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The Inland Road leads home

Jackie van Beek and producer Aaron Watson both hail from southern stock so it was natural that van Beek’s first feature, The Inland Road, shot around Queenstown.

The Inland Road

Jackie van Beek (left), Gloria Popata and Georgia Spillane on location for The Inland Road
Photo: Raj Patel

Shooting away from home (van Beek is Auckland-based) wasn’t the easiest decision, but it proved a good one.

As with many first features, The Inland Road has been a long time coming. The script was on the way for several years. In 2013, van Beek was awarded the first residency from Film Otago Southland’s writer-in-residence programme, and spent her time at Rees Valley Station, near Glenorchy.

“It’s hard to sit in Freeman’s Bay and write about farm life,” she told Queenstown’s Mountain Scene before shooting began. “The Rees Valley is very inspiring.”

The residency was part of a plan Film Otago Southland’s Kevin Jennings has been slowly implementing to draw more local work to the region. Many TVCs and international features have shot in the region, but far fewer local features. When Guy Pigden’s soon-to-release comedy I Survived A Zombie Holocaust shot in Dunedin as part of the NZFC’s Escalator scheme, it was the first feature made there since Rob Sarkies 1999 Scarfies.

“It all starts with the writer,” Nick Ward told Jennings during a trip to the region. If more writers have time to immerse themselves in Southern culture, the scripts will be more real. Given the very high proportion of NZ titles made by writer-directors, getting those people enthused about shooting in the region can’t hurt either.

She had had a number of shorts previously supported by the Commission, including the award-winning Go the Dogs and Uphill, which last year won WIFT International’s Short-Case award and a Show Me Shorts gong for van Beek as Best Actress. (She also won Best Supporting Actress at last year’s NZ Film Awards for What We Do in the Shadows.)

Watson has produced all of van Beek’s shorts, and they make a strong team. The NZFC turned down The Inland Road’s first application for seed funding, but approved a later application for early development support. Last August it was awarded production funding by the NZFC.

Van Beek didn’t need convincing to shoot The Inland Road in Queenstown, after spending time there writing and having shot Uphill at Arthur’s Pass. Jennings is keen to acknowledge that it’s a great result from the inaugural outing for the residency programme – but one that shouldn’t raise expectations of a similar outcome from every residency.

“We might have kiss a few frogs,” he said, without in any way suggesting the writers he’s talking to are amphibian. Jennings has confirmed one writer and is in discussions with two more for the next round of the residency programme.

Ayrburn Farm

Ayrburn Farm

Ayrburn Farm, between Queenstown and Arrowtown, has hosted much of the Inland Road shoot. When SCREENZ dropped by (just in time for lunch) the production was in week three of five, and had racked up an impressive overtime bill of less than two hours.

Locals have put in considerable effort to help the production. The owner of Ayrburn farm, which is presently up for sale and likely to be redeveloped, liked what he saw when he was introduced to the production and became an investor.

Queenstown Camera’s Brett Mills has also got on board, offering the production more or less the run of his shop.

“As long as nobody else has booked it, they can have it,” Mills said. One of Mills’ team was on the shoot, so there was no danger of the production not knowing what was available to them should they need it.

“Brett Mills of the Queenstown Camera Company has been an incredible supporter of Jackie and my careers,” Watson told SCREENZ. “He gave us camera and lighting packages for two of our short films free of charge and has continued to support us with a great deal on The Inland Road. We wouldn’t be where we are today without him.”

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has also been fully supportive of the production, waiving fees for shoots at council-controlled locations.

The cast and crew stayed at the Sherwood, one of the least corporate hotels Queenstown has to offer. They enjoyed their time there, while the producers enjoyed the deal the Sherwood put together for the production. The Sherwood certainly offers one of the more entertaining menus and wine lists.

Where didn’t the production try to cut costs?

“Rehearsal,” said van Beek. “I was adamant about having two weeks of rehearsals.”

Producer Aaron Watson said that budgeting the film to shoot in Queenstown or Auckland, where van Beek lives, would probably come out pretty even. Travel around Auckland (given the production’s need for fairly isolated rural locations) would have been costly. Some people would be working away from home wherever the film shot, and the only person guaranteed to be working close to home was The Inland Road’s six year-old lead. Van Beek was adamant she would only use a local child for the role wherever the film shot.

Producer Aaron Watson was an associate producer on Rene Naufahu’s The Last Saint so The Inland Road’s c$1 million budget, while very tight, is a step in the right direction.

It’s fair to say that there are costs to shooting in Auckland that simply don’t exist in Queenstown – like the hundreds of dollars of parking charges during the Last Saint city centre night shoots.

As it’s turned out, both Auckland and Queenstown have been busy with other production work coinciding with the Inland Road shoot. Auckland is currently hosting Power Rangers, Shannara and plenty of local production. Queenstown, sometimes quieter in April and May between its traditional summer and winter TVC production peaks, has been hosting an unusually large amount of TVC work right through April this year.

The region has also seen Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon, which is busy making friends in Tapanui and giving the local pub its biggest night ever.

In other senses, the timing for The Inland Road has been good. A couple of years ago, before the incentive rates were changed and work returned, people were struggling to remain in the industry. There was less willingness to take less money to work on low budget features, less opportunity to do deals.

Now, with plenty of work around, it’s difficult to crew productions. While The Inland Road hasn’t been able to pay as much as other productions – especially with Disney shooting just down the road – it has been able to offer a number of people the chance to step up to the next level and gain experience to advance their careers.

There are other upsides too. Alyx Duncan (The Red House) has been shadowing van Beek during some of the shoot; Asuka Sylvie, working on The Inland Road as 2nd Assistant Camera, was recently named one of Script to Screen’s Film Up mentees. Sylvie’s short Lake (also shot down south) and Duncan’s short The Tide Keeper both had their world premieres at Palm Springs Shortfest last year.

The Inland Road completed its shoot Sunday 3 May, and now heads out of Queenstown and into post.

Watson and van Beek will be finishing the film at Park Road, with whom they’ve got a great relationship. Park Road fully sponsored the post production of van Beek’s 2012 short In Safe Hands, which won Best Self-Funded Short at the inaugural Moa bash.

The win opened a lot of doors for Watson and van Beek, so they’re very happy to be returning to Park Road with The Inland Road.

The Inland Road is aiming for a release in 2016. While putting it through post, Watson and van Beek will continue to develop their next feature as well as advancing other projects independently.

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