Sarah Bishop interview by Oliver Heath
Sarah Bishop stars in, and is a producer of, the independent Australian thriller feature ‘Crushed’. She is currently crowd funding to finish post-production. At a time when many “indie” features have multi-million dollar budgets, and even short film festivals have Oscar winners on the screen, what’s left for the dreamers? Welcome to the age of the micro-budget film. Oliver Heath has a chat to Sarah to find out more:
Hi Sarah, thanks for taking a moment out of your time at SXSW to talk to us. Crushed is…?
A mystery thriller set on a vineyard. I play a young woman named Ellia, who returns home to her family vineyard for her father’s funeral, only to discover that his death has been ruled a murder and her mother is the prime suspect.
Did the location or the idea come first?
Both. Megan [Riakos, director/screenwriter] wanted to write a story about secrets that can destroy families and she had access to film on her friends vineyard so she decided to set it there. But your question hints at one of the first rules of independent filmmaking – use whatever locations you have access to!
Was there an advantage to shooting in a regional area?
Absolutely. There is an enhanced cost in providing accommodation for your cast & crew, but that was completely offset by the incredible access we had to locations and the co-operation and enthusiasm offered to us by the locals. The Mudgee Guardian were a huge support and actually let us take over their offices to turn it into a police station for several of our scenes. I can’t imagine the Sydney Morning Herald letting us do that back in Sydney.
I first became aware of your work when I noticed you’d collaborated with my old friend Meredith Calthorpe in the micro-budget feature, The Astronaut. What did you learn from The Astronaut?
I was so grateful for the opportunity to work on The Astronaut. It was a baptism by fire, and an introduction to this style of filmmaking that I’m becoming increasingly committed to. Meredith and Adam Lemmey (the director) had such a clear vision for that film and it gave me a taste for being in projects that encourage an immense amount of collaboration between the creators and the cast.
Was there a moment when you were together with the other Crushed deciders and you knew you were definitely going to go ahead with the film? What was the tipping point?
We brought onboard a producer from LA – Robbie Miles – in the early stages of the project. He landed in Australia a month before we went into production, so that was a pretty critical moment. It felt like there was no going back after that!
The Kickstarter mentioned that the film passed the Bechdel test. Unaware of it, I expected the test to be about the number of female creatives, but it’s not, the criteria is:
-The film must have two or more women,
-These women must talk to each other,
– About anything other than a man.
Hopefully this will catch on and they’ll stop making rom coms. Australian women were well represented at this year’s Oscars, and yet Kate Blanchett mentioned the need for more diverse female roles. Are we in a situation where the number of women creatives might be increasing, but it isn’t necessarily translating into broader roles and representation of women on screen?
I think we’re slowly getting there, and I think we’re at a very critical time in history where there is more discussion about this then ever before. And I think the number of women creatives off screen will gradually keep translating to the representation of women on screen. I went to a talk by Lena Dunham at SXSW and one of the most beautiful things about the Q&A afterwards was that so many fathers wanted to speak to her about her show Girls. They were all using it as a way to learn about and connect with their daughters. I think that’s really exciting! And it shows just how important it is that we see women on screen in these broader roles.
The Oscars they won were for actress and for art department though so perhaps there’s still a long way to go on every front?
Probably. Will be great to see when the editing, VFX, sound design etc start getting taken out by the girls too!
I think we’d all find it odd if there was an award for best female director and best male director. Do we need to have separate categories for actor and actress? Or maybe Jarred Leto should have been nominated for an actress award?
That is a really insightful question, but the numbers are going to work in my favour if there’s two awards instead of one (should I ever get close to that opportunity as an actress) so I’m happy that both categories exist!
Do you view any of your career obstacles as related specifically to being a woman?
I had management in the US who encouraged me to pretend that I was single. They were the first people to actually say it out loud to me, but I’ve definitely been in situations before that where there was a pressure to ‘seem available’. It’s bullshit. I don’t think that’s something that men have to deal with.
How about advantages?
I think I’ve definitely had advantages, particularly in comedy, being an actress/writer and producer, because that used to be a rare combination.
Is asking these questions a kind of sexism?
Maybe. But I do think its important to keep contributing to the dialog about women’s roles in film.
You’re at SXSW travelling with another Aussie rising star Ben Mathews. Are the broader industry realities to which you’re getting exposed inspiring or scaring you?
100% inspiring! The film industry is changing so rapidly but I feel like SXSW empowers you to deal with that change. Whether it’s through the keynote speeches from people like Lena Dunham & Jason Blum, or the panels about embracing new distribution, or just the other filmmakers that you meet who are so open to collaboration and sharing what they’ve learnt. It was actually attending SXSW last year that gave me the confidence to begin Crushed. And on top of this you’re also just getting a chance to see really good work. We saw a film called Hellion yesterday, directed by a local filmmaker Kat Candler, and I know that Ben found it particularly inspiring and relevant to a TV series called Deadbeat Dads that he is currently working on in Australia. One of the most inspiring moments I’ve had was seeing a panel about a new webseries from Mark Duplass and Rob Corddroy (who created Children’s Hospital). Mark spoke about how he sees webseries as “independent television” and approached it in the same way that he approached making indie features. That was a huge paradigm shift for me. And that in itself is worth the trip to this festival.
Is SXSW full of people wearing shitty clothes for whatever brand/company they’re blagging, or is it all glam?
It’s mostly pretty glam. We save all the branded stuff as gifts for family and friends back home. Every person in my family is going to end up with at least one trucker cap and fluro pair of ray-bans!
I’m sure you guys are bringing the glam anyway 😉 Chookas