Interview: Claudia Pickering

Claudia Pickering

“Improv is so important because you have to be present and honest. You have to be reacting honestly to things at all times instead of being a bullshit artist.”

Interview by Matthew Eeles

How has the film been received so far?
Man, the screenings have been so good. During the Q&As I’ve found that people are so pumped to make stuff and get out there and make films. They’re clearly asking questions which then allude to how they’re going to do it. The reason I quit my architecture job to make Frisky was because I went along to a similar type of Q&A and got pumped about making a film. The guy at the Q&A made his film for about twenty thousand and I bombarded him with questions like what did he shoot it on and what it cost him to make. He told me he got a bunch of mates together and fed them and shot it on his 7D. I quit my job and went out and made Frisky. [Laughs].

Is there enough education out there on how to make independent films, or is it all reserved for the high end of filmmaking?
I think there’s tonnes of education out there. Because we have these wonderful government funding bodies people are taught to make use of those and create projects that are essentially at that standard and at that budget. I totally get why government funding bodies want to do that because they want shit-hot quality and they will only get behind things that are big enough for that. You do actually have to go out and make things on your own to start with and I think people forget that. I learnt in the States where there are no funding bodies and I hadn’t been taught in Australia how to do this stuff, I just made stuff.

Fisky is based on a real events. How much of the film is true?
All of it. [Laughs].

One hundred percent of it?
Pretty bloody close to it. Obviously I don’t remember the exact words that were coming out of people’s mouths but the main event from every scene is true. Everything that happens in the film happened in real life. The events didn’t necessarily happen where they happen in the film, and they didn’t necessarily happen in that order and the names have all changed. I’m still very, very good friends with all of those people. We all went through our own selfish bullshit but the story of the film is about learning to care for other people.

You hired most of your crew from Craigslist. Did everyone stick around from beginning to end or were crew swapping and changing roles?
Everyone stuck around. It was glorious. We originally started shooting with two cameras for the first couple of days because we thought it would be faster, but we stopped doing that because it ended up being a lot more difficult, so that second camera operator ended up leaving on very good terms. Due to scheduling reasons a few roles chopped and changed here and there but other than that everyone stayed on.

Claudia Pickering and Monica Ammerman in Frisky.

Did you source your cast from Craigslist too?
No. [Laughs]. The casting happened through the proper casting methods. We’ve cast something before with Craigslist and it didn’t work out well. The cast get burnt a lot. If you’re an actor, you get really weary of filmmakers and low budget films because a lot of them don’t get finished. You spend a lot of time working on this thing and you never end up getting the piece for your reel which is the reason you’re doing it. I wanted to make Frisky genuine and for it not to be this fly-by-night kind of thing. I knew I could finish it because there was no way in hell I wasn’t finishing it and I needed our cast to know that. If they saw a film on Craigslist named Frisky they might have thought it was some sketchy bullshit and that it was probably a porno. [Laughs]. I spent some of the film’s budget to rent out a theatre so the auditions felt like the real deal, because it was. Once we cast everyone we had them all come around for a read through and we had cheese and wine and everyone got to know each other really well.
The entire process hinged on everyone trusting me and each other. That was a massive thing for me.

Were there many changes to the script once you started shooting considering the entire cast is American and the script is written by an Australian?
Surprisingly no. But I had been living in America for about four years at the time and my partner is American. When I was writing the script I would ask him, “Are these words that would come out of an American’s mouth?” Most of the time he would say, “No, that’s shit. Fix it.” [Laughs]. We shot the first draft and while it does come across as being very improvised it’s very true to the script. When you have no time to improvise and it’s being shot in many different locations, you have to be true to the script.

You’ve made most of your films overseas. Do you plan to come home and make a movie here at some stage?
Everything I’ve made overseas has been Australian and I’ve never made anything that hasn’t been Aussie so I’m thrilled to be back here. I’ve got a bunch of Aussie stuff in development. My tone is also very Australian and I really enjoy writing that way. I try to keep up to date with the local industry and I’m also trying to keep on top of what my friends are doing and I try to go along to all kinds of industry events. I’m excited to make bigger things here because we make gold! [Laughs].

Claudia Pickering in Frisky.

During my later high school years me and my mates would wag school to watch UCB on the comedy channel. I was excited to learn you studied improvisational comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade. What was that experience like?
It was good. It was so good! [Laughs]. I love that long-form improvisation that they do there. That whole Chicago improv scene is right up my alley. In Australia we do much more short-form, theatre-sports-style improv. When I came back to Australia a couple of years ago I was doing a bunch of improv shows with a little group of people in Sydney. It was funny because we had all been taught different styles and we were all playing by different rules. It was a shitshow because it felt like everyone was talking different languages to each other. [Laughs]. In Chicago it’s about real stuff, and while it’s meant to be all about comedy you’re trying to have an honest connection with the person you’re performing with. It’s not just about creating characters as much as it’s about finding the situation that the scene gives to you. I remember doing one scene in Chicago and we both ended up in tears by one of the most moving pieces of acting I’ve ever been involved in. I was sitting in this comedy class and we went somewhere really hectic. I looked around and the whole class was crying and it was so beautiful. That’s what improvisation is all about.

Would you recommend improv to all actors? I image it would be quite a confidence booster.
I wouldn’t just recommend improv to actors, but I’d recommend improv to everyone in the entire world. [Laughs]. It’s so important because you have to be present and honest. You have to be reacting honestly to things at all times instead of being a bullshit artist. It is such a confidence builder on all levels and it’s such a wonderful way to meet people. It’s so much fun and so good for you and you realise you can have these great connections with people who you didn’t know two seconds earlier.

Is ‘Is it dog poo, or is it human poo?’ a real game in San Francisco?
Yeah! [Laughs]. It sure is. There is so much dog poo in San Francisco that it’s the most striking thing when you go there. You’ve got this idea of Full House and these Victorian Terraces which are all beautiful but there is such a massive gradient between the rich and the poor that it blows you away. There are a lot of homeless people there and a lot of poo in the streets which belongs to people and a lot of poo in the streets which belongs to dogs. [Laughs]. When you step in it you’re constantly wondering who’s that was. [Laughs]. We used to call it the Faeces Species Game. There are websites out there dedicated to that shit. [Laughs]. Watch your step when you go to San Francisco.

Frisky is available to stream across multiple services now. Details at http://www.friskymovie.com

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