VIFF 2018 Interview: HARD RUBBISH director Stephen Packer

“When I was 15 my friends and I got the snot beaten out of us by an older gang while we were vandalising a girls high school. HARD RUBBISH is the story of that night.” Director Stephen Packer on HARD RUBBISH 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! Yes this is my first time at VIFF and I will definitely be attending my screenings as well as seeing as many other films as is humanly possible. It’s going to be brilliant to see what else is happening in independent cinema from around the world.

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.

Really for me it started in high school when I got my year level together and directed a black and white western complete with a saloon shootout and a damsel in distress being tied to the train tracks. But my first serious foray into the world of filmmaking began with the dslr revolution when suddenly decent production values were at our fingertips for a low cost, so my friends and I began shooting music videos for friends bands. From there I was lucky enough to work as directors assistant to Jennifer Kent on her 2014 film THE BABADOOK which was a huge learning experience for me. She has become a mentor and so I was able to work with her again on Venice Special Jury Prize winning THE NIGHTINGALE. All this has helped put me in a position to tell my own stories which I intend to do with a vengeance!

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

Well this film is essentially a blow by blow recreation of an actual event that happened to my friends and I when we were 15. I was writing another film with my writing partner, and as part of that process I was telling him stories from my life that I felt were formative for me, and I told him this story. He stopped me right there and said ‘this is the film you need to make’, so we wrote this in a week or two and away we went!

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

Staying inspired for me is super important. For me that means watching as many films as possible throughout the process. Peaks and troughs are inevitable and generally through the troughs if I can watch a movie I love it will generally pick me up. I will generally have a short list of 3 or 4 films that are specific references for a film I am working on, so while making this one I probably watched La Haine & Brick about 15 times each.

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

The film is set almost entirely outside at night and we shot in summer in Australia, so the sun doesn’t TRULY go down until around 9:15pm. We would shoot from about 9:30 till 4 every night, pack down, head to bed and start again the next night. The challenge came with keeping focus all the way through each night and sticking to our schedule. This film simply wouldn’t have happened without the generosity of our amazing cast and crew of friends, so it was really important we didn’t take advantage of that.

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.

We shot this on the Sony A7S II purely because of its low light capabilities. As I said the film was shot mostly outside in the dead of night and on top of this we were going for a natural look so it was mostly a matter of shaping the natural light available – streetlamps etc. The DP Adam Camporeale is also my producer, longtime collaborator and friend so we have a longstanding visual shorthand. That part of the process was very natural. I had shot-listed the film pretty comprehensively and we had discussed it at length, so heading in we were on the same page visually.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Vancouver?

I honestly can’t wait to see it experienced by an audience. We have done a test screening or two but this will be the first time it has screened to the public, so there is obviously a lot of nervous excitement. Also really looking forward to seeing the other films it is screening with and meeting the filmmakers. We cannot wait to get amongst a community of other storytellers so we can be film snobs together.

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

This is the start of it’s festival run, so we will be screening at festivals for another year or so hopefully!

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

I would hope they were loving HARD RUBBISH so much they just couldn’t wait till the end of the screening to tweet about it.

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?

Find your people. Being part of a filmmaking community is essential. And talent or experience aren’t important at the beginning. You just need to be able to stay up till 4:00 am discussing what the ending of THE BICYCLE THIEF meant to you or why DIE HARD changed your life.

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

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE wins hands down every time. If a film can make me genuinely want to be a better person every time I see it then what else could a filmmaker possibly hope to do?

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

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