Talking with Vanessa Gazy is not only a delight but illuminating to how her passion of film overlaps into obvious love of film and pure talent behind the camera.
Originating from Canberra, a prosperous underused location of rich cinematic surrounds used to full effect in her latest film about to feature at the prestigious London Film Festival, Highway. Playing like a mini episode of Twilight Zone, one of Australia’s most emerging superstar thespian’s Odessa Young plays a mysteriously lost teen on a road to nowhere, or is she? Much of the scenario is left to the imagination which is exactly how Vanessa wants it, for now.
I could have talked to Vanessa all day due to her immense likability, knowledge and sincerity.
Shane A. Bassett – How did you feel when first hearing Highway was accepted by the BFI (British Film Institute) London Festival?
Vanessa Gazy – Thrilled. I was waiting, sitting, waiting endlessly as film goes through the processes so when I got amazing news like that, I think I cried then laughed in joy.
SAB – How long exactly was conception to release?
VG – 2012 came up with the idea, wrote it quickly in around two days, I didn’t know if it was any good. Feedback was positive but living/working in London at the time and hadn’t been through film school so needed to figure out how to direct as I was just producing productions at the time. In Paris I directed something small but not in London, nor did I quite have the confidence until coming back to Australia knowing film school could be a great idea to participate in. Applying to AFTRS (Australian Film, Television, & Radio School), I had a couple of scrips to submit then got in consuming me for a year which gave birth to short film (Foal). I lost five kilos making it – so intense but learned so much. When Highway came along in 2014, I felt ready.
SAB – I feel not enough Aussie films use Kosciusko as a scenic landscape.
VG – Being from the Canberra region, we like to claim the snowy area and national parks as their own (laughs). It’s so unusual, the alpine landscape people overseas often don’t know about. Sometimes I just don’t want to shoot anywhere else, it’s magical.
SAB – How did you come up with the lead character name Hester?
JG – Reference to The Scarlet Letter, such a dark little story the name is sad and sinister. In Highway, Hester’s surname is Black, I feel a name says a lot in film and literature. I feel it sums her up as a lost soul, kind of got a sense of something from the past.
SAB – Do you have a back story in mind if offered to extend Highway as a feature? You could tell further past details how she got to where she is all alone.
JG – Yes kind of, imagining her fleeing a foster home, maybe some horrific experiences but at the same time, I did not want to fill in too much information. Maybe her back story isn’t just one story or one life or possibly stuck in this repetition within Highway for a reason. Maybe it’s multiple different journeys that led to her scenario stuck inside perpetual loops.
SAB – I was wondering how long she may have been walking the road as that walkman Hester has looks retro?
VG – (laughs) Maybe she’s been there since the ’70s or ’80s but maybe she’s been running from death since the beginning of time and that is simply one moment. We are getting pretty deep here (laughs), you ask very good questions Shane. I want the film to speak on its own.
SAB – The entire interior car scene is quite intense, Odessa especially is awkwardly brilliant.
VG – When first laying eyes on Odessa in (short film) Bloomers, I knew she could be anything. That outstanding talent, youthful energy, unique alien like look, long limbs, those eyes. I wanted her from the beginning so when we finally pulled the film together after an extended period, Odessa was still on board even though she was shooting Looking for Grace and The Daughter at the same time we got her on set. Getting the other cast together who feature in the scene was an interesting process, all came up perfectly emotional. Rhiannon auditioned with her hair platted and it grabbed me so I asked for to have it like that for shooting. She was brilliant and haunting, I want to work with her again. Rebecca Smart, a former child star herself, is amazing pushing the character. Her combination of maternal and sinister acting worked.
SAB – Did you have to direct Odessa at all or let her go?
VG – She just got that character, wise beyond her years, incredibly mature. We had a coffee immediately understanding the tone it needed. Limited direction needed on set, she influenced all around her if she knew it or not. Rhiannon became friends with Odessa looking up to her and when cameras stopped filming, Odessa joked around laughing being silly, fun and wonderful. I would work with her again in a heartbeat.
SAB – Did you come up with the poster art, it is eye catching?
VG – (laughs) Thank you. It is a collaboration of my good friend I’ve known forever Bethany Kennedy and myself. She’s always helping out, we made it work by wanting an illustrative take of the film reflected on the poster. We came up with the first draft of the poster concept art before the film was shot. It ended up being mysterious harking back to Hitchcock style posters into work shopping it to perfection.
SAB – How do you feel about the equality within our industry of female film makers?
JG – Great, so many initiatives are available, people seem to know how important it is. So many of the movie going population are female, so many television viewers are women according to surveys and women tell wonderful stories. Why wouldn’t we have a balance in the voices out there, Ii think the industry is taking positive steps to balance it all. In all my experiences at film school, on sets, or at events, I have been respected. Maybe when I went into making my first ever film I went into it a bit worried about things in general, I don’t know exactly, but in fact the environment was professional and crews all have respected me no end. An exciting time moving forward for women in film.
SAB – What’s next, will you surprise me with a feature film in the future?
VG – Quite a lot in the pipeline. One is a feature in development so we are getting the draft out to people soon after many years of work. I’ve also received some funding for a proposed mini-series and I also got some separate funding for a new short film. That will be shot late this year or early next, plus some music video and documentary projects. Busy in a good way, thanks so much for the support Shane.
Shane A. Bassett