Tag Archives: Independent film

Check out the ‘Esoterica’ trailer

17 Aug

If you haven’t already done so then you must check out the trailer for Nakatomi Pictures’ upcoming neo noir thriller ‘Esoterica’.  Don’t be alarmed if your browser is cropping the video.  Simply click on the red headline of this post to go to a dedicated page.

Nakatomi+Brains?=this post

9 Aug

Ruslan Kulski runs Brains?, which features news about filmmaking in the world’s most isolated city, Perth.  The delightful Mr Kulski took time out on a Saturday to meet with us and grill us about our sophomore feature ‘Esoterica’.  This week the site will feature several of our pithy responses on a range of topics.  Below is the first video in the series where we were asked a seemingly simple question; “What is Esoterica?”. Check out the site and don’t forget to subscribe!

Nakatomi Profile: Monique Wajon, Production Designer

5 Jul

Nakatomi Profile is a section featuring interviews with collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Who are you? What is your background?

My name is Monique and I’m the production Designer for Esoterica. I started off studying Set and Costume Design for theatre at WA Academy of Performing Arts and by chance fell into production design for Film. Since then I’ve worked extensively in both fields.

What was your approach to the Production Design of ‘Esoterica’?

Well I had to hit the ground running on this one… I came on board very late to the party, but what a party it was! Basically my approach was pretty much the same as always (just a bit sped up) I started off reading the script then finding the most kick-ass bits and trying to work out the coolest way that I can dress those space to make them work for the characters and the script and then kept on rolling through the rest of the script from there.

What’s your creative process?

I begin my creative process like all designers by dissecting the script finding out what is at the root of it, the meaning behind it. Then I start thinking about the overall feel of the film and what sort of look that I want to create for the film. Then its time to get down to the nuts and bolt of the job and work out what is needed for each scene i.e. Set dressing, props and any effects needed.

Be honest, what is the work that you are most proud of from the film?

There are so many things to choose from, but if I had to choose one thing it would be the Death Bath. I don’t want to say too much about it cause it will give too much away but there was so many technical things to consider when designing and making it that it was a great challenge.

What was the shooting like?

Shooting was an intense experience for me, but completely wonderful. I had never worked on anything as large as Esoterica so it was such a steep learning curve for me, which made working on it so exciting.

What have you been up to since ‘Esoterica’?

I’ve been extremely busy since shooting wrapped on Esoterica. I was Production Designer on a few short films including “Little Boxes” which I won “Best Production Design” at this years WA Screen Awards. I have designed few commercials, was the Set Dresser on a Feature Film “Needle,” and even built a cave for a documentary. On top of all that film work I have been working for a few theatre companies as well. Last year I designed the Set and Costumes for “Alaska” and I am just starting to go into the production for “Gasp” another Theatre show.

Give us your top ten films in terms of Production Design and elaborate on the choices.

Well my top 10 changes all the time so here are a selection that I can remember today… It’s a bit of a strange list (im not saying all of these are amazing films) but some of the most random movies have such great design and then others are great movies in every department.

Dr No: Ken Adams one of the true masters of Film Design. It was hard to choose between all his films, Barry Lyndon and Dr Strangelove pop into mind straight away, but I decided to choose Dr No because it is so rich in design and the first (and classic) Bond Movie.

The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element: When I was young this was my all time favorite movie. I think it also was the first movie that I watched that made me want to get into Design. There is so much going on in this film, flying cars, Boats in space, gorgeous ballrooms and don’t get me started on the creature designs.

Coraline: When I saw this film at the end of last year I was blown away by it and it has the taken over from The Nightmare before Christmas on my top ten list. Henry Selick is such a genius he directed and production designed it, and you can really tell, there is a consistency to the whole project. I dare anyone to say a bad word to me about the neon garden what a spectacular idea (and it works and looks so much better then the in Avatar).

Down with Love: I hate this movie because I didn’t have the chance to work on it. The whole movie is styled on the old Doris Day movies and they have done such an amazing job with it, when ever I watch it I just want to live in a rockin’ 60’s pad and also have a matching outfit with a friend (if you haven’t seen this movie watch it and keep an eye out for whenever Renee Zellweger enters a room).

MirrorMask: I want to make a film like this, although it doesn’t have the strongest storyline the design and animation is so well put together. This film has a comic book feel (both the writer and director come from a Graphic Novel background) and it is amazingly lush. The movie is a combination of live action, 2D and 3D animation, which gives it an interesting depth that you don’t see in many films.

Amadeus: Recently there have been a lot of movies set in the 18th century but my love for this period always comes back to this one. I think a lot of it has to do with the cheeky nature of the film, but the design is so well researched that it is still a very important part of the film.

Nanny McPhee: This movie has brilliant and awful design all at the same time. The Costume and Art Departments worked so closely together they managed to have some of the sets and costumes match almost exactly in colour and patterns, which in one way is amazing but then its also a bad thing as the characters and sets blend together and its really hard to see the difference between them. Though overall it has an amazing colour scheme that is worth a watch.

Repo the Genetic Opera: This a very recent film based on a stage musical and it has such high production values. Every item in the film is over designed but fits so perfectly into the world that is created.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Rick Heinrichs has a real eccentric style that fits so perfectly with this film. It has a beautiful colour scheme, amazing architecture and slightly strange props, what else could a movie need?

Dick tracy: What beautiful Design, you don’t see this level of style in film these days. Every car, location, costume is design for a particular character. The best part about the design was the strong use of colour. Its very popular at the moment to use a washed out colour scheme I wish people had more courage an used strong colours.

The Cabinet if Dr Caligari: This is my favorite of the German Expressionist films, it has such a theatrical presence to the design. I constantly use it as reference/inspiration for my designs.

Nakatomi Profile: Jeremy Levi, Actor

18 May

Nakatomi Profile is a section featuring interviews with collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Who are you? What is your background?

My name is Jeremy Levi.  I began my performing career as a singer/songwriter in the mid to late 80’s.  Whilst studying English literature at UWA I sang with The Paranoids as part of the Perth Indie music scene.  After my English degree I completed another three years study at WAAPA doing the musical theatre course.  Weird, I’m not into musicals at all.  But the training was excellent.  After graduation I moved to Melbourne where I was lucky enough to find work in theatre, musical theatre, television but mainly short film projects.  I returned to Perth in 2004 where I have continued to work in all areas of performance and most recently resumed my songwriting career.

What attracted you to Esoterica?

The script, the script and nothing but the script.  I didn’t meet any of the other players until after I’d read the screenplay.  In this line of work I get to read a lot of scripts.  As a film buff, I also read a lot of famous screenplays of well known films.  Esoterica was one of only a few I’ve read that I was compelled to finish in the one sitting.  It just held me from page one.  Sam Fuller once said about reading scripts that; “…if I don’t have a hard-on by page 10, I don’t bother reading the rest.”

Tell us about the role you played?

Y’know…I don’t think I will.

Do you have a process?

Collaborate, collude and conspire.  Theatre is the domain of the actor but film is a director’s medium.  Most of the people working on a feature film have been doing so for months or even years before the actors sign on.  When I’m lucky enough to find a director who respects actors as creative artists (as with Sam on this project) then I try to first, understand their vision for the film and secondly, embellish and/or plunder the depths of that vision in collaboration with them.  My job as an actor is to elicit an empathetic or emotional response from the audience that takes them inside the story.  Because film is works on such a microscopic level, compared to theatre, I always try to get as much information from the director as possible to channel my performance along the desired path.  Knowing the size of the shot, the planned editing around the shot, the pace of the scene and its place in the flow of the film are some of the areas that are invaluable to a screen actor’s performance.  These are amongst a multitude of factors that I like to know about so I can be on the same page as the director.  It’s his baby and I’m privileged to be invited.

What was the shooting like?

This was a very difficult shoot overall.  But the question is “What was the shooting like?”  The shooting of the film was one of the best film experiences I’ve had.  Even with the shot/take ratio in place, I felt I had enormous freedom to refine the character from take to take.  Half of my performance comes from collaborating with the director and working off the other actors.  I was fortunate to be working with some of the best in the business on this film.

What have you done since the shooting of ‘Esoterica’?

I followed Esoterica with a role on Stormworld which is a 24 part children’s television series.  I performed in a play Three On, One Off at the Subiaco Arts Centre, and I took the lead role in Meaning-Maker Productions short film Trigger. Trigger was selected to screen at the Cannes International Film Festival, which is an enormous triumph.  I am currently writing songs for a new CD which I hope to record and release this year.

Give us your top ten film performances and why.

I came up with about 50 top film performances which I’ve struggled to narrow down to 10.  My criterion for a “great” screen performance is generally one that makes my subconscious curse very loudly, or one that makes me want to quit acting.

1.  Christian Bale – Empire of the Sun.  I was on holiday and about to begin my final year at WAAPA when I saw this.  This was the first time I’d been so intimidated by another performer that I felt I should just quit.  This little 11 year old kid was so disciplined, so focused and able to access such reserves of emotion, that no 11 year old should even know, I felt I was watching a master.

2.  James Stewart – Vertigo.  As much as I love pre-war Jimmy, post-war Jimmy is as good as it gets.  Hard to pick a favourite with Jimmy Stewart but that scene where Kim Novak is showing off her new hair colour and wardrobe, while Jimmy can’t hide his disappointment is a lesson in understated acting.

3.  Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain. So much has been said about this already.  I waited over a year before watching this film so as to view it without being influenced by the extraordinary hype it carried with it.  I think this performance will stand the test of time.  That said, I didn’t sleep after I saw his Joker in The Dark Knight.

4. Viggo Mortensen – The Indian Runner. This is an example of how the actor’s subsequent performances only serve to highlight how powerful he was in this role.  This is almost a dictionary definition of “intensity.”

5. Brion James – Blade Runner. More than any other actor who has ever played a replicant or variation on that theme, Brion was, for me, the most brilliant.  The interview that opens this film is spellbinding.

6. Toshiro Mifune – Seven Samurai. I’m a huge fan of Mifune and Kurosawa.  I started watching Kurosawa films long before I ever entertained thoughts of becoming an actor.  Mifune plays completely against type in this masterpiece and is totally amped throughout the entire film.

7. Lee J. Cobb – 12 Angry Men. Love The Cobb in anything, but this one was my introduction to his work.  Jack Klugman also puts in an excellent performance in this one which I was unprepared for having only ever seen him on television in Quincy M.D.  Cobb is one of those rare actors who like Crowe and Penn, can portray such frightening, raw masculinity and yet reveal, in the same character, an incredible vulnerability.

8.  Robin Wright-Penn – Unbreakable.  Not on this list because it’s so male dominated.  For one amazing scene in a fairly average film she had to be included.  That moment when she questions Bruce Willis about his possible infidelities is so heartbreaking.  One shot, one take of pure, raw emotion.

9. Tony Curtis – The Boston Strangler.  I grew up in Bunbury watching Tony Curtis in films like The Purple Mask , The Prince Who was a Thief, Son of Ali Baba and Houdini (which I must have seen nearly 10 times – before VHS was invented!)  His performance in this film is as good as acting gets and it is still a mystery to many why this film didn’t revitalize his career.

10. Naomi Watts – Mullholland Drive. This was like that moment watching Ed Norton for the first time in Primal Fear.  The carpet is pulled out from under your feet and you fall flat on your back with your subconscious yelling WTF?  Where did that come from?

Honourable mention to John Cazale.  Five films, all nominated for Best Picture.

‘No Through Road’ to make TV debut!

30 Apr

Nakatomi’s universal tale of hope in the suburbs will be playing on New Zealand pay TV channel ‘Rialto’ on the 21st of June this year.  Tell all of your Kiwi associates to set their alarm clocks (or recording devices) to 12:25am.  You may think we are dismayed at the late time slot, however we are delighted as this qualifies our little film as a ‘Midnight Movie’.  Move over Pink Flamingos and El Topo, the ‘screwdriver film’ is here!


Excerpt from Rialto’s website:

“During the past ten years the channel has grown from a niche arthouse film channel to New Zealand’s premiere independent specialist film, documentary and entertainment channel.  Rialto Channel viewers are given a wider choice of diverse and engaging programming that is often not available anywhere else on New Zealand television”.

Nakatomi Profile: Chris De Groot, Composer

27 Apr

Nakatomi Profile is a new section in which we will be interviewing collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Where did you study?

I believe music is a life long study – I’ve been at it for 20 years now! Formally I have studied at the West Australian Academy Of Performing Arts (WAAPA) I’ve become a part of the furniture there; I did my undergraduate degree in jazz composition (2000-2004), then studied my Honours degree in classical jazz fusion (2005), and then a Masters degree in music for film (2008-2010)… and now I lecture there part time! I’ve had many different mentors, but I’m always expanding my knowledge by reading and listening.

Tell us about your creative process, how do you work? How long?

The creative process is one that is really hard to describe. When you’re working well and things are flowing it’s like you’re in a weird trance – hours pass like minutes, when it’s not going so well it can be like getting blood from a stone. In relation to my work for film, I like going beyond just getting “inside the film” by getting inside the filmmaker’s head. By that I mean learning what drew a particular filmmaker to film, what films and directors have influenced their work and move on from there. Our collaboration on Esoterica definitely taught me the value of taking the time to discover each other and get on the same page – and get excited about the project at the same time.

I usually work very long hours quite often at night. I call the time between 9PM and 3AM the “Golden Time” that’s when everything is peaceful and you can really focus. That’s when I do some of my best work – although I also work during the day. I recently worked out that I composed on average 0.9 of a minute of music a day (over a two month period working at least six hours a day) when working on Esoterica. That may seem like a slow pace but it is actually pretty fast. Most directors don’t understand how long it takes to write good music, but the ones who do are rewarded with a much stronger sounding score. I work with software to notate the music (I’m a staunch hater of sampled instruments – using real acoustic instruments is the only way!). I usually use a stopwatch to time various scenes and then work independently of the vision; I’m pretty familiar with the scene by this stage. As I go, I reference the music against the vision from time to time by exporting the score as a sound file. I occasionally make changes to the timing to hit various parts of the action based on this cross-referencing process. I find that this is a good way to work – I feel that you can sometimes get bogged down by the vision and try to hit too much of the action if you write with software that synchronizes the film as you go.

What is the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part for me is hearing the music being played in the recording session. Standing there in front of 22 musicians and hearing your music being played is pretty amazing. Another very rewarding part is when you’ve worked until 3am and you’ve just finished a cue that you know really works – it’s exciting. It’s usually hard to get to sleep after that!

The Annexia Ensemble

What are the origins of the ‘Annexia Ensemble’?

I originally formed the Annexia Ensemble in 2009 to perform my score for Dimitri Kirsanoff’s masterpiece of French Impressionist silent cinema Ménilmontant – and other works for silent cinema yet to be composed. It was performed live at the Astor Theatre in Mt Lawley in August 2009. The ensemble is made up of my friends and colleagues, who are all amazing musicians. The original line up contained five winds, percussion, guitar, accordion, keys/electronics, and a ten-piece string section. I augmented the line up slightly for Esoterica adding an extra pianist, double bass player, harpist, and an extra two percussionists – I even step down from the podium to play musical saw! I never intended to use the ensemble for independent Australian films (especially ones made in Perth), but then I saw Esoterica.

What are some of the influences on your score for Esoterica?

I think Esoterica pays loving homage to classic Hollywood film noirs and 1970s neo-noirs, the score in many respects does as well. I’m not saying that Esoterica is unoriginal or that it’s a watered down rip off or anything – I mean, when was the last time you saw an Australian film noir!? I think there is a fine line between homage and rip off and that Esoterica is definitely on the right side of that line. As you know, it was discussed and decided that the score for Esoterica would not give away what time period the film was set. So there are influences of 1940’s be-bop, 1970s funk fusion, 20th century noise music as well as classic film noir scores. I think that Michael Small’s score to Klute, Bernard Herrman’s work and that of 20th century classical composer György Ligeti are some of the more obvious influences. In some respects all my musical influences crop up one way or another – I’d like to think that there is a bit of me in there as well though!

What are some of the key creative choices behind the score?

Well as we’ve discussed, one of the ideas was to have a score that does not suggest a specific time period (or perhaps one that suggests many) – but one of the big things for me is that the score has to have a unique texture and mood to it. This is achieved mostly through instrumentation and orchestration and the way in which lines of sound are intertwined. I think that texture in film music is much more important than other aspects of music, such as melody or rhythm. I think the score achieves a unique blend of texture and mood via the interesting inclusion of rhodes electric piano, musical saw and harp, whilst still paying homage to the classics.

Another strong decision was that the music should not “cue” the audience much. By that I mean not letting them know what is going to happen or how they should feel – we let the music add a mood and texture to what was already apparent in the film to strengthen the experience. I hate it when directors say “the music needs to add X” or “this scene is lacking Y – can you make it better?” If it isn’t there to begin with the music can’t make it magically appear – or as Bernard Herrmann puts it “I can dress the corpse, but I can’t bring it back to life!” Pacing and strategic silence was also a great concern for us, we were definitely aware of the need to pace ourselves and not let the music get too big too soon. The musical climax happens when the characters and the audience finally discover what the box is (the music had to be pretty huge at that point) so everything leads up to that event in the film.

What’s your favourite track and why?

I think the piece I’m most proud of is one called Beefheart’s Bath. There were quite a few compositional aspects that I was unsure of and I didn’t entirely know if they would work – the piece is quite ambitious really. It’s basically a textural noise piece that provides the backdrop to the most intense and terrifying scene in the film. The string section plays many glissando effects while the pipe organ holds a slowly rising cluster chord. The whole piece rises to fever pitch as the winds and percussion are steadily incorporated – it’s quite intense really. It is testament to your [Barrett’s] trust in me that this piece even exists. I wasn’t able to really mock up Beefheart’s Bath so you could hear it before we got to the studio to record it.

What is your take on the relationship between cinema and music?

The relationship is crucial – I think music is the essence of modern cinema. Music has been used in film since the beginning, there was a time during the early 1930’s when filmmakers turned away from music but they soon realised music’s importance. Music can extend the boundaries of the screen giving the audience a wider cinematic experience. It can intensify emotions and characters and actually physically affect the audience. Ever felt claustrophobic whilst watching a film? Or feel like you could fly? Music gave you that feeling. It helps greatly in conveying meaning in film.

Give us your top ten scores and why.

These things are always so hard – in no particular order:

1 ) Psycho [1960] (Bernard Herrmann)

Herrmann’s score to Psycho totally revolutionized the way composers wrote for horror films. Before Psycho horror films sported a bombastic mix of brass blasting and percussion rumbling. Herrmann showed that the string section (usually associated with romantic melodies) could be cold and chilling like the character Norman Bates. Herrmann’s genius is reflected in Hitchcock’s assertion that Psycho’s success was largely due to the score.

2 ) The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951] (Bernard Herrmann)

Again Herrmann’s innovation is apparent in this classic sci-fi film. Herrmann was not the first to use the theremin in film but he was the first to use it in a science fiction context – and to use two of them! Again Herrmann displays the fact that it is texture that is a key component of film music by combining two theremins, three trumpets, three trombones, four tubas, six percussionists, two harps, two pianos, two organs, electric guitar, electric violin and electric bass. The sheer alien like sound he creates though his strange chords and textures is truly amazing – screw the remake, checkout the original!

3 ) Crash [1996] (Howard Shore)

This film saw Shore return to a smaller ensemble line up reminiscent of his early more experimental work with Cronenberg. I love it for it for the claustrophobic feel it creates through the use of repetitive melodic patterns, limited tonal range and unusual instrumental combinations – among other instruments Shore uses six electric guitars.

4 ) Klute [1971] (Michael Small)

These days I’m mostly drawn to scores that are minimal and understated but get under your skin. Small’s score definitely does that. His use of quartertone marimba and wordless female vocals is very unique and creates a very creepy atmosphere. His main theme provides a very lonely melancholic backdrop over which the seedy New York street scene is explored.

5 ) Dirty Harry [1971] (Lalo Schifrin)

What can I say – a great mix of 70s funk and weird textural free jazz (I read somewhere that the drums were performed by the one and only Mel Lewis!). Like Klute, Harry’s score was one of the first to feature wordless female vocals, but in this context the gliding voice symbolizes Scorpio’s madness and is not used as an erotic siren call.

6 ) Blue Velvet [1986] (Angelo Badalamenti)

Blue Velvet is a lot more melodic than most of my other choices on this list. I just love the boldness of it and the way he enhances the darkness in Lynch’s depiction of suburbia.

7 ) Fantastic Voyage [1966] (Leonard Rosenmen)

The film may have dated a little bit but the score still sounds amazing. Rosenmen was the first film composer to really embrace atonality and serialism. This score utilises a very big orchestra and again texture is a main focus. His score is created largely by combining many complex musical lines into an expanding and contracting mass. Rosenman’s idea was to hold off on the use of any music until the team of doctors (travelling inside a shrunken submarine) enters the body. Only when the doctors get to experience the wonders of the human body do we the audience get to experience Rosenman’s bizarre score.

8 ) The Exorcist II [1977] (Ennio Morricone)

The best thing about this largely forgettable film is its score. Not to take anything away from Morricone’s music which, even though the film is not very good, is starkly original and poignant. His use of chanting voices, ethnic percussion, strange reed instruments and a largely atonal score is unsettling to say the least, and his haunting Ragen’s Theme is bittersweet and beautiful. I could have put any Morricone film on this list – everything he touches turns to gold!

9 ) Planet Of The Apes [1968] (Jerry Goldsmith)

This is one of Goldsmith’s most avant-garde scores. His use of a vast array of unusual ethnic instruments is very interesting. The stuttering mix of percussion and atonalism perfectly mirrors man’s inability to speak and also provides the score with an otherworldly sound.

10 ) Chinatown [1974] (Jerry Goldsmith)

The fact that this score was composed in just 10 days is an impressive feat in its own right. Throw on top of that the fact that the score works so astoundingly well and you’ve got a recipe for legend. The tension between the dark romanticism of the string accompanied love theme and the crisp, thorny clatter of pianos and percussion is what gives Goldsmith’s spare score its powerfully individual quality.

I have to include an Australian score:

11) Wolf Creek [2005] (Franc Tetaz)

Yeah I know what you’re thinking “Wolf Creek?… I hate that movie… blah, blah, blah”. Put down your poppy slashing devices and listen – I think that Wolf Creek’s score is significant for its use of field recordings (Alan Lambs outback wire recordings), found sounds and acoustic music concrète to create a chilling sonic experience for the audience. Horror is all about sound (the Exorcist no longer becomes scary if you turn the sound off), and Tetaz combines chilling and unusual sounds (not usually associated with music) with acoustic instruments in turn blurring the distinction between music and sound design.

*Chris’ favourite track from Esoterica ‘Beefheart’s Bath’ will be posted later this week, enjoy!