A Conversation with Writer/ Director Angus Kirby

Angus Kirby is a Brisbane based filmmaker. Over the last few years, he has made countless short films that have screened in festivals around the world. A personal favourite of mine is a short called Desperate Pleasures which follows the unlikely relationship of a cocaine dealing real estate agent and a lonely woman. Recently, he released The Odd River, an album film created for singer Helen Svoboda. On top of this, Angus is in post production on his first feature film – Carnal Vessels. Read on for my conversation with Angus.

Talking The Odd River

Can you give just a rough summary of what the Odd River is?

“Deep in nature, out of time, through a river portal, a young woman discovers a genetically modified food source that gives her strange visions of the end of the natural world.”

“Essentially, it is an album film made as part of a grant called the Freedman Jazz Fellowship that Helen Svoboda and I applied for. The idea was that she would make an album and I would make an film in response to it.”

How long ago did the creation of this project begin?

“It was right around COVID. We were going to do this in 2020 and then COVID happened, and it was put on hold. We ended up shooting throughout 2022.”

How did you work with Helen to create it? Is it entirely based on your ideas or more of a collaboration?

“The film is my vison but everything was communicated with Helen beforehand. She knew the outline of the whole thing. It was a lot of trust on both ends. But she did let me really go for it.“

What did each day on set look like?

“I did a lot of camera tests beforehand because we shot it anamorphic. We had this ethos of everything in nature had to be natural light. It was about embracing what nature was going to give us. We had a studio section as well which was all artificial. We had just a key light and an edge light and then did some stuff with coloured LED wands to flare the lens. It was essentially a lot of preparation so that we had freedom on the day.”

The Odd River has these core themes of nature and the environment. Is this something you view as a golden thread for the future of your work or specific to this short?

“It is specific to this because I saw the opportunity do it. It is something I just didn’t know what else to say that hadn’t been said. With this, it felt like the chance to do something that was paired with Helen’s music. I wanted to try and capture the feeling of nature being much bigger than we are.”

Since it feels like a dream, do you often use your own dreams as inspiration?

“When I can remember them but it is more the feeling of the dream rather than the details. The dread of climate change and how overwhelming it is is a feeling that I wanted to replicate.”

Other projects

Can you talk about how you write? In terms of your specific process, do you do it every day, do you find it challenging?

“It has changed a little bit. I mainly outline before I start writing. My high school English teacher told me you spend two thirds of your time outlining. I took this over to screenwriting. I write everything from the outline to the first draft by hand. When you write by hand you’re not thinking critically.”

“I have never really written every day when I am not focused on a project. I may do it for a day or two and then come back to it.”

Desperate Pleasures, Now a Minor Motion Picture, Stolen Glances, they all have this incredible balance of comedy and drama.  Is there a specific filmmaker you use as inspiration for this tone or is it more your own instincts?

“It is more my own instinct. I like it when you can have those different tones next to each other at the same time. But my early hero was Jim Jarmusch.  Pedro Almodóvar as well, he just has the template for any great film career. If there’s one filmmaker I aspire to be like in terms of tone its Pedro. He is definitely my idol.“

Carnal Vessels is an upcoming feature film you have recently finished shooting. Can you just give us a log line about what this film is about?

“It’s about these two young friends who swap bodies the moment they fall in love. It throws everything into chaos as they both go off into different sexually charged adventures as each other over a weekend.”

How did you manage to shoot a feature in such a short amount of time?

“We did it within the master’s program at Griffith University. I have spent the last 5 years tutoring at the film school, so I had connections there. I also had students keen to get on set who were in their first or second year who were very talented. I had made a few shorts and I had enough confidence to go for it.”

“We made it quickly, but it was still a generous schedule. The feature was shot in 24 days, and it was a 75-page script. A lot of it came down to the circumstance I found myself in. But it was also a decade of build up from shorts, gathering collaborators and building up trust.

“But you can do this for 15k with a small crew and a tiny camera and make something that looks and sounds incredible. We are at this exciting point where you have these consumer cameras that if you know your post workflow well and have a creative eye you can make something amazing.”

The Future

Where do you want the Australian film scene to move?

“I know the Government has promised it but I hope there is a quota system that happens soon. Especially with TV too because it is the core of the industry. We have seen it done in Europe successfully so why can’t we do it here. I also wish for more aggressive investment in local productions and just figuring out how to market Australian films successfully. It comes down to how do we do better, how do we get the film seen more and how can we make things that are culturally important and also commercial.”

Dream film wish?

“To be in a situation where I knew I could do this forever and not have to do much else. Also, a good on set masseuse.”

Go see the Odd River on the 30th of November at the Palace Cinemas. Buy tickets below!

All photos taken by Daniel Rafet Grima.

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