The gloves are off as Australian actor and filmmaker Taya Calder-Mason chats to Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge about her empowering and hard-hitting short film Fight Like A Woman.
Q: ‘Fight Like A Woman’ is an empowering story about a woman (played by yourself) who steps into the boxing ring with a man (Matthew Clarke). What initially led you to write this story?
A: I wish there was some pivotal moment in my life that helped me write FLAW but truthfully I just wanted to shoot a boxing film. I love boxing. I love attending fight nights, watching boxing movies and have been boxing myself since I was about 16. It makes me feel really empowered. I figured if I was going to all this trouble I may as well include a really meaningful message. It turned out to be much more ‘on trend’ then I’d ever imagined.
Q: ‘Girls don’t belong in the ring’ is one of the shouts from the boxing audience during the film. Have you dealt with this type of ignorance and sexist doubt in your life?
A: I think there would be a very small pool of women who haven’t experienced some type of sexism in their lives. In fact, a lot of women don’t even consider playing sport because it’s always been angled at males. Girls grew up going to dance classes and boys playing cricket or rugby. There are a lot of things in this world that are unbalanced but it’s moving forward in a positive direction, which is very encouraging.
Q: I imagine you might get some people (and some trolls) pointing to the genetic differences between men and women, and misconstruing the film as ‘anti-male’. What would your response to these critics be?
A: If this is the case, they’ve obviously missed the point and should also keep in mind this is a fictional film, not a documentary. I wanted to show the audience what could happen if you put two fighters, from a similar category, despite their sex, in the ring together.
Q: Have you had any notable reactions to the film so far?
A: When we had the first screening back in April we had a very diverse group of people attending. It was my two younger cousins (9 and 11) that really stood out. They loved it and walked around all night flexing their muscles and shadow boxing- which was hilarious. It felt really nice knowing they had watched it and felt confident in who they were and what they could achieve.
Q: What was your physical preparation for the role?
A: I upped my boxing training with my coach to about four times a week and started sparring in the ring with professional male fighters. I also started weight-lifting and doing more body conditioning. Oh, and lots the protein and veggies!
Q: How did you find the challenge of choreographing and capturing the fight?
A: This was actually one of my favourite parts of pre-production. Victoria (my boxing coach) and I got together a couple of times in the space we were filming and fleshed out the rounds one by one. I’d then video it and send it to Matthew down in Melbourne.
Matt’s such a quick learner and he was so prepared when he arrived on set for the first day. Once we had the fight choreography down, Pete (our cinematographer) and I walked around the ring and figured out all the shots.
Q: This is an impressive directorial debut. How did you find the experience of working in front and behind the camera?
A: Thank you very much! It’s funny because I wasn’t worried at all but all the people around me kept asking: “How are you going to direct for the first time and play the lead!?” and now I know why! It was a challenge but I knew every shot, line, character, and moment inside out, which really helped.
Q: Who did you draw inspiration from as a director and did you have any guidance along the way?
A: Truthfully I’m quite a control freak and have a certain way of doing things. Everyone was super supportive and explained anything I didn’t understand. Pete taught me a lot of things about the camera which (coming from an acting background) I had no idea about.
Q: ‘Creed II’ has just come out in the UK. Are you a big fan of boxing films like ‘Rocky’ and ‘Raging Bull’?
A: For sure! I loved the first Creed and watched all the Rocky films leading up to the shoot. Million Dollar Baby is an all time favorite as well. Clint Eastwood is one of my favourite directors. He’s so seamless behind and in front of the camera.
Q: I imagine young people who watch ‘Fight Like A Women’ will look up to your character and the determination she displays. Do you have any standout role models from the world of sport or film?
A: I personally love Greta Gerwig and thought that Lady Bird was incredible. I saw the film twice at the movies and absolutely adore the relationship between Saoirse and Laurie. She’s also a phenomenal actress so it’s really inspiring to see her breakout as this incredible director as well.
Q: You have two exiting projects coming up. Can you reveal anything about ‘Black Out’ and ‘Harrows Forest’?
A: We have completed principal photography for both projects which is really exciting. I can’t reveal to much about Black Out apart from it’s a comedy written for Tropfest 2019 and Harrows Forest is almost about to get graded. It’s a thriller so it was really fun to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. The cast and crew on both projects have been amazing and I’m so lucky to have been able to work with them.
Q: What are your ambitions for the future as a filmmaker and as an actor?
A: I’d love to keep growing End Point Productions and work overseas. I love how successful Margot Robbie and LuckyChap have been. There are lots of things but as long as I’m being creative and shooting projects, I’ll be happy!