Tropfest Shooting for Success: Part 1 – Tess Novak

A Kiwi LegendThis is the first of a three-part series Wave wrote for print and online magazine VIEWFINDER on the winners of the Tropfest NZ Short Film Festival 2013. This article profiles filmmaker Tess Novak and her film “A Kiwi Legend’.

Tess Novak’s short film ‘A Kiwi Legend’ took the audience award at the 2013 Tropfest NZ Short Film Festival. The Tropfest Signature Item (TSI) for that year—an item that must be included in some way, shape of form—was gumboot. Tess jumped in gumboots and all on the TSI, with it becoming the storyline and central symbol for her short. A host of personalities including Sir Colin Meads and Denise L’Estrange-Corbet wore them, threw them and waxed lyrical about them.

Essentially a mockumentary driven predominantly by talking heads, ‘A Kiwi Legend’ was popular with young and old alike, as iconic kiwis parodied a New Zealand icon.  At the time of writing, it sits second in terms of number of views on Tropfest NZ’s YouTube channel next to outright winner, Cappuccino Tango.

The Script
Tess was doing a double degree focusing on Film, Theatre, and Marketing & Information Systems at Victoria University and was keen to engage in an extra curricular project. On a trip home to Taranaki in January 2012, she went along to Tropfest’s stunning venue at the outdoor TSB Bowl of Brooklands to watch the 16 latest Australian finalists that were shown to launch Tropfest in New Zealand. Script ideas started churning in her head when she heard Boire the TSI was gumboot. An outline for the script was written in the car on the way back to Wellington. Soon after, Tess spent a day coming up with a rough first draft. The script evolved slowly over the next few months. It went through several drafts leading up to the shoot, with readers including her lecturers and the General Manager at Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films.

The Team
Tess enlisted the assistance of Keith Finnerty of New Plymouth’s Cat and Mouse Productions to shoot and edit the film. Keith recommended Dave Carnachan of local post house King Street Creative to do the audio post. Tess got her school friend Millie Lynskey to come on as co-producer. Later, thanks to an introduction from another of her lecturers, Tess was able to secure Wellington composer Tom McLeod to do the score. Tess had brought together a well rounded team that developed a real camaraderie and had a lot of laughs and fun across the duration of the project viagra en ligne quebec.

The Talent
Keith had told Tess when she pitched him the idea that he would only do it if she approached professional talent to fill the roles. Tess had written stereotypes for the characters, so she went about matching personalities to them. Cold calls, friends of friends of friends, her co-producer Millie, actors agents; she tried them all. A cold email through the WORLD website led to her securing her first cast attachment, The Fashion Designer: Denise L’Estrange-Corbet. With a known personality on board a domino effect ensued, making it easier to get others in. Availability was a real issue dealing with personalities who have busy schedules. Some dropped off. After five months of constant pursuit, she had secured all but one of the final cast who would eventually appear in the film—The Farmer: Sir Colin Meads, The Comedians: Dai Henwood and Steve Wrigley, The Rugby Players: All Black Beauden Barrett and his brother Kane, The Super Athlete: Valerie Adams, and The Actor: Melanie Lynskey. Rehearsals were limited to a few run-throughs on the day before the camera rolled.

The Sponsorship
Tess needed sponsorship to help cover the significant costs involved. Although she only paid her cast koha (donation), money was needed for props, travel back and forth to Auckland, the shoot and post. She insisted on paying fees to Keith and Dave as they were making the major contributions with time, and production and post production equipment. Tess also had to pay for an LA-based DOP to shoot Melanie Lynskey. Her and Millie’s marketing skills came in real handy, helping to lock in a couple of major sponsors and a number of others that covered almost all the hard costs in the budget, with the difference being made up from Tess’s own pocket.

The Shoot
The six day shoot for “A Kiwi Legend’ kicked off in August and finished in October with sporadic days to match cast availability. Not everything went smoothly, with one actor having to be replaced because of a no-show. This required a rewrite of part of the script. The most difficult element of the shoot for Tess was getting Melanie Lynskey shot in LA. Being a first timer and not having any LA connections, Tess trawled through a huge number of film crew directories and consequently people’s individual sites to find a DOP that had a similar shooting style to Keith’s. Thinking that she should do things by the book, Tess sought a shooting permit to film outdoors. That’s where the problems really started. Permit bodies in LA differ depending on the location. The permit fee Tess was looking at was US$2000. To avoid having to pay the fee, Tess decided to shoot in a hotel room. But no, permits are needed even to shoot in a hotel or someone’s house in LA. Then Tess learned about an exemption for crews of three or less who work with minimal equipment and cause little impact. She then spent hours talking to Film LA and the City of Los Angeles seeking the exemption. It finally came through. The hotel room was booked for two hours and Tess directed the shoot on the day via SKYPE from her Wellington student flat.

The Post
Picture post production started straight after the shoot, with Tess and Keith working on a rough cut. The first edit highlighted the need for a couple of minor pickups, but allowed Tom the composer to get going. The editing, grading and audio post were completed across a month, working around her university schedule, and Keith’s and Dave’s workloads. Tess hand-delivered her film to the New Plymouth office of the Taranaki Festival of the Arts Trust who runs Tropfest three days prior to the deadline.

The Afterlife
Tess hasn’t actively pursued getting ‘A Kiwi Legend’ out to other festivals, although it has screened at the New Zealand Short Film Festival in Sydney and Brisbane. Tropfest NZ arranged for all the 2013 Tropfest NZ finalist films to screen on New Zealand’s Rialto Channel on SKY. A number of the 2013 NZ shorts were packaged together with a selection of Australian shorts by Tropfest International and screened on Australian channel SBS.

The Career
With ‘A Kiwi Legend’ under her belt, Tess leveraged off her film to get a two week internship with Australian producer Helen Bowden at Matchbox Pictures in Sydney. An opportunity then arose for Tess to work on Helen’s mini-series ‘Devil’s Playground’, starring Toni Collette. She applied for and received a New Zealand Film Commission Trainee Producer Internship Scheme, which cemented the job for her. Once the three-month internship was over, Tess was able to continue on the production as Producer’s Assistant. She will finish up mid November. Thanks to a colleague on the ‘Devil’s Playground’, жидкие she will move into a job as Post Production Runner on the next Mad Max feature. That will give her a few months more work, which will take her into the new year. Tess is pursuing opportunities to move onto once she’s finished on ‘Mad Max’. For the foreseeable future, she’s happy to make Sydney her home while she focuses on building her skills, confidence and production resume.

Thoughts to Share
For Tess, Tropfest was a fantastic opportunity to make a film and get it seen. As her first short, ‘A Kiwi Legend’ was a massive learning experience for her that made it all worthwhile. She feels that as long as you are confident and working with people who share the same vision for the project, you will have a lot of fun even through the trying times. Tess is a Tropfest convert who encourages anyone interested in filmmaking to have a go. Why don’t you.

You can view ‘A Kiwi Legend’ here.

Part 2 of the Tropfest Shoot for Success series here.