Just a mo­ment

One late-night de­ci­sion even­tu­ally helped Jackie van Beek to make her de­but fea­ture the best it could be.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Nz International Film Festival -

“I thought, nah, I’m not do­ing this,” says Jackie van Beek.

She’s de­scrib­ing get­ting home at mid­night af­ter work­ing all day. “I was so tired, and I thought, oh man, wasn’t there that di­rec­tors men­tor­ship thing I was go­ing to ap­ply for? And I checked the web­site and it was due the next day. And I was so tired.”

Au­di­ences will know van Beek from TV3’s sketch com­edy show

Funny Girls and from her turn as a vam­pire’s ser­vant in Taika Waititi’s

What We Do in the Shad­ows, for which she won Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress at the New Zealand Film Awards. She also won Best Ac­tress at the 2014 Show Me Shorts film fes­ti­val, for her per­for­mance in her own film Up­hill, which is a kind of out-take from The In­land Road, her first full-length fea­ture.

“I’d just moved back to New Zealand when I made Up­hill; I’d made my first films in Aus­tralia and then in London. I was writ­ing The

In­land Road at the time. I wasn’t in of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment. I was just work­ing on the script by my­self. I had been for years, and I’d got to the point of re­ally want­ing to make it hap­pen. And then I got this phone call from the New Zealand Film Com­mis­sion. They said, we’ve been look­ing at your short films and we’d love you to make some in New Zealand now you’re here. So I said, ab­so­lutely, I’ll ap­ply for my fea­ture film. And they said, why don’t we start with a short, so I said okay, I’ll ap­ply to make a trailer for my fea­ture film. And they said, well we can’t fund a trailer... what about a short film? I said, I don’t want to make any more short

films, I want to make my fea­ture. So they said, well, why don’t you take a scene or a se­quence out of your fea­ture film and ap­ply with that. So that’s what I did.”

It was en­cour­ag­ing to be in­vited to ap­ply for fund­ing. “I’d never even thought to talk to the com­mis­sion. It seemed like this big or­gan­i­sa­tion for peo­ple who knew how to make real films... I’d just been cob­bling to­gether com­mu­nity money from any­where I lived. To get that phone call made me think — maybe I can do more.”

The In­land Road is an in­ti­mate drama, set in ru­ral Otago. Four char­ac­ters from very dif­fer­ent back­grounds are thrown to­gether in the wake of a tragic ac­ci­dent, with the story’s weight and en­ergy heav­ily de­pen­dent on the strength of the per­for­mances. “The thing that ex­cites me about di­rect­ing is di­rect­ing per­for­mance. I’ll never re­hearse a char­ac­ter by them­selves, I’ll al­ways put them in a room with other ac­tors, so there’s some­one to re­act or re­sist or em­brace or chal­lenge.”

Be­fore the shoot started, she in­sisted on a two-week re­hearsal process. “I got that, be­cause I said it was a non-ne­go­tiable; and it’s cheap to do, be­cause you don’t need gear or a crew.” She spent the en­tire first week with the two young first-time ac­tors in the cast, teenager Glo­ria Popata and Ge­or­gia Spil­lane, who was 5, plus one of the two cen­tral adults.

“We just re­hearsed those three, on set in the farm­house in Ar­row­town, and it was in­cred­i­ble. I learned so much. I’d wanted that process so I could hear the ac­tors say­ing the lines I’d writ­ten for them, and let me tell you, I did a lot of rewrit­ing that first week. I mean, Glo­ria, a 17-year-old Maori girl from Flat Bush, comes in and a 41-yearold Pakeha mid­dle-class writer hands her a script? I’d spent a lot of time teach­ing in South Auck­land, so I wasn’t too far away. But ev­ery ac­tor has their own lit­tle things they say, and I started writ­ing those into the film, and the more of Glo­ria I was able to put into the film, the more she could im­pro­vise with­out clash­ing with the char­ac­ter. It’s her first act­ing role — she’s done a lit­tle bit of kapa haka. She’s as­ton­ish­ing. We au­di­tioned 330 girls for that role and she was the only one who scared me.”

The shoot went off smoothly, and van Beek set­tled down with her edi­tors to as­sem­ble a work­ing cut. “We were go­ing pretty well, but I knew there was a stronger film in there, and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t work it out.” And this is where it turned out to mat­ter that she had forced her­self to stay up late that night and write the ap­pli­ca­tion for the men­tor­ship with the Di­rec­tors and Edi­tors Guild of New Zealand. She won a three-day men­tor­ship with Niki Caro.

“Niki came over to New Zealand and we sat around the kitchen ta­ble, and I showed her the cur­rent cut I had. She read the shoot­ing script, and we talked, talked, talked about what was work­ing and what wasn’t. We cut up pieces of pa­per and used Vivid mark­ers to write things, we shifted pieces of pa­per around the ta­ble, and she said, oh look — can you see where the holes are? And I saw a hole at the be­gin­ning, and I saw a hole at the end. And she said, all you have to do is go back and write a lit­tle bit more story.”

So a full year af­ter shoot­ing had wrapped, van Beek wrote two new scenes, and got three cast mem­bers to come back and shoot them. “And that was when I thought, yes. I’ve ful­filled the po­ten­tial of this story. It’s only my first film, I don’t know how big its po­ten­tial is, but — you al­ways know when you’re fall­ing short of what a thing could be. In hind­sight, the de­ci­sion to stay up an ex­tra cou­ple of hours and write that ap­pli­ca­tion hugely af­fected the out­come of my first fea­ture film. I love it that so much can turn on a mo­ment like that. And that’s what I write sto­ries about, as well — these lit­tle things that can have huge con­se­quences.”

We were go­ing pretty well, but I knew there was a stronger film in there, and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t work it out.

ABOVE— Ge­or­gia Spil­lane and Glo­ria Popata in The In­land Road.

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