Writer and actress Hannah Levien joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her mystical short film, Hunting Season, following its screening at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Q: What gave you the inspiration to write ‘Hunting Season’? And why were you drawn to the use of fantasy and a mythical creature?
A: Overall, Hunting Season was inspired by the concept of a girl meeting a unicorn at a gas station… and my thinking that – wouldn’t that be a cool thing to see on screen, and to watch that play out?
But how the idea actually came to me is a bit more obscure. I’ve always loved fantasy, and I enjoy sci fi too – but I’m also really drawn to stories that have a very human element to them too. An extraordinary occurrence in a very real world, which is what I hoped to create with Hunting Season.
I went to film school in Australia before relocating to the USA, and had always intended to put those skills to use and make a film following graduation. The story formed in pieces over time. I’d be inspired by something and then think: ‘how can I add this into the story?’
Q: Before her mystical interaction, Callie is faced with her past and a few male figures as she works at the gas station. Can you tell us more about Callie? What was it like creating a character and then playing her?
A: Callie is, I hope, a very relatable character for an audience. She has made mistakes in her past, some that she still battles with. The story suggests Callie struggles with alcoholism and her former reputation in the small town. But we sense she wants more from her life, and wants to be treated as such by the townsfolk.
I really love the character of Callie. There’s only so much we can show in a short film, but Shannon Kohli (Director) and I really related to Callie’s struggle – to stand up for herself and believe she deserves more. As a writer and actor, It was really special to work on a character both myself and my director cared about.
Q: You’ve known director Shannon Kohli since meeting on set of ‘The Magicians’. Can you talk about your collaboration? What did she bring to ‘Hunting Season’?
A: Yes – Shannon and I met on The Magicians and I knew that she was a great director, and that she really loved horses. Which are two things that were going to be important for me when finding a director for Hunting Season! I sent the script to her, and Shannon really loved it.
I think Shannon has such a gift for collaboration. She took my ideas and built on them, made suggestions and asked lots of questions – and then we found a way to bring them to life. We worked on every step of the project together – problem solving and debating things. It’s been a dream working with her.
Q: DOP Elie Smolkin does an incredible job of transforming the gas station into a mythical setting. What was it like for you to inhabit these striking images and see your words brought to life?
A: I had done so much planning with the team about the filming location and logistics, and done numerous location scouts, but when I walked out on to set and saw what Elie and Shannon and our amazing producer Ines Eisses and our crew – had created – I was TOTALLY blown away.
The lights were so eerie and beautiful. There was a smoke machine creating mist… it really felt spooky and magical and so perfect for the story I had written. I had such a rush of excitement and also gratefulness to our amazing team who helped make the film happen.
Q: ‘Hunting Season’ will screen at Cannes Short Film Corner and Tribeca Film Festival. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
A: I hope the audiences go on a journey with our characters. And I hope they are moved by what they see. And that they want to see more!
Q: Can you tell us about your journey as an actor and screenwriter, particularly the transition from life in Australia to North America?
A: I moved to the USA about eight years ago as an actor, and completed drama school in Australia prior to that. The US market is very different to Australia – where I had mainly done theatre – but I loved the change. I took lots of new and different classes, met so many new and wonderful people… and I figured out a bit more who I was and the stories I wanted to tell and be a part of.
I’ve since been very fortunate to collaborate with some fantastic creatives in film and TV. I feel like I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve worked with.
Q: What is next for you?
A: After Tribeca and Cannes, I’m acting in a series called Siren which airs on Freeform in the USA on June 13. So you should definitely take a look at that if you haven’t already. And following that I’ll be working on our next adaptation of Hunting Season which I’m really excited about. Shannon (Kohli), Ines (Eisses) and I are all looking forward to working together on that.
If you’d like to keep up with me and my projects,please drop me a line on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Vimeo – I’d love to hear from you.