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David Michod is an Australian film director. Michôd was educated at the University of Melbourne and was editor of Inside Film magazine between 2003 and 2006. Michôd began his directing career in short films, with 'Ezra White, LL.B.' in 2006 being one of the first to make an impact. In 2010 his debut feature, 'Animal Kingdom' won the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
We welcome David Michod to ‘The Greenroom’.
1.Firstly let’s talk a little about the short films that you made before ‘Animal Kingdom’. Artistically speaking, which was the most satisfying experience and why?
‘Crossbow’ was the short that changed everything for me. The ones I'd made at film school were more about the fun of the process, rather than about the actual result. ‘Crossbow’ was the first time I remember really caring about the result – and suffering the consequent anxiety that I've suffered on everything I've done since. It's painful, but it's necessary - it is for me anyway.
2. From your first short film ‘Ezra White, LL.B’ to your feature directorial debut ‘Animal Kingdom’, how do you feel you’ve grown as a director?
I'm not sure really. You practice the craft, you get better at it. Simple as that. Filmmaking actually feels scarier to me now than it did when I first began - but that's because I know what to be afraid of now, which is useful foresight to have.
3. Which of your short films provided you with the biggest lesson in terms of being a filmmaker and the filmmaking process? And what was that lesson?
Probably ‘Netherland Dwarf’, which was where I properly learned the 'time is your enemy' lesson. It was where I learned to start thinking about the last shot of the day while setting up the first.
4. What is it like doing the Making-of documentary for ‘The Square’? Following and documenting the production, was it a good learning experience for you?
Of course - just bearing witness to the battle of a feature film shoot is a good learning experience. Any time on set is useful time for an aspiring filmmaker.
5.What’s one thing, that a short film can never prepare a director for, when it comes to tackling their feature debut?
The long and protracted emotional rollercoaster of a process that lasts 18 months or more.
6. Now onto ‘Animal Kingdom’. Firstly congratulations on making such a wonderful film. When did you first conceive of the idea to write ‘Animal Kingdom’? And how much time has passed from that first initial draft, to the final shooting script?
I wrote the first draft of ‘Animal Kingdom’ in 2000, which wasn't long after I left film school. I basically just wanted to make a sprawling Melbourne crime drama charting the decline of armed robbery as a serious and professional criminal pursuit, and exploring the dangerous confusion that might have brought to the surface in those gangs for whom that pursuit constituted a livelihood.
7. Talk to us a little about the development process of the ‘Animal Kingdom’ script. How much did the script change from that first initial draft to what it is now? How did you develop the story and what did you do to get the script to where it is now?
When I started writing, I really had no idea what I was doing. Over the course of the years I spent developing ‘Animal Kingdom’, the script matured as my writing matured. I think I started from scratch about four times over those years and the finished shooting script bears little resemblance to the first draft. I'm just glad that organizations like Screen NSW and Screen Australia, along with people like Bec Smith and Liz Watts, encouraged me to keep working on it.
8. What advice can you pass onto all those aspiring writers out there when it comes to objectively looking at their work and making the best out of their script/story?
Listen to feedback, but learn to ignore it too. Which is to say learn to filter it. Listen to what people have to say, identify problems people seem to be having, but make sure whatever it is that makes the script unique or uniquely voiced, stays robust.
9. What are you thoughts on the importance of writing to a budget?
It makes complete sense to be thinking about where the film will end up when you first start writing it. If you're an emerging filmmaker, writing something to direct yourself, there's not much point writing a $20 million war film. But if you've got a great idea for a $100 million sc-fi film and you think can get it to someone else who can do something with it... why not?
10. When writing and making a low budget film, how important do you think it is to consider the commerciality of the script?
I think it's always important to be thinking about an audience. That audience doesn't need to be huge, but the budget of the film does need to reflect the size of that potential audience.
11. ‘Animal Kingdom’ has an amazing ensemble cast, from Joel Edgerton to Guy Pearce to Jacki Weaver. What was the story behind getting all these fantastic actors involved in the project?
A whole bunch of different stories. I wrote characters specifically for Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn and then Joel Edgerton. Guy Pearce, who was my first choice for the Leckie character, came on board quite quickly and simply when we sent it to him. Other actors in the film were either actors I knew and loved or actors who came in to test for us. And then there was the giant search for the kids... (big thanks to my casting director Kirsty McGregor because that search wasn't easy).
12. ‘Animal Kingdom’ has been praised for it’s wonderful performances. What are your thoughts on the best way of working with the actors to get the best out of their performance?
You just need to know the material and the world of the film, better than anyone else on set. You need to inspire the actors' confidence in you with that knowledge, and you need to get a feel for how each individual actor likes to work. If you can do that, and you can communicate your thoughts clearly and simply and succinctly, the process is fun – as it should be.
13. Were there times on set when an actor wasn’t as receptive to your direction as you’d like? If so, how did you go about handling this?
If your actors have faith in you and you treat the creation of character as an open collaboration, you'll always get what you want ultimately.
14. Let’s talk a little about how you as the director would approach a certain scene. Firstly, what are your thoughts when it comes to rehearsals? Do you like to rehearse extensively? Or do you prefer to keep it fresh for the set?
Rehearsal is incredibly important just to make sure your actors have found their characters and have found the world of the film generally. But you don't want to thrash it to death in the rehearsal room either - there's something exciting about the discovery of fresh energy on set.
15. Do you use storyboards? How do you convey your vision to the rest of the crew?
I don't like storyboarding, but I do shot-list quite meticulously - usually with location maps. Pre-production generally is that period you spend communicating your vision of the film to your key crew, and you do it usually just through the long and detailed process of answering questions.
16. What advice can you impart with regards to maintaining a good working relationship with the rest of your crew?
I think it's just important as director that you make yourself a part of the crew, rather than being that person strangely or arrogantly removed from it. I love film sets because, for me, they're a great social exercise. They're like an adrenalized school camp experience. If you share that experience with the people around you, it's rewarding for everybody.
17. How do you approach the amount of coverage a certain scene requires? Again, is this something that you plan out well before during the pre-production stage? Or do you like give yourself the safety-net of having those different options to work with during editing process? Where/How do you strike that balance?
Coverage is the greatest source of anxiety for me on set - it's mainly about a fear of getting into the edit room and realizing you don't have the basic building blocks you need to put the film together. This is why I shot-list meticulously - but even with a meticulous shot-list, you need to be prepared for the almost daily inevitability that that shot-list will change for whatever reason. Knowing you have a great cinematographer and editor with you, as I did with Adam Arkapaw and Luke Doolan respectively, can ease these anxieties considerably.
18. What are some films/filmmakers that you personally admire and why?
In many ways, I'm principally inspired by my little gang of Sydney friends - like Nash and Joel Edgerton and Spencer Susser and Luke Doolan and Kieran Darcy-Smith – and my Melbourne friends like Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody and Clayton Jacobson. These are people who have made things happen while I've been trying to make things happen, and that shared energy and anxiety alone is inspiring.
19. What is the biggest/most common mistake you see aspiring filmmakers make?
Not thinking about their audience at all stages of the process. Again, that audience doesn't need to be huge, but it does need to get its money's worth.
20. What advice would you give to any aspiring director?
Stay engaged. Surround yourself with talented friends and peers and just get involved. All relationships and ideas lead to other relationships and ideas and then before you know it, you've got yourself a career. Just be prepared for it to take a long time.
21. What's the best piece of advice you were ever given with regards to this industry?
To embrace compromise (within reason). The creative results can be profoundly rewarding.
22. What personal mantra do you try to live by?
To be grateful that I'm even getting to do this at all.