Alex White and Eden Falk: How to get funded
Husband and wife team, Alex White and Eden Falk, have been striving to make their film Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance for six years. Screen NSW talks to them about the hurdles they’ve had to jump to successfully compete for funding in a limited and very competitive environment.
You both come from different areas in the arts - acting and dance - can you tell us how you came to be working as a director/producer team together?
We met at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in 2000 where Eden was studying acting and I was studying dance. When we graduated, Eden continued on his path as an actor, working full time for the Sydney Theatre Company whilst also forging a career in film. I had always been interested in film, and when a friend was leaving her position at the talent agency RGM Artist Group, she encouraged me to apply. From there I went on to work in production where I eventually met Jan Chapman who was EP on the feature film Griff the Invisible. I was working with producer Nicole O’Donohue at the time and Jan was looking for a new assistant, so I ended up working for both Jan and Nicole. They encouraged me to start producing short films and have been really supportive about my career development. During this time Eden was starting to develop his own interest in writing and directing - and considering we are now a married couple I couldn’t really let anyone else produce his work.
You have been successful in receiving EFF funding for the production of Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance but your previous application was unsuccessful. Why do you think your project was competitive this time aroun?
We were really fortunate to be shortlisted in the previous round of the EFF and were invited to reapply, which turned out to be successful. At the time of our first application Eden hadn’t directed for screen. We had just received the Breaks funding from Metro Screen to make our first short film together, so we put Window on the backburner. The Breaks program involved an intensive workshop, which was a really great learning experience for Eden to develop as a writer and director. We completed that film at the end of last year and I think being able to include that short with our 2015 application really helped us get across the line. We also workshopped the script with our cast Ian Meadows, Eamon Farren and Mirrah Foulkes and having their input shape the new draft was a great experience.
The script will see you shoot in regional NSW, in five locations. What attracted you to shoot regionally and how have you planned for the shoot?
The film is loosely based on a short story by the American author, Dave Eggers. Eden first read the story when we were in the Hunter Valley visiting my family who live there. When he started writing the adaptation he set it with my hometown as the backdrop, so it has been a very organic choice to shoot away. We are filming in my grandfather’s house and my family is all involved in the project .It is really fun for them to see what we do. The entire community has been very supportive. Logistically, shooting five locations in three days in a small town is a lot simpler than trying to achieve that in the city - especially with a small crew.
Eden - Last year you made the short film, How To Get Clean, from Metro Screen’s Breaks Funding. Can you tell us how you pitched the project to Metro Screen?
When I first started writing scripts a few years ago, I had no sense of what it took to make a film – the time and the money. Having seen what Alex has to do to get a film off the ground, even on a very simple logistical level, I found that a lot of my work was beyond my means. So I decided I wanted to make something small and intimate and within the budget that Metro Screen affords - one location, two actors and a tiny crew. Also I had really strong source material. My friend Rita Kalnejais had a great short play that we’d seen a few years earlier. I adapted it for the screen, cutting it down to a simple interlude. I actually think of myself more as an adaptor than a writer.
Eden - How did you pull this off as a first time director?
I’ve learnt from observing that pre-production is crucial to making a film work. It’s like a game of chess when you set up all your pieces and get ready for the attack, but if its not planned well it can easily fall apart. I put a huge amount of time into planning – honing the script, storyboarding with my DP, rehearsing with my cast. However, even though I’ve been working professionally as an actor for the last twelve years and have been in countless rehearsal rooms and on sets and have seen actors directed by some of the best – the biggest hurdle for me was learning how to direct the actors. It took a long time to get the balance right between feeding an idea and letting the actor create their own choices. I really had to relinquish the notion that they should do it how I wanted them to - or how I would if I were playing the role. In the end of course I learnt you have to just let go.
Alex – You have also been successful in receiving funding from EFF previously with AACTA award winning short, Florence Has Left the Building. How important do you feel these funds are in advancing the skills of emerging practitioners?
As a producer getting the EFF funding is a great step in advancing your skills because you have an obligation to deliver the film on time and on budget to the funding body. But funding is limited and very competitive. Mirrah Foulkes who wrote and directed Florence Has Left the Building and I were also shortlisted but unsuccessful in our first application to the EFF. So it goes to show you have to be persistent. I was also fortunate to be supported by Metro Screen when I was starting out. The budgets are small but you are still required to do all the same work you do when the budgets get bigger, so you have to be disciplined from the start, which is a great quality to learn early on.
Alex - What tips do you have for applicants submitting for funding?
My advice is to get educated when the funding rounds occur so you can give yourself enough time to put together the best application possible. The script needs to be in a good place because that is what it comes down to. Also, surround yourself with a strong team of people you enjoy collaborating with because they are going to be the ones who support you by dedicating their time to your project. So share the rewards with them. Something I have also learnt is you can never be too prepared - but also be prepared for everything to change at the last minute.
David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) is also mentoring you on this project, can you tell us how that came about and what you’re learning from him?
We’ve known David for a long time. He has been attached to the script since we first sought the rights from Dave Eggers. Since then - despite very a busy schedule - his dedication to helping us make the best film possible has been amazing.
Any final tips?
We’ve been trying to make this film for about six years. It takes a lot of patience and determination but even when it seems like its never going to happen, if you believe in the story you are trying to tell then you’ll do it somehow.
Also, remember to have fun.