“We live in strange times and things will only get weirder.”—Andrew Walsh
Andrew Walsh – the Australia-based director talks about his debut feature film “How Deep Is the Ocean”, how filming took place, worldwide distribution with US company Indie Rights and a chat about the film industry in Australia.
Q.Could you talk about your journey in the film industry and what specific influences and inspirations helped you become a director?
Andrew Walsh: Sure. I grew up in an industrial town called Whyalla which is located on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. My grandfather worked on the railroads and my father worked in the steel factory and this most likely was going to be my path. I had no real exposure to art. It was a surreal place.
It was like living in a colonial outpost at the end of the world where the normal rules of society didn’t apply. Its a beautiful place but there was a lot of violence.
It all started for me twenty years ago when I was seventeen years old and home alone struggling with insomnia. I stumbled upon “Henry Fool” directed by Hal Hartley at 3 in the morning and I had somewhat of an emotional epiphany. I was going to be a filmmaker.
From then on I stayed up every night for a year watching 2 to 3 films per night. I was so obsessed. I’d watch anything i could get my hands on.
That’s my only education really. I never went to film school. I didn’t even finish High School. As the years went by I discovered more European directors like Fatih Akin, (Head On, Edge Of Heaven) Pedro Almodovar (Volver) and Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) which spoke to me on a profoundly deep emotional level.
I related to these films much more then what came out of my own country.
You can never touch the Scorceses, the Hitchcocks or the Coppolas of the world. That level skill is unattainable for all of us However these low budget independent films and European films made me feel like with years of discipline and practice that could be within my grasp and most importantly watching films like “On The Edge” by John Carney “Ovosodo” by Paolo Virzi or “Henry Fool” was the first time I saw people like me on the movie screen.It made me feel like I had a voice and I could use this voice to express myself and make my own films and I’ve been doing so ever since.I left the town i grew up in and eventually migrated to the city of Melbourne when i was 24 years old.
Melbourne is the Australian equivalent to London or New York. Its where the action is.
To date I wrote and directed five short films and wrote 4 original feature film scripts. How Deep Is The Ocean is the first feature I’ve successfully made.
Q.”How Deep is the Ocean” was filmed without a traditional script or storyboard. How did you work with improvisation and what experience did you gain?
Andrew Walsh: Instead of a conventional film script it was more like a collection of short stories- each having a title a beginning a middle and an end. Within those chapters there were different directions my actors could go in order to serve the narrative and keep moving.
I’ve never story boarded any of my projects and that’s not because I feel like I’m such a great director I can do without its the simple fact I am terrible at drawing. I like to think I compensate by being very effective verbally conveying what I want to my cast and crew.
I spent many nights in pre production, wandering the streets, alleyways and neighbourhood’s taking pictures. I’d show those to my cinematographer Scott along with reference materials from films that inspired the story like Midnight Cowboy by John Schlesinger and the works of UK director Andrea Arnold particularly that fluid documentary feel.
Once we established our vision and colour pallets’ we went for it. Often we’d show up at the location on the day find the best position for the camera and went for it.
As far as the acting side goes we didn’t rehearse too much- we only did a few sessions where we would experiment with different scenarios the actors adapted very quickly. I spent a lot of time one on one with the actors particularly with our lead Olivia Fildes talking about Eleanor’s past experiences and how that defines her personality and behaviour.
Working with this improvisational method taught me there’s a time and place to be a control freak and there’s time and place to let go and trust your team.
A lot of things could’ve gone wrong making a film this way but nothing did. It was stressful but a fun shoot. We nailed every single scene in 3 takes or less.
You need to cultivate an environment where every single person feels listened to and comfortable to express their ideas and opinions. Film sets are stressful places. It’s very important to make people feel at ease. If you can do that the sky is the limit.
Q.Can you talk about how you chose the actors for the key roles in “How Deep is the Ocean”? What qualities attracted you to the chosen actors?
Andrew Walsh: There are four lead characters in “How Deep Is The Ocean” and the selection process was more intense then I could’ve possibly ever imagined. We had 500 actors apply for the role of Eleanor alone. It took almost a year. There were many meetings readings and screen tests with alot of actors who were all great in their own way but there was something missing. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
This changed when i met Olivia Fildes, she’s quite an enigmatic person- we’ve been working together for years and I still know virtually nothing about her and there’s nothing wrong with that. Its just her nature. I felt a stronger connection with Liv. She has this ability to express so much without saying a word. That’s exciting to watch as a director and a viewer.
Cris Cochrane who plays Roy brought a completely different perspective to his character that hadnt even crossed my mind.
Originally in the script the character of Roy was just this cliched melancholic alcoholic who says very few words then Cris Cochrane brought his own interpretation which was completely different to what I had written.Cris brings this wild energy to the role and we turned Roy into an unapologetic alcoholic who just can’t let go of his past as a successful comedian.Every single conversation is a performance for Roy. There’s also a vulnerability there. Roy has good intentions and feels protective of Eleanor. He wants to help her but he’s too fucked up to help himself.
I’ve been friends with Will Weatheritt for a long time now and we tried getting a couple things off the ground over the years that never materialized.Will is a very charismatic and extroverted guy. He enters the room and you feel the energy changing. People are drawn to him.I thought it would be a great challenge for him to play the role of Matt who is a very introverted guy who is very vulnerable and has a yearning for things he can’t quite put into words.
I was introduced to Adam Rowland through an actor friend of mine and when I told him about the project he understood it right away and jumped at the opportunity to play Charlie the neighbourhood bad boy and the object of Eleanor’s affection.Without giving too much away the character of Charlie does a few questionable things throughout the film and Eleanor is at the receiving end and we both wanted to show Charlie not exactly a selfish person or an opportunist but a conflicted man under his laid back persona is wrestling with some very complex emotions.
I wasn’t particularly interested in making any of these characters sympathetic. They just had to be real.
Once i got all these guys together in a room at the same time within one take I knew I’d found exactly what I was looking for.
Q.What were your most memorable behind-the-scenes moments while filming the film? Share some interesting incident.
Andrew Walsh: I think the most memorable part was towards the end. We were filming the aftermath of the scene where Charlies ends the affair with Eleanor publicly humiliating her in the process and a heart broken Eleanor stumbles out of the shop she works in and into this urban wasteland and breaks down.
This scene was shot in what used to be an old factory North Melbourne which is located just outside of the Melbourne CBD. Its a stark contrast to the tourist version of Melbourne. Its the only remaining part o the city that hasn’t been cleaned up and gentrified. There’s alot of grim public housing blocks social problems homelessness drugs and crime. Not the safest place to shoot a film but this location in particular is very cinematic. I’d gone past it on the train to work for many years then one day I went to check it out in person and found a hole in the fence! a week later I brought the cast and crew with me and we snuck in.
We had no budget for any fancy equipment like steadicams etc but thankfully our second cinematographer Darby Maxwell Heaysman can roller skate!
Darby proceeded to roller skate around Olivia with a handheld camera as she collapsed to the ground in grief. We wanted to capture that overwhelming feeling of that first heartbreak and how it feels like the world is collapsing around you.
We had no way of knowing we could accomplish this but thankfully it worked. It’s definitely the shot I’m most proud of.
Q.What impression do you hope audiences leave with after watching the film? Which emotional reaction do you consider most important?
Andrew Walsh: I hope people enjoy the film and empathise with the characters. We had a great review from a critic at UK Film Review and the opening line was
“How Deep Is The Ocean’ is a film that truly understands what life is like when you’re in your twenties” that sums up exactly what I was trying to do.
I wanted to make a bittersweet film about growing up. Something that would be like the soundtrack to the end of your childhood. If it stays with the viewer after the credits are over we’ve done our job,
6.What is your vision for success for the film? What goals and expectations do you have for its premiere on the American Film Market?
Honestly my mentality with all the stuff is “No expectation means no disappointment”
I’ve never seen filmmaking as a career. Hopefully the film will be picked up on digital screening platforms overseas as there’s no real support here in Australia. It’s an Australian film heavily influenced by American European and Asian cinema.
It’s a story about our city but the themes are universal.
Judging by the reviews we’ve got so far I think it has the potential to be successful in those territories. At the same time I’m a realist. I won’t be resigning from my job anytime soon.
Q.Do you have any plans to create more films in a similar style and genre in the future? What topics are you interested in for future projects?
Andrew Walsh: How Deep Is The Ocean took five years from beginning to the end. It was entirely self funded and I oversaw every single aspect of the production.
It’s taken a huge toll on me and I’m proud of what I’ve done but I’m burnt out.
I’ll be taking a long hiatus from filmmaking and will not be jumping back in the ring anytime soon.
Less is more. I’d like to do something smaller- maybe shoot the whole thing on an I Phone with a small crew and cast utilizing natural light.
I have to say something new. Right now I dont have anything to say. I would rather never make another film again then release something that is mediocre.
Q.What were your most important creative decisions while shooting and editing the film? Are there any scenes or moments that are particularly meaningful to you?
Andrew Walsh: One thing that was really important to me is we wanted to show the world the “real” Melbourne. We consciously avoided the cliche tourist friendly areas that you see in every Australian film.
It was about capturing what was in between. The outer suburbs. The grimy train stations. The alleyways and laneways. The estates. The ocean. I always maintained Melbourne is itself a character in this film and we wanted to visually portray that in all its glory- the good the bad and very strange.
Also throughout the film we had many foreshadowing shots of the ocean which is a metaphor for Eleanor facing her fears and shortcomings. As a result the ocean looks cold, hostile and vindictive. I’m proud of the final shot of the film its a static shot of a blood red sky and clean and gentle water lapping against the sand. Not a person in sight. Eleanor is alone but the storm has gone and now new life can begin.
Q.If you could rewatch your film “How Deep is the Ocean” over time, is there anything you would change or do differently?
Andrew Walsh: Honestly the only part I’m not happy with is the scene where Eleanor decides to straighten herself out and join the corporate world which is ruined by a disastrous job interview. It’s no fault of the cast and crew they did an amazing job. It was just one of those days where we had very limited time and money and didn’t have the space to experiment. I watch that scene and all I see are the things it could’ve been.
Q.You have secured a worldwide distribution deal with Indie Rights and congratulations! Can you talk about your experience working with them and how they helped in promoting your film?
Andrew Walsh: Thank you! we’ve only signed the contract and sent all our deliverables to their office last week but so far so good!
We shopped How Deep Is The Ocean to many distributors and they turned us down because we had “no budget and no stars”.
There’s a lot of sharks out there and I’ve seen many of my friends and colleagues burnt by bad distribution deals so I knew what to avoid.
Indie Rights have been nothing but straight forward transparent with us and have allowed us to keep our creative control without compromise. We’re looking forward to the bringing How Deep Is The Ocean to the world.
They want to exhibit the film at this years American Film Market so fingers crossed we’ll get a good result.
Q.Can you share your thoughts on the role of independent film in the cultural and cinematic landscape? What opportunities and challenges exist for independent filmmakers?
Andrew Walsh: I think the role of independent film is to present a glimpse into the great unknown.
I think there is no excuse for not being able to express yourself in this day and age. As i mentioned earlier I had to leave my hometown to pursue my career but nowadays Whyalla has its own film festival. As long as you have a half decent phone you can create something from anywhere on the planet.
The biggest barrier in the past for filmmakers was getting hands on the equipment and now the equipment is cheaper then ever but the downside is market is over saturated, take Netflix for example- I used to have a subscription but barely used it. Looking at thousand of Jpegs at my disposal just wasn’t exciting it was often overwhelming and frustrating.
There is so much content out there its hard to be heard. I don’t have the answer of how to transcend those limitations.
I wish I did.
Q.How do you see the future of independent film in Australia and the world at large? Are there any changes or trends you are seeing in this area?
Andrew Walsh: I don’t see much changing in Australia anytime soon. Not in the mainstream culture but thats okay I am detached from it. In Australia the private sector is very small so the film industry is dominated by Goverment funding bodies and it feels like they fund the same people who make the same bland films utilizing the same five actors we see on every film and tv series and getting the same results.
If you want to create good art that means taking risks and the gate keepers are adverse to risk. As a result there is a thriving underground movement in our country which has many directors striking out on their own and telling their own stories with 1 percent of the money and resources the government funded directors have. People crave authenticity and they’ll find it one way or another.
I don’t believe cinema is dying. I don’t think the endless stream of crappy Hollywood remakes, prequels to shows nobody asked for super hero movies are going to bring about the end of civilization. Cinema is constantly shifting and moving in different directions. I’m not stressed out about artificial intelligence but its interesting how technology is knocking down the wall between the artist and the audience.
I mean its 2023 and Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver) and Alex Proyas (director of the Crow/I Robot) are my friends on Facebook and the great Beatrice Dalle (Betty Blue) follows my Instagram page. If you told me ten years ago any of that would be possible I’d say youre out of your mind.
We live in strange times and things will only get weirder.