Tony Ayrers talks about festivals, social media and the making of Cut Snake
Tony Ayres is one of Australia’s most prolific award-winning showrunners, writers and directors working across film and television. We catch up with Ayres who is celebrating an impressive five AACTA Award nominations for his new thriller Cut Snake.
How did you cast for the film?
Sullivan Stapleton had been on my mind for a long time, since seeing him in Animal Kingdom, where he was brilliant. I had known him for a friend for many years and we had always wanted to work together. So this was our opportunity to work together.
Alex Russell I auditioned in his early 20s. When I first auditioned him he was too young but by the time we had the finance for the film he was just right. And Jessica De Gouw was great in her screen test.
Your films have regularly featured in film festival programs and your in the lineup at Queer Film Fest. What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
My first feature film, Walking on Water, premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2001 and won a few prizes there. My second film, The Home Song Stories, played Berlin and Toronto, and now Cut Snake has played Toronto and Edinburgh festivals. That is a pretty good run. There are so many films in the world it’s hard to get noticed so an A-list festival really puts a spotlight on your film. And that is really important.
A lot of your early work was around questions of identity politics – being a Chinese-Australian, being gay. How do you think things have changed in the industry since you started out?
Absolutely my early work was about being Chinese and gay, you can only really make that work once, so I have focused on other things. In those days there was probably more opportunity to make work that was personal in nature. And I think there are fewer opportunities to do that and for young filmmakers to get the experience and runs on the board now than it was back then.
Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this in making Cut Snake and how did you move through it?
I had a wonderful editor on Cut Snake, Andy Canny, who I worked with very closely. What you realise is that editing a film is about bringing the film back to the core of what it is. So the process of editing Cut Snake was really about getting rid of anything extraneous so that the central message of the film and the key relationships have as much impact as possible.
How did you and Blake Ayshford on his script, and how did you know when the script was ready to shoot, and what was the process of getting it there?
When I originally read the script it felt like there were three movies that it could have possibly been. At one stage it had another director attached and it came back to me again in 2009 and around that time I pitched to Blake that the film I was interested to make was actually the one based around the central relationships. So we went into developing the script and tried to pull it back to the central story and I guess we knew it was ready when we felt there was an ending.
It took a long time to resolve the needing and when we felt there was an ending that was satisfactory.
Following the success of such as Animal Kindgom, Underbelly, and Chopper, this film is a thriller and sits nicely with Aussie crime stories – but it’s also indi film, queer and film noir. Did you deliberately set out with different audience segmentations in mind and do your think it is the filmmaker’s responsibility to find and develop your audience? Why do you feel that way? How will you collaborate with your audience, and how won’t you?
Whenever you make a film you make a film for people to see, you try to think of who might want to see it. With this film I had hoped that the thriller element would give it a broader appeal and the centre of almost all my work is around relationship drama. So the combination of thriller and relationship drama was what excited me about the project and that I hoped people would want to see. In terms of the Australian crime drama, I feel like it comes at it from a slightly different angle from most Australian crime films but yet it talks about a subtext that’s in a lot of crime films, which are the relationships between men.
I am a big believer in the importance of social media in many aspects of the film process. Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?
I am very active in social media and I get a lot of information from there and I post a lot. In terms of smaller films that don't have massive marketing budgets I think that social media is really important and I think that personal reach is really important at talking to people who might be interested in your work. The most satisfying thing about making work is being able to engage with an audience and discuss it and be able to impact upon an audience. Social media feels like a really immediate way of engaging the response and responding to it as well.
I always have a plan. My company Matchbox Pictures has a big production slate this year. I co-wrote and executive produced on a kids feature film called Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows coming out in a few months.
I am also executive producing a feature film called Ali’s Wedding, which is a Muslim comedy. And I am also producing Barracuda, which is based on Christos Tsiolkas novel, and I have executive produced a TV series called Family Law for SBS, which is Australia’s first, all Chinese sitcom.
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