Interview: Mekelle Mills

L to R. Clementine Mills, Hannah Raven Smith, Mekelle Mills and Kaska Zielinski. Picture

L to R. Clementine Mills, Hannah Raven Smith, Mekelle Mills and Kaska Zielinski.

“I don’t want this to sound dicky but I wasn’t really expecting it to get into the festivals.”

Mekelle Mills has the potential to be a major player within the Australian film industry. Her directorial debut is a fine example of well organised and well executed amateur filmmaking that rivals the writing and directing talent of some of Australia’s more established filmmakers.
It was a treat to chat with the bubbly Mills recently and talk about her new film, Zoe.Misplaced.

Zoe.Misplaced has screened at a number of festivals now. What kind of audience reaction has tit had so far?
It has been pretty positive really. We played at the Mardi Gras Film Festival but I also put a screening on of my own in Newcastle to show the people who supported me through crowd funding as well as family and friends. The reaction has been really positive in a way that people aren’t just telling me that I’ve made a good film, it’s been really positive in the way that we’ve had all walks of life including gay, straight, 20 year olds, 40 year olds, male and female telling me that the film is relatable. They’ve also been really surprised because of the budget and that I’m a first time filmmaker. It’s been awesome.

With your Pozible campaign you managed to reach $2,155 over your target. Were you expecting the campaign to be so successful?
Well I don’t want to put a negative spin on it but when people look at that number they think we raised more than we expected. Unfortunately, what happens is if the funds aren’t in the accounts then we don’t get the money. So it looks like we raised quite a bit but we actually only raised half of that. All up the Pozible campaign raised us about $3000 which is still a lot but only a quarter of the total budget.

That’s a shame. So where did the rest of the budget come from?
Myself (laughs). I borrowed a bit of money but I also worked quite a bit when I was writing and just before we started filming Zoe.Misplaced. I saved quite a bit also and funded it myself in that respect.

Because of that experience would you use Pozible again to fund another film?
Absolutely. As I said, I didn’t want to put a negative spin on it. What I love most about crowd funding is that it really raises awareness for your project. Obviously there is going to be people who can’t contribute financially but it’s great in getting the word out there and it was a great platform for me to introduce the film. People trust Pozible because it has become a real brand.

There are two cinematographers credited in the film, one being yourself and the other being Kane Massey. Why did you decide on two cinematographers and were you ever worried this would affect the overall look of the film?
Well it’s an interesting story. It’s a simple story but interesting in a way. The film was sort of like a community project and we were all doing it for the love of it. I found a few of the crew on (a talent website). I also found Kane there as well. He told me that he had the RED camera, which is a brilliant camera and shoots in 2K and 4K resolution. We shot the first two weeks of the film with the RED camera but unfortunately we were only able to shoot 21 scenes in two weeks. Having such a low budget we couldn’t possibly shoot another 20 scenes in that time so we decided that we would drop the RED camera and then I took over shooting on my $1500 Canon 60D. So some of the film was with the RED but a majority of it was with the 60D.

Were you happy with the look of the film in the end? It’s a shame you had to lose Kane.
I am happy with how it turned out. Kane is a brilliant cinematographer and I love what he did but to me the film is very much about the story and I felt like we were taking away from the story through how the film was looking. Because we were spending so much time with the RED camera I thought we were falling away from the story which to me was the most important thing. I love how raw the film is. The performances of the cast where being affected because of how much time we were taking with the RED camera. I’m happy with our film but also love what you can do with the RED as well.

The synopsis for Zoe.Misplaced describes the film as focussing on the ‘normality’ of life as a lesbian. Was the focus of Zoe.Misplaced aimed at a non-gay audience?
Yes, I guess. Maybe 50/50. Part of the reason I made the film was because I wanted a film like this. If you can’t find something that you need, create it. I want anybody to be able to watch this and to relate to these characters because lesbians watch straight films so why can’t it go the opposite way. We didn’t need to keep it restricted.

Were you aiming to get a reaction out of anybody?
I don’t want this to sound dicky but I wasn’t really expecting it to get into the festivals, and that doesn’t mean that I thought it was a shit film, but that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to make a film because I was sick of not being able to and also to make a film like this for other people to watch. I was having so much fun making it at the time that I wasn’t thinking about how people might react to it.
I wanted to make a film that wasn’t shit and that’s what I was focusing on. I’m really shocked at the amount of festivals the film has played in and I didn’t really know what to expect from audiences. I just hoped that everyone liked it (laughs).

Hannah Raven Smith is a beautiful and talented actress. How did you like working with her?
She is beautiful and talented. I think Hannah would be a really great comedy actress. Zoe was meant to be so structured and so set in her ways but Hannah brought this quirky and fun side to Zoe’s personality that was really quite subtle and I think that was the real Hannah coming through in her role. I think she did a great job.
All of the actors were fresh out of drama school and I think we were all just such a good team. Everyone was so fantastic to work with. No one was getting paid so for them all to be so passionate about the project was very lucky.

You’re definitely a talented filmmaker and someone who I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of in the Australian film industry. Why did you decide to drop out of film school?
(Laughs). You’ve done your research. No one has asked me that yet (laughs). I’m not going to mention the school but I didn’t like the way it was run and I wasn’t learning what I felt I could learn considering the amount of money I was paying.

So it was a politic thing?
Correct. I chose a career to save money and to get overseas so I never got back to film school and I don’t regret that at all. They made us put vacuums on our backs and made us clean rooms. That’s not what I was there for.

Have you had any distribution offers yet for Zoe.Misplaced?
I’ve had interest but no offers yet. I’ve had people wanting to see the film so I’m waiting anxiously to hear back. It was an incredible contact to receive but as yet we haven’t heard if they want to (laughs). Fingers crossed.

What’s next for you as a filmmaker? Are there any projects in the pipeline or have you had any offers to direct anymore films?
I do actually, yes. I do have another project of my own and something I want to write myself. With all the hype around Zoe I’ve found it difficult to concentrate and I don’t think I’m ready to let Zoe go yet. Ryan, who plays Tom in the film, has written an awesome little short that he has asked me to direct but unfortunately I’ve had to turn it down because I’m no longer in the area.

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