"The cast and crew should be treated like family or friends"
Sarah Stephenson has always had a strong connection to those old films, mostly through their strong but basic storylines. After creating her own web series, "Mia Morris' Diary", she started working on her first feature film, "Attack of the Cat People" - a tribute film to all Black & White Horror Classic Films like Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein & The Mummy. Attack of the Cat People has already won Best Trailer at the New York Film Awards (September 2019).
We invited Sarah to join us for an interview, here's her story.
When did you realize you want to be a filmmaker?
I guess it happened when I start developing short video vlogs. At the time I was both a Graphic Designer & an Artist but I found that they were limiting my creativity. I decided to study filmmaking at the Australian Institute of Advanced Studies. I learnt quite a lot there and this increased my desire make movies. What inspires you in your work?
I am always looking for inspiration in the world around me. Things I see and hear. People I meet and the places I go. As soon as an idea comes I record it in my Media Diary so I can save it for later. I have been using my Media Diary since 2017 and I now have over 202 ideas waiting to be used or developed.
Who are some of your favourite directors and why?
There are many great directors in the mainstream film industry but I love the independent film directors such as Joshua Kennedy & Anna Biller. They have really inspired me as they are involved with independent films and that is where I want to be at this stage of my career. Their efforts have encouraged me to look outside the square and to seek out new & better ways to make films without forgetting the skills of the old masters. What is your favourite film?
Good question. Usually it depends on what I am in the mood for. At the moment, I like Tucker & Dale VS. Evil (2010) & Fido (2006).
What do you love most about directing?
I like the travelling and getting to film at different locations. For example, this month my team & I filmed on a large 1960’s vintage boat at the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I have never been on a boat like this! I had an incredible time. If you could work with any actor/actress in the world, who would you like to work with?
That’s a hard question. If you asked me 10 years ago, I could have given you an answer. Now I am in the industry I am more concerned with ‘Team Players’ not so much a person’s acting history.
What are some of the challenges you had to face as an independent filmmaker? How do you deal with them?
The main difficulty is getting funding. As this was my first major film project, and I am unknown, it was pretty much impossible. We had to self-fund the project. Another problem was commitment! The actors on my earlier VLOG series were volunteers and unpaid. They did it for the experience. Being unpaid volunteers did create problems with organizing and scheduling dates for shooting. There were a few frustrating moments but it was well worth it in the end. The main thing I learnt was to focus on the positives and not the negatives. It’s about seeing the ‘glass half full’, focusing on the good things and what has already been achieved makes for a good energy boost and a natural high.
Tell us about your work process with your actors - what techniques do you use to get the best performances out of them?
This is my second year as a Director and my second film project. I am still feeling my way when it comes to explaining things to my actors regarding how a scene and role are to be handled. Firstly, I treat everyone with respect. The cast and crew are treated like family or friends. It tends to make for a comfortable working relationship. If a problem arises it is more easily dealt with. I have good actors and a great Head of Photography on the team. With my main actors, I give them the opportunity to work with the role and bring their own personally traits into it. It makes it more natural that way. If they are a bit wide of the make a few suggestions from me go a long way to honing their performance. My Head of Photography is also a good back-up. If he feels that something is not right we fix it on the spot and redo the scene.
What are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on a tribute feature film titled ‘Attack of the Cat People’. This is a tribute to the ‘B’ movies of the 1950’s era. The script, acting style, lighting and filming have been tailored to resemble a movie made in the 1950’s. For my next film production, I hope to create a modern adaptation of Aladdin. It will be a modern day fantasy based on the old theme. As I said previously I have many good ideas so I might change my mind if a better one comes along.
Where can we follow you and your work?