In the lead up to the 10th annual Byron Bay Film Festival we spoke to two local filmmakers, Poppy Walker and Sophie Hexter whose short, Hitch, will be screened as part of this year’s event. We asked them about their pathway into film and what it is about the Northern Rivers that inspires them.
Can you briefly outline your pathway into filmmaking? Where did it begin? Where would you like to see it go?
P: After working as a journalist in the not-for-profit sector, I was excited by the means to collaboratively tell stories with the moving image, so I studied documentary filmmaking at the VCA in Melbourne. I love filmmaking, as it encompasses such a diversity of means to tell a story, that all come together in a unified whole. I would love to continue working in both documentary and narrative, with longer form projects, right into old age!
- I have a BA from Monash University and an MA from Oxford University. Launching my career as a fashion editor and writer at Harper’s BAZAAR Australia, I went on to forge a successful freelance career, including a four-year tenure as a columnist for The Age. During that time I was commissioned to work as a writer on various screen projects and have continued to art direct, style and write for commercial clients. Transitioning into scriptwriting and directing, across documentary and drama, has felt like the ultimate combination of interest and skills, and after moving to regional NSW with a young family, in 2014 I co-founded the multi-disciplinary media company, H.W. Collective. Over the past year and a half, we have produced and directed a number of short films, which have gained entry into various international film festivals. We currently have two feature films in early-stage development.
What drives you as a filmmaker?
We are drawn to stories that illuminate the human condition in unexpected and compelling ways – especially those that come from silenced voices. Film is a powerful means to influence hearts and minds, and we’re driven by a desire to contribute something beautiful and thought-provoking to the world, in partnership with others. Practicing the craft of filmmaking itself is an endlessly fascinating, challenging and rewarding journey and continues to inspire and drive us.
What has been your previous involvement or experience with BBFF and how would you say it compares to other festivals or related events?
We haven’t screened at BBFF before, but Poppy has worked for the festival for the last four years, assisting with curating the primary and secondary sessions. We both attend every year, and it’s such a special event, as there’s a real camaraderie amongst the filmmakers and audience. It’s intimate and there are so many satellite events that it feels like a real community for the week.
Are you both based on Northern Rivers? If so, what brought you to the region? In terms of filmmaking is there something distinct about the region that feeds into your work? Community? Landscape? Creative contacts?
Yes, we are both based in Bangalow. Both of us moved from Melbourne several years ago, but we luckily met up here through a Screenworks event and we started to collaborate with film projects and then set up a production company, H.W. Collective. Our first film together, Hitch, is set in the region and the landscape definitely helped inspire that initial idea. Creatively, we were dedicated to building a production team here, as there are many talented collaborators and we wanted to ensure our careers continue to flourish, despite living regionally and raising our families.
Based on Hitch and another of your short films, The Battle, there seems to be a common focus on marginalised figures, how important is message in film, as in, is it the entire purpose of filmmaking or simply one part of the filmmaking process in your view?
The message of a film is always important – but we feel that it shouldn’t be overt. People tend to think of a ‘message’ as a ‘lesson’, but we see it as the film’s final impression and feeling. It can be as simple as conveying, say, with our film, ’The Battle’, a man’s strength, beauty and masculinity. A film’s message is really only one part of filmmaking – but the entire process helps craft it. We are inspired by films that leave the audience room to wonder and question, rather than feeding them a didactic point of view.
Can you tell me about your latest film Hitch? What is it about in your words and how did this project come about?
At its heart, Hitch is a coming-of-age story about loss and acceptance. We were committed to bringing a locally-based project to fruition, so we set about drafting a script, searching for crew and funding it ourselves. We produced and directed it ourselves – and as we joke, it was like narrative film school! We were lucky to have the support of many talented, local crew and cast, as well as Screenworks, who have been an invaluable support not only to us, but to other regionally-based filmmakers.
Anything interesting or unique about the filmmaking process for Hitch, any hiccups along the way, any happy coincidences that changed the films direction?
The biggest hiccup we experienced was with the weather. We realised as we went into pre-production that we managed to incorporate two challenging aspects into our script: it’s set entirely outside, and mainly on public roads. The weather forecast was heavy rain for our shooting dates, and only two days out, we changed the date. Luckily, all cast and crew were available, and the weather was perfect: stormy grey skies with incredible natural light that suited the mood of the film. There was even a rainbow as we were shooting the final scene of the film!
Can you tell me about any future projects you’re involved with, be they filmmaking or perhaps something related to the Northern Rivers?
- We are busy with distributing our latest film, The Ghost in the Machine, as well as finishing two other short documentaries. We have a feature narrative script in development and have our sights set on moving into longer-form projects.
- I am busy writing two feature film scripts, which we hope to develop in the not too distant future.