Each month, we ask artists 5 questions around their creative practice.
We spoke with the legendary acting coach, filmmaker and actor – Miranda Harcourt.
What are the creative barriers that you face as a filmmaker? How do you overcome them?
Hmm, the easy answer is family and the necessity of earning money in ways other than film-making. But hey, we chose to have our family and it was a great choice.
And we chose to pursue the craft of film-making throughout our creative lives, despite knowing that it is a risky path with no guarantee of success.
So I guess the ebb and flow of having faith in your own vision is a barrier, as you make these life-choices and take the risk that your passion for what you do will dip below a sustainable level.
What would you say are the most important elements of the Director/DOP relationship?
It has to be a relationship that been built and tested. We were lucky to have had the opportunity of having Andrew Stroud as the DOP our tone-reel so our relationship with him was tried and tested in that trial-run. Increasingly NZ film—makers are making tone reels before they shoot the actual feature and I think it really pays off as you can assemble your key creative collaborators and test the relationship. We spent ages looking for Andrew. He had shot Lorde’s music videos Royals and Tennis Court and so we knew he had the teen sensibility and aesthetic we were looking for. We wanted to make a film with “rough poetry” and that is what we saw in his work on the short film Ellen is Leaving (Michelle Saville). In a way it was a risk as this was his first feature as we all as mine (Stuart had made a previous feature film “For Good’) but our love story with Andrew has a happy ending as we are still good mates and want to make another film together. But yes — it is the most important relationship and you have to choose very carefully and go on a couple of “test” dates!
You and Stuart were both credited as equal directors on The Changeover. How did you find working with a director next to you? What would you do differently next time?
I don’t think I would do anything differently next time… Stuart and I have been married for 25 years and have made a lot of work together over that time, from Verbatim plays to family stories on screen and stage to our 4 children! We devised a system of thinking about each scene which worked very well for us. It involved asking each other a series of questions about each scene in the film and giving ourselves objectives and alternatives. We draw on the same visual inspirations and have the same taste on the whole, so it was very easy to work in tandem. We also knew that crew wanted and needed a unified voice as we had very little shooting time (5 weeks) so we did not want to disrupt our amazing team with divided leadership. That was a powerful motivator!
We know you are an acting coach but this is your first time directing a feature film. What did you learn about directing the technical aspects of the film? Did you and Stuart switch-up who led some days?
Stuart and I did not consciously switch-up though sometimes one of us would back off and let the other take the lead. Yes, it is my first feature film and I learnt an unbelievable amount about the tech aspects of the shoot from planning and decision-making in pre-production, compromising around where and when we could shoot and what we could realistically fit into our limited shooting time — to the way leadership and clear vision and communication works on set. But the biggest learning curve for me has been in post-production and the intense work that goes on in that period. Actually the way you can subtly change and advance the story, the performances and the tone using the amazing tools of ADR, the grade, the music, the sound design and of course the edit. Our editor was Dan Kircher and, just like Andrew Stroud he was a vital part of the film’s success, alongside Andrew Thomas (Composer) and Mel Graham (Sound Designer). Of course I have been part of this process before but never for so long and so intensely about something I feel so passionately about. It was an amazing experience!
We heard the day before shooting began on The Changeover you made actors Erana and Nick do a bungee jump. Tell us … why?!
We wanted Nick and Erana to be really authentically bonded together right from the start of the film. I am very interested in ways that actors can get into a groove together. Prominent US psychologist Arthur Arun has developed some techniques to translate fear and mistrust into trust and connectivity and I often refer to his tools. He suggests that doing something a little bit dangerous together can promote the development of trust between people. He suggests crossing a swing bridge together. I often suggest going to Lunar Park or Rainbow’s End and choosing a ride to go on together! In this situation we were close to Queenstown and it seemed like a great opportunity to use the AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawerau Bridge as one of our executive producers is part of Bungy down there. It was a great success. Nick and Erana were firmly connected after that challenge! They were bonded by a common experience of fear, adrenaline, excitement and relief. We also sent them up in a hot air balloon so that they could experience gravity (Bungy) and levity (the balloon).