Q&A with director Andy Gallagher: Making it to Flickerfest
Andy Gallagher is an first-time short film director from Newcastle whose film, The Lake, will premiere at Flickerfest. We talk to Andy about making the film and why he aimed to be screened at Flickerfest.
The Lake is your first short film can you tell us how did you move into directing and what was your career path?
I went to university to study animation but fell in love with video. I found I still had the same creative control, but video as a medium was more immediate. I also was drawn to how social and collaborative the film making process can be.
After studying I worked within a creative agency making commercial video content and I built up enough confidence to start my own business. I have been working independently for almost four years in the commercial video space so I guess I really yearned to lean into a passion project.
Where did The Lake begin and where did the idea come from?
The Lake spawned as a concept on my honeymoon a few years ago. My wife, Emily and I enjoyed ten days living with a family in Raja Ampat (off West Papua). Completely isolated and without internet or electricity I certainly had time to think. I filled a notebook with short film ideas and The Lake was one of them.
The story came from my love of thrillers. I really enjoy when I’m forced to endure what’s happening to characters on screen, and I wanted to try and recreate that tension for the audience.
The film was shot in various locations surrounding Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. How did you find the locations?
I spent many weekends going out to various spots around Newcastle. I wanted to show a side of the region not photographed before. I fell in love with areas around the Lake Macquarie small town of Teralba. It has a timeless, unforgiving and sometimes harrowing personality that I was immediately drawn to.
The Lake is a short thriller but also borrows from other genre techniques, with wide-shots, static frames and a good dose of Australian humour. What attracted you to experiment with the traditional thriller format?
I was inspired to shoot my thriller in a more classic approach after admiring the work of Sidney Lumet- Before The Devil Knows Your're Dead and Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. These films confirmed that elaborate camera movement or a hand held approach weren’t required for a gripping melodrama.
I wanted to keep it simple and capture as much of the landscape as possible. There are a lot of static wide shots. With little to no camera movement, the plan was for the characters to work within these large dioramas. The hope was for the camera to disappear and the audience to peek in as the drama escalates.
Throughout the film I broke up these wide shots by physically and artificially placing the camera uncomfortably close to the characters. I wanted to keep the audience guessing and heighten the tension.
The colours in the film were very important to the story. I intentionally underexposed the Alexa camera and treated the footage to accentuate the muddy browns and greens of the locations. I used reversal film photography as a reference and I think the characters almost sink into the shadows of the bush.
It was important for me to have a bit of fun with the story as well. I love the tongue in cheek moments where the film doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The film includes a cast with a few well-known actors; as a first time director, how did you attract the talent?
I guess it started by cold calling people. It wasn’t easy but I eventually found my casting director Stephanie Pringle. Steph loved the script and was amazingly patient with me. We worked through all my questions and anxieties being a first time director and I still can’t believe I worked with such amazingly talented people. The two sisters were played by Kathryn Beck and Ella Scott Lynch while Alan Flower was the tormented service station owner. Recent NIDA graduate Duncan Ragg plays the roadside assistance driver. Everyone worked really well together and it made the busy three day shooting schedule achievable.
Why did you decide to enter the film into Flickerfest?
I needed to give myself a goal for The Lake so I had Flickerfest as my priority early on. It is an amazing opportunity to have your work premiered at such a prestigious event at the iconic Bondi Beach. I feel Flickerfest has a great balance of industry accreditation and community, growing up outside of Newcastle I love that a selection of films tour regional Australia.
What do you hope to get out of the experience with Flickerfest and with the film?
Initially I hope to soak up the experience of watching my film premiere at Flickerfest with all the amazing people that helped make it happen.
I’m also very curious after twelve months of development what people think of the film. I hope people love The Lake as much as I’ve enjoyed making it.
Finally, having a festival credit at Flickerfest could be an amazing tool to help out with my next endeavour into film making. After enjoying the steep learning curve of writing, directing and shooting The Lake I’m hoping I can concentrate on a single role and collaborate with other industry creatives.
What challenges did you face putting together the film and how did you overcome them?
I invested a lot of time with each part of the process and enjoyed taking every decision seriously. I was in the dark a fair amount of the time so I did a lot of reading and contacted as many industry professionals as possible. I found everyone I emailed or called was really supportive and helped evolve what started as a humble idea into the significant production it became.
Initially, I found writing the script really challenging. It took me a while to realise it wasn’t a feature film and I needed to make something work in under fifteen minutes. I found working with a script consultant was invaluable. The main task was simplifying the ideas I had for the short film format.
The logistics of our production were unique and retrospectively quite ambitious. We had a fantastic set, humming with people from Newcastle, Sydney and the Central Coast. Accommodation, travel and food for the cast and crew was a huge priority for me. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and I had some amazing help from close friends and family who gave up their time so willingly.
I gave myself the challenge to shoot as well as direct, knowing that this would be heavily taxing over the three day shoot across various locations south of Newcastle. I was lucky enough to have surrounded myself with seasoned technicians and fantastic actors, which gave me confidence to concentrate on telling the story.
One of the more stressful moments happened on the last day when our picture vehicle, a removalist truck, dropped its clutch while shooting. Luckily we could manipulate the interior of the grip van to get the shots needed.