Evan Clarry has been in the film and television industry for over ten years as a director. It all started in Queensland at university and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s directed two feature films, two television series and a number of shorts. You can check out Evan’s professional imdb link here:
Where did you train?
Griffith Uni, Queensland College of the Arts. Back in the late 80’s. Three year degree in Film and Television.
Was training vital to your career?
Training in some way is vital. I think the most important training you get is on the job and working with other professionals. The way technology has evolved a lot of people are able to get involved with filmmaking at a very personal and untrained level. People have access to equipment at home that is state of the art but at the end of the day if you can get training, I think it’s wonderful.
How did you get your break?
I worked a couple of years after college in country Victoria at a TV station making commercials. Then I didn’t do anything for a few years, playing music and things like that, then I was living in Cairns and I got some money to make a short film from Film Qld (now Pacific Film and Television Commission). That short film went on to win a lot of awards and that gave me a profile – that and networking. I worked on a couple of other jobs with prominent people, like with Jonathan Schiff on Cybergirl. Meeting and connecting with him helped but it was really the short film that opened the door to projects like Blurred with Chris Brown (Producer).
What is your definition of a director’s role?
It’s the controlling figure in terms of the vision of a film, the creative vision. That said, sometimes a Producer has a certain amount of that responsibility as well. But essentially the director’s role is to visualise and realise the script as a film or whatever it is your doing, and that involves everything from working with other heads of department, as in art department, casting directors, etc, and to choose the various elements to guide and steer them. It’s like being the chef in a busy kitchen. When people taste the food, if it’s any good they’re going to say that’s great or that’s shit, depending on your eating experience.
You mentioned Blurred before, so how do you compare working on Blurred (feature film) to working on Mortified (television series)?
On Mortified I was one of several directors. There’s a lead director who sets the tone for the show and then I did my block after having seen his episodes, so that I don’t step in and radically change things. There is a tone that’s set. Also with television, in my experience, the budgetary constraints are a bit more spread out. When something’s on the big screen it has to feel big screen, whereas on the small screen it’s a bit different especially with how you shoot scenes. Fundamentally there’s not that much difference, you’re still doing the same jobs in a day to day way.
Is it viable having a directing career in Australia?
Yeah but you need to balance it with other revenue streams as well. I think there are a few directors who only direct and they lead a good life, and can pay all the bills with that. But we’re a small country population-wise and it is a very difficult industry. Every director I know, including some you might expect to be in a better position, all have other areas of income. Be it teaching, investments, manual labour, whatever. You do what you can, but everyone all the time is getting projects going. A lot of time is spent in the development process where you don’t often get paid to do that, you might get some government assistance with a project but a lot of the work is unpaid. That’s just the way it is.
Does that mean you are prepared to move for your career?
Yes and no. If I had to uproot and move to WA for a TV show, and it was only to do three blocks of a show it would have to be worthwhile. When you way up all the costs it would have to be a well-paid show, hopefully more than three episodes. You’d have to way it up like that. I would certainly look at a project but it would depend on how much I wanted to do that show.
How do you approach a script?
I just read it and if I’m not cringing in the first ten pages then that’s a good sign. I look at the story and the quality of the story-telling and writing and how the dialogue flows. That said I’ve worked on projects where the script hasn’t bowled me over. I think that’s a bit of problem in this country. I’ve read a lot of scripts and I think there’s a lack of real script and writing education and script development in this country. I know how hard it is, I write myself, I’m by no means free of the difficulties of what it takes. But it’s hard to find diamonds amongst the quartz.
So the projects you have worked on when it wasn’t your script, how flexible were you permitted to be with the script?
With Blurred and Under the Radar I was given a certain amount of latitude to develop the scripts further. When actors came on board I also changed things. I did a lot of isolated pockets of re-writes with the producers, rarely with the writers in that particular case. Usually, it’s more like a relationship between the producer and the writer. However, it’s part of the job, it’s always good to have extra heads come into it and be able to workshop the material. If you’re working with someone like David Mamet you’d feel comfortable about not touching a word. I’m not saying that to say that people I have worked with are not good writers, they are. A film is a very complex confluence of ideas and people, you just have to find a way of making it sing the best it can.
At what point do you get involved in the casting process?
Fairly early on. You start looking at who would play certain roles at a reasonably early stage of the process and then making approaches. I’m pretty involved all the way through with casting.
When you say you have people in mind, is it based on who you know, a look, talent, any number of things?
Any number of things. Nathan Phillips I had in mind for Under the Radar fairly early on. The writer and producers had Steady Eddie in mind very early on for that film also. I had to go through my own process before I realised that he was the man for the job there. I’ve been involved in another project where we tried to get Hollywood B-lister types, I wouldn’t say A-lister probably A-lister next year, and they did become involved. But there was a lot of hassle that came with that and you have to question how much you value the sanctity of a good life if you want to go down that track. But the reasons for going with people like that is to have a big name attached to a project which is something that is important for certain projects and producers. It certainly does help in some ways but it didn’t help us that much. At the end of the day it’s still going to come down to script and you’re going to attract big names with a really good script, if you can get it to them. Getting the script into the hands of these people was more the great feat of cleverness than what transpired after that.
How involved do you want your actors in the project?
Ideally, very involved. I love them to have ideas. The characters in Blurred where very stereotypical teen movie characters in an Australian context, so it was just about finding talented, good-looking, vibrant young people who understood those characters and were very naturally funny people. I think we cast really well in Blurred. Radar was a bit more difficult. There was a couple of casting decisions I wasn’t overly happy with but I take full responsibility for that. It was a tougher fit because the characters in Radar weren’t as readily identifiable, they were open to interpretation and different people had different ideas, and to be honest I didn’t have an entirely rigid idea myself of who some of those characters were. So it was difficult to get a strong clear delineated vision of some of those characters.
Then, how crucial was the rehearsal process for you?
Well there was sweet FA in the way of rehearsal (laughs). I think it depends on the material. In Blurred we had a bit of rehearsal, and it was easy. It was just trying to find the humour in all the moments and getting them to relax and enjoy themselves. Radar we had a little bit but not much. You do a certain amount so that we’re all on the same page, we all understand what the scene’s about, have a bit of a read through and basically that’s it, just block it and then finessing from that time on. The key is to cast well. Blurred was such an easy shoot, it was cast really well. Radar was a much more difficult shoot, aside from the aspects of the weather which made it tough. The cast weren’t difficult, but the material and the cast wasn’t a walk in the park, it wasn’t a straight forward process. I was constantly looking for ways.
How do you alleviate something like that?
Panic attack! (laughs)
What’s coming up on your agenda?
A comedy television series which is in development with a couple of producers in Brisbane, which is very exciting, very funny called the Mark Deleny stories.
A doco series that we’re trying to pitch to a network with another producer that is a bit out there.
A film with Trish Lake based around the Woomera Detention centre. That’s a tough one. We’re getting Allison Tilson to write the next draft on that. That’s a long running project.
And, one I’m pretty excited about, is a series of short films making a whole. Sort of like Sin City meets Mystery Train in Cape York. I lived many years in the top end of Australia and I collected a lot of stories up there. These stories make up this film and it’s a world that I’m fascinated in, I have a great fondness for. It’s very funny but a bit violent and unsettling which is what the weather is like up there – it’s a bit like a cyclone on film. Category 3 comedy!
For all the actors out there, do you accept show reels?
Sure if they get onto me, absolutely. Even more so now, as I’m heading into producing more now anyway. Actors need to find their way onto casting jobs and get themselves into short films and things like that.
Final piece of advice for other directors.
The best fun I had as a director was actually before I got my “career” and that is when you’re pulling together teams and you’re making it on your own and you’re building the physical devices to make the film happen and its very hands on – you will never have an experience like that once it gets professional. But the climate is changing these days, budgets are getting smaller, people are distributing films themselves via the net and so forth so maybe there is still a way to do that. But when you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder, when you’ve got a few hundred grand from your uncle and you’re doing it that way you’ll never experience the highs of filmmaking at that level and that’s where you really get to make a stamp that’s your own. So I really urge people to get focused with their vision early and make their own footprint in the mud.
Maybe that’s what I need.
Some actors you’d love to work with one day?
Geoffrey Rush, Steve Basini, Willem Dafoe, Naomi Watts. These are actors who do something special and go against the grain. Naomi’s able to do that within a Hollywood A-list star kind of thing – she’s the pick of the crop for me.
To Kill A Mocking Bird, Blue Velvet. Jim Jarmoosh and David Lynch – I love their sense of humour and unique take on things…they’re two of my favourite filmmakers.