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Aidee Walker; & The Good Kuntz at 48Hours

Aidee Walker
I've wanted to interview Aidee Walker ever since Friday Tigers/ Ngā Taika o Rāmere, which she wrote and directed, won both major prizes in the New Zealand International Film Festival's Best Short Film competition in 2013 – Best New Zealand Short Film and the Audience Award. 

Aidee's one of those inspiring, hard-working and super-versatile women we do so well here. A writer/director of short films, now transitioning to features. An in-demand actor for highly rating television shows (Mercy Peak; Outrageous Fortune; Shortland Street; and Step Dave, for which she also wrote an episode this year) theatre and short films, including her own. A director of music videos, for Anna Coddington. She's most recently been shadowing actor and director Michael Hurst through a two-episode block of SPP's Westside under the Director & Editors Guild of New Zealand's TV Drama Director Attachment Scheme. 

As well, this year Aidee was part of The Good Kuntz, the first all-women 48Hours group to reach the grand final. This is how I learned about that–

I've been fascinated by New Zealand women directors' low participation in our annual 48Hours competition, for a long time.  Because I'm curious, in 2011 I helped out – in a very minor way – with a couple of 48Hours projects with women directors I know and wrote about it  here, with a video interview with Francesca Jago, one of those directors. In 2012 I made a podcast with Ruth Korver, Laurie Wright, Gaylene Preston and Francesca and participated in 48Hours myself, as a co-writer/director. And wrote about the experience here and here. I've often referred to the 48Hours phenomenon in passing for example in this piece on women directors in New Zealand.

So, naturally, when I saw Aidee's name on this list of credits for Interloafer – isn't it beautiful? I seized the opportunity for a conversation! 
Director: Aidee Walker Producers: Morgan Leigh Stewart, Hazel Gibson Writers: Aidee Walker, Shoshana McCallum, Roseanne Liang, Lucy Wigmore, Elizabeth Thomson Actors: Jacqueline Geurts, Lucy Wigmore, Donna Brookbanks, Kate McGill, Maria Walker, Narelle Ahrens, Ally Xue, Milo Cawthorne Editors: Cushla Dillon, Tori Bindoff, Roseanne Liang Sound / Music: Anna Coddington – Composer / Amy Barber – Sound Design Cinematography: Nina Well
Warm congratulations (belatedly)  to all these women. And my thanks to you, Aidee!

Aidee directing Friday Tigers

Somewhere, I read that you thought 48Hours would be 'too hard'? Why?
I think trying to make a complete film of not too nasty quality in 48Hours is pretty hard, yes. The story has to make some kind of sense and then the shoot day is the bit that most of us can handle but then getting it edited well, sounding okay, and if you're lucky – a grade – WOAH.

But maybe what I was talking about being hard is not the 48Hours constraints it was that we wanted to do it with 100% female crew. It was inspired by attending the finals last year and there were very few female-driven projects. A couple of female directors, maybe.

I was sitting with my friend, an actress and writer, and we though good way to combat this was to put together a female team. Because there are so few females working in camera and sound, lighting etc they were all on projects already. Interestingly enough the names I got for DOPS, a lot of them were working as stills photographers on big films or some had childcare issues. We couldn't get a soundie, but some student filmmakers did that for us with little experience – good on them, though, and good on us for not caving in.

Through this process of finding our crew (it took weeks), we met new people which was great. The other aspect is actors always find this weekend pretty fun but that's because they only do ONE DAY. When you are directing the piece however, you pretty much know you are going to sleep very little. I was determined to get a little nap in though so I didn't lose the plot on the Sunday afternoon – I have seen this happen and it's not pretty.

Were some of your concerns justified?
I am always very nervous about sound. Most people are, if it's bad it lets down the whole project. I feel like it's my karma on all my projects to find the soundie at the last moment. There was one project we were making, a TV pilot, and I was acting in it and when I had downtime I was calling every sound guy in Auckland. I love soundies (I deal with them all the time as an actor) but the soundies I knew were dudes and I couldn't ask them... and we didn't have the best gear. It was so tough! But luckily we had Amy Barber doing our post sound and she has her own post studio and we knew each other from UNITEC days and this ended up being one of my favourite parts. We just really pushed it into the absurb martial arts fight sound realm which I loved. It was so silly.

Oh one more thing, we were kicked out of the location with little warning so we had ten minutes to shoot the final showdown between the two leads. It was super intense, we just did one take with every angle and had to pack up, it looks okay but coverage is very helpful, normally. Ha.

One of the reasons I've heard about why women's participation in 48Hours as directors is so low is that we often have domestic responsibilities that make it difficult to take those 48Hours. But lots of us produce for 48Hours which is also demanding. Do you have any theories about the low participation? 
I did find that I called some people and if they were working in the week they wanted the weekends with their kids. Fair enough but does that mean if the guys are doing it, their baby mummas are looking after the kids so that they can participate.

We actually had quite a few mums in our group, and that is probably why the story had a baby slant to it, in fact it is why it did. For example Anna Coddington did our original score, but she was able to work from home and her baby daddy helped her out I think so she had some time in the studio, but yes of course this must affect women, all the time. The 48 hours are pretty rough – we wrote on the Friday night till 4 am. Saturday shoot from 6:30 am till midnight... so yes, rather difficult.

Had you worked with an all-women team before? Was it any different than working in a mixed gender group?
No I have never done that before and we were a big group, we wanted to involve as many people as we could. I don't think gender has anything to do with your performance, it's just we had to work with people we had never met and closely. But I think we did pretty well? It was a pretty loving day, there weren't any egos... maybe yeah, there was a slightly different feel to sets I have been on as an actor?

Did you consciously choose a story idea that would 'fit' the culture of 48Hours? And if so in what way(s)?
You can't plan a lot to be honest. We brainstormed as an entire group and then five writers narrowed it down. It was very collaborative. It wasn't a story any of us had planned. We did however sort some location options so this dictated the story as well as the genre, character and prop we were assigned.

How did you share the writing?
So, there were five of us. One of us had to leave early as she had work on another set very early the next day and Lucy Wigmore had become our lead actress and she has a toddler at home so she had to go about 1am. Then Rosie, Shosh and I stayed on but then I left them to it to get two hours sleep before everyone arrived for the read through. We didn't come to the story straight away, and I couldn't believe we went with an action with eight actors. I was kinda freaking out about that. Someone (maybe Rosie, I can't remember I was so tired) sent me a link on how to shoot fights with Jackie Chan. I started watching it but it talked about how he spends months choreographing one fight. Pffft. We would just have to wing it.

I loved the Bechdel Test-ness of Interloafer and the energy that flowed among the characters. It's a lot of fun. Often I get asked How are women-directed films different? and I think this showed some difference and I wonder whether it was intentional.
Everything was pretty intentional. We knew we were all women and had seven women ready and keen to act and when we knew we had a stunt fighting actress, so we thought let's do a big fight. And yes, we used Milo Cawthorne as the token babe, the only guy. We didn't even give him a name in the credits, we called him Babe Barrtister. He was awesome. I don't think anyone expected us to have drug smuggling fake mothers – neither did we. And yay, yes men were never talked about, right?

Will you do 48Hours again? Encourage others to enter?
For others? Hell yes. You must. You learn so much. Me: I will do it again but maybe with a teeny tiny crew... I am so glad I did it. I nearly pulled out as I was super busy shooting Step Dave, but Shosh encouraged me not to. Thanks Shosh!

What will you take back from 48Hours, into your Humans filmmaking, your directing, your writing and your acting?
Filmmaking is collaboration and 48Hours FORCES you into it as you don't have time. You have to make decisions fast and furious and there are things that would never fly in one of my other shorts where I have the liberty to agonise over a take or a cut, but you just have to go with it. I think it would be good training for TV directing more than film. But the collaborative aspect so good for anything! Also we did it! We made a film in that weekend, complete with grade and sound mix and eight actors and fight sequences! And no tantrums, no yelling and we had fun. Crazy!

When I first wanted to interview you I was curious about your transition from acting to filming and impressed that you'd write/direct and act in Friday Tigers. Do you see yourself forever 'doing it all' in one way or another? Do you have a favourite activity among all those?
No I love them all, but at the moment I only really earn any money with the acting so it's a must really, as it supports my own projects. I hope that next year I might get paid for directing, that's the plan! With writing, even with the wonderful grants one can receive, if one is lucky – we earn about 5 cents an hour for the work we put in, but then the flip side of that is that we are writing our own projects and ideas and that is the most exciting part about it for me – creating the characters and the stories. But I guess I must admit, acting was my original passion and I'm not ever going to give that up. If I haven't done a theatre production in a year, I start to crave that too.

Aidee in Joe Lonie & Leela Menon's Shout at the Ground
You now have your own production company, HUMANS. How did that happen and what benefits does it have?
Alexander Gandar and I started working together on Friday Tigers. He was my production coordinator AND my 1st AD so we naturally worked together a lot on that project and worked together well, so we continued on. We both make music videos. He's multi-talented that boy, so it made sense to make my next short under HUMANS and other things like our infamous CATKILLER...
[A dark mystery has been unfolding in Raglan.
In the past year 30 cats have disappeared from the tiny town, with some later found dead, wrapped in plastic. Catkiller is a short thriller-documentary that seeks to uncover the identity of the killer.
Be they bird-lover or cold-blooded murderer, they have a community divided, and no family's feline is safe.]
And on top of all that you're also an ambassador for NPH orphanages (Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos/ Our Little Brothers and Sisters). How did you become involved?
I became involved through a glorious human called Kristina Cavit. She spent a couple of years at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and then returned to NZ to set up the NZ branch of NPH. I went to a fundraiser and heard her talk and that was pretty much it. Ha. Since then I have been on two volunteer trips – one to Peru and then to the Dominican Republic. The homes and the kids are incredible, they are saving lives and fostering these incredible young people, leaders in fact. Next year I hope to return. It's all a juggling act and of course can get pricey, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't need to buy a house, I'd rather travel anyway. And make films, of course!

Break in the Weather

You've just completed another short film, Break in the Weather, your third after The F.E.U.C. and Friday Tigers, your fourth, if you include Interloafer or your fifth, if you include CATKILLER. How does Break in the Weather relate to your earlier work?
It's still not finished. Well, it was, but I'm going to go back in and hack more time off it. I write long, too long. It's a skill to make a short, short film. I am not good at it. I hope to be finished by the new year. Fingers crossed. It's a drama. The feature I am writing is also a drama but with black comedy, I just need the lightness and hilariousness of situations to make me enjoy my own projects. With straight dramas, I'm terrified of being too earnest and I cringe at myself, way too much. I won't be acting in my first feature, thank the universe, there is too much to worry about with so much story!

You're writing features and of the two you're concentrating on, one has a male lead and the other a female. What do you need at the moment to move them forward?
Yes I do have a lead male in my current feature... IS that weird? It's one of my favourite actors in New Zealand. BUT to balance that out most of the other characters are females and really exciting, complex, strange women that surround him. When I am unemployed I do try and write as much as I can, but it's hard, as there is always the worry about running out of funds to survive. Having lulls in acting work is often a blessing so I can focus on my stories, which I was able to do in the past few months in Melbourne. Currently I am doing that director's placement at SPP and there is clearly no time to even think about my own work but I am learning a bunch and it's good for them to have a lady out there I think. They are very supportive of me and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity with them.

Aidee links
HUMANS website
Facebook HUMANS
Facebook Friday Tigers/ Ngā Taika o te Rāmere

NPH Orphanages