DIRECTOR Stephen McCallum stops by on Close-up Culture to talk about his acclaimed debut feature 1%.
Q: 1% sounds like Shakespeare meets Sons of Anarchy. Is that a fair description?
A: IN terms of the story being set within an outlaw motorcycle club it certainly has resonances with Sons of Anarchy. That being said I think Sons of Anarchy is more akin to Melrose Place with tattoos… 1% is definitely a more visceral and confronting world. I said from the beginning I wanted this film to be a cinematic kick in the teeth, so hopefully we’ve achieved that.
The Shakespearean aspect was something that I connected with immediately in Matt Nable’s script. We fleshed out the house divided, father/son and Lady Macbeth aspects whilst in development. I think those larger than life themes really elevate the film to something more than a straight crime thriller. It’s a morality play that will hopefully stick with the viewer long after they’ve watched it.
Q: Did you dive into the motorcycle culture in any way before the film?
A: I DID. I visited clubs and met with current and ex-members to get a first hand insight into their reasons for being part of this dangerous subculture. I also read every book and watched as many documentaries as I could that investigated 1% culture. A documentary called Satudarah was pivotal in constructing the world.
Q: 1% is another addition to the gritty, violent cinema we have seen coming out of Australia. Why do you feel Australia produces a good number of these rough-edged of films?
A: I THINK Australian cinema has always had a fascination with the true crime and underworld genres. I think this comes from a reaction to the cliched perception of Australia as the ‘lucky country’ in most mainstream Aussie films. We’re a coastal nation but the further you get away from the ocean the further you get away from this fabricated ideal.
There are worlds on the fringes that are the polar opposite of what people regard as the ‘Australian dream’. This is exemplified in some of my favourite films such was Romper Stomper, Ghosts of The Civil Dead and Snowtown – all of which were a massive influence for 1%. For me this film is an opportunity to take a dive into some of the more dangerous and forbidden aspects of Australian culture.
Q: What was the visual style you wanted to capture in 1%?
A: I WANTED to create an aesthetic that was visceral and hypnotic to show both the danger and allure of being part of a 1% club. To capture this I wanted the camera to be right in the action and reacting to the characters on screen in an immediate and unpredictable way – as if observing things for the first time.
My cinematographer (Shelley Farthing Dawe) and production designer (Lou Brady) were instrumental in achieving this. We worked together to create sets that allowed us to shoot 360 degrees within a scene to allow the actors complete freedom. The camera movement and shots were dictated by the rehearsal. We didn’t storyboard any of the shots in the film. The raw beauty of Romper Stomper and the epic realism of Sicario were key influences.
Q: Abbey Lee (The Neon Demon, Mad Max: Fury Road) plays Katrina. She is an actor I have been really impressed with in the last few years. What as Abbey like to work with and what qualities did she bring to 1%?
A: ABBEY was amazing – a real tour de force. Like all the cast, Abbey brought so much of herself to the role.
We worked together extensively in pre-production to flesh out Katrina’s backstory and character wants. Abbey really gave the character of Katrina a mysterious depth and truth. Abbey naturally has a captivating presence on camera and brought a real sense of power and stillness that was essential to the role of Katrina. Like all my amazing cast in 1% she inhabited that character for the entire shoot and gave everything she had.
Q: The film will screen at MIFF 2018. What does it mean to you (if anything) to be an Australian filmmaker and how do you see the current state of Australian filmmaking?
A: I AM so proud to have 1% playing as part of the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival. MIFF have been very supportive to me over the years with myself as MIFF Accelerator Alumni. To showcase 1% in front of an audience and see their reactions has been a real thrill. I think Australian filmmaking is at its strongest when it’s supporting brave new voices and challenging the status quo. I’m heartened by the strong work of Indigenous filmmakers like Warwick Thornton and the new wave of emerging female storytellers.
Q: You directed a video called It’s Time for GetUp! Australia that has 16 million videos on YouTube. What is the secret to putting together a video that connects with and reaches so many people?
A: THAT was a great lesson to me in terms of keeping the moments on screen as truthful and authentic as possible. Like 1% we utilised an aesthetic that reacted to the characters on screen to create a pure connection between camera, talent and audience. The fact that audiences connected the world over is testament to the power of this type of pure visual storytelling.
I’m very proud of that piece and more importantly the positive impact it has made in the community at large. When you receive an email from a young man informing you that the ‘It’s Time’ video gave him the strength to come out to his father it’s pretty humbling stuff.
Q: What kind of stories do you want to tell in the future?
A: ANYTHING that shines a light on our humanity and connects with the audience. Anything with a pulse.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
A: I HAVE a few in the works. I’m attached to a near future gritty sic-fi through Animal Logic – think Gummo set 30 years in the future. I’m also currently writing a refugee love story set in an Australian detention centre. No rom-coms as of yet!