Interview with Claudia Pickering
Your film Frisky, which you made on a $5000 budget, has been the toast of the town in LA and Sydney since it screened the film at Hollywood's Raleigh Studios to coincide with its launch on US on-demand platforms. What has happened since its launch?
The attention around Frisky since its US screening and release has been nothing short of bonkers and wildly unexpected, particularly given the modest budget and scale of the film!
Very shortly after the screening and the article by Michael Idato in the Sydney Morning Herald (which knocked both my and my mum’s socks off! - “Get me 3 copies, Claudia.” “Why do you need 3 copies, mum?” “I need you to get me 3 copies.”), I was in meetings with Screen NSW and Screen Australia about what’s next in my career. Several production companies approached me, including Jungle, who I love, and was even reached out to by Village Roadshow, who took a keen interest in the film!
I’ve had interviews with some great industry publications such as Inside Film and FilmInk and have been offered representation from several US management companies including 360. I’ll be heading over to California mid-year to follow up on some great conversations there. In short, the past few weeks have been completely surreal and I’ve caught myself regularly staring blankly at walls in disbelief.
Can you tell us how the LA screening came about?
The whole thing was very organic. My comedy troupe, Frothpocalypse and I had entered the Screen NSW Generator: Emerging Filmmakers Fund and were shortlisted to come in for an interview. That’s where I met Sophia Zachariou and Andrea Ulbrick. Although we were not successful in securing the grant, they were immensely positive about our project and very interested in my career and current slate of work. We began to develop a relationship, so I came in and met with Andrea and Sofya Gollan just a few days before flying out to the States and they encouraged me to apply for Charlie’s - the absolutely stunning Australians in Film space in Los Angeles. That’s where I met the wonderful Peter Ritchie who runs the whole operation!
I spent a few days in December working from and having meetings at Charlie’s before heading North for the San Francisco premiere of Frisky at the Roxie Theatre. Peter and I stayed in contact and I reached out to him for some advice about our Frisky distribution marketing. That’s when he suggested that we screen the film at Raleigh Studios in tandem with its US and Canada on-demand release. That screening was an undoubtable turning point for Frisky, garnering much attention in the industry. Peter is such an incredible supporter of Aussie independent film - he really embodies everything that you could wish an organisation like AiF to stand for and is a true champion of the future of the industry. AiF and Screen NSW seem to be in a very fitting partnership.
You’ve previously said that you were inspired by feature film that had been produced for just $100,000. Do you have a competitive streak and can you walk us through the process of producing the film for only $5K?
As a complete gumby at sport, I never really developed a competitive streak from a young age! I just saw what someone had done with their money to make a film and then looked at how much money I had saved. That then formed my limit - I had to figure out how to solve the problem and work within that limit.
Every element of creating the film had to take the budget into consideration. The script was written knowing that I could get the locations - my house, friends’ houses, etc. In pre-production I established the profit-share model where everyone, regardless of their role, splits the profits of the film based on their time contributed. We were a community working together. I also made sure the shoot was only 14 days right at the beginning of the New Year so as to not keep people away from their jobs for too long. We used gear we already had and rented a couple of nice lenses. We shot with natural light and otherwise very cheap lighting options like fairy lights and china balls. There was no time for ego on set, although there was always time taken to go out for lunch. That’s where a lot of our budget went!
What were some of the challenges to working with that budget and how did you overcome them?
Any potential challenge was completely overcome by the fact that our crew were such a bunch of legends. The shoot was so smooth, apart from the one time that the cops were called on our ‘romantic’ car scene, because we had nailed everything in pre-production, had realistic expectations of how far $5k can go and figured out how to creatively make that work to our advantage.
For example, Christiana (DoP) and I decided to simply shoulder mount the whole film - which certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste - but the style played beautifully into the raw honesty of the script, giving the audience a sense of being in the room with the characters - while giving us a massive advantage in terms of speed of production. In a time when homemade videos on YouTube are king, people no longer expect a glossy, smooth cinematographically perfect product. Everyone’s bullshit-radars are so finely tuned after years of exposure to pretend social media ‘lives’, that I think something like Frisky has been a breath of authentic, unrefined, fresh air for audiences.
What inspired you to make the film?
Real life and music. I had experienced such a potent friendship - the kind where you’re obsessed with each other, of how cool you feel together, how creative you are together, how fiery people’s reactions are to you as a pair - we had moved across the world for each other and I couldn’t get that time in my life out of my head. We developed a really healthy wonderful friendship. I spent a lot of time reflecting upon those tumultuous times when so many wild decisions made, often putting our friendship second and frivolity first. I wanted to unpack that on screen. It was real to me and very cathartic.
It all really struck me when I was sitting with some old roommates in my old house in Los Angeles. They are musicians and they’d started a new project called Luc together. Sitting there listening to that music, I could see scenes from the film I knew I was about to write.
You produce, write, direct and act in Frisky, do you have a strong inclination towards any of the professions?
Directing, writing, acting and producing - in that order. Since creating Frisky, I’ve been becoming more and more fascinated by directing and I can feel my writing getting stronger. I often write very visually which goes hand-in-hand with directing, but really enjoy sitting in a room writing out dialogue and contemplating how a conversation might play out. I probably look pretty nuts to the neighbours, as I’ll usually say the lines out loud with different inflections without really thinking about it.
When can Australian audiences see Frisky?
We’re premiering as a part of the For Film’s Sake Festival at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney at 12:30pm Saturday 29th April
Frisky is set for an Aussie release in May and will be doing a short theatrical run before its VOD release. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates.
Last year you stopped the press as one of the sausages who protested at the AACTA Awards. Can you tell us a bit about that?
That was one of the better afternoons of my life. I was a part of a team (packet?) of questionable looking sausages as assembled by WIFT NSW. We stormed the red carpet in protest of the AACTA Awards sausage party, got a little tossed about by security - you can see me doing the sausage roll in the back of this video, were handed over to the police and then politely left, unscathed. Only to find ourselves splashed across international media that evening! The stunt certainly brought a lot of attention to the issue at hand, with the For Film’s Sake Festival now being accredited for AACTA qualification.
You are also going to be at VIVID Ideas, speaking on a panel - Freshflix Emerging Filmmakers’ Conference. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Jessica Hamilton and I have been throwing Freshflix events for the past year in various locations around Sydney. They’re basically a night of films, live local music and art that brings a whole lot of people together for an excellent party. Our aim is to get indie films and filmmakers in front of people who might not usually attend a formal ‘film festival’ but who do appreciate a great night out. We’re building an audience for epic little indie films! So we’re very excited to be organising this season’s Freshflix film festival and conference as a part of Vivid! I’ll be speaking Pecha Kucha-style on the practical steps of how Frisky was made for $5k, along with several other filmmakers who will share their stories of recent ‘breakthrough’ projects. We’ll also be having campfire talks with members of funding bodies including Screen NSW on how to make them your allies as well as strategic thinking, a workshop on presenting yourself as an all-round pro, along with other tremendously entertaining events such a live music film scoring battle and a classic night of Freshflix short films (submissions closing very soon!). All to be held at the Giant Dwarf theatre. Tickets and more info here.
What advice do you have for emerging practitioners in their limbo years?
Make stuff. Be prolific. Learn about what you do and don’t enjoy creating. Work with lots of different people. Learn about whom you do and don’t enjoy creating things with. Don’t censor your work to fit into what you think other people want to see. Don’t wait to make a perfect film - make an honest film. The only way to discover what gives you a unique voice is by creating. If you like something - if you find something genuinely intriguing, then there’s a whole bunch of people out there who will too. And there’s your audience.
What are you working on now?
So many things!
To name a couple of favourites from my current slate, I’ve been writing an Aussie comedy feature film called Butter Paper over the past year or so which I’m extremely jazzed about, and have been brought onto a film titled Burst Intentions as Director! There are also some very exciting developments in the works for the future of the Frisky franchise to stay tuned for!