Your short film Nursery Rhymes crash lands the viewer straight into this incredibly unsettling and decontextualized scene of a shirtless character reciting Old MacDonald against the bleak backdrop of a field. Tonally this short feels like a darker evolution of the comedy we see in your music video for Tigerilla or even your Reebok Storm the Court spot. Were you looking consciously to make a break from your commercial work to explore something altogether more disturbing?
I’ve struggled to break the shackles of my comedy perception! Ughhhhh. It’s strange to think that I’m known as a comedy commercial director in the industry. I can totally see why, because that largely defines my output for the last decade, but what the industry doesn’t see is that 90% of the time I’m developing narrative projects that are far removed from that genre.
I’m more interested in simple and sophisticated work and tones and ideas and concepts but sadly, that’s just not how I started out and so it’s created quite the pigeonhole to Houdini out of.
So, I wasn’t consciously trying to make a disturbing film as a pendulum response to my comedy work. I just love tone. I think it’s the one thing cinema can exercise better than other medium. That’s what I love in the work of PTA and Glazer, Kaufman and Gondry, Tarkovsky and Villeneuve, Hiro and so so many more. Nursery Rhymes was our humble toe dip. The waters warm. Or cold. Frozen over?
Backtracking a little – you partnered with your Studio Goono team of Lucy Gaffy and Will Goodfellow on this project. Can you tell us a little about how you came to form this studio and how it operates alongside your commercial work? How did you come to meet Lucy and Will?
Will and Luc are family. We met over 15 years ago at an undergraduate film course in Brisbane and bonded over a sheer determination to create cinema. Together, we’ve pursued that dream ever since. And I love them as humans.
Every waking moment outside of pitching and shooting ads, is dedicated to the development of original content with GOONO. And, most of the money I make in ads, funds this also. Lucy just wrapped shooting her first Netflix series while having a baby (SHE’S AMAZING), and Will is a genius. Plain and simple. We share an uncanny language and taste, and I couldn’t be more grateful to huddle on a life raft with two incredible filmmakers. After 15 long years of developing projects, some of those seeds are beginning to sprout!
Prior to Nursery Rhymes, Will wrote and directed the comedy short Hot Tub. How did the conversation come about for you to direct this piece? And how did that collaboration work? Did you work on the script together or edit it based on your vision for how to stage and film it?
Straight up. Will is a better director than I am. And he had a massive input into the direction of Nursery Rhymes, from the script (which he solely wrote) all the way through production. It came about because I saved up enough money for a short, and we desperately wanted to kickoff Goono with another production. Will nutted out five scripts, because he’s an insane screenwriting robot, one of which as Nursery Rhymes. All four other screenplays were brilliant mind you, but Nursery Rhymes had that tonal quality I mentioned above, and for the both of us, it was a clear winner.
Will and I actually started out co-directing ads over 10 years ago, but he ultimately decided to focus on screenwriting. Since then we’ve mostly stuck to our departments, til recently, and now those labels are less defined. I write and direct, and so does he. We’re just committed to the work, in whatever way it demands of us. Currently we’re working on a TV series that Will will be involved with in a directing capacity also.
One-takes are notoriously difficult to execute, even more so when you’re using the movement of the camera, as you are with Nursery Rhymes to gradually reveal the narrative of the scene. Was there a discussion around different ways of shooting the film or were you locked on that idea from the start? Why did you feel it was the best visual technique to tell this story?
I owe the single take to Will, and it was baked into the script from the first draft. Neither of us are fans of novelty techniques, but this is different. The film demands a single shot, in order to mislead the audience and like you said, drop them into a decontextualised scene. If we cut, then we expose the artifice. So we had to misdirect through the withholding of information and the blocking, and by doing so, implicate the audience. All that aside, we just loved the slow unfolding of this scene and letting the audience simmer in the unsettling tone and unreliable context.
Alongside representation through Scoundrel (Aus/NZ), Stink (Ger) and Division (FR), you’ve also recently signed to Prettybird for UK and US representation. Have you consciously held back from exploring commercial opportunities in the States or, to put it another way, what is it about the US that appeals to you at this point in your directing career?
I never consciously hesitated on US/UK opportunities. I’ve just always followed the work. The delay came down to perception versus ambition. Circling back to the comedy dilemma I mentioned above, I was sent lots of comedy scripts when I first signed to Prettybird and it took a long time to establish a shared language and understanding about the work. Not to mention the wonderfully patient EP’s at Prettybird and reps. I only just wrapped my first job with Prettybird UK for Glenlivet, and I’m on the flight home after a two month stint in Cape Town!
Are you working on any other projects at the moment that we should be keeping an eye out for?
Wrapping up a few ads, and another fun music video for Flight Facilities is just out, which is like the final instalment of my anti-dancing trilogy, if you include Tigerilla and Reebok. But that’s it for me. No more dance vids.
What’s really exciting is Will and I are in the throws of developing a project with topic.com, alongside a low budget feature. Still away off, but definitely puffing up the dream pillow.