VIFF 2018 Interview: BODIES director Laura Nagy

“BODIES is a 15 minute drama exploring a toxic friendship between two teenage girls, as their shared obsession with their gym class teacher reaches breaking point. Each girl has an intense relationship with their bodies – Amelia has cerebral palsy, and Zoe has an eating disorder. Adding to that the cocktail of puberty, their extremely strong bond seesaws between innocent love and volatile toxicity. ‘Bodies’ explores the fluidity of these formative female friendships, and their unique blend of jealousy and infatuation.” Laura Nagy on BODIES which screens at the 2018 edition of VIFF.

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Thank you! This is my first time having a film at VIFF, so it’s very exciting! Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this year, but my superstar producer Yingna Lu will be in Vancouver representing our team.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I studied at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in 2010, where I met many of my current collaborators. But my real training as director came through working on set, as an Assistant Director on films like THE GREAT GATSBY, THE WOLVERINE, UNBROKEN and PETER RABBIT, among many others. It was an incredible job for a wide-eyed baby director; AD work gives you a broad understanding of every department and role on and off set, and provides the most incredible access to key creatives. You’re holding umbrellas over the actors while directors give them notes, you’re always listening to the actor’s radio mics so you can cue them in scenes, you’re a fly on the wall at every rehearsal, block through and table read. It’s like living in a behind-the-scenes documentary every single day.

It’s an intense world though, especially in blockbuster land; crazy hours, short turnarounds, and months and months of living away from home. A little like running away and joining the circus and I rarely had time to make my own films! After seven years, I felt I had learned so much, and was ready to become a filmmaker in my own right. I now regularly direct short films, TVCs, and music videos at Sydney’s Paper Moose Film & Design Collective, and work in TV drama development at Easy Tiger Productions under the Fremantle Global Drama banner, where I’m learning so much about story development, financing, and distribution.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

I wrote this film on Skype sessions from Copenhagen to Sydney with my amazing co-writer, Daniel Monks. We studied directing together at film school, and BODIES unfolded through many long, intense conversations about our personal experiences in our bodies; Daniel’s experience with becoming disabled at 11, my experience with developing an eating disorder at 15, and our shared experience of realising we were queer around the same time. We were obsessed with the intersections between visible disability and invisible illness, and authentic love versus obsessive or imagined love. We were lucky enough to receive funding through Create NSW’s Generator: Emerging Filmmaker’s Fund, and the support of Aquarius Films who were our Executive Producers. The film was shot and edited in Sydney, with an amazing Australian cast and crew.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Because my films focus on sensitive topics informed by extensive research and interviews with people who live in the margins of our society such as co-writer Daniel Monks, who lended his personal experiences as a queer teen with a mobility disability to ‘Bodies’. And I really come to love and feel deeply for my characters, and I’m driven by a need to honour them and their stories as compassionately as I can. When I’m on set, I just need coffee and hugs and loads of inappropriate jokes. I don’t like being super serious on set, unless the scene is really intense for the actor and they need total peace and quiet. I want set to be fun and loving, and for everyone’s ideas and work to be supported and respected. I feel films belong to every person who helps create them, and as a director I just try to foster an environment where everyone has their voice heard.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

This film was the most personal piece I have ever created. It’s an almost entirely autobiographical story about my experiences with eating disorders, and Daniel’s experiences with disability. There’s a quote by Miranda July that I really love, “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life; where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it?” I was recovering from my eating disorder while writing this film, and thinking about these big topics a lot, like WHAT are we all doing in these FLESH PRISONS, and isn’t it simultaneously scary and amazing that we get to experience the universe and each other through them? BODIES explored these big themes on a small, intimate scale. Making an honest film about profound experiences that usually hide in secrecy required me to be incredibly honest and vulnerable at all times with crew members I have known for years, many of whom didn’t even know I’d been unwell until we were shooting. It was confronting at times having members of crew checking in for clarification about the nitty-gritty details of eating disorders all day, while simultaneously keeping it together to direct. The bingeing scene at the end of the film was the most confronting moment for me; it was like, hello every person on set, here’s the shameful thing I used to do in secret every day! I cried after we shot it. But all in all, it was a cathartic and profound experience, and I hope audiences who have personal experience with eating disorders or disabilities feel seen and represented.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

My director of photography Emma Paine has shot by my side for eight years, since we met at film school. I actually have no idea how many things we’ve shot together, probably 20 to 30, and we are also best friends, so we have an established shorthand and an almost identical aesthetic. I have so much trust in Emma – she’s become my second set of eyes. We shot on an Alexa Classic with Panavision Primo lenses, provided by Panavision Australasia. The operating itself is a blend of smooth, deliberate, highly coordinated Steadicam operated by our gun Steadicam operator Jonathan Tyler, and sensory handheld that descends into frenetic madness as Zoe’s inner emotional landscape is thrown into turmoil, operated by Emma Paine. We loved mucking around with the world of the teenage girl that was a very controlled colour palette of pinks and blues. We lit Zoe’s bedroom with a hot pink, glitter lava lamp as it’s Zoe and Amelia’s inner sanctum, a warm, girlie cave.

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

VIFF is our international premiere, so we’re hoping for a festival run throughout 2019.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

Oh dear, I am incredibly guilty of talking through movies – my favourite thing to do is sit at the back of a cinema with my film friends and whisper an ongoing commentary. Sorry everyone! I would never text or leave halfway through a movie if the filmmakers were in the room…wow that’s so rude…but honestly, if I’m at my local cinema outside of festival time and I’m hating the movie, I’ll just leave and watch something else. Life’s too short, and not every movie is for everyone, and that’s ok!

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Get yourself on set! Make coffees, take out the bins, sew the pillowcases for the art department; anything that’s going to give you access to experienced filmmakers and their methodology. Absorb it all like a sponge. I adored film school, but I also know so many incredible filmmakers who never went, so it’s not a prerequisite for a great film career. And even if you’re not at film school, just start making stuff! Shoot it on your smartphone and edit it in iMovie if you don’t have access to fancier toys. Don’t be disheartened if your first attempts at filmmaking fall short of the expectations you put on yourself; it takes years of practice and constructive self-criticism to bridge the gap between your taste and your abilities. There’s always so much to learn, even for the most experienced of filmmakers, but you can do it. Start small and work your way up!

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

William Oldroyd’s LADY MACBETH at Sydney Film Festival in 2017. It’s an inspiring indie film in my opinion; a period piece made on only half a million pounds, but Oldroyd makes the budget limitations work in his favour, with so many simple yet bold decisions that together create a such a striking, gripping film. It’s proof that even if you have limited funding, if you have a great script and great casting, you can still make an excellent film on a shoestring.

For more information on the film screenings at VIFF, point your browser to!

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