Tuesday 15 October 2013

Interview with Michael Zeitz

Michael Zeitz is an Adelaide-based writer/director/editor, currently resident in Tokyo. He is a graduate of the Adelaide Centre for the Arts, director of John Dory Media, and a partner in Screen Capers Comedy Productions.

I first met Michael at a screenwriting hookup, years ago. Later we were part of a string of writing groups together. Michael was always the energetic, funny one.

The photo on the right was taken at "the Belgian" in about 2011.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Adelaide has always been home for me, beginning with Plympton, and then Blackwood, until I completed school. We recently visited my childhood home at Plympton when it went on the market. I'm sure the real estate agent was thrilled to have my mother, father and three siblings walking through the house, pointing out all the changes that had been made.

Michael on tricycle, with his two older brothers, a long time ago.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I've always had a very social life and I thank my parents for that. We were, and still are, a close family, and we were fortunate to have a great group of families as friends with whom we'd go on camping holidays around South Australia.
On holidays on Kangaroo Island. Mark caught the fish in a net.

Where did you go to school?

School was always the closest public school to our home, so that meant Plympton Primary, Plympton High, and then Blackwood High for my final two years.

When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

I have never been a huge reader, but I've always liked films, and I loved going to the Glenelg Cinema on the tram, a short walk from home, or a sprint if I could hear it coming from the front yard. I remember on one of these trips seeing Mad Max 2 (1981) with my brother. It was the best film I had ever seen and would remain at number one for a long while. I think I was 13.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

An apt question considering our latest web series, The Huddle. My first paying job was selling footy Budgets (now called footy "Records") at the entry gates of SANFL Aussie Rules football games. I would probably have done it for free, as we would get to knock off at quarter time, and go and watch the game. It's still one of the best jobs I've ever had.

You’re part-way through writing/directing/producing a webseries called “Film School.” What prompted you to explore that subject in a webseries?

Yes, we (my Screen Capers partner Albert Jamae and I) have made a pilot episode which was a great experience. We've all heard the expression "make what you know" and a lot of what I came to know while at film school I found very funny, so it seemed a natural choice for our first comedy webseries. Also I think there is a large part of the YouTube audience that are content-makers themselves and so we felt that they would relate to the stories we could tell.

You’ve also recently edited a webseries called “The Huddle.” How is that project going?

It's finished! Watch all six episodes here. The Huddle was Albert's idea and he wrote all episodes. We were not yet ready to shoot any more Film School episodes, so The Huddle was an ideal project to tackle during the two days I had free during my return to Adelaide, because it was short (8 X 1 minute), it is completely set in one location, and it gave us time to launch it during the AFL football finals series. I also liked that the idea did not involve any football action. I think sporting films that involve actual game time usually don't work, for me at least, because the drama in sport is entirely based on the fact that it's REAL, it's happening NOW, and most importantly, it's YOUR team playing.

For an Adelaide-based filmmaker, you seem to spend a lot of time in other countries. At present you’re residing in Japan. What is the story behind that?

In 2003, just after my daughter was born, my wife had the opportunity to take a job in the UK, and then, more recently, in Tokyo, both for 2 years. We jumped at the chance; it was a good career move for Chris and I liked the idea of doing the "home dad" thing. Best decision we ever made.

Winter (Feb), first week in Japan, at the entry to the Meiji Jingu, Harajuku, Tokyo

What have been the biggest surprises you and the family have encountered in Japan?

Hmmm... surprises... The first eight months are done, so that is surprising. But I think just the sheer size of this place, the unending city streets, tall buildings, endless freeways that have you driving within metres of someone's eighth story apartment bedroom window. And then there's the people. So many people, walking, driving, and riding their bikes helmetless towards you on the wrong side of the road - THAT was a surprise. 


Who was the filmmaker who has had the biggest influence on you?

Definitely Brad Halstead, with whom I was lucky enough to study filmmaking at Adelaide Centre for the Arts, but also the other excellent Adelaideans, like Erfan Khadem, Maxx Corkindale, Pete Hall, Dave Gregan, and others who are also such great perfectionists at their craft.

Most of your projects are comedy-centred. Which comedian(s) has most influenced you?

There are so many. Steve Coogan's, I'm Alan Partridge, is probably my favourite TV series of all time, and Black Adder would be up there too. Coogan and Rowan Atkinson play the utter bastard so well. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also make brilliant comedy. I love Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, too, for immense versatility.

What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

"Here, take this blue pill, and you will be instantly twenty years younger." 
(OK, that's not about filmmaking, but I certainly wish I'd got into it earlier.)

But seriously, I suppose: 

  1. You can't fix a bad script during the edit.
  2. Whenever someone says, 'We can fix it in post', slap them. 
  3. Take the funding gate-keepers out and get them pissed.

If you had to suggest just one filmmaking book to a newbie filmmaker back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Don't Shoot the Best Boy!, by John Shand.

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

An impossible task! This list would probably be different if you asked me on a different day, but I'll have a stab at it - not in any particular order! 

The Matrix (1999)
The Cable Guy (1996)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Paul (2011)
The Dish (2000)
The Castle (1997)
Midnight Run (1988)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Gladiator (2000)
Up (2009)
The Illusionist (2006)
and, of course, Mad Max 2 (1981)
Yes, I know, that's thirteen.

Now, just to round things off, here's a one-minute episode of The Huddle.

    IMDb    John Dory Media    Screen Capers    

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