Interview with Brook Goldfinch: Outbreak Generation
On Tuesday 13 June, Sydney Film Festival will present the 2016 Fellowship winning short films at Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship Gala Screening. The Fellowship recipients include NSW practitioner Brooke Goldfinch, who we spoke with ahead of her film's World Premiere.
Can you tell us about the story?
Outbreak Generation is set in the near future and it belongs in the same world as a feature I am writing, so it was really interesting to find a different experience within the future Australia that I am creating. I can’t give away more than that!
Did you have the idea before the competition?
Yes. I had been working on the feature for a couple of months before I submitted the script, so when the competition came up we thought how terrific an opportunity it would be to throw up some of the ideas up on the screen and to see what worked and to have a production experience with my new team that we could carry on our feature production. It seemed like such a timely opportunity. Writing the script was a real challenge because it is set in the same world as the feature but it's a different story and I had to boil down what is really important with the feature and try to put the same themes and ideas into a much more concise piece.
Your short has a strong female team, with Producers Lisa Shaunessy & Leonie Mansfield of Arcadia, was this the first project you did with them?
It was great because it gave us an opportunity to pull together as a team and to work on production issues and get a feeling for how we can all work together. Arcadia is a really exciting production company that is very supportive of young filmmakers and they absolutely value story and work hard to make sure that despite budgetary limitations the story is on the screen and we don’t compromise on what is really essential. They didn’t want to cut anything that was really intrinsic with the film and it was great to work with two people who have such a great understanding of story.
How did you find directing the short?
The first day was very hot! I found it really challenging because I haven’t directed a film in Australia for a number of years and so it was exciting to come home and discover that there are so many things specific to our environment. I found the light was different, it is very bright here and I don’t think anything prepares you for how bright it is and how early, in the day, it can be completely washed out. I think the Australian aesthetic is particularly challenging for filmmakers because our design is quite specific and utilitarian so it can be difficult to find parts of our landscape that are more textured and detailed whereas working in America, their love of chintz fabric and their garish design makes every shot really textured - because they love signs and pictures on walls, and so on, whereas in Australia we are more minimalist, simple and tasteful. It’s an interesting challenge!
What do you think the biggest learning on this production was?
I think the really exciting thing about doing a short piece is that you can throw a bunch of ideas up on the screen and see what works and what doesn’t. I think the biggest learning for me was about the story and getting a sense for what is really moving to see and seeing ideas that weren't as emotive as I thought, or that didn’t give the same emotional impact that I had hoped.
Every film you create, you rewrite again and again; in production and in the final edit. I think that when you are creating a future world that is slightly removed from the now you have to take the story and really craft it on set and in the edit and make sure the emotional beats fully hit.
How do you feel that your application was successful in such a competitive landscape?
One thing that I think we did was that we focused on showing the judges what the film would look and feel like. We submitted a lookbook as well as a pitch video and we worked quite hard on the script. It was a solid fifth or sixth draft. Because we had also been working on the feature length script, we were used to writing about this world. The thing about applying for competitions or funding in Australia is you just keep doing it and you get better and better at talking about your project and it actually helps you solidify some ideas that are key for what you’re trying to achieve. So even if you aren't successful in an application I feel it helps talking through your ideas.
You have won a few awards, do you think that has made a difference? How have those things helped you?
I think awards help because they get you in a room with people you otherwise might not have access to. We are lucky in Australia to have so many Academy accredited festivals and competitions and the local industry we have is incredibly supportive.
In terms of applications, as someone who didn’t grow up with a trust fund, they are very important. Not just because as filmmakers you can’t sit in your room and paint a picture. You need money to experiment and I always say failure is important to the creative process. We work in a difficult industry because we are so reliant on production financing, and there is pressure to get the right awards but sometimes failing teaches you so much more than going to Cannes with your film. I think the discipline with applying is that you have to know your idea, you have to know why it is important and have a sense for who its audience is. You have to get to the heart of your film, why it is important to you and why it has to be told. That process of applying can really help you solidify that idea.
Outbreak Generation has a boy as the lead, how did you find directing a child with such intense themes?
I was so nervous before the shoot because I have worked a lot with teenagers but I haven’t spent much time working with young kids. I did a lot of research around directing young kids, I talked to friends about what they had done in the past. We ended up casting a charismatic and in-your-face actor, Oscar, who is ten but looks much younger. He had this maturity that I quickly started directing him like an adult. He understood what the character was going through and was able to understand the themes in the film. He was so adept at performing and I could work with him easily. He was really happy to perform.
What was the audition process like?
We worked with Marianne Jade who was our wonderful casting agent. We were supposed to do two casting sessions but Oscar was in the first one and he was just so remarkable. He came up to us in his audition and said “I’ve only been doing this for three months and I’ve already got three gigs”. He just had a natural personality that was so fitting for the role. He’s also a great kid with a really nice family so he’s a real find.
Can you share anything else from the production?
We had extreme weather. The first day was record-breaking heat and the two days later we had monsoonal rain. Thank goodness I had such an amazingly calm crew who took it in their stride!
It will be screening at Sydney Film Festival. How does it feel to premiere to the SFF?
Having grown up in Sydney, Sydney Film Festival was always the highlight of my year and continues to be. I’ve been going to the festival since I could come to the city on my own. I’ve discovered some of my favourite films at the festival, obscure films that you otherwise might not be able to see. There was some talk of the film premiering at the State Theatre and the idea of having a film there would be incredibly special. Also the opportunity to have a red carpet screening with cast and crew is exciting and I know Oscar is looking forward to it.
How did you start out in the industry and what attracted you to film?
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a visual artist and I felt that film was such an exciting medium because it was so immersive and I loved the idea that you could take someone and put them in someone else’s shoes. I felt that it was a great way to communicate with people about important issues and my favourite kind of cinema is entertaining but involves deeper themes and really pushes an audience to think about the world in a different way.
I took a year off high school and decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. I went to UNSW because I knew they had cameras and that I would be able to experiment with making films so I ended up making a bunch of little videos and one of them won a competition and that lead to me winning an internship with ABC being a journalist producer. Then I ended up becoming a journalist for a number of years and I made a short film on the side and I knew that if I didn’t make a very big change I would probably become a very average journalist, so I searched online “best film school in the world” and NYU Film School came up so I applied for a bit of practise and then was stunned when I was accepted. When I found out how expensive it was I didn’t think I would be able to go but then I met Lizzy Nash, who is a big producer in the advertising world. I had a meeting with Lizzy and she suggested I make a video about how I wanted to go to film school and put it on the internet which I did. A private foundation contacted me and offered me a scholarship and NYU also did and I was able to go! So I ended up at NYU and it gave me so much access. Spike Lee was one of our teachers and Todd Solondz and James Franco who paid for us to make a film. Through that I worked on features with Wynona Ryder as a script supervisor and so it was a really exciting time. I’ve really relished the opportunity to come home because I want to tell Australian stories and because there is a really active film culture here that I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for.
What else are you working on?
I have a few things in the works that I am hoping to confirm soon, that I can’t mention! I am going to take a month off to finish writing my feature once Outbreak Generation is in the can so I am really looking forward to doing another draft of that and shooting it, hopefully very soon!
You have recently worked on Alien: Covenant as a director's attachment and also doing your own short in sci-fi – is that your favourite genre? What attracts you to it?
I think genre is really exciting to explore. I think most renowned filmmakers have often looked to sci-fi to explore larger themes with humanity. Stanley Kubric, Alfonso Cuarón, Andrei Tarkovsky, Hitchcock and Danny Boyle. I think genre is an exciting way to explore bigger themes in a way that doesn’t seem overly sentimental or hokey and I think that this idea came to me as a way to talk about why we are here. It was similar with my last film, Red Rover, it is an end of days genre piece but it is really about the here and now and I think it just gave me an opportunity to put the characters in extreme situations.