Last week the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts & Sciences named the record-breaking 85 entries for this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar. NZ submitted Pietra Brettkelly’s A Flickering Truth, the sort of film that a few years ago couldn’t have scored any local support – shot overseas, with foreign subjects and subject matter.
Brazil submitted Pequeno Segredo (Little Secret), a film shot partly here, telling a based-on-a-true-story tale that spanned both countries. It was written and directed by Brazil’s David Schurmann, who trained here at South Seas, and has lead actor Erroll Shand playing a petroleum engineer.
Shooting commitments here mean Shand hasn’t been able to attend the premieres of Little Secret in Brazil, either for its outing at last month’s Rio Film Festival or for its general release, which begins shortly. Not that he’s complaining about working in Auckland when he could have been in a post-Olympic Rio. “As much as I’ve been on screen a lot recently,” he says, “I didn’t do a lot of work in the first half of this year.”
Sometimes jobs can be a bit like buses. After half a year of doing very little Shand’s recently made a flying visit to Queenstown for a couple of days as a lawyer on Rebecca Gibney’s Aussie TV series Wanted. He’s a prosecutor in Screentime’s in-production drama Dear Murderer alongside Mark Mitchinson as Mike Bungay.
Shand’s resumé includes turns as Terry ‘Mr Asia’ Clark in Underbelly: Land of the Long Green Cloud, Chocka Fahey in Harry, Byron in Deathgasm and this year as Karl Riechman in Filthy Rich and George Saladin in The Rehearsal. None are fine, upstanding citizens, so Shand’s name is maybe not the first you’d expect to hear when casting calls looking for ‘a lawyer’.
“Not really,” he laughed. To be fair, he was also a lawyer in Outrageous Fortune a decade ago.
“I’ve come full circle,” he said.
Shand also did another recent job with Mitchinson, getting the band back together on the third season of Justin Harwood’s web series High Road which – like Schurmann’s Little Secret – is very close to release.
Little Secret did its NZ casting through Miranda Rivers. As it was based on a true story, Rivers had photos of the people involved. Shand bore a resemblance to Robert, so Rivers approached his agent GCM. Shand taped an audition and submitted it.
Little Secret trailer
“I auditioned for the role of Robert in English,” Shand said. After he’d been offered it and signed on he got an email saying there’d be “a few bits in Portuguese”.
Shand has a good ear for accents, which he credits at least partly to his father being a musician, so a bit of Portuguese wasn’t out of the question. He’s worked on Australian productions over the years and was among the majority of the cast putting on American accents for the first season of Melbourne-shot US-set TV show Hunters which aired earlier this year.
With a script translation so he could understood the meaning and a bit of practice, Shand reckoned a few bits of Portuguese would be doable.
“Then I got the script and the ‘bit of Portuguese’ was 17 scenes – 35 pages of dialogue,” he said. “There was no way I could do that, so they worked on it and we managed to cut about half of it.”
The film is based on the story of director Schurmann’s adopted sister, its script developed from Schurmann’s mother’s book. Robert, the engineer Shand was to portray, wasn’t born in Brazil. “It’s always nice to play a real person,” Shand said. “And I can forgive myself for not being a native speaker of Portuguese.”
Little Secret is Schurmann’s second narrative feature, after 2011 horror Desaparecidos. Secret shot mainly in Brazil but did visit Auckland to shoot its opening sequences. Shand hasn’t seen the completed film but says when he saw a rough cut a year ago, it opened with some spectacular aerial footage of Auckland’s west coast beaches, shot by Heletranz’s Tony Monk.
The film shot for two months in contrasting areas of Brazil, Florianópolis and the Amazon region in Brazil’s north. The northern region around Belém was poverty-stricken. South of Sao Paolo, Florianópolis was surfing competitions and retirees, “like the Gold Coast”.
It calls to mind the sort of contrasts the Rio 2016 organisers did their best to have not end up on the world’s TV screens during this year’s Olympics.
Shand has done a fair bit of work overseas and thinks going after such opportunities is becoming more viable, with Skype and being able to self-audition and send material to people anywhere, quickly.
In 2005 he found himself in Scotland shooting on The Water Horse and realised he could do his job anywhere. More recently he did Journey to the Forbidden Valley, a US-financed feature which shot in China and is currently in post in India. And there’s also his trips to Australia.
“On Hunters I think there was one American,” he said. An ear for accents is important for such roles, but it’s not the key to a good performance. “It’s all about character at the end of the day. If you don’t know your character, can’t live inside it, crunching an accent onto it doesn’t help.”
Ironically, he reckons the New Zealand accent is one of the hardest to master. “It’s those vowels,” he said. “When you come home you’ve really got to slip back into being lazy with them.”
While he was in Brazil in 2014, he was approached to do a low budget film here, Blind Panic. Two years and a few drafts later director Mark Willis and producer Matthew Mawkes are currently trying to raise $40,000 by this weekend.
“That’s the budget,” said Shand. “The Film Commission gave them $10,000 and we shot a test scene. Now they’re trying to do the whole thing for $40,000.”
Blind Panic test scene
He enjoys the jobs you do for the love. Last year he was in the Bay of Plenty-shot indie Z Nail Gang. “New Zealand’s a much more nurturing environment than in lots of other places. We all want to tell those stories and the community was so supportive. But then you don’t have funds for marketing, so people don’t always get the chance to see it.”
Shand acknowledges the realities of earning his living as an actor – and he’s not the only family member working in front of the camera. All three of his daughters have worked on TV productions here, including roles in Shannara, Ash vs Evil Dead and the currently-screening Dirty Laundry. Are they getting a realistic view of the industry? “One did her first scene opposite Lucy Lawless, being directed by Sam Raimi. Another got her own trailer.”
A regular gig on a long-running series can be nice. In a recent Big Screen Symposium session Cliff Curtis shared his satisfaction that Fear the Walking Dead had just been picked up for a third season. “Because I want to put an extension on the house.”
Shand is similarly pragmatic but has his preferences about roles. “On the whole I’m swayed by the types of character or story that connect with me,” he says. “I wasn’t especially enamoured of the role on Filthy Rich when I first read it, but then I really got to play with it and ended up finding it really satisfying.”
Many months after Shand came home from shooting Little Secret in Brazil, Schurmann came back to NZ to do some ADR.
“By then I’d forgotten how to speak Portuguese,” said Shand. “I was in the studio for eight hours and David stayed in the studio the whole time – in with me, not in the booth with the engineer.”
When Shand got back into the rhythm of the language and nailed a take, Schurmann cheered.
“Thanks, mate,” Shand said. “Now I’ve got to do it again.”
Schurmann’s dedication to what was always a passion project has been rewarded with the selection of the film as Brazil’s Oscar submission. Brazil has submitted a film every year for the last two decades, with four surviving the first cull and three achieving nominations. The one that missed out was, ironically, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, probably the most-widely seen Brazilian film of the last 20 years
The Oscar submission is good for the film and for Schurmann. Is there anything in it for Shand?
“I’ve just been back in Australia,” he says. “I realised that even though I’ve done a heap of work here recently it doesn’t always translate, so anything that gives you profile is good.”
At time of writing, Little Secret doesn’t have a confirmed release in NZ, so Shand doesn’t know when he’ll get to see the completed film. Following its premiere last month, it goes on general release in Brazil shortly.