Doing it their way
Husband and wife duo Alice Foulcher and Gregory Erdstein – or Greggles as Alice affectionately (and rather cutely) refers to him – are deep in post-production on their new film, That’s Not Me.
It’s the story of wanna-be actor Polly (Foulcher) who dreams of making it to the big time. She’s beaten to it though by her sister Amy who’s also started dating Jared Leto. Mistaken for her famous sister at every turn, Polly decides to use her sister’s celebrity for her own advantage – free clothes, free booze, casual sex… with disastrous consequences for them both.
Cinema Australia caught up with the hilarious couple recently to discuss their new independently made Australian comedy,
Interview by Matthew Eeles
Some of our readers may not realise that you two are married. How did you two meet?
Gregory: We met at the VCA Film School in 2008. One of our first exercises was to re-edit a scene from the series Gunsmoke. Alice and I spent most of the time trying to make our edit as absurd as possible and while the end product didn’t make a lot of sense, it certainly made us laugh. I think that probably sums up most of our work as filmmakers since.
Alice: We started dating towards the end of that year, after becoming friends first. It’s worked out pretty well for us, in that we’re so compatible both as a couple and as filmmakers. It does make it hard to leave work at work though!
You’ve both collaborated on a handful of short films. Tell us about working together on a feature film, respectively.
Gregory: A feature isn’t so much a marathon as it is several marathons one after the other. Or so I imagine. I’ve never run a marathon. The point is that it certainly takes a toll after a while and I don’t know how we would have gotten through it without the other.
In terms of process, our collaborative history means that we don’t bullshit each other creatively. We have a shared language and having two brains hopefully means that we will always be able to motivate each other, even when one of us wants to go and become an accountant. It also means that we will always have someone there to tell us at the end of each day that we’re not shit and no, we didn’t completely fuck up the film for the other.
Alice: I really needed that regular reassurance personally.
We both went into it not knowing if we could pull it off, but knowing that either way we’d come out the other end a better actor/director. Neither of us could’ve made the film without the other – and we’re so lucky to have the support that we give each other. Also, Greggles is the funniest person I know. My short films were way too self-serious before I started collaborating with him.
The plot is an interesting one. Where did the idea for the film come from?
Gregory: We saw a short film featuring a friend-of-a-friend and it wasn’t their best performance. It was only after checking IMDB that we realised it wasn’t them, it was their twin. So we took that idea further – and started to wonder what it would be like as an actor having someone out there doing terrible work giving you both a bad name in the process. (My VCA grad film was also about a man who has a brain tumour removed that turns out to be the body of his identical twin, so I may be slightly obsessed with twins).
That’s the idea we took over to the residency in Paris, but during our time there it took a different turn and started to bring in the broader themes of why people pursue creative careers and what happens when people who have been given every opportunity to succeed realise they haven’t fulfilled their childhood dreams, and does that really matter? Those themes are as much a part of the film as they are questions we were asking ourselves as we each had our own mini-meltdown over there. All we’d wanted since film school was time and space to do the projects we wanted. Now we had it and at first we weren’t entirely sure what to do with it. But as time went on we realised that the down time and people we met in Paris were as important to the script as the physical act of writing the script itself.
Alice: Having an existential crisis in Paris was pretty clichéd. Watching the Cosmos series really didn’t help at that point. The cheap wine did. But it definitely forced us to consider why we want to make films on a deeper level. I feel our generation has been raised to believe we can all be rock stars and famous actors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – our parents only want us to be happy and have opportunities they didn’t. But the film for me is about learning to embrace the disappointment of discovering that life doesn’t necessarily work like that. You have to enjoy the doing, the process – the end result can’t be the only goal.
You’re quite proud of the fact that the film passes the Bechdel Test with a strong female cast and crew. Was this the intention from the beginning?
Gregory: Passing the Bechdel Test wasn’t what we set out to do (for a long time there I may have thought it was called the Béchamel Test) but we definitely made conscious choices along the way to ensure that our film was female driven both in plot and production. I think our film passes the test in its first five minutes, which really speaks to what a low bar of entry it really it is. And the fact that apparently nearly half of all films made don’t pass that test is ridiculous. It sounds foolish in hindsight but it was only during our time at the residency that we really started to examine this in depth. And once you start noticing you it, you see it everywhere. Obviously as a white male director I could be seen as part of the problem. But I’m not going to stop making stuff. What I can do is make sure we have women in as many key roles as possible and create work that is female focused and doesn’t acquiesce to traditional ideas of how women are portrayed or should behave in society or on screen. The more work that is out there like that the sooner we will stop having conversations about ‘strong female’ films and just discuss the films by themselves.
Alice: It was really important to us that the lead was an ordinary, relatable female character. We’d like to see more female-led comedies in Australia. There’s a wealth of them over in the US – Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Jenny Slate etc. There’s a huge amount of talent here too, it’s just about creating the opportunities.
Fittingly, our producers were also recently granted some funding under Screen Australia’s very exciting Gender Matters initiative.
How valuable were Anna Kojevnikov and Sally Storey as producers. They certainly bring a lot of experience with them.
Gregory: Anna and Sally were amazing. Making shorts by ourselves and even at VCA you tend to take on a lot if not all of the producing duties yourself, which doesn’t allow much space to work as a director. To have two experienced producers who handled every stage of logistics meant I could turn up on set each day and just be another cog in the machine. They made my life very easy!
Alice: They’ve been absolute lifesavers. About 2 weeks before we started shooting they forbid me from doing anything more producing-related. That was so important for me – not only was this the first time I’d acted in a feature film, but I was in literally every scene. Sometimes twice. (That’s what happens when you write for yourself…) They’ve also been amazing in post – Anna just took the film to the MIFF 37 South market, where it was really well received with some very exciting interest. We’re also super lucky in that a friend from VCA, Robert Potter, is a lawyer – so he’s done all our contracts and legals for an Executive Producer credit. It’s been so great for us to develop as a team together on our first feature, and learn together.
The film was shot for $60,000. What are some of the pros and cons of working to such a tight budget?
Gregory: The pros are that we got to make the film we wanted to make with mostly the cast and crew we wanted (including myself as director and Alice as the star). If that means breaking up the schedule to get that cast and crew when they are available, so be it. And we were also able to control our spending to make sure we were always value-adding on screen. Which means maybe paying more for certain locations because they actually gave us ten times that amount in terms of production values. So even though it’s a low budget film, it looks a million bucks. Maybe two or three million.
The cons are that in breaking up the schedule you end up spending nine months in a state of perpetual pre-production.
Alice: Yeah, I think if we’d had to answer to a funding body that it’s very unlikely we could have made the film with me starring in it and Greggles directing.
Having said all that, I feel like you can really only ask people for the favours that we did once. No one’s going to keep working on deferred payments on the next project. So we’re really going to need funding for the next one… *coy wave at Screen Australia*
The film has an intriguing cast including Isabel Lucas and Andrew O’Keefe. Tell us a bit about casting for the film.
Gregory: The cast are a mix of friends, people we’ve worked with before either on our own or other people’s films, recommendations and random people we admired from afar. We approached those people cold with only the script, our short film work and the promise of a good time. We were very lucky in that I think we got pretty much our first choice for every role.
Alice: One of our actors said to us at one point “You guys have a seriously amazing cast – and you’re underutilising all of them”. And he’s 100% right.
Some actors we’d worked with before on our short films – like Janine Watson (Picking Up at Auschwitz), Belinda Misevski (our Tropfest short A Bit Rich), and Lloyd Allison-Young (Paris Syndrome). Greggles also co-directed Steve Mouzakis and Arthur Angel in the short Two Devils with Jonathan auf der Heide (Van Diemen’s Land). Others we’ve been wanting to work with for years. I’ve known Isabel Lucas for almost a decade, and we’ve collaborated on lots of little creative projects (photography, experimental videos etc), but we’ve been waiting to work with each other on the right film project. She’s an absolute dream to work with, and I seriously think this role is like nothing she’s done before. All our actors, including Isabel, underplay the comedy in such a wonderful way. They’re not playing it “for laughs”. We’ve also been dying to work with Rick Davies (Offspring) since seeing him in a short film he wrote called When the Wind Changes directed by Alethea Jones. It’s hands down my favourite short film, and I think he’s some kind of comic genius. Also, it was pretty neat to have my Dad in the film played by the Dad from Round the Twist. My inner-child-Alice was pretty excited about that.
Does Andrew play himself in the film, or a character? He’s a terrific actor.
Gregory: Andrew is a great comedic actor. I remember him on the Big Bite too and he was always hilarious. For us, he was extremely generous with his time. It took us a long time to find a day that would work and in the end he only had one morning in Melbourne – my birthday – between shooting The Chase and Weekend Sunrise and we scrambled to get everyone together. He was totally brilliant and made some very funny choices which made the final cut.
Alice: We’ve both been big fans of Andrew O’Keefe for a long time. I remember being in stitches over his Russell Crowe impersonations in Big Bite. He’s a brilliant comedic actor, and he was such a delight to work with. Andrew plays a Paul Robinson-type character, on a Neighbours-esque soapie called Summer Street. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the film.
An interesting plot element to the film is that one of the characters is dating Jared Leto. Do we get a glimpse of the eccentric American actor?
Alice: You’ll just have to wait and see! (Our lawyer wants us to stress that Jared Leto was in no way involved in the making of this film.)
That’s Not Me is aiming for a 2017 release.