"A powerhouse in Theatresports, Irene has won the Best Actress award in 1996 and 1998. Recently she's put another arrow in her quiver. After intensive study and work in the field, Irene is a hot up and coming film director/writer. At this years short film festival, "The 15 Minutes of Fame for New Film Makers Awards" two of her short films received a plethora of awards. They won Best film, Best Costume, Best Editing and Best Actress. To think of new ideas she takes her energetic Weimaraner, Keila, for long walks. Keila likes soft toys and sausages".
Lou: Hello Irene, and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. You directed a short film in 1996 called Clown Story. How did that come about?
Irene: I was doing a degree in directing and writing for film and television at Unitec, Auckland. This was the second year and as a part of it we had to write and direct an original piece of film.
L: What kind of equipment did you use to shoot the film and how much did it cost?
I: This was a few years back, so at that time the school could only provide us with super VHS cameras. We then onlined it to BETA SP, and that became the master. Luckily nowadays you can transfer onto DVD without losing too much quality. I still have the Beta master tapes but I transferred them onto digital tape a year ago. No one was paid to work on the film, so the actual cost was around $500. That was mainly for food and the costumes. The school paid for the equipment but we had to buy our own tapes!
L: You have an interesting cast in your film, including Daniel Gillies who recently had a prominent role in Spiderman 2. Your film also has Karl Urban in it. How did you get Karl and the rest of the cast to become involved in your film?
I: Well, there is an acting school attached to the film school. So two of the actors came through them (Daniel and the only girl in the group of clowns, Rita Stone). However, I cast a friend of mine, Oliver Driver, in Karl's part initially. He then suggested Karl to me and I met with him and he was going to play Daniel's part (psycho clown). Brett Stewart and Paul Glover were both friends of Oliver's and actors I knew. When you aren't paying people, you try to make it fun for them in return, and the boys were all keen to have a lark doing it. Oliver pulled out of the major part a couple of weeks beforehand to prepare for professional shoot on a feature film called Snakeskin, and I asked Karl to take on the bigger role. Oliver was then going to play psycho clown. On the DAY OF FILMING Oliver was a no show (to this day he still looks shamefaced for not remembering to come), and eventually said he couldn't make it. You can imagine the panic. We called Daniel Gillies at his home and he was on set in 30 minutes, doing each scene after learning the lines on the spot. He deserved an award just for being so darned cool about it all. He literally walked into the location and hopped straight into the first shot. Everyone was so professional...I will never forget the difference between one actor and the other in attitude, lol. Both Karl and Daniel worked like true gentlemen to get the day done with the changes.
L: As you know, I like animals, and your dog Keila was in the film, so what I really want to know is, did she get on with Karl?
I: She LOVED Karl. A relief especially since she was a rescued dog and likes to bite new people every now and then. He had a dog treat hidden in his hand almost all the time and to this day when she sees him, her doggy face lights up.
L: Can you tell me about your experiences writing and directing your film?
I: It was huge. Lots of late nights, lots of nausea about how much could go wrong. Once I had written it, the casting and everything wasn't so bad. I designed and made a few of the costumes as well. It's quite an ambitiously sized piece with a large cast and a number of locations. Luckily we seemed to get it all done. The filming was a blast. I made a few wonky choices and well, you can tell it was low budget. But I learned a lot from the whole thing. The film was entered into a competition called the "Fifteen Minutes of Fame" Film awards and won Best Costume Design and Best Editing. So despite it's flaws, I am very proud of it.
L: Did your film require a lot of rehearsal?
I: No. We read it through once, then rehearsed on the shoot days. It's common with short films to have this guerrilla approach. Budget, time, a lot of it is to do with the actors not being paid, so you don't want to soak up all their spare time. They have the script well in advance and they are expected to know it when they arrive for the shoot. In a perfect world you could rehearse for ages but that almost never happens in films.
L: What was Karl like to work with?
I: Wonderful. So professional, a lot of fun. We stayed in touch for a long time afterwards but unfortunately it was pre-e-mail days for him and I. One thing I am always grateful for though, is he continues to list this film on his CV, long after a lot of big stars would have let it slide as a 'small' work. I am very proud to be able to say I spotted the star early, lol. I still have notes from our meetings about a feature I wanted to work with him on. I am still writing it so you never know...
L: Are there any behind the scenes anecdotes you'd like to share?
I: You know, I bet there are heaps, but my mind goes blank when I try to think of them. I guess things like we couldn't have the little clown fairy girl for too long on set, so all the shots of Karl reacting to her were done with him looking at our first AD Katie as she hung out of the tree.
The kids in the library scene spent all day playing with the actors.
We couldn't afford good food so we had the same flavoured rolls for lunch every day.
We had a big wrap party at my house and Karl got drunk and kissed pretty much everyone, even me.
Karl still puts this film on his CV but I don't think Daniel does.
The scene in the car is a really hokey blue screen, and it is supposed to look a bit raggedy. It took almost 8 hours to get those few shots, and we had to hire a crane to lift the little car into the studio!
We made a spinning thing for the camera to do a 'batman' style cut where the screen spins. But another group of students took off with it and we never saw it again!
L: Have you been following Karl's slow success? Did you ever imagine that someday Karl would be in big budget Hollywood movies?
I: Yes! And I don't think it's slow. I think it's been a very steady climb really. I never imagined it, mainly because when you are down here in NZ you don't stop to think that ANYONE you know would be in Hollywood. Now it's more common, and I can see that it was a natural place for him to be. There are a number of actors I know or have met who are making it there and it's just fantastic to see all their hard work paying off at last.
L: If you were to participate in the TV show This Is Your Life, what would you say to Karl before you appeared from behind the curtain?
I: Geez, I'd be scared...maybe I would ask him if he had any schmackos in his pocket? (Keila's bribes)
L: You're involved with something called Theatresports in New Zealand. Could you explain what it's all about?
I: Sure. Theatresports is a form of improv comedy for theatre, started in Canada by Keith Johnstone. Most people are familiar with the TV version "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". We do all kinds of shows, and I have been involved professionally for over 12 years. I have even travelled the world and am quite well known in some very small places.
L: What other well known New Zealand identities have been involved with Theatresports?
I: My dear departed friend the late Kevin Smith (Hercules the Legendary Journeys), Craig Parker (LOTR), Jay Laga'aia (Onstage in Sydney in the Lion King, Water Rats). Lots of people who are well known here. Dean O'Gorman who is currently in McLeod's Daughters...a bunch, check out the website.
L: Anything else you'd like to add?
I: Just that I hope you haven't seen the last of me. I am taking an enforced break to raise a child alone, but once he is a bit bigger I am going to be making more movies...so roll over Mr Spielberg!
© Lou 2004
Links: Theatresports NZ | The Karl Urban Page