Interview: Co-Producers Jan Chapman and Nicole O’Donohue: The Daughter
Screen NSW spoke to The Daughter co-producers Jan Chapman and Nicole O'Donohue about their film in the lead up to its theatrical release this month.
Could you begin by telling us why you decided to make The Daughter and how you came to co-produce the film together?
We both saw Simon’s interpretation of The Wild Duck at the Belvoir St Theatre and were struck by the emotional power of the play, the naturalism of the performances and the cinematic nature of the structure. There was an incredible humanity in the production. We had worked together on Griff the Invisible with Nic as Producer and Jan as Executive Producer and it had been a good relationship that we were keen to continue.
The film was adapted from the stage play The Wild Duck. What were the challenges adapting from stage to screen?
The play’s emphasis was on the dialogue so the challenge in adapting from stage to screen was to open up the world and create atmosphere and tension through locations and the use of camera and sound. Simon wrote a number of renditions of the screenplay before we settled on the world of the logging town. In pre-production we all worked closely with cinematographer Andrew Commis and designer Steven Jones-Evan’s to create a detailed cinematic experience.
Simon Stone directed the stage play and the film, as producers how did you work with him to adapt his process from stage direction to directing his first feature film?
Simon’s aim was always to create a fresh version of the story and as producers we talked through with him various versions of the fundamental plot. Simon sometimes worked alone to create scenes and would then bring them into us, and sometimes he wrote in the room while we were also present. We discussed in detail each character and imagined who would be the right actors. Many of them were very enthusiastic to work with Simon as he engages them so much in the process. We held a workshop with actors towards the end of development to refine the screenplay and many of them contributed ideas.
The Daughter takes an uncomfortable look at contemporary life; an honest portrayal of human nature. How did the raw and provoking nature of the story influence your artistic approach?
We were particularly drawn to the insight into relationships and family life that the play had provided and wanted to explore the universality of these themes. We wanted the film to engender recognition of feelings about the “audiences” own lives even if their situations were very different to those of the characters in the film. It touches people in different ways and creates debate and discussion. It was very important to create a working situation where the actors felt free to express themselves openly. We tried to enable a development of close relationships between the actors during rehearsals and to protect them from extraneous people just before highly emotional scenes.
The film is shot in an extraordinary evocative landscape. How did you decide on the locations used in Tumut, Batlow and Tumbarumba?
The landscape is a real character in our film so finding the location was such an exciting part of the filmmaking process. Simon wanted the film to feel as though it could have been shot anywhere and had a strong visual sense of what he wanted when it came to the overall aesthetic of the film. We scouted New South Wales before pre-production with a location manager and when Simon came to the region he almost jumped out of the car in excitement that his vision for the film was so apparent in the Snowy Mountains area of NSW. The empty warehouses, small towns, the pine forests surrounding them and the thriving mill matched his imagining of the world of the film exactly. Screen NSW Production Attraction and Incentives unit were very helpful in defining the areas of NSW which might be most promising for our locations.
We understand the Mayor of Tumut played a role in the success of filming in the region to gain the co-operation of the timber mill and the local community. How did you build that relationship and how has the region reacted to the film?
Our location managers Edward Donovan and Lisa Scope made a particular effort to make personal contact with the local community and council who were fundamental in us securing the locations we needed. It was wonderful to have the community support behind the film and is premiering the film in advance of the release at a special screening at the iconic Montreal Community Theatre in Tumut.
A few scenes in the film take place in a few off the track locations, can you speak on the challenges you faced filming in the elements?
Travelling to the various off the track locations was challenging because of the fact that travel had to be factored into the shooting day. There were a lot of night shoots and avoiding wild brumbies and other wildlife on the road was a concern. One location was rained out and when it became impossible to reach after a heavy storm we had to adjust quickly to find another location.
You have a unique relationship in that you met in a mentoring program, how was that experience and how have you influenced each other?
We first met when Nicole was producing Griff the Invisible. Jan came onboard the film because she admired the script and the team of Nicole and Leon Ford the director. Nicole was always a very gifted producer and the mentoring on that film took the form of being available to offer practical and aesthetic advice during the process.
On The Daughter we were very much equal partners and sharing responsibility was a great asset. It was a wonderful opportunity to work together again.
How important do you feel it is it to have female mentors or yourself mentor younger women coming through?
We have both benefited from being mentored and mentoring other women, it is invigorating to enable emerging female producers with fresh ideas to develop themselves and see them excel.
What are you working on now – together or individually?
Jan is developing an original screenplay titled High Season with Cate Shortland and executive producing Babyteeth based on a play by Rita Kalnejais, to be produced by Alex White and Katherine Slattery and directed by Richard Roxburgh. Nicole is currently in development on The Seed with writer Kate Mulvany based on Mulvany’s successful stage play.