Tuesday 7 February 2012

Interview with Kirsty Stark

Kirsty Stark is a photographer, world traveller, cinematographer, and producer based in Adelaide.  She has won numerous awards for her work as a cinematographer on short films and promotional videos, and worked as a camera assistant on feature films including Snowtown, Oranges and Sunshine, Lucky Country and Beautiful Kate

She is currently producing the Wastelander Panda webseries.

* Can you tell us a little about your childhood?

I was born in Murray Bridge, but only lived there until I was 6. My parents, both teachers, accepted jobs in Nagoya, Japan and my family moved there for 18 months. My sister Carly and I went to Japanese schools and preferred speaking Japanese to English by the time we moved home to Adelaide. I then managed to forget almost all of my language skills, before learning Japanese again in high school and going on a 6 month exchange to Okayama when I was 15. I also spent a year in Carbondale, Colorado as an 18 year old. 
   I'm grateful to my parents for giving me a childhood that led to me being able to make my own decisions about my life. I was talking to them last year about an article I'd read about allowing children the freedom to become independent, and found out that as six and four year olds in Japana completely foreign country, where neither of them could speak the languagethey allowed Carly and I to go down to the playground in our local neighbourhood, or visit our friends' houses by ourselves, as long as they knew where we were. I'm sure that the opportunity to explore and be independent, over time, shaped me into the person I am today. 
   I was also encouraged to try things out of my comfort zone. While I would have been completely happy sitting at home reading every day, I was also encouraged to try other things, including learn an instrument (piano) and play sport (netball, tennis, and eventually basketball, which took up most of my time by the end of high school).

* At 21, you travelled alone around the world, stopping off at such places as Beijing, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, and Tokyo, to name just a few.  What inspired you to take that trip?  What one thing most surprised you on the journey?  And in what way did you view Adelaide differently once you returned?

That trip seemed like a natural next step. Having been an exchange student, I knew a lot of people my age from all around the world, and wanted to visit the amazing places they had told me about. I also have an instinct that doesn't let me stay in Adelaide for too long at a time. After a few years at the most, I need to go away alone; to reassess my life and spend time outside. I have been on several more trips since.
   In terms of what surprised me about my trip, I can't think of anything in particular. It was the first time I had travelled overseas alone, having always been in homestay situations on my exchange programs, but it never occurred to me that it might be something that I couldn't do. I just did it. 
   I remember the feeling of freedom I had, getting off the plane in China, which was my first stop. I always get a buzz from travelling, knowing I can choose exactly where I want to go and what to do. Travelling is a reminder that I have the ability to do the exact same thing in life: to set my own path without worrying about what I 'should' be doing.
   The major thing that came out of that trip was the set of photographs from my digital point-and-shoot camera. I showed them to Helen Carter, our cinematography lecturer at university. Helen encouraged me to try shooting one of our film projects that semester, which is how I discovered how much I love cinematography, particularly the amazing part the camera and lighting play in setting the tone of a film. I went on to do cinematography in my Honours year, and have spent the last five years working as a camera assistant on feature films in between shooting smaller projects.

* When did you first become interested in film?  

I don't remember specifically when I became interested in film. I know that when I was about 15, we visited a friend of my parents who worked in advertising and had an edit suite set up in his house. He had cut together a home video about his family's holidays, and it looked incredibly professional. My parents remember this as the defining moment of my career choice. However, I don't think it was as clear cut as that. 
   My Mum took a video camera to Japan and filmed hours of footage of the experiences we had, including footage of Carly and I as foreigners in the Japanese school system. It was an amazing insight into something that, at that time, nobody really had access to. Unfortunately, all of the tapes (and the camera) were stolen when our home was robbed during the first year after we returned to Australia. I don't remember being filmed and didn't think about it until recently, but I'm sure that being around the camera so often had an impact on me at an early age. 
   I had known for a while, by the time I got to year 12, that I was going to do it. It probably had something to do with not wanting a 'normal' life or to be tied down to an office chair from 9-5 everyday.

* You went to film school. Tell us about the experience.  How has that investment paid off down the road?  

I went to Flinders University, where I completed Honours in a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Screen Production), as well as a Diploma in Language (Spanish). There are always arguments for and against a film school education, particularly now that technology has made filmmaking so accessible. For me, having little-to-no experience in filmmaking other than playing with a home video camera, university was invaluable in teaching me screen theory, and giving me practical experience making films.
   If I hadn't gone to Flinders, I have no idea whether I would be working in the industry. I definitely wouldn't be a cinematographer, and I think it's pretty unlikely that I'd be producing either. It's possible to find short films to volunteer on with no experience and work your way up, but I don't think it would have worked out for me.
   The biggest advantage I got from going to Flinders was the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a network of people that I'm still friends with today. Almost everyone I work with on independent projects is a Flinders graduate, as well as some of the people I've met through professional work. The Adelaide film community is small, so we may have connected somehow, but I'd probably be working in much smaller roles.

I have a dream...
* In 2010 you co-founded a production company, Epic Films, with Vivyan Madigan. Tell us what prompted that decision, and what goals you have for the company. 

Epic Films was founded in 2010 when Viv and I had a discussion about how, as cinematographers, neither of us had shot anything on film since leaving university. Despite loving the format, shooting on it can be a very difficult process in Adelaide due to there being no film labs here, and very few cameras available. Producers would always rule it out straight away due to the hassle and the expense. We realised that if we were going to shoot film, we'd have to do something about it ourselves, so we each put some money behind the idea. We invited all of our friends to submit their short film scripts, with the promise to make the best two on film. We soon realised that we had nowhere near enough money (and probably not enough experience) to pull it off, but after running some fundraisers and putting together applications for some small grants, we came up with enough to make the two films on s16mm. L'Artiste! was directed by Luke Marsden, and Landscape Scene by Mike Williamson, with both films written by Luke. We held a screening for friends and family in 2011, and they've been submitted to various festivals around the world.
   Since then, we've shot another short film, The Beekeeper (writer/director Marcus McKenzie), which we've just completed. We're developing a film script called Cowboys and Indians with another writer/director, Chris Kellett, and hope to shoot that one later this year. 
   We have a core group of people that we work with on our projects, but people's roles tend to change, and each project so far has had a different director. We're hoping to keep working with this group of people, and improve the quality of our films as everyone continues to learn and develop their skills on external projects. Our plan is to keep making projects we love, and although they are all very different, to make each one bigger and better than the last.

* How did the idea for Wastelander Panda come about?  

Wastelander Panda is an idea that our writer/ director Victoria Cocks and Marcus McKenzie, who plays Arcayus the panda, came up with in a university lecture. Victoria had been playing a lot of games set in alternate worlds, and wanted to create a fictional world of her own. She and Marcus were tossing around the idea of a wasteland, and, because it rhymed, the idea of Wastelander Panda was born. Since then, it has developed into a much larger concept, with a number of different themes running through it. One that particularly resonates with Vic is the exploration of human-animal relationships; with the relationship between Rose, the young girl in the series, and the panda being a reversal of the traditional roles of humans and their pets. She trusts him completely and looks up to him as her sole provider.
   The plan for Wastelander Panda is that it will eventually become a television series. I came on board the project after reading the first draft of the pilot script. Being friends with Vic, I'd heard her talk about it a lot and loved the idea, but it wasn't until I read the first lines of Arcayus' dialogue that I knew how special it was. After page one, I had made the decision that it was something I wanted to be part of. 
   It was difficult to convey our ideas to people about the style of the project, and explain to them how a panda in a wasteland would work.  A lot of people thought it must be an animated film, or didn't understand how the panda could be live-action, so we decided to make a short prologue to introduce everyone to Arcayus and his world. This prologue is what we released online in late January, and we're amazed at the response we've had from people all over the world.
   We still plan to turn the concept into a television series, but to bridge that gap, our next step is to make three web episodes that will introduce other characters and different aspects of life in the wasteland, using a longer, more narrative-based structure. Proving that we are able to make these as a team will hopefully allow us to move on and make the series ourselves, rather than handing the concept over to a network. 
   We are currently raising money to make the web episodes a reality on Pozible, a crowd funding site where everyone who donates receive rewards. We've set ourselves a goal of $20,000 by March 14th, and if we don't make it, we won't get a cent, so it's going to be a huge challenge, but hopefully an achievable one.  The address is http://wastelanderpanda.pozible.com

* The series was filmed in the mid-north of South Australia. That’s desolate country, even by Australian standards. What kind of reception did you receive from the locals?   

We shot the majority of the Wastelander Panda prologue in and around Blinman, Hawker and Parachilna, and were amazed by the support we received from the locals.  We initially spent one night in the area to look for locations, and then made a lot of phone calls and sent emails back and forth, trying to find out who owned each piece of land and organise permission to film there.  Everyone was incredibly generous with their time, from property owners and tourist information centres, through to the locals who read our flyers in shop windows and offered to come out as unpaid extras.  
   Without all of the support we received from the community, there's no way we would have been able to make the project at all, so we really appreciate everyone's generosity.

* To make any webseries you need a bunch of enthusiastic people. How many individuals have played some role in creating Wastelander Panda?  

Our core crew was made up of the ten people who travelled to the Flinders RangesWriter/Director Victoria Cocks, Director of Photography Vivyan Madigan, Costume Designer Olivia Iacobelli, Production Designer Annalisa Francesca, Sound Designer Leigh Kenyon, 1st Assistant Director Kelly Carpenter, Makeup Artist Eileen Brennan, Focus Puller Maxx Corkindale, Panda Marcus McKenzie, and me. 
    Once we got back to Adelaide to do our big fight scene, we brought a few extra assistants on board, simply because of the huge amount of extras involved on the day. We also had extra crew involved in post-productionComposer Chris Larkin, Colourist Dan Principe and VFX Artist Jeremy Kelly-Bakker.
   In terms of cast, all of the fight scene extras were played by friends, family and fans from our Facebook page. The extras in all other scenes were locals from the Flinders Ranges, and often crew members dressed up in costume. Overall, there has been a huge number of people involved, all of whom volunteered their time to make this a reality.

* You have mentioned both Ernie Clark and Leona Cichon as mentors.  Who has had the greatest influence on you as a filmmaker

Ernie and Leona are both incredible, and accepted roles as mentors on our first two Epic Films projects, despite our inexperience and the scale of our plans. I'm sure both of them could see what was coming, whereas we were happily naive, but after a lot of learning experiences, we got there in the end. Both Ernie and Leona still make themselves available to us for questions and feedback, and we can't thank them enough for their support. 
   In terms of who has had the greatest influence on me as a filmmaker, it seems like every time I reach a new stage of my career or have something to learn, I find someone who believes in me and is willing to offer their time and support. Adelaide's film community is incredibly generous, and I can't name just one person as there are many people who have meant a huge amount to me.

* Final question: List ten of your favourite films of all time.

This was a difficult list to narrow down, so I've included, in no particular order, a mixture of some of my defining cinema experiences, films I think are technically amazing, a couple that I don't think enough people have watched, and some (not so) guilty pleasures.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Okay, now I feel old. The earliest film on Kirsty's list came out in 1999.