Get to Know: Riley Sugars

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Riley Sugars and Stavros Psoras on the set of Rabbits.

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Welcome to the first ever Get to Know – a new feature where we put a series of simple questions to an up-and-coming screen industry talent.

Recently released online, Riley Sugars’ latest short film Rabbits explores a complex relationship between a father and son in 1960s Australia. This impressive and emotionally-driven short film marks Sugars as a filmmaker to watch.

Based in Melbourne and having studied at Deakin University, the aspiring filmmaker has a stack of short film credits to his name including Checkmate (2104), Prosperity: The Underlying Habit of Success (2016) and romantic drama, For the Love of Cinema. Sugars is currently working on multiple projects including a web series.

You can watch Rabbits below.

What is your earliest film memory?
I first remember being about six years old and sneaking in between two couches whilst my Dad watched A View to a Kill (1985), the last James Bond with Roger Moore. I just loved the adventure and action and the scene where Bond and Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) fight on the Golden Gate Bridge – I just watched in awe. If me and my brother were good at school, my Dad would pick up VHS tapes and I remember running home from school to watch animated films like The Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. 

When did you realise you wanted a career in the screen industry?
From a very early age. I just loved films so much and everything about them. In my Prep school artwork, I wrote “I want to make movies and shows” so it was meant to be. I think as I grew up, I read lots about the greats; Disney, Scorsese, Spielberg, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Burton, Tarantino. I just remember thinking, “Wow, I want to do that”. Over time it has grown to the ideal of me giving back to the industry that has given me a thirst and passion for life. 

Who is the one person that has influenced you the most as a filmmaker and how?
So many filmmakers. I have been influenced by the precise and meticulous filmmaking standard of David Fincher. I aspire to be as excellent a filmmaker as he is. But I think also a lot has to be said about the control Steven Spielberg has with emotions and how he is able to pull on emotion at necessary times. 

What makes a great film for you?
A great film for me is a film that I leave the cinema and want to discuss for hours, recommend to friends and rewatch again. Great films should absorb you and grab your attention wholeheartedly. 

Des Flanagan in Rabbits.

As a filmmaker, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?
Unquestionably my short film Rabbits. We shot over a week for a project I put half a year of solid work into. Like Damien Chazelle with La La Land, I struggled to call WRAP because the film meant so much to me and I just wanted to keep shooting and be with the team. The project was emotionally draining as the film’s subject material was extremely personal. But I think I was really proud of being uncompromising in my vision. I owe a lot to my team for being excellent in their own jobs that we were able to make a film that was originally conceived. Six months went by and nothing in regards to festivals. However finally, the flood gates opened and we were selected for the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, a BAFTA Qualifier in England. I may have shed a tear, not out of happiness, but out of relief and the knowledge that the time, money and effort was spent well. As well as the knowledge that I had made something that was a decent film. 

As a filmmaker, I find that I am constantly running up against grandiose ideas that I have versus the reality of actually making them.” 

As a filmmaker, what has been your most challenging experience so far?
As a filmmaker, I find that I am constantly running up against grandiose ideas that I have vs. the reality of actually making them. I will write a short film which is ten pages, thinking that it will be easy to make, and then when I step back and put my producing hat on, I will be flabbergasted at the cost of making it. But I think finding the self discipline as a writer to constantly and consistently write is my “forever challenge”. Your success or failure in writing is all up to you and the work you put in during this stage of the creative process. But once you find your people, you can use them as almost “disciplinarians” who help you stick to deadlines and push you to do better. 

In your opinion, is the Australian screen industry a fair environment for all filmmakers?
The Australian Screen Industry is fair, but like all screen industries, it’s not what you know, but who you know. I think people coming out of schools or young film/content creators need more encouragement through grants and such. I understand the financial side of the business, yet it would be great for more opportunities for emerging filmmakers to get a shot at making passion projects. I’ve worked on both female and male led shorts. Clearly more female based projects need support and I would love to see more female peers in director/writer roles. But at the same time, I also believe that it is about the passion the creator shows for the project and the persistence they show. 

Des Flanagan and Riley Sugars on the set of Rabbits.

What is your favourite Australian film and why?
Wake in Fright. I watched in film school and I was flawed. Violent and shocking, yet original and stunning. An incredible portrayal of drinking culture in the country. I also have to mention my love for films like The Castle, Chopper, Kenny, The King (Australian Co-Production) and the magnificent Adam Elliot claymation Mary & Max

You can find out more about Riley Sugars here.

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