go to film school, and I would ask them questions. I remember one time early in my career, I got paid properly to edit a commercial, and the director had asked me to do a double header, and I’m like “Okay!” I’m in the room with the client and the director…I go out to the receptionist on the way to the bathroom and asked her “Hey, what’s a double header?”
It was something to do with the sound. I still don’t really know. But they were asking for these things, and I would have to leave the edit room to go ask someone (Laughs).
When we made Loaded it was pretty fun. We had no permission to do it. We had no idea how to get permission to shoot on locations. It was just us four and this one guy shooting it. We did whatever we wanted you know? Then on the next one we were shooting car chases out in the middle of the street and it was so much fun. Our friends would come over to my parents house and we would all meet there, then we would drive out to industrial areas on weekends where we figured no one would be around. We would just shoot wherever we wanted. We would have two-way radios, and my brother Joel would be on the corner saying if it was clear. If we saw someone coming we would just hide and wait.
I feel the best stuff we made was the stuff that we knew about. We made films that we wanted to see and themes that were interesting to us.
Yeah, I’m just trying to make stuff that I want to watch and I think my friends want to watch. I always try to work with people I like, and I always try to do something different that I haven’t done before.
Aw, man. I think it’s kind of a combination of all of them. I don’t think connections are much use when you’re starting out. In my experience, we didn’t have any connections. I think ultimately for myself and my brother not having connections really helped us out. We just wanted to do it, and we had no one to help us do it, so we were forced to have to learn how to do it ourselves. I think if we had connections we might not have learned as much as we did. You would have had other people there doing certain parts of it. We learned so much on how to do things and how we like to do things. We didn’t go to film school, there was no one there telling us that what we were doing was the wrong way to do it, or suggesting another way of doing it. With not having connections you have to figure out your own way of doing it. At the time, the stuff we were making was so different from what anyone else was making in Australia. That’s why a lot of our stuff was getting attention, because of what we were churning out. So I think that was a benefit, not having any connections. Then the talent we discovered we had, it was very loose. We were forced to figure out our style through trial and error. The stuff we made we got some attention, so we made connections as a result of that.
Oh, for sure. Like, the whole reason I entered Tropfest was because I saw a news article about it. I guess so many things could be narrowed down to luck if that’s how you look at it. But it was nothing like who I met, or anything like that. I just grew up at the right age. My dad bought a video camera when i was around twelve years old.
Well the thing is, I wasn’t trying to break in as a director. I was trying to get work as a stuntman. The directing kind of came inadvertently as I was doing these other things. I wasn’t thinking of myself as a director, and then I was a director in other people’s minds, so I accepted it. I wasn’t trying to be a director.
Yeah, there were two things I would watch at certain times when we were making stuff. The two films were – Reservoir Dogs and the Spike Jonze music video for the Beastie Boys called Sabotage. I saw them and I said “I can make stuff like that!” Something about these films made it seem possible to recreate. Seeing those films in our early 20’s we thought yeah, we could do that. These films actually gave us confidence to go and try it.
I didn’t always know the filmmaker’s names, but I watched a lot of horror films. Obviously Spielberg, and Tarantino. I don’t know if I was as influenced by style as much as the way films made me feel. I was never trying to imitate the look of films or the style they had. I was more trying to imitate the effect they had on me.
Yeah, the tension you feel from watching something, or the shock you get, or if it makes you laugh. Like with the first music video I did I had been watching Deliverance a lot, and I remember the way that made me feel. I wanted to make something that was reminiscent to that feeling, so on that video I used that film as inspiration.
Yeah, I’ve been asked that sort of thing a lot lately. I feel like I don’t really know the answer. Since I do a number of different things, I still do stunt work, I still edit for people, I still direct my own stuff, still do music videos, and also make feature films. I feel like I always have something to do, so I never feel like the industry is in a bad place. Because if you like creating stuff, you can always create whether the industry is in a good or bad place. I didn’t get into film for the money. It was just something I wanted to do. If I had an idea I would just find a way to make it. The most important thing is happiness. As long as you love what you’re doing and you’re happy the money and hopefully everything else just sort of works out. I think when you’re realistic about your abilities you don’t really have much to complain about in terms of “Why am I not able to make my feature film?” If you’re good enough to be doing it you’ll be doing it.
I had a number of first shoots. My first short film, first music video, first stunt job, my first editing gig. My first short film was very guerilla style and shot in a back-alley. The music video was also a pretty small shoot. The first time I shot a commercial was the first time it felt like a real shoot, because suddenly there were massive trucks and tons of people around. I was so nervous, so I automatically went and hung out with the stunt guys, because that’s what felt most natural. Someone would have to come find me to let me know that we were starting to shoot. I remember how clearly frightening that was. That felt really big to me. Even though I had been on major movie sets like The Matrix and Star Wars, when you walk on set and you’re the director, even though The Square was only a $3 million film, it still felt big to me. Suddenly you’re like “Oh, shit, I’m suppose to be running this thing!”
No, not really. It took us a long time to get the money for my first feature film. It felt like a natural progression. We had made a bunch of shorts, my brother wrote the script, we had a producer, so the three of us together went at it. In Australia, the government supports first time filmmakers, so we were eligible to be a part of that. I did get an offer early on in my career from someone offering to get me into film school, and that was John Frankenheimer. I was doing stunts on the film The Island of Dr Moreau and i’d told John that I had made a short film (Loaded) and he wanted to see it, so I showed it to him, and he really liked it. He asked if I wanted to go to film school and said, “I could write you a letter and get you into NYU”, and at that stage I was a stunt guy. I didn’t know I wanted to be a director.
Well, the first film festival experience I had was horrific. When we made Loaded and this guy told us there were film festivals and we should enter we didn’t know how to find them. Kieran found an ad asking for short films at a place called the Performance Space in Sydney where they were showing films, and performance art. I didn’t even know what performance art was. We entered that and it was the first public screening we had of anything we made, and the first act was a guy dancing naked in heels for like 15 minutes, and the crowd thought it was amazing! We were like “What the hell is this?” There were a couple of other weird acts, and then our film played and everyone was like “BOO!” They were yelling at the screen that it wasn’t performance art. We thought we had made this terrible thing.
The biggest fear I had was “Can I make a feature film?” That was the overwhelming fear the whole time. I think every time you make something you’re afraid that it’s going to be bad, or people aren’t going to like it, or what’s going to go wrong. At least now I have one less fear, like can I make a feature film? Well I know that answer because I made one, so yeah, I can (laughs). Everything up until that point with music videos and short films it had all been one day, two days, three days, or five days was the longest I had done a shoot in a row, and then suddenly I had to do 34 days. The other thing I learned from the experience was I learned I love doing this, I want to do this, and I want to make more feature films.
No, I think that stuff is different every time. I think every film, everything you make, you learn some other lesson and you make some mistake and you learn something. There are always new mistakes you will make. Maybe you experience the same problems, but there will always be something new you have to deal with on each project.
Yeah, just navigating actors was interesting. I had never had that many before. You realize when you have that many actors that they are all different, they all require different things, you know? Some need to rehearse, some don’t need to, some are good on the first take, some aren’t good until take six, some need really good direction, and some have natural instincts. So you’re constantly trying to keep a tab on who needs what from you to make them all feel like they are in the same movie.
Adaptability. Because shit always changes. The weather is not what you expected to be. There are actors who drop out. You run out of time, you need to get ten shots, and you only have time to do three. You just have to adapt, you have to be creative in your decisions. Being adaptable is the best thing possible. It just never goes the way you planned it, so you can’t resist it. As soon as something unplanned happens like “Oh, it’s not suppose to be raining!” you have to go, okay, well how does this help me?
I think starting out as a stuntman, since being a stuntman is all about being adaptable, you plan it to a certain degree, but you are doing something that’s not that predictable. I always had to be adaptable as a stuntman. Learning that as a stuntman was very useful when I started directing.
Exactly, I mean that’s what filmmaking is, ultimately. It’s very rare you can make a film by yourself. Maybe if you’re an animator in a room. Most films are collaborations with a lot of people, different personalities, different egos, and a lot of different creative processes. You try to manage all of that. So it’s never going to be exactly what you see in your head, but hopefully you can maintain your personal vison. It’s like this constantly moving object. Everyone is coming to work today with different personal problems, so if you can somehow make something great with this group of weird people together that all have a love for one thing.
Well, the trick is when you first get there for the first shot of the day, you make it a shot that’s not too tricky, and you can set up quite quickly and shoot it. Because until you start shooting everyone is working at a pretty slow pace. As soon as you have the first shot in the can, and you get it within the first hour, everyone is like “Oh, so this is the speed we’re working at.” The start of the day really sets the pace for the rest of the day. A first A.D. told me to get the first shot out as quickly as you can. You get that first shot out, people go “Oh, the director knows what he is doing!” But if you sit there as a director going “Okay, maybe we can do it from here, or maybe you can do it from there and you take a long time or there are too many takes then they see the opposite.
The crew are on sets more than you are. They’ve seen way better directors doing it in half the time you can, and in a better way, and with better communication. They have all worked with someone better than you.
The main thing is they’ve worked with better people than you. There is always someone out there better than you at it, or that they like more than you. So you gotta try to be the guy who knows what he’s doing, or who seems to know what he’s doing. If they trust you from the start, they will work better for you. I’m sure you’ve had a moment where you thought “I am sure the film crew know I don’t know what I’m doing” (Laughs). If they think that, then that’s how they’ll treat you.
I always tell people, think about the resources you have available to you, and utilize those when you make stuff. What locations do you have access to in your neighborhood? Do you have a friend who has acting talent? It’s always about finding what resources you have available to you rather than going “We need a full film crew.” We use to make stuff with two or three people, and still do sometimes. You just use what you have access to. If you can’t afford to do something, there is always another way of doing it. You just have to be creative about it.
I’m trying to write something. I’ve got a couple of scripts, one that someone else wrote that I like, one that my brother Joel wrote for me, and one that he and I are writing together. They are all in different stages of development.
If I had to pick one it would be “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, because it’s not just that the movie is really entertaining, it’s fun and has a great heart to it. I like Jaws, Reservoir Dogs, and Magnolia. Paul Thomas Anderson is probably one of my favorite directors ever.
I just saw this great documentary the other day called The Elephant in the Living Room. It’s about people who keep exotic pets in America.
Director - The Directors Bureau