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‘Sempre Piu’ Director Dia Taylor on the power of collaboration in independent filmmaking

The opening chapter of Australian filmmaker Dia Taylor’s career has been action-packed, to say the least, and as a result she now boasts a seemingly bottomless knowledge of the continent-sized country’s independent film scene. With an IMDb list as long as her arm, including films like Blue, These Few Hours, Sempre Piu, Grayscale, What I Was Missing, Jane, Among the Stars, Marital Problems, Taylor spoke to Indy Film Library on hard graft, learning on the job, and the importance of solidarity between young filmmakers amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

Do you remember the first moment you decided you wanted to make films?

That’s a tough question. I wouldn’t say it was any specific moment but rather an accumulation of assorted moments through the years. I originally wanted to become a novelist when I was younger but my business minded father worried that I wouldn’t make much of a living doing that, so I went into video production… that sure showed him! Now I have even less money! I still wanted to make stories with my life though. My Aunt Silvana was a filmmaker and got me to help on some of her short films when I was about 12 or so and it was probably then that I realised – hey, this could work.

After several short melodramas, the last film Indy Film Library reviewed was short film Sempre Piu – a successful jump into the horror genre. Was it an easy transition to make?

They say that every indie filmmaker has to make at least one short horror in their career, and I realised I was lacking in that department ha-ha. Honestly, it wasn’t as hard as I had originally anticipated. I tend to focus a lot on character driven pieces, and I find that a lot of my favourite horror films are similar in this way, e.g. The Shinning, The Others, Get Out, etc. So, all Sempre Piu really is a drama where the pay-off is a bit more gruesome than a drama would be. Rather than a slap on the wrist and a lesson learnt, the main character meets a grizzly fate.

My reviews of your earlier work can’t have made for easy reading – I’m glad you kept submitting work though, as Sempre Piu showed real progression. What kept you determined to send your work for assessment?

My undying need for approval? Ha-ha, no. I find it hard to judge my own progress… I guess you could say. So, having someone comment on how my work has improved definitely helps, especially when that person isn’t a ‘yes-man.’

Do you have any advice for other independent filmmakers when it comes to handling criticism?

Don’t take it personally. It’s not an attack, if anything it’s the opposite. If someone didn’t have faith in you, they wouldn’t say anything. Saying that too, I once had a filmmaker I knew say that they take all criticism with a grain of salt – and when they said grain of salt – they meant not listen to any of it. Don’t do that, especially when its criticism given from someone more experienced than you. No piece of work is perfect, no matter what field you’re in. Just because something you’re attached to is working for you doesn’t mean that it’s working and sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

You are a prolific filmmaker it has to be said. You always seem to have a new short coming out, and another two on the backburner. Could you explain your working process – and where the rest of us can get some of this bottomless source of energy you seem to have?

Well thank you! I’d say that it’s a slight obsession that I’ve developed. When I was younger, people always accused me of not doing enough so I turned that around. I’ll be honest here, I have clinical depression, and so by always being focused on a project, progressing through it and feeling that rush when it’s completed definitely help with the down days.

Lately I’ve been trying to focus on one project at a time but then I get excited about another idea I’ve had and jump onto that one. I also have a few films in post-production from a while ago where I let my post team take the wheel so that gives me the chance to start a new project. I also tend to have trouble saying no to projects as I feel almost honoured when I’m asked to jump on board.

How do you go about financing so many films? It tends to be the stumbling block for many independent filmmakers, but to make projects as often as you do, you must have been able to secure some kind of funding?

I am fortunate enough to have met many of the right people in my circles who have liked some of my projects and invested in them. I can’t say there’s any trick to that apart from just networking and being genuine and friendly. Don’t actively go after people’s money, just show that you’re passionate in your project and you’d be amazed how much that can affect someone.

That being said, I don’t have someone funding all my projects. They say never put your own money in your film, but I disagree, especially in the independent scene. As you said, funding is hard, and no one is going to give you money when you don’t have previous work to show. I usually tend to fund all my own films, even if that sometimes means skipping a few meals. Sorry Mum!

For those who are just starting out and like me, were a broke student, my advice is work. Work on as many films as you can even if they’re unpaid. Make friends and pull favours. Offer to do the editing on your friend’s film if they DOP on yours. We all need to help each other out.

As a result of your diversity of projects, you seem to know half of Australia – not to mention a huge chunk of the independent filmmakers there, a number of whom have appeared on your podcast The Independents. Do you have any favourite artists you have collaborated with?

Well it is an island! I live in Melbourne and the Melbourne independent film scene is very tight knit, I’ll say that. Oh god, favourites? I’m going to get crucified if I don’t mention people here! Well there’s filmmaker and actor Nathan Hill director of Colourblind, he’s definitely up there. We worked together while I was at uni, and ever since I’ve been somewhat involved in most of his recent projects as camera. He’s an auteur and good friend, always good for a laugh and someone I owe a lot to.

Nick Koniuszko, director of Inhumane and the upcoming Incident Report, has helped me in more ways than I can count as a friend and a filmmaker. My short upcoming film Little Miseries wouldn’t have been possible without him.

Glen Cook, the best gaffer in Melbourne and an emerging photographer. Glen pushed me to direct my first feature Marital Problems and has always been there pushing me to develop my skills and critique my lighting.

Darby Maxwell my loyal cinematographer who I have known for 10+ years. The relationship between director and DOP is an important one; it can make or break a production. There are a lot of DOPs I’ve worked with and not gotten along with and it comes out in the work. But Darby is one of my closest friends and we trust each other on set.

Callum G. Gault, one of my favourite actors to work with. He was cast in my first feature and since then, I’ve put him in almost all of my films. The lad is talented, dedicated, kind, and amazing at learning lines quickly!

Scott David Lister, cinematographer and Godzilla fanatic. He’s a great friend and a much better editor than I am or will ever be.

Bennie Wragg, if I was asked if I knew anyone who worked as hard as I do I’d have to say Bennie. In recent years, a lot of the projects I’ve worked on have been his. He’s determined and talented to boot with a podcast and a theatre company behind him.

Daniel Bugeja, the jack of all trades. Dan helps me out with everything and meeting him has defiantly improved my filmmaking.

Dan Bucknell, the best sound engineer in the business. He works damn hard and always out does himself.

And many, many more!

Is there a particular piece of advice you have picked up from one of your guests or collaborators, which you feel has really helped in your own work?

Hmm, I’ve learnt so much from so many people, it’s hard to say. A lot of technical things but I won’t list all that here. I’d say the main thing I’ve been taught in recent years is to strive for perfection. I have a bad habit of shooting and being happy with whatever I shot rather than truly looking at it and seeing the faults, improving on it. I guess in that case I have a very producer mindset – time is money – but I am trying more and more to not stop until it’s as best as it can be.

Obviously the whole world has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic – how have the lockdowns affected your work?

Yes, well being in Victoria, we are currently under strict lockdown measures – but going from 700 cases per night to 11 is worth it I suppose. It has definitely affected my work. I run my own event videography company Taymaynari Productions, and it’s a bit hard to shoot events when there are none! Ha-ha. But in terms of creative work, I’d say I’m a bit thankful. It’s given me time to focus on the postproduction of a few films. Sempre Piu for example – that was edited in lockdown and finished. I currently have three other shorts and a feature film in the final postproduction stages so that’s where most of my focus has been recently. That being said, there are a few projects I’m on that have had shooting pushed back, a necessary hassle but it’s also been beneficial – even though I’m sure my co-producers will disagree – in the fact that it’s given us more time to reflect on our projects.

Australia is currently in its first technical recession for almost 30 years – do you expect that this will help or hurt independent filmmakers like yourself? Perhaps low-budget filmmaking will be able to flourish if big studios have to scale back their operations?

Technical yes, but this is also the second recession we’ve had in my twenty-five years of life. I am going to be honest here. Australian Indie filmmakers often dislike our own industry. Many of us feel that the mainstream guys are very clique and don’t allow us smaller guys a moment in the sun. Screen Australia and Film Vic as well are constantly getting budget cuts and have so many rules and parameters to get funding that to get it is also near impossible. I honestly hope that this recession will wake up many mainstream filmmakers and give us smaller guys a chance, because honestly the mainstream films I’ve seen from Australia compared to the Independent films – the Independents films have so much more soul. Us Indie guys know how to work with nothing and get results, especially in a country like Australia that doesn’t value the arts as much as many other countries. There’s a reason SAW didn’t make it here but made it in the US. Australian mainstream filmmakers obviously can’t see quality when it’s not Ozploitation.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about, or new releases for our readers to watch out for?

Sure! I am currently in the final; post stages of short films; Little Miseries, Daughters, and Incident Report and feature The Green Woman. I’m also in preproduction stages of my second directorial feature film Jett and co-producing Andrew Walsh’s debut feature How Deep is the Ocean and producing my first ever series with Midnight Mindset Studios; Scott Day’s Wanda and Sully.

You can keep up to date with these projects via the Taymaynari website.

Dia Taylor’s Sempre Piu will be part of Indy Film Library’s up-coming Halloween Horror Showcase. Full press release to follow on October 1st 2020.

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