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The Adult Store – An interview with Writer / Director Tahlia Miller

Before I did this interview, I had already heard about Adult Store. It is one of those concepts that almost make you jealous at how clever it is. You can instantly see the potential with this film through one simple line – three friends visit an adult store. I knew I had to get an interview with the writer and director to uncover what the film is about, how the concept came to her and most importantly, her writing process.

Tahlia Miller is the writer and director for the Adult Store. She is a third-year student at Griffith Film School who primarily specialises in Cinematography and Directing. Tahlia is one of those people who has a very deep passion for filmmaking. Somehow, she seems to always be working – whether on set or on her own projects. In third year, Tahlia decided to pitch a grad slate (a short film made through Uni) and it was chosen. This is the story of how she wrote this short and the challenges along the way.

Writer/ Director Tahlia Miller

What is the rough plot summary for Adult Store?

“The Adult store is about three 18-year-olds – Sydney, Bowie, and Dominque. On Sydney’s 18th Birthday, they decide to kick on the night and visit an Adult Store. At the store, they discover more about their relationship with sex, their relationship with each other and their relationship with themselves.”

Sydney, Bowie and Dominque – Played by Hannah Sisson, Ada Lukin, Elke Hinrichsen

Where did this idea build / stem from?

“I enrolled in pre-production development (helps you develop your grad slate) and I hadn’t taken any writing courses before.  Before the first class, the teacher said bring three ideas to the lesson. Now everyone else in the class had one very specific idea but I was suddenly left with none. It was last minute, and I just started writing what if questions. There was this one that was stuck in my head. It was based on my friends who recently moved next to an adult store. Then the question came – what if I went to an adult store and the worst possible things happened?”

Fluffy handcuffs.

What has been your inspiration for this project?

“Sex Education and Sex in the City were big inspirations.”

“I find it hard to pull from specific directors. I instead pull from different parts from a body of work.  I had gone an seen ZOLA, an A24 film for the Brisbane Film Festival. It was beautiful to look at, with the harps and fantastical elements. That became a big inspiration, showing darker themes through the context of a colourful and fantastical adult store.”

“Also, theatre. I recently went to a show about a woman’s frustration about not being able to use a vibrator. It was amazing to see older people and younger people all laughing together. It showed me how comedy can tackle taboo subjects which was a big reinforcing moment for the Adult Store.

Before I knew about the project, I saw you put a question on Instagram asking for people’s experiences with Adult Stores. How did that affect your writing?

On POC Shooting – Tahlia

“I didn’t know it was common for people to go in to an Adult Store. Personally, I was scared off them. Once I put it out there, I realised it was very 50/50. Some had and some hadn’t been to one before. And when I asked what scares you about them, for a lot of woman it was the hyper sexualisation of bodies and also the correlation between violence and sex. All of it was really interesting and I tried to fit it all into each character.”

How is Adult Store different from other indies and short films?

“It was very interesting because I wrote about something that has a lot of stigma attached to it. Everyone around me was tackling period pieces or comedies. There was all these beautiful themes going on but mine sat in this one about sexuality, a queer love story and also taboo subjects about sex.”

“What really makes it different is that I am not using the Adult Store as shock factor. It is its own character and Scarlett – who runs the store – is kind of one with the store. I am comparing it to funhouses, mirror mazes and even the overwhelming feeling of an arcade. The store is the backdrop to these relatable characters who aren’t just used for punch lines.”

Tahlia’s Writing Process

How many hours a day were you writing?

“I would have these erratic nights when assessment was due, and it would just pour out. The first draft was written in 3 days leading up to the assessment. It wasn’t because I left it on the back burner but instead because I was watching films, going to Adult Stores, and talking about it with my friends. These two weeks beforehand I had all these little experiences and without them I wouldn’t have been able to write this script.”

“How did it go writing your script without doing any writing courses or experience in it?

“The imposter syndrome was really hard honestly. I couldn’t compare to the people at Griffith Film School who had spent their time learning how to write. But the writing came from simply getting eyes on it, since I felt so insecure, I simply took everything from all my peers and teachers.”

How did you keep focus for those long stretches?

“I have always loved writing since high school. Focusing for long periods always gets easier for me with the time pressure. I limited the distractions by writing really late when no one is awake to hang out with or chat to. That is genuinely when I feel most creative and reflective. Those quiet spaces are definitely the most creative for me.”

“I am not big on pushing through writer’s block. If its not coming out, its not coming out. I would be so stuck on this thing then I would take a walk and the ideas would come. If you’re not in a creative problem-solving mindset you just get anxious and create doubt. Also, little dance breaks.”

A key thing writers talk about is making your work truthful and putting yourself into the work. How did you do that with the Adult Store?

“I was putting my own experiences into the script. However, the problem came when it was in my head not on the page. My own experiences were not big enough for the screen. It got so bad that with friends I started analysing how they talk. When I was drunk in the valley, I would always be thinking how would I direct this scene, and how I stood.”

“Once I found myself in each of the three characters, whenever I got stuck, I would bring it back to reality and my experiences. When you’re at a crossroads, you can either follow the tropes or what feels right for me. From then on I just started to follow this path instead.”

About Tahlia

Why Filmmaking as a passion and carer?

“I had always known I wanted to go into the arts. I loved drawing and painting ever since I was little. I went to QACI where everyone was creative. I did film as a subject and in class we watched films. I knew then that this was it. All these points converged, and it just made sense. I could pull from art, music, and everything I already loved.”

“My Mum is also a food stylist. She went from editorial to TV Commercials and got into Food styling for feature films. I started as her assistant when I was in Year 11. I was like this is work but I loved it. It wasn’t even work and I chased that feeling of finding the fun in it and the passion.”

What are you most afraid of and nervous for with your film?

“For me, that was Dom’s fantasy. In this scene, she tries on this latex cat suit and went into this porn fantasy. There was this mystery man where they kiss, roll over etc etc. I struggled so much with this scene. A big thing for me was learning about intimacy training for the Adult Store. It’s like a choreographer for intimate scenes so no one walks away offended or triggered. I was at a crossroads where it could be sexual assault or just teenagers being awkward. I wasn’t ready for the darker direction, so I chose the easier path and told the actors to not touch or kiss. So moving forward I re wrote it so it serves the story and is not to challenging for me as a director and the cast.

If you could choose your dream project next year, what would it be?

“I am obsessed with Shannon Murphy and her work. I studied how she mad it in the industry. She nailed her directorial debut because she perfected directing TV. So down the line directing a TV show and sharing it with a bunch of creators.”

Director of Baby Teeth / Killing Eve – Shannon Murphy

Why should people see this film and fund it?

“The big why for me was how cathartic it has been seeing the topics on screen and for my friends as well. Showing people that its okay to talk about these topics and that’s it not weird to think about it.  I also had a lot of teachers say 18-year-old wouldn’t be scared of a sex store. For me, I really wanted to show an audience what it feels like t be 18 and scared of things and yet pretending to not be scared of them.

“For the Go Fund me, it comes back to the beautiful community at Griffith Film School. We know it takes money to make a film and I think it’s really lovely to fund something that you can experience, share and create waves within your community.”

The Crew of the Adult Store Film – All Griffith Uni Students

One of the most fascinating things Tahlia said was that she had never taken any writing courses and still decided to write this script. Most people always feel the need to take lessons, watch courses or spend years “learning how to write.” While these help, they are never going to make your script amazing. It just takes diving in and learning as you go, exactly like Tahlia did. Also, her bravery to write about something so challenging and taboo is very inspiring to me. Make sure you follow this film because it will definitely be picking up awards next festival season.

https://www.instagram.com/adultstore_film

Donate Here its almost at $5000.

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Australia’s first horror sitcom – an interview with Writer / Director Madi Lee and Producer Josh Khay.

Before I dive into this interview, I just want to give a preface for this project. My goal for these interviews is to focus on the Brisbane film scene. In particular, emerging creators who’s projects I truly believe in and support. Essentially, I think Brisbane is not highlighted enough for its art and that’s exactly what I want to do. Also, for those who don’t know, every year Griffith Film School chooses a select bunch of scripts to create into “Grad Slates.” These are usually around 20 film short films that often go onto win festivals and could potentially launch your career. In this interview, I am interviewing Madi and Josh who just started on her Grad Slate Nuclear. I digress.

I first met Madi when we were both on an Outback Filmmaking Bootcamp in Winton Australia. We all had to create a pitch for a show to be produced and luckily, Madi’s won – simply because it was the best pitch. Now, almost a year later, her pitch won again and her project “Nuclear” has started production alongside Josh Khay (producer). Even back in Winton, Madi had started writing her short film, and that’s exactly why I wanted to interview her.

What is Nuclear about?

The Hetherington family are a happy bunch who are living the 1960’s dream but on a closer look, they are just moments away from crumbling under their own fake positivity. William, the patriarch of the house, is harbouring an unchanneled anger. The loss of his job a reoccurring crack in the wall push him into a violent descent, which is mocked by a laugh track. While Helen remains a positive and bubbly housewife, the terrifying weight of her avoidant coping mechanisms come to light as the crack in the wall grows.

That is the rough synopsis for Madi and Josh’s film, but when they described what actually happens, I was truly shocked. While I won’t say it for obvious reasons (spoilers), this film has an amazing plot. It has some very clever and refreshing concepts that are bound to surprise audiences.

Where did this idea build from / what are your inspirations?

“Watching Sitcoms after school when I was younger. In particular, Brady Bunch and Happy Days.” -Madi.

Madi is mainly inspired by David Lynch and Ari Aster. For Nuclear, she is looking for the unsettling vibe of Twin Peaks and the family dynamics of the Shining.

What are your goals and aspirations for this project?

“As many festivals as possible. Gold Coast Film Festival, Monster Fest (early March). Nuclear is a big step into recognition into the industry. Essentially, getting it out into world” – Josh

What scares you the most about starting filming?

“The uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen. Especially people getting Covid at the last minute…” – Madi

On top of the fear and stress of creating a movie, the flats for the film (lightweight timber frame for background) are not high enough for the production. In addition, Madi and Josh are figuring out how to practically show the crack in the wall, working with the brutal restrictions of child actors and creating a production under a Covid set.

Why you chose this project Josh?

“A very unique horror concept and intriguing project to be apart off” – Josh

Throughout this interview, there was one thing that was clear as mud to me about Josh. He was completely devoted to this film. His passion and love for this script is so evident in how he talks about Nuclear. Josh is a perfect example of a producer who chose to produce Madi’s idea, not simply to be a producer but instead for the simple love of the story.

Why is Nuclear important for modern audiences?

“Not the standard modern day horror movie that is being produced” – Madi

When Madi, Josh and I were talking, one thing was very clear – the shared perspective on modern horrors. Madi and Josh understand the issue with the formulaic horror movie that is being pumped out weekly. Thereby, they are driven to create something new and refreshing similar to Hereditary and the Witch. Nuclear is focused on “tension” instead of “cheap jumps cares.”

I want this next segment to be a reoccurring segment of my interviews. Essentially, I am going to dive into the writer’s process as to try and learn from them and help others.

Madi’s Writing Process

How many hours a day did it take you to write this script?

“It took a lot of time to write this script. Breaking a lot to prevent distractions, sitting at a desk for 6 hours and only writing little sections spread across lots of days”

How you kept focus?

“Keep phone away, close all tabs. I made a mood board beforehand as well to get into mood and writing mind. Also, I listened to music specific to the story.”

How you knew the story was done?

“I was happy with the story, it flowed and felt right. For a while, it felt off and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was a gut instinct. Now it’s only small things that need to be fixed.”

How did you keep the story honest and related to you?

“I think Nuclear was subconsciously linked to me as there are layers of myself inside the story. While I cannot relate to the family dynamics, I could ask my family and friends for advice. Also, just observing and watching people around me.

 Why did you choose filmmaking as career?

“To do something fun – even if money is a problem” – Madi

“I adore the world of storytelling.” – Josh

For Madi, the passion started from wanting to do something fun. As long as she is enjoying herself filmmaking will always remain her career. Similarly, for Josh it is about being able to “escape and lose yourself in a story and character.” He loves how films can provide an escape from the real world. Josh is also motivated by how a good movie can change someone’s perspective on life. It can “capture their emotions while constructing compelling stories.” Finally, “representing the Asian community in mainstream film has always been a goal” as he understands the characters on screen.

Anything you have learned so far with Nuclear that you can share with younger film makers?

“PLAN PLAN PLAN. Do as much planning as possible. Chatting to crew as much as possible and clearing my whole schedule for the grad slate.” – Madi

On top of this, Madi recommends meditating to reduce stress and talking to family members about how you’re feeling. A big challenge of making a film is the mental game and by focusing on your mental health the whole process will run much smoother.

How to battle self-doubt and being unmotivated?

“Keep positive even when you don’t feel like it.” – Madi

Being a filmmaker means being full of self-doubt and having huge slumps without any motivation. As a result, I was curious how Madi battles this on a day-to-day basis. Her trick is to repeat a positive message over and over again until she feels better. Another solution Madi discovered on set is surrounding yourself with a positive crew. Having these people around you can boost morale and push you through a challenging time. Finally, Madi simply trusts her creative decision. She ignores the constant doubt that creeps into your brain and goes with her gut from the get-go.

Why should people see it and fund it?

“Nuclear is a completely new, original, and fresh idea. By donating, you will support young energetic and passionate filmmakers and an ambitious project that needs support.” – Josh

Nuclear is truly unlike anything I have ever heard before. Not only for its core concept but also the twists and turns it has along the way. Madi and Josh are very passionate about this project, and it shows by how much work they are putting in. I am so excited to see the finished project at the end of the year.

Make sure you follow nuclear on instagram and checkout their Go Fund me to support this amazing project.

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An Honest Review of My First Short Film