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23 November 2017
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Sofya Gollan, writer/director Preservation

Sofya talks about making her first short feature with Jacqui McKenzie

Why did you choose to make a short feature?

Preservation started out as a 15-minute short film written to be made while I was at film school. But once I graduated, I was always aware that it was going to be a very expensive short to do outside of the film school - it being set in the 1890s. When I heard about the initiative offered by the AFC I knew that I had the material for a one-hour story. I approached Della Churchill (producer) around then and we both clicked over the content and what kind of film we wanted to make. And we were both at a stage where we wanted the challenge of stepping up from shorts.

What interested you about the length? What can short features offer that shorts and features can't?

Holding a one-hour story in your head and [learning] how it will fit together is much closer to feature filmmaking than shorts will ever be. The opportunity was there to learn how to pace yourself and the ideas of the people around you over a longer run. So as an induction to the rigours of feature filmmaking it's a fantastic opportunity to get that experience without the added pressure of having to be commercially successful, beyond the presale to SBS, or a box office hit. We approached making this film as if it were for cinema as we were confident the film would have a place in festivals as well as on SBS. As it turns out, many of the films including ours are going overseas in festivals as long short films ... or short features in some cases.

It is a perfect stepping stone in accumulating the skills needed to write, direct and produce features.

How did you settle on the narrative for the film?

It began as a short film for my honours year at AFTRS, but I decided to graduate with a Masters instead (I couldn't afford to do another year of study!). It reflected an interest I have in gothic elements of Australian films over the last decade or so, and not being at film school there was really no place to take the story as I didn't think it would be a practical film to make as a short. So once the AFC initiative came up, it was a case of opening out the elements and expanding them to fit the format. There was enough material for a feature - but that was never our goal. We wanted the opportunity to test ourselves before moving on.

What's your film about?

In some ways I see it as a very traditional love story. Lonely woman meets an equally lonely man and they fall in love, despite the rather revolting circumstances that surround them. I was attracted to the themes of damaged people and how their secrets can cause them to become blind to opportunities to connect with other people, and thus find potential happiness. I've always thought that friends were the most important possession you could have, and these are two people who have none due to their circumstances. So despite the themes of death and decay being present strongly in the film, it has a happy ending in that they do find each other. It's a bleak film with a happy ending.

How important was casting?

We started casting the role of Daphne first as she is the leading character in the film. Working with Shauna Wolifson at Mullinars, we had a fantastic list of actors to work from that were potentially available, and we also had a wish list that we thought would be unavailable or 'too elevated' for a short feature. But Shauna encouraged us to try and contact Jacqui McKenzie who was right at the top of our list. We were fortunate in that Jacqui loved the script and was very supportive of it through our subsequent uncertainties of gaining the final bit of finance we needed to get the film up.

Casting the role of Nick was a bit harder, because we were faced with the fact that many of the talented actors in their 30s tend to go straight to Hollywood and stay there. I hadn't even thought of Jack Finsterer for the preliminary auditions until I ran into his sister Anni, an actress, and realised we had overlooked someone who could be perfect. And his audition was fantastic. So there was no doubt in my mind that we had found him as soon as he walked in. He was interesting in that he was someone who had refused to get himself hooked into a long running character on any TV shows, preferring to do guest roles and holding out for films. So he wasn't as well known in terms of film experience as some of the other actors we were considering. In the end he turned out to be inspired casting opposite Jacqui. He also 'got' the lightness of the character in one of the audition scenes where others played it much more hard edged.

It was also great to be able to work with some favourite actors - Kris McQuade is someone I've tried to cast in nearly everything I've done because I'm a total fan of hers. Hopefully I'll be able to keep on casting her in most of my films! Simon Burke was also a real coup in terms of the experience and enjoyment he would bring to the role. Fiona Martinelli was someone I was keen to work with, having gone through acting school with her, and Genevieve Hegney was also someone I was keen to work with as a newish actor coming up through the ranks.

As a filmmaker, has making a short feature given you the confidence to continue working in film?

Yes. It's great to get the support at a time when I really needed to make the jump. Like most filmmakers I have features in development, but I was always conscious that shorts aren't going to necessarily show how well you will direct a feature. In many ways shorts are a different sport to features.

What are your future plans for the film? How is it doing at festivals?

It has screened at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, and more recently at the St Tropez International Film Festival.

Preservation