NRFF Interviews Director Jennifer Perrott
Movie • 23 min • Drama, Family
DIRECTED BY Jennifer Perrott *OSCAR 2018 Qualifier
When young Ruby’s father returns unexpectedly from war, his volatile state makes it difficult for the family to reconnect. Ruby’s anxieties are projected onto a pair of ravens, vigilantly defending their nearby nest, who become a catalyst for the troubled family’s journey from crisis to healing.
1. Welcome to the New Renaissance Film Festival. Congratulations on your nominations for ‘The Ravens’. How does it feel to be nominated in 3 categories: Best International Film Director, Best International Actress, Best Young Talent Actor.
Heartfelt thanks for programming our film. It feels amazing to have to three nominations. It’s the most we have ever received at an international festival! I’m very proud of my whole team and feel lucky to be on this journey.
2. Tell us about the central characters in the film and their journey. What inspired you to write about a family affected by PTS disorder?
I grew up in a Defence Force Community in Australia so have always had contact with service personnel and their families. I’ve met many middle aged people with PTS and at the time I was writing the film script, more young soldiers were dying from suicide after returning from Afghanistan than were dying in combat. It made me want to tell a story about a young defence family touched by early signs of PTS. Something universal, with minimal dialogue and not much detail about which war was taking place in the story, to help the film resonate with audiences internationally.
For the girl in the film – it’s a coming of age story. She has to navigate the fact that both Mum and Dad have impressed on her contrasting ideas about how to confront conflict and the threat of danger. When her parents become all consumed with their relationship problems caused by the father’s PTS, she finds the vigilance, strength and determination to face more than one life-or-death situation on her own. She discovers a will to forgive so that the family unit can remain strong and support her father through his mental illness and also demonstrates unconditional love.
The mother character in the film needs to navigate the push and pull of being both a protective mother to her daughter and supportive partner to a husband with undiagnosed PTS. There is a lot of dramatic tension: will she choose to rescue one over the other, for how long can she continue to juggle it all, what personal sacrifices is she prepared to make and will she confront him with his need for help before his PTS outbursts ignite a tragedy that strikes the family. This feeds into the thriller tension throughout the film; that any one of the characters could suddenly die.
The father character in the film returns home from service unexpectedly. It’s not explicitly said but it seems he was discharged from service early and is not clear or when or if he will return. He is tortured by memories and guilt relating to his service and emotionally is still there in combat, wanting to protect his mates. He clearly loves his family but struggles to reconnect to family life. He has glimmers of self-awareness that his trauma and outbursts are frightening, yet while fearful of scaring his loved ones away, is not able to admit he needs help. His journey of healing, even at the end of the film is only just beginning. He opens up emotionally to his family and wordlessly expresses a need for their love, support and forgiveness.
The nesting Ravens family in the film are also very important characters. Ravens are a classic omen of death in literature and are integral to the thriller tension of this film. The Raven parents are as vigilant as the human parents and the young girl is fascinated, afraid and yet protective of them.
As a kid I grew up in a remote beachside town and spent a lot of time wandering alone in spectacular natural locations in the bush and by the sea. I’m a big believer in the ocean and nature as medicine, healing us and able to teach us lessons if we are willing to listen. I’d say that Mother Nature is an antagonist and protagonist character in this film too, with some brutal lessons to teach about the cycle of life and death, healing, acceptance and reincarnation.
3. How did you cast the leads? What preparation did they have to undergo to create an authentic telling of the story?
I found all the actors with the generous help of Mullinars casting http://www.mullinars.com.au/. Jeremy Lindsay Taylor who plays the soldier and father, Phil, was the first to audition and blew us away such that I didn’t want to audition anyone else. Jeremy did an enormous amount of preparation for the role, spending many hours talking to Commando’s, some with PTSD. He really opened his heart and soul for the role.
Indianna Gregg, who plays the young girl Ruby, was also one of the first to audition and it was obvious that she was perfect for the role. In terms of preparation there was a lot that she could personally tap into from her own life, as she grew up in a rural bush setting and is passionate about animal rescue and wildlife preservation. Her Mum told me she is not afraid to drag road kill off the road and the family have adopted orphaned animals. Indianna was already a gifted artist, singer and dancer so she enhanced these aspects of the character traits already written for Ruby in the final product on screen. It was a fun collaboration, playing to her strengths as a performer. Most of her preparation was in rehearsing with the actors playing her parents and them developing a back story for their on-screen family, together.
The character of the mother, Jess, in The Ravens was never going to be that all too familiar movie ‘sympathetic female’ role. From my research and experience, the wives of soldiers who serve are unbelievably strong. They have to be in order to cope with the loneliness of single parenting and separation from their partner, fear that their loved one may never return or be severely damaged and of course supporting that partner emotionally when they do return. Sarah Snook was perfect for the role, having such impressive range as an actor. In Jess she was able to portray a solid inner strength and big heart with enormous empathy. To prepare for the role she listened to interviews with the wives of servicemen with PTS and improvised a backstory with Jeremy and Indianna.
4. What was the most challenging scene to film and why? How long was the shoot? Where is the film located?
The scenes involving the trained ravens were the most difficult to film. We were shooting on 35mm and I could hear those expensive frames ticking through the camera while waiting for the right bird performance to be captured and technically making as many adjustments as we could. It was of course, also very exciting. The shoot was 7 days in total on the Australian NSW South coast near Berry. After the main shoot, the DOP John Brawley http://johnbrawley.com/ and I experimented with filming a lot of time-lapse shots, some of them involving animal decomposition that ended up taking nine weeks to film. It was challenging logistically to find a remote enough location where we could set up and protect the subject and all the camera’s for that amount of time. Seeing the time-lapse sequence put together for the first time was so exciting as I didn’t know what to expect and was more thrilled than I’d anticipated with the results.
5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an indie filmmaker in Australia?
Our crews are amazing! I had two Oscar winning HOD’s on the film who were happy to crew on a short film production they liked in between working on huge films like Mad Max Fury Road. Generally, the Sydney film industry has been so supportive of the film. Their generous support is clear from our end credits and their recognition on our website: www.theravens.com.au. We are slightly isolated on our big island in the pacific but that builds this great camaraderie in the industry and fosters fantastic support.
6. Have you always wanted to be a director? What films inspire you?
I discovered filmmaking while doing a Communications degree at university where I initially went to be a writer and was forced into a directing role during a compulsory subject on film production. From that moment I was hooked and it has been my focus ever since.
Recent films that have inspired me: The Lobster, Mud, Beasts of the Southern Wild, A Monster Calls, Frantz, The Beguiled, Most Beautiful Island, The Witch, A Ghost Story.
7. What advice would you give someone starting out in filmmaking?
Watch as many different films as you can. Make as many short films as you can with whatever technology you can get your hands on. It’s about practice. And don’t be disheartened by your mistakes – learn from them. Keep a special diary notebook where you write down those unique pearls of wisdom from your work experiences. Read lots of film scripts. Get on set doing whatever you can and if you want to be a director don’t get stuck doing too many non creative jobs in the production office although it is important to have some appreciation for this essential side of filmmaking. Be very polite, punctual and appreciative of any opportunity someone gives you. Be very nice to everyone you work with no matter how lowly their role might seem at the time. Everyone works their way up and in a few years time that runner might be the big producer who you want to be hired by or you need to green-light your film. Lots of actors and crew are willing to work for free on your projects but don’t just be a taker. Feed them, thank them and acknowledge their contribution and build a team you can work with in the future. Promptly give them a copy of the finished film. Be observant of human nature, travel, put yourself out of your comfort zone and remember all these experiences.
8. How have film festivals and audiences responded to ‘The Ravens’?
The film has screened at 45 film festivals so far and audiences have responded very emotionally to the film. During the screenings they can often be heard gasping and crying. There are also a few gently humorous moments in the film and it is audiences from a defence background who have seemed most comfortable to laugh out loud at those.
9. What do you want audiences to take away from watching the film?
I hope they will feel moved and transported by watching the film. If they know someone who has PTS, that they will be inspired to help them and their family get the support they need. That if they meet someone with PTS in the future, they will be embracing. I also generally hope audiences will be inspired by the cinematic metaphors of the healing power of nature and the way the characters show ability we have as humans to love each other back to life.
10. What’s next for ‘The Ravens’? Do you have plans for a new film?
The Ravens is still traveling on the international festival circuit and is eligible for Oscar nomination in 2018. After that, I will focus on television, cinema, airline and internet distribution.
I am developing feature film screenplays as writer/director and working with a couple of writers on scripts that I will direct, with the latter being the most fun. I will also direct some more television drama in Australia and the UK in the near future.
SATURDAY 19/08/17 BLOCK L 2.50 pm – 4.15 pm
‘CLOSE-UP FILM CENTRE’