Cinema Australia Original Content:
After decades working overseas, the multi-talented Marion Pilowsky has returned home to direct her first feature, The Flip Side starring Emily Taheny, Vanessa Guide, Luke McKenzie and Eddie Izzard. We caught up with Pilowsky to discuss her new comedy.
“I wanted it to be completely relatable. I didn’t want the women in the film to be waking up with eyeshadow and lip gloss.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
You wrote The Flip Side when you returned home to Adelaide after working overseas for so many years. What inspired this romantic comedy.
When I came back I was very much struck by how different Europeans are to Australians. That intrigued me because I felt like I had a foot in each world. I miss certain things about London, but being able to have a Chiko Roll after all those years away was the best thing ever. [Laughs]. I spent the first week having things like Burger Rings and Iced Coffees. [Laughs]. I spent a lot of time thinking about how many times in life we think that there’s something better for us out there and the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side. It just struck me how much I could see about Adelaide what I couldn’t see when I was living there. That gave me an idea about an ambivalent woman and what would happen if someone came from the outside and what that would do to her.
You mentioned the differences between the Europeans and Australians. What are some of those differences you incorporated into The Flip Side?
Well I think the Europeans obviously are connected to the world in a different way, geographically. We’re so isolated here. If they want to go to a part of Europe it’s all within five or six hours. If we want to go somewhere five or six hours away, we’re still on that road halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne. [Laughs]. I think that creates a different mindset. What’s wonderful about living in Australia, and on the flip side of that, it can maybe limit our ambition.
How were you feeling a few days before action was called? Would you say you were prepared to finally helm your own feature film as a director after so many years on shorts.
Yes, absolutely. I felt completely confident about that. I’d never had any ambivalence about the directing side whatsoever. Because I had written the material and gone through many, many drafts of the script, I felt very close to it. I’d worked with Fox for quite some time creatively getting it to a place we both felt confident about. I didn’t have any fears about directing at all. My fears came from the fact that we had 35 different locations in five weeks. Would we be able to get it done before Eddie had to leave? Will Emily and Luke get along? I was very, very lucky because the whole cast got along, all the locations fell into place. The weather was a little against us. Of course there were battles and struggles, because there always is, but I think that because I was a producer for so many years the struggles didn’t phase me like they would another first time director.
I imagine getting the right mixture of comedy and drama is quite challenging. Can you tell us how you managed to balance the two during the writing process?
I always feel that truth and authenticity, whether dramatic or comedic, if you just write it that way it will come through as opposed to forcing a conceit. I wanted it to be completely relatable. I didn’t want the women in the film to be waking up with eyeshadow and lip gloss on for example.
I noticed that and I loved it.
I’m so glad you noticed. That’s so good because it always annoys me and all my girlfriends. Nobody wakes up like that. I just wanted real life reflected on the screen. Emily does it brilliantly and Vanessa is perfect as well. For me, if you play it straight the comedy comes out and you never have to force it. The only place in the film I thought I really wanted to go to that broad Australian place was with Tiriel Mora as The Mechanic. I just couldn’t resist. That was a lot of fun and it was purely for me. [Laughs].
You wrote the script with your partner Lee Sellars. Without getting too personal, did it bring up any questions about your own relationship, because this is the response you’re trying to get out of the viewer, right?
You’re right. Good question. I guess when you have been in a long term relationship, or you have ambivalence about what you’re doing, it does have an impact on relationships. Lee and I have been together for almost 30 years so I’ve known him since I was 14. What used to be massive arguments are just massive insights now. [Laughs]. We’re evolved, but that doesn’t mean we have to put classical music on every now and then, while we’re writing, to calm ourselves down. That’s one of the techniques we use. What we do is exploit the fact that he can do the male voice and I can do the female voice. We exploit that quite a bit. You do learn stuff on that level.
Were you always going to write this script with Lee?
Yeah. We’ve written quite a bit together but this is the first feature we’ve made. We’ve written other features together which haven’t been produced yet. We do have a particular way of working together where we will come up with particular ideas, for whatever reason, and Lee might do the first draft then I might do the next ten, then he might come in with completely fresh eyes and we will start working together again. Generally speaking, apart from one script I’ve written, Lee will tend to always do the first draft.
Eddie Izzard is getting a lot of media attention for this film for obvious reasons, but it’s really Emily Taheny’s film. She’s very suited to play a character with such depth. Can you tell us about casting Emily and working with her as an actor?
She’s an undiscovered gem. I stumbled across her face on an agents website. I remembered I had seen her in a skit on TV and I remember thinking she was so brilliant in it. It always stuck in my mind. I told her agent I’d like to see her, so we met and we did a couple of workshops together. I kept searching for other actors but I kept coming back to Emily. I told Fox that I thought she was incredible, I knew it was a risk, but I knew she was something special, so they went for it. She doesn’t overplay it at all and I love watching her.
At first I thought Eddie’s casting was a little left of field, but he’s actually perfect here. How does someone as high profile as Eddie Izzard get involved in a little Australian film like this?
I had been ruminating on Henry for a while. I’d been thinking if I had a list with Eddie Izzard on it, who else would be on that list? I sent the script to his agent and three or four days later he called me. It was incredible. It was the most nerve wracking conversation I had ever had in my life. He’s not a guy for small talk. Because I hadn’t discussed the script with many actors before you’re thrown back to the creative process. It was very exciting.
How much does working in Australian film reflect society at the moment and recent movements to give women in particular a fairer go in the local industry?
I hope it does reflect it. I’ve read some interesting statistics which are disturbing. I think that Australia does quite well and part of that is because of Screen Australia and their gender matters initiative. They supported us in the distribution, I didn’t go through the gender matters door for this, I just went through the creative door. Afterwards they wanted to help with the distribution side which was fabulous. I just think that I would hope that when producers are looking at potential directors and there are ten directors on a list that five of them are women. One would hope.
Do you feel like you were well supported working with such a large studio?
Completely. You can’t imagine what it’s like to work as a first time director with a studio, because of coarse I had worked with studios before as a producer. The thing that people don’t realise about studios is that they’re incredible professionals and their standards are incredibly high, but they’re also incredibly confident and they’re confident in the decisions they make therefore they’re confident in you. You get a trickle down effect of people being completely relaxed and confident, as opposed to panicked and anxious. You never feel undermined and I felt constantly supported. For me, it’s been an incredible experience.
The South Australian Film Industry is booming at the moment. It feels like it’s going from strength-to-strength. Is this something you noticed upon your return home?
Yes. I think what’s happening is that people are realising how hard it is to film in cities like Sydney and Melbourne now, and the logistics of it all. South Australia has incredible locations and a studio. The South Australian Film Commision works hard to attract work to the state and making the industry more sustainable for the people who work and live and stay in South Australia, as opposed to the people who train in South Australia then move to work in Melbourne or Sydney. I think it’s a cumulative effect of a lot of targeted initiative working towards that goal.
The Flip Side is in cinemas now.