Interview with Louise Wadley: All About E - making a multicultural and nuanced female protagonist
Louise Wadley is a writer/director who has been both a quarter and semi-finalist for the Nicholls – the Oscars competition for unproduced screenplays. She was the first Australian to have her script All About E selected for LA’s prestigious Outfest Script Lab and the first woman in its 19 years to have her script made into a completed film.
Your film, All about E, has females in the majority of the key roles and you worked as a female team of writer, director, producer, DOP and editor. Can you tell us a bit about the experience?
My partner and producer Jay Rutovitz and I set up Girls Own Pictures in 2009 to develop and produce original stories with distinctive and exciting female lead characters. So it makes sense that we tried to have as many women in key roles as possible, but your primary goal as a director is to work with those people who are going to give you the best result. Luckily AFTRS graduate Justine Kerrigan shows why she is so highly regarded as a DOP by her peers. After looking at her work, I had no doubt her unique perspective would bring out the incredible beauty of the Australian landscape and the contrast of the city while working under the intense pressure of our low budget schedule. Fellow AFTRS graduate editor Rowena Crowe was another delightful find. She fully understood what we were trying to do and had the imagination and skill to find the creative solutions you always need in the edit.
How did you come with the story for All About E, and what made you believe it was good story?
You know, when you turn on the TV or an Aussie film you just don’t see modern Australia. I was fed up with the fact that unless you turned on a reality TV show like The Voice you never saw the multicultural Australia most of us live in. And if you do, those character’s narratives are often defined exclusively by their ethnicity or cultural background. It is the same with gay stories. Instead of just being a part of who they are, the character’s sexuality is often what the whole story is all about. It is so limiting. And very few films have complex interesting and nuanced female protagonists. With All About E I wanted to a make a film for everybody, irrespective of cultural background, age or sexuality; a feel-good story with universal themes about identity, family and belonging but with a modern day Australian heroine. And I think E is just that. Her journey to find out who she is both universal and specific. I had fun playing with the genre thing too. I find the best and most enduing films are those that are entertaining but explore more complex issues beneath the surface, like Muriel’s Wedding.
Did thinking around gender issues inform the film – in writing room, development etc?
Of course. But not like “How do we solve this gender issue?” It was more like - write the characters as complex, flawed and interesting, which is after all just good drama. Having E or Trish do active things that you don’t usually see women do wasn’t a stretch. I think the stretch is to be in 2016 and still seeing so many female characters written as passive and one-dimensional. It is so uninteresting more than anything else.
Can you talk about your experience distributing the film – where has it screened?
Distribution in Australia is a real challenge. We knew we had made a quality drama and had our all-important US distribution deal signed fairly early on. But without “names” in our cast, we could not find a local distributor who would take us on. It’s a tough gig for Aussie distributors competing with the larger US productions who have bigger stars and more marketing spend.
But we knew from our extensive research and crowd funding around Australia and overseas, that we had a clearly identified niche audience who wanted to see our film. That’s where TUGG came in. Instead of trying to fill a cinema for a few sessions a day for two weeks – we were asking for one night in a host of different locations. In a radical new paradigm, you don’t have to Four Wall or book the venue. If enough people book in advance by a certain time, the screening goes ahead. If not, the cinema just cancels it. It was brilliant. We often sold out or got moved up into a bigger cinema if it was a multiplex. We travelled the country, did a lot of Q and A and met amazing people.
How have audiences reacted?
The response has been amazing. I have been really surprised and delighted by how many different people from around the world, have been touched by the film. People come and talk to me after screenings and tell me that they feel I am telling “their story” or write me emails to let me know in detail how the film speaks to them. The thing I like the most is that those people who are saying this are so very different and varied and come not just from Australia but from Portugal or Germany or North Carolina or Dakota. I am struck by many of these but one of the most satisfying was having an Aussie sheep farmer say to me he could really relate to Elmira’s (E) character and her struggle with her family to his own experience of growing up as a child of traditional farmers on the land wanting to go his own way. A straight Anglo country bloke identifies with a young gay Arabic Australian woman’s story. As a writer you cannot ask for better than that. It’s very humbling.
The film is screening at Screen Wave. How important have festivals been in the promotion of the film?
Festivals are really important. They put you in touch with your audience. We opened with the Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney. The buzz was immense and we sold out both screenings - that’s 1400 seats. It was the same in Melbourne. The audience response was fantastic. Probably my favourite festival was Frameline in San Francisco where we played the enormous and historic Castro Theatre. The audience was wild. People were calling out to the screen, “don’t do it!” and cheering at the end. We had a ball.
The film was also approved for Screen NSW Post Production Funding. Can you tell us how important the funding was to the film?
It was vital. We always knew it would be hard to make the film for the budget we had. A film with 42 locations, 38 speaking parts, a dog and children not to mention fight scenes and a chase scene with a plane is not your usual ultra-low budget first-time feature! Jay, the producer, had already raised a substantial amount of money from private investors but it was not enough. We still needed 88K. We ran an incredibly successful crowd funding campaign that raised 93K to get us to the end of the shoot and a rough edit. But there was nothing left in the kitty. Luckily Screen NSW loved it. Without that funding we would not have had a finished film with the necessary grading and post-production to show off the stunning cinematography or had the beautiful sound design that Tony Vacher and John Dennison (Top of the Lake) did for us or the extraordinary score by composer Basil Hogios. It was essential.
What are you working on now?
I love series like Happy Valley, Broadchurch and Homeland so I am developing a long form TV series and I have another feature idea, this time set in New York. I am also looking at doing a comedy web-series, because I am really impatient to do something soon. It takes so long to get things up. I want to put into practice all the things I learnt on my first feature - now!
All About E will be screening at Riverside, Rafferty's Theatre on March 7 with a \ a post-screening Q&A with director Louise Wadley and producer Jay Rutovitz: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/all-about-e/
Image - Louise Wadley and Jay Rutovitz at All About E at L.A premiere