Opening the Art of Adrian Goodman - July 2013
Interview by: Ronny

Adrian Goodman is one of quite a few people recently who seemingly came from nowhere, with an independent product done with such ambition and love. "Wakey Wakey" planted itself on our Best of 2012 due to its curiosity towards sexuality and art - not to mention how amazingly artistic it is in its execution. When I started looking for names I wanted to interview, Adrian was one of the first I thought of. Get ready for this interview, it's lengthy but filled with a ton of inspiration!

Thank you for doing this interview with us. Let's go back to the very beginning - how, when and why did you get into filmmaking?
You’re welcome Ronny. Thanks for having me.

All things considered, what’s led me to be a filmmaker is stubbornness and luck, but also sensitivity, love, loss, and a whole lot of suffering. I say stubbornness because I think that’s what it takes to resist the world’s push towards conformity and boredom, and to retain a kind of childlike playfulness. A child takes play very seriously, and so does an artist. Whether it’s expressed through film, music, whatever, the drive has always come from a hunger to explore and feel free. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to maintain that in more than a superficial way, whereas many don’t get that chance. It’s led me to continually discover and rediscover whatever path feels right, and to follow what I love. It wasn’t always filmmaking.

I’ve always been interested in writing. I remember the moment when, as a small child, I realised that each of the books in the library was written by an actual person, and that that person was called an author. That blew my mind. There was such magic connected to the idea of someone having created something like that from nothing.

I was one of those kids who were pretty restless at school. I’d be up to my share of mischief, because I think I just hated being bored. And when I joined a rock band at 15, within weeks of having picked up the bass, I was hooked. As we went on, it was increasingly about experimentation. Doing whatever we felt, and resisting any limitations or categorisations. We were kicking against the banality and pressures of teenage life. What we played wasn’t exactly punk, but our ethos was. We chased our own inspiration, and we felt free.

Later I was scribbling short stories, studying philosophy, and writing and directing a little bit of theatre. All this drew on the same kind of attitude. It was curiosity but also rebellion, an unwillingness to follow any rule that didn’t resonate deeply within me. Meanwhile, our band’s music turned increasingly avant-garde and psychedelic. During that time, and continuing to this day, my bandmates were my greatest inspirations – especially the guitarist, my best friend and a fearlessly creative person.

I’d written and directed a stage play, and later I began to extend it into a longer version. The project started to shift into a screenplay, but still, I was keen to be the one to realise it. My mission became clear: I would need to learn how to direct films. It was 2006. My band had broken up. My first great romantic love was on the rocks. All was chaos. I wrote my script frenetically, and checked myself into film school. A couple more bands have come and gone since then but I’ve been making movies ever since.

I mentioned suffering, and of course, pain comes in many forms, both emotional and physical. Emotional pain and the need to honour the person, the experience, to express it, and to transform it into art – that has been the biggest driver of my work. It’s catharsis but also an affirmation of the experience of life through art. It’s a kind of transcendence through sublimation. Having a headache that has lasted for over a decade, as I’ve had, has also played a part. That kind of experience can encumber a person but it also emboldens. It gives you the fuel of anger and tunes you into the absurdity of the world. It makes you desperate for release, which transforms into hunger for an extreme and violent truth. It makes you an outsider to the world and even to your own body. But it also makes you an insider, to the pain that reverberates around the world.

It's always interesting to hear different filmmakers take on the short vs. feature format. How was it to make a feature in comparison to a short film?
Well, my situation was pretty unusual. "Wakey Wakey" was my graduating film from the VCA film school in Melbourne, Australia. We weren’t supposed to be making feature films but mine ended up that way – the result of my short-running script and my disinclination to time it, other than by rule of thumb. So in the edit room, my medium-length film revealed itself to have blossomed into a feature, and I followed it where it led me. It was a nice surprise, and also explained why our shoot felt so intense.

But regardless of the size of the project, with every film I bring new things that I’ve learned into the mix. In this case, I made sure I had a longer rehearsal period than I was able to have for my prior short film. I found that shoot frustrating for that reason, and was able to run things differently with this film. Rehearsing with my two fantastic lead actresses – Laura Wheelwright and Fabiana Weiner – was my favourite part of the overall filmmaking process. Particularly the three intensive weeks leading up to the shoot.

I know that proper rehearsal periods are seen as a luxury on many feature film shoots, but I see them as being really important. It helps to flesh out the performances and ensure that the actors and myself are on the same page throughout. This ensures that the film can come together as a whole, which becomes even more relevant when trying to handle a longer form, given the fact that it must be shot out of order. I try to rehearse on location as much as possible too, and this helps to give me a good idea of how I want to shoot it.

Otherwise, it was really just the same thing as on a short, but was more of a test of stamina because of the longer shoot and the persistent lack of sleep.

As for the differences inherent in the forms themselves, the short form requires you to be more efficient in your storytelling. You have to make every shot, every expression, and every scene push the story a long way in a very short time. In a way, a short can be more difficult because you need to work harder to hide the turning of the gears, and to retain the feeling of subtlety. With so much happening at any moment, the machinations of the story that are hidden behind the magical cinematic veneer can reveal themselves in clumsy ways if you’re not very careful.

In this feature film I let myself stretch out and allow myself to play more freely in establishing a mood. There wasn’t as much pressure to be pushing ahead with all the many aspects of a story at the same time. I’ve at times felt stifled by the restrictions of the short film format, but that said, those restrictions also bring about a particular form of creativity. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making shorts, but I do prefer a larger canvas.

"Wakey Wakey" is undoubtedly an arthouse movie, and one that really underlines the "art". What inspired you to make this movie - any certain films, filmmakers, or even other art forms?
I once accidentally sliced the outer side of my forearm wide open on the edge of a sheet of metal. The flesh peeled back, revealing the bone. Its radiance was alarming. Stunning. I could only stand and stare at it, mesmerised by a beauty at once so foreign, so other, and yet so intimate and true. Time stopped all around me. There was no blood yet, just me and my fluorescent bone, facing one another, sharing in a new nakedness. That is what my movies aspire to be: that sharp edge of metal. The viewer is invited to relate to what emerges insofar as they can. I make my movies with myself as the audience, in the belief that our bones all look quite similar anyway. It’s just that many people can’t bear to look. That’s the great divide that I see among audiences. It’s not a question of what genre you prefer, because that’s not important. To me they’re all fairly interchangeable. The question with any movie is whether it pulls back the flesh, whether it cuts to the bone. We can have films as mere distraction, as confection, which of course I can enjoy sometimes too. But I have little interest in making those films.

My films’ construction can be viewed along the same lines. My work grows around a skeleton borne of my unconscious mind, which at first it is not fully understood even by myself. It is separate from me by virtue of it being so close, just as we must cut deep to see our own bones. Then as I go on I learn how the skin hangs upon it by first stepping back and analysing that skeleton, and trying to understand it. It’s from there that every step of my direction takes shape, and that I ultimately discover what this new creature, this film, will look and sound like. You ask about influences, but for me, to be directly influenced and to try to build my work from other films I’ve seen would be to take their skin and try to make it hang without a skeleton. It would be missing the essential truth that gives it form.

So to me, what makes a film an ‘art’ film has more to do with the attitude brought in its creation, rather than any particular aesthetic qualities. Those qualities will necessarily be made more interesting if it follows from a sincere process. It’s my view that art is the actualisation of sincerity.

So yes, "Wakey Wakey" is, by my definition, an art film. I let my imagination go wild. I wasn’t worrying about focus groups, or that my acquaintances might think I was a degenerate. I’ve owned it. I’m a degenerate and so are you! Haha okay, maybe I’m a degenerate so you don’t have to be. Anyway, I’ve expressed my deepest most hidden emotional truths, reflected in a fictionalised story that takes it into even more extreme dimensions. I’ve exposed myself to potential ridicule in the service of a greater truth, and I believe that that is what an artist ought to do. I’m braver when making my films than I am in life. And that’s because my films are more important to me than life.

The artform that’s most inspiring to me is music. Mostly wild rock music. Punk music. Garage music. Outlaw rock n’ roll. Doom metal. Simon Eddy & Adam van Geleuken, The Birthday Party, Butthole Surfers, Iggy & the Stooges, Jay Reatard, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Black Lips… a heap of bands inspire me and make me feel creative in the most powerful ways. The drive to destruction can be the greatest creative impulse. It’s the power to overthrow the banal, the bigoted consensus, the sensible moderation, the suspended satisfaction. It’s taking back the moment, fighting to feel alive, like we’re not just puppets shuffling around till we drop dead all old and sick, and wondering if this is all there ever was.

Great visual art also inspires me, and that’s something my family fostered in me from a young age. My mother Jennifer Goodman and her sister Susan Wald are both great visual artists based in Melbourne, and though their styles are very different from one another, they have both continued to inspire me.

As mentioned earlier, I seek to make films that draw on my life, not the other way around. I’ve got my own work to do, and it’s important to me that it’s as original, intimate and true to myself as possible. That said, a handful of movies have played a part in giving me an initial shove.

One movie that changed my life was a documentary about a punk rocker, "Jay Reatard: Better Than Something". It was 2011, and I was being chewed up, destroyed, by the suicide of my best friend. The way I was, I knew I couldn’t go on living. I was neither dead nor alive, hurting those I loved. But in that cinema I was struck with what I needed to rediscover – that attitude, that spirit of rock n’ roll that I so admired in my friend and that he always sparked in me. I would make my movie as wild and free as I wanted to, and I would do it for us. Punk rock, Better Than Something, and ultimately "Wakey Wakey" – they saved my life.

How did the idea for "Wakey Wakey" come about?
This is probably the question I get more than any other. I could answer this in any number of ways. One answer that is easy to give, and that seems to please many people, is to bring up some anecdote, some moment from my past that I can say I’ve consciously drawn on, from the depths of my memory, and applied to this film. But to say that would be disingenuous, and I like you too much to give you such an answer.

The fact is that the sources of my best ideas are largely mysteries to me, as I suspect they are for many writers. And I like it that way. Rather than coming ready-made, my best ideas bubble up by their own accord from the depths of my mind as a result of prolonged and active playfulness. It occurs to me that my process – which seeks to forget as much as to remember, and which draws so heavily from the unconscious mind – may go some way towards explaining the surreal qualities of my films. Aspects from my past emerge but, like waking from a dream, I only recognise them in hindsight.

Things are rolling when I’m able to jumble, reconstruct and find tangents from an idea, and then follow it into new forms without fear. The more free I am, and the less attached I am to any single idea, the more I’m able to delve into my unconscious mind. I shape it into a story in the writing phase, but it’s only later while directing that I break down the script and reveal to myself the unconscious preoccupations that govern my work. My Director Self psychoanalyses my Writer Self. It’s then that I seek out the places where those preoccupations intersect with those of my cast, and work with them to realise the film in the most authentic way possible. I really value those lively conversations and explorations with my actors, who are some of the most brave, intelligent and dynamic people I’ve been privileged to know.


What was the next step in making it - how did you get a budget together, find the right actresses, etc.?
During the course, I’d done some director’s assistant and camera work with the 16th Street Acting Studio, a school with whom Laura Wheelwright and Fabiana Weiner were studying. I was very impressed with each of them. It later struck me that Laura looked familiar too. Turns out I’d seen her not long beforehand in "Animal Kingdom" – a great Australian crime thriller by David Michôd, which some of your readers may have seen. Having also been impressed with her work in that film, it reinforced my feeling that she ought to be the one to play Josie. I kept her in the forefront of my mind as I continued to redraft the script.

Happily, when she soon read it, it resonated with her and she agreed to take the role.

As for the Samantha role, I had a strong feeling that Fabiana would be the right choice. She was capable of exuding power as well as vulnerability. She also shared something of a resemblance with Laura, which was important for the story. They knew each other well too, lending their interactions a natural chemistry. I held just one audition to see how the two of them played off one another, and gave Fab the role on the spot. With both leads in place, I truly felt we were away.

Another aspect that came into the mix early was the music. I had a friend named Simon Eddy who went to sound engineering school with Matt Williamson, the guitarist in my most recent band. I was a huge fan of Simon’s album ‘Dr. Watchtower’ – a live, improvised, hour-long doom metal headtrip, with drummer Adam van Geleuken – as well as Simon’s other eclectic musical explorations.

From early on, before I’d even cast Fabiana, I was cranking the tunes while drafting the script. The music carried the kind of tone I wanted for the film – dreamy, surreal and sexy, while also heavy with angst and yearning. It crosses at different stages between doom metal, psychedelia, and experimental atmospheres, while to me remaining cohesive. Having that music at that time was crucial in psyching me up and helping me envision how I would direct the scenes. I’d be crashing around my living room to the music, connecting different songs to different scenes, and different moments to different images.

When I gave the script out to cast and crew, I sent some of the music that was to be in the film along with it. Included were notes in the script about which song went where. Many of them told me how this instantly gave them a sense of the kind of tone that I had in mind. It helped us to push together in a common direction from early in the piece. I felt privileged to have had the music in place so early, whereas usually in a film it’s the last piece to complete the puzzle. I intend to work in this way again in the future.

The only music that was added after the fact was one song by The Birthday Party, ‘Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)’, which Mick Harvey and Nick Cave were nice enough to donate to me for use in the film. They’ve been very supportive of me as a Melbourne-based filmmaker, and I feel very lucky to have such an iconic song in the film.

In terms of finance, I was lucky on a couple of fronts. I had equipment and facilities from my film school, as well as a financial contribution. My family has also been fantastically supportive of my filmmaking. Now that my studies are over, I’ll be looking to outside investment to fund my next project, whether that means private or government funding. I’m grateful that I could exercise full creative freedom in this project every step of the way, right through to final cut, which I know is such a rare privilege.

There's an erotic atmosphere oozing through in "Wakey Wakey", but it never actually gets erotic. Why do you think the movie carries an almost erotic vibe at times, and was that intentional?
Yes, the erotic atmosphere was always intentional, and I see it as being central to the story. Both characters, Josie and Samantha, are teenagers who are at an early stage of their sexual lives. The film can be seen as being about two teenagers’ experiences of sexuality and its pursuit as an avenue towards liberation. For Samantha, it’s a key component of her morbid fascination.

The confusion that the younger Josie is experiencing as she grapples with her burgeoning sexuality is both mirrored and accentuated by her narcolepsy and by Samantha’s own behavior. The sexual dimension was central to our investigations during the rehearsal period, as it was to the overall mise-en-scène. A great deal of credit for the erotic vibe you describe must also go to the actresses Laura and Fabiana for wholeheartedly joining me on the journey, and so brilliantly getting under the skin of their characters. Part of this was the work we put in in developing histories for their characters. I had given each of them fairly broad parameters within which they could interpret their character’s past in a way that resonated for them in their own lives. Later, I added a request that each actress read a particular book, just as I’d decided each character had.

I happened to have read the 1920s book of psychedelic French literary erotica entitled "Story of the Eye" by Georges Battaille. Even though the book was very different in style, I found that there was a wild spirit in it that was in step with the characters. There was a connection in their intensity, all of them seeking a life, love and lust that transcended morality. I chose to make the book one aspect of each character’s past that had played a part in shaping their unusual understandings of sexuality and of each other. It was a way I could more vividly communicate to the actors the kind of world I had in mind, where our everyday social rules no longer applied and anything would become possible.

If people want to check out "Wakey Wakey", I'm sure they'd love to know if it is available anywhere, or will it be available soon?
We’ve got 10 preview DVD copies to give away to Film Bizarro readers. If you contact us and you’re not in the first 10, we’ll be sure to notify you when it’s being released. Just drop us a line at info@wakeywakeymovie.com. You can watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A62ORW6hsC0

The film is still quite new, and is running on the festival circuit. We plan to begin distributing it more widely later in the year.

We’re also running free preview screenings in Melbourne, Australia, at Long Play, North Fitzroy. Details of those, and further festival screenings, are posted on the website – www.wakeywakeymovie.com – and the Facebook page – www.facebook.com/wakeywakeymovie

I have not personally seen your previous short films, but could you tell us a bit about them?
One of my shorts can be found on the "Wakey Wakey" DVD as a special feature. It’s called "Migraine and Michael: A Love Story". It’s an odd, experimental story about a man who’s married to his migraine. It explores similarities between the experiences of chronic pain and obsessive kinds of love.

Another short from a few years ago is "The Happy High Laughter Club", in which a laughter therapy group becomes desperately serious.

I seem to have a particular voice running through my films. Each film is what you might call psychological. They have surreal elements, and focus on a character’s subjective, emotionally coloured vision of the world. This interests me more than presenting a distant and objective view of characters interacting in a space. The films tend to involve themes of obsession and yearning for liberation, spiked with humour. They are psychological films that rupture into physical violence. They are characters pushed to the extreme.

How do you feel the climate is for filmmakers in Australia?
There is good filmmaking talent in Australia but not all that many opportunities.

This is in part because it’s a major challenge getting Australian audiences to go and see their local films. The size of the Hollywood marketing machine renders most local films all but invisible by comparison. The shared English language I think exacerbates the problem. Additionally, cinemas can only offer short theatrical runs to small local films, so it becomes more difficult for the films to build word-of-mouth interest. For these reasons, it’s notoriously difficult to get private investment in Australian films. The more visible local films are predominantly government-funded, and so as filmmakers our opportunities are largely defined by the choices of those government agencies. It’s difficult – but as in my case, still possible – to make a privately funded low-budget feature in Australia. It generally requires a lot of favours and good will from others.


Can we expect more features from you in the future, and do you have anything planned already?
There’s one project that’s particularly exciting to me at the moment. It draws on a one dance with death among many from my youth. As I’ve grown older, and having been confronted with the real thing – with death, and its many dimensions – that experience of so many years ago has taken on all new significance.

I plan to make many more feature films. I have a bunch of ideas aside from that one, with screenplays at various stages of development. The next production is hopefully not too far away.

Do you have anything else you'd want our readers to know or check out?
You can get hold of the "Wakey Wakey" Original Soundtrack on Bandcamp at http://simoneddy.bandcamp.com/album/wakey-wakey-original-soundtrack, or on iTunes. Simon’s an absolute musical genius, and it’s well worth wrapping your ears around this album in my personal opinion. The music is often the first thing people mention after seeing "Wakey Wakey".

I also want to thank you Ronny for your curiosity in having found "Wakey Wakey", and for the passion with which you’ve written about it. Your love for what you do is infectious.

 

Thank you very much Adrian Goodman!

Readers, you better read our review of "Wakey Wakey" here.

Other interesting links if you want to keep track on Adrian Goodman:
Wakey Wakey Official website
Wakey Wakey Facebook page
Wakey Wakey Soundtrack
Wakey Wakey Trailer




 

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