screeNZ caught up with Orphans & Kingdoms writer-director Paolo Rotondo and producer Fraser Brown ahead of the world premiere of the final feature to be supported under the NZFC’s Escalator scheme.
The pair were remarkably relaxed as they waited to test the DCP at the Sky City Theatre. Why were they waiting? So that Sky City could clear the bingo tables out of the theatre.
“It’s not the first time we’ve had to wait,” noted Rotondo, citing a 2006 test screening of the pair’s short Dead Letters. That screening was preceded by a private screening of My Fair Lady for a group of pensioners.
Apart from not being the fastest movers once the lights came up, “They cranked up the sound so far it blew the speakers.”
So, bingo tables weren’t too much of a worry, and that was the attitude behind the approach to the production of Orphans & Kingdoms – or Orphans & Kitchens as KiwiFM called it.
Both Brown and Rotondo were quick to praise the Escalator scheme, Rotondo calling it an “outstanding success creatively”. Despite it not running completely as planned (it supprted eight films over three years against the intended 12) the NZFC agrees the concept of lower-budget filmmaking still has some legs.
The day after screeNZ met with Rotondo and Brown, the NZFC anounced its intentions for a formal review of Escalator as a precursor to the agency’s “plan to introduce a lower-budget feature film funding initiative later this year”.
While Rotondo and Brown are first-timers at making a feature, they’re not strangers to productions of scale. Brown, wearing his acting hat, will be familiar from his recent appearance as conscientious objector Archie Baxter in Lippy Pictures’ Field Punishment Number 1. Rotondo hasn’t spent much time in front of the camera since leaving Shortland Street almost a decade ago, but is still recognisable from his turn in 2001’s Stickmen.
With Escalator’s $250,000, there was a lot less cash per minute of screen time than for Dead Letters and way less than for the TVCs the pair make through Flying Fish.
“Someone worked out,” said Brown, “that our budget was the cost of one shot in The Hobbit.”
Not that the pair were complaining. Peter Jackson loaned O&K one of the Red Epics used on The Hobbit trilogy.
And while it is an Escalator film, O&K was not made for $250,000, although Rotondo is clear that it was conceived and developed for the Escalator scheme’s budget.
“Film is a reductive process,” he offered, as an alternative to ‘kill your expensive darlings’. The story, happily, lent itself to such a budget. It’s about 90% set in a single location; it’s a contemporary and naturalistic drama with a small cast. So, there are no major VFX elements, no period costumes, no cast of thousands to suck away the dollars – and Waiheke Island gets to pretty much be itself.
One of the challenges of shooting on Waiheke was its limited infrastructure – and the ability of a film crew to push that infrastructure, especially the power supply, past its limits.
“We blacked out the whole street a few times,” Rotondo admitted of the shoot at the very swish house where most of the action takes place. It wasn’t a catastrophe – at least for the production – and Rotondo praised DoP Simon Raby’s ability to keep things moving by shooting with one light run off a small generator.
Raby wasn’t the only heavy hitter on the project and the presence of a very experienced and talented crew was, ironically, a result of Auckland having very little “proper work” on offer last winter. Cushla Dillon edited and Lyn Bergquist designed the production. Philippa Campbell was the EP, supported by the NZFC.
DoP Raby, who recently shot another low-budget feature (Make My Movie winner Deathgasm) even missed the world premiere of Elysium, on which he was 2nd unit director, to shoot O&K.
The production did raise other money in addition to the Escalator cheque, in cash and kind. Flying Fish has $50,000 of in-kind support in the film, and other sponsors included Jucy Rentals, whose campervans were home for much of the 21-day shoot. In winter.
Wellington and Los Angeles-based Random Films invested $50,000 (and has also supported Boy, The Most Fun You Can Have Dying and, more recently, The Pa Boys). The production also raised $30,000 on PledgeMe during post.
While there were challenges getting the film they wanted from the budget they had (when aren’t there!) Rotondo and Brown have now arrived at the point where those finiancial constraints can be looked at in a more positive light: because $250,000 is a lot easier to recoup than a couple of million.
O&K has a single screening in the NZIFF, and plans a wider theatrical release in early 2015. It’s a longer wait than initially expected, but for good reasons. Brown credits the large number of quality NZ features coming to screens for post-festival runs, with James Napier Robertson’s The Dark Horse (opens 31 July) leading the way.
In the meantime, the pair are off to Melbourne. O&K has been selected for the Breakthru Screenings showcase at the festival’s 37° South Market event, which Brown will attend. (Other NZ titles selected are I Survived a Zombie Holocaust, The Last Saint and The Pa Boys.)
There’s already some interest from international distributors in O&K, but Brown has resisted the temptation to bite. He’s keen to wait until after the trip to Melbourne to make decisions, and reckons it’s important to have all rights for all territories available to encourage offers.
Rotondo will also attend, to pitch new material at the event.
The NZFC’s Chris Payne and Lisa Chatfield will be at 37°South, presenting in the State of Play programme, while Whetu Fala attends Accelarator.
O&K (RP16) has its world premiere screening (and only NZIFF outing) at 7.15pm at Sky City this Sunday 20 July. Tickets are still available at time of writing.