Hunting The Unknown
Directed, Edited & Produced by: Lewis Rodan
Starring: Jeff Watkins and Paul Boucher
Cinematography: Naveed Farro
Music Score: Craig McElhinney
Production Design: Joshua Bader
Sound Design: Robbie Stevenson
What prompted the motivation to make Hunting the Unknown?
(Lewis Rodan – Director) I wrote Hunting the Unknown in 2012 for a screenwriting class I was studying at Murdoch University. I was interested in making a film that could discuss ideas on the process of making art and the language of the images, while highlighting the tension of the human detachment or disposition that can come along with such endeavours. I find the role of the street photographer to be a curious observer in this regard, as he/she is totally subsumed in the reality of everyday life, but only glances at fragments of human activity, moving away from a person or moment as quickly as the camera’s shutter clicks.
The film didn’t make a quick transition from script to screen. Once I completed writing it, I moved on with other projects and let it sit in the back of my mind, as I didn’t quite feel I was matured enough to fully form and express what this film called for. I revisited the script in the middle of 2014, and got some helpful input from Jacob Kemp in terms of revising and really teasing out what the film was trying to communicate. From then on it was a continuous movement towards completing the film.
Finding the characters:
(Lewis Rodan– Director) I had a pretty clear character brief for the role of the photographer. This man worshipped his privacy; an obsessive perfectionist that holds himself in a way that appears self-contained. However, there is a fragility about him that lingers. This character drew influence from Karlheinz Böhm’s character Mark Lewis in the film Peeping Tom (1960) by Michael Powell – a film that draws on similar themes, addressing the confrontational nature of the camera, both for the photographer and its subject, but in a more exerted and graphic way.
Upon casting for the role, I had already stumbled across Jeff Watkins’ actors page when revising the script. I immediately thought he possessed a likeness to the qualities I was looking for. We went ahead and held a number of auditions for the role, and Jeff fitted the profile perfectly. Given that for this story, the character’s most frequented environment is the city streets, it was important that Jeff could work comfortably in a public domain, both as an actor and as someone handling a camera. Jeff worked with ease against these challenges faced and really carried some interesting nuances to the circumstances.
(Jeff Watkins – Actor) There are a lot of challenges an actor may face; characters completely against your normal persona; extreme emotional states; portrayal of mental and physical ailments. Another is the portrayal of a journey without any dialogue. This is not the same as being a mime, although I have also played one.
When developing any character, I consider the untold story. The background, and internal dialogue are a large part of any character, and can often create additional tension, which gives a character more depth. Normally, this is played out in the delivery of a line, creating a dramatic conflict between what is being said, and what is actually meant. People tend to use words to hide their feelings.
Without words, it is harder to hide what is inside. First, as an actor, you need to be just that little bit more expressive, which is fine for stage performance, and walks a very fine line for screen. It is essential that you can communicate with the audience through visual cues only. Then, as a person, we are less conscious of how we look, our expressions, and what we reveal, so to those who look closely enough, our thoughts and feelings are clearly seen. What we can’t tell is why.
With any story, there needs to be a journey. The character needs to either develop or fall-apart. There needs to be things that challenge them, where they struggle and either succumb, or over-come. Hunting the Unknown is no different.
(Lewis Rodan– Director) Finding the mythic role proved to be a more of an unveiling process. I can’t recall the original inception of the mythic character but I intended for this character to be a kind of manifestation of the photographer’s psyche. The dialogue that the mythic exchanges is really just the photographer’s own fears and doubts, thoughts that the photographer may have pushed aside, for addressing these issues call for reflection and disrupt the patterns of automated behaviour. However, the mythic does not take a form that resembles doubt, but is presented in a manner that is free of any human frailties, and although he articulates himself in a way that may be puzzling, he is confident in his speech, leaving no question marks in his annunciation.
I took inspiration from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) for the role of the mythic, aligning it to the angels of the film, who uninhibited by human sensibility, are dutifully inclined to watch over the people of Berlin, listening to their thoughts and anxieties.
When casting for the role of the mythic, I thought I would need a noticeably older male to perform, alluding to a sense of wisdom with age. We went through with the auditions and it wasn’t quite clicking until Paul Boucher came through with his interpretation of the character. It wasn’t a sudden eureka moment when Paul auditioned but it left me thinking and intrigued; a quality that the mythic should have. I initially thought Paul might be too young for the role and may cause trouble differentiating him as a guardian of the photographer. But his well-spoken English accent and un-flinching stature gave him an alternative grounding, situating him as someone looking in on the situation.
The mythic character was dependent on standing out amongst a crowd, and it was difficult to foresee if the character would blend in with the city dwellers or not. We could have easily made this mythical distinction by dressing Paul in something outlandish and fantasy-like, but our aim was for the mythic to be a figure that doesn’t shout out at you, but once was recognised is an unavoidable presence.
(Paul Boucher– Actor) How did I prepare for the role of the Mythic? The character is not of this world, it is a higher being, all knowing and all seeing. I needed to separate myself from everything around me, using my senses in a different way. I began by running the shower! I stood outside and watched the water run down the other side of the curtain. I stepped forward, imagining I was stepping through rain – the water not touching me. Being perfectly dry but surrounded by the rain. Further steps involved putting noise-cancelling headphones on and playing white noise. I walked through the city and into shops hearing nothing but this noise. I could see people speaking, hear cars passing but nothing had any influence on me; it was all becoming less important. I continued my walks without making eye contact with anyone, instead of stepping out of people’s path I just stopped and people went around me. I did this for several days each time increasing the feeling of distance between me and the other people around me. By the time of the shoot I was able to draw all of these feelings together, creating the impression that the Mythic was on a different plain to those around him.
Shooting the film
(Naveed Farro – Cinematographer) I acquired inspiration primarily from one of my favourite films; The Tree of Life (2011) directed by Terrence Malick and shot by Emmanuel Lubeski. Lubeski’s fluid camera movements and long takes have always astounded me, and I finally got a chance to attempt to channel that energy in Hunting the Unknown. We spent numerous days trying to find the perfect moments on the lively streets of Perth during primo business hours. In doing this we were able to use thousands of free extras to intermingle with the strange nature of a vigorous street photographer. One of my favourite shots of the film was when actor Jeff Watkins pushed through an entire flock of city workers heading in his direction at a busy intersection. This shot to me, brilliantly characterized the unique perception and lonely nature of our protagonist.
How do you think an audience will receive the film?
(Lewis Rodan – Director) Something I was exploring with this film was the question of “how do you measure the worth of artistic expression?”. Trying to understand the link between the artists work and an audiences reception is a difficult thing to fathom, and if you mull over it too much you can either find yourself trapped in a state of solipsism, or diluting your own ideals in hopes to make something more accessible. I believe the role of an artist it to approach his work with as much honesty and faith to life as he/she perceives it. If this is done with passion and hard work an audience should follow.