Kickin’ it with Julian Shaw

Julian Shaw as John Kirwan in 'All Blacks Don't Cry'

Award-winning director and author Julian Shaw is a cat who is cooler than Kool & the Gang.

At a publishers’ panel session at Melbourne’s Emerging Writer Festival, a session many later called ‘The Last Supper’, Scott-Patrick and I more or less said ‘write to us, we wanna get to know ya’.  And sweetheart people did write us.  One of whom was Julian Shaw.  And thank goodness he did.

Julian had been at EWF talking about his ‘movie in book form’ Modern Odysseus.  Right now he’s over in New Zealand with his camera on the sidelines filming the All Blacks.  He’s documenting their journey to the rugby World Cup 2011.  The film’ll be called Cup of Dreams.

This cat is the Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year 2010 according to the Sydney International Film School, has won a British Film Insitute Award, a Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and an Australian Film Insititute Award, among a slew of other awards.  Plus he throws down speeches at places like Harvard University.

Here’s me kickin’ it with Julian.

You wrote a contemporary story based on an ancient narrative and made it visually visceral.  How do you think we as readers engage with this?

Well, I think it’s been really exciting and invigorating for readers who are up for a new experience. It is part novel and part visual art, as you say, and the frisson and excitement is about where those two art-forms intersect. We call it a ‘movie in book form’ – Colin Friels brings the character of this Modern Odysseus to life with his performance. The images anchor it and take us on an emotional journey. I think the photos are never about telling you what to think – the images really create different sensations and emotions for different people. I’m trying to bring to life my story in a  very visceral, emotional way. It’s about showing how in the 21st century, in the era of GOOGLE maps and GPS, the physical world has been mapped out but the inner world is more treacherous than ever. That is the case with the title character Thomas, who is facing a corporate burnout of the worst kind.

What’s a challenge you faced with creating that and how’d you get through?

Colin Friels as the modern Odysseus

It was tough to find like-minded people – I think Colin Friels was the first person who really understood what I wanted to achieve, and he backed my vision 110%. I think people couldn’t visualize the book until they actually held it in their hands, and that was a big challenge in getting potential collaborators or distributors excited about what I was trying to achieve. So when I was initially pitching the book to publishers there was just a blank look. If you are ever trying to break ground you only need one person on your side though – you. No one else. So I had to learn to persevere through all those blank looks and back myself. A great lesson as an artist. You just have to believe in the finished product and always hold that in your mind and heart. In the end you get there. The same people who thought it would never work are the ones who have bought copies and been sheepishly saying – ‘now we know what you were trying to do!’ This is actually a really simple book in some ways – it’s a bit like a picture book for adults. I think people didn’t anticipate what an enjoyable experience  it would be. This book is fun and full of feelings – it is not just a head trip. I think it has a big heart. It’s about a guy trying to find himself after all.

Change of pace: who’ve you found inspiring?  The twist is that you can’t say anyone who does film, literature or photography.

This might shock you, but Shawn Michaels the WWE Wrestler. I live and breathe movies. I am a filmmaker and film commentator and sometimes it doesn’t help me unwind to watch movies. It can sometimes feel like work, no matter how much I love it. Since I was five years old I’ve watched WWE Wrestling to unwind. It just lets me escape. And I think I love everything about it – the spectacle, the raw emotion, the operatic storylines. I think they are artists. So I’d say the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels has been a lifelong inspiration! You’re shocked aren’t you!?

And how’re you going with Cup of Dreams?

I am getting on a plane to New Zealand in a few hours to do my last round of filming in New Zealand, with my characters and with the All Blacks. It’s been a long process – I started filming this flick in 2007. I love how it’s developed. It’s become something I didn’t anticipate. I’ve got to say, it’s not a sports movie. It’s a character study that happens to be set in New Zealand and revolve around rugby and the World Cup. My producer Jonathon Green put it so well when he said ‘the All Blacks are the object of the story, not the subject.’ This is a story about home, it’s about what we all find in sport, it’s about all the ineffable, wonderful and irrational things that can hold a community together. It’s exploring nationalism and obsession. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done but every few weeks a new dream comes true. I’ll be sideline filming the All Blacks play the Springboks in a matter of days, and that is a dream come true – I can’t wait to be out there and be so close to the haka. It’s a childhood dream come true.

What’s the story behind Seven Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started?

I think it is so important to share what you’ve learnt as an artist. I believe as an artist you receive when you give. In this new stage of my career I’ll be using my website a lot more to release short films and new content.  Seven Things I Wish I Knew When I Started is a mini eBook that is me really being super honest and telling you all the mistakes I’ve made since I started my career as a 15-year-old would-be filmmaker and how I was able to achieve some of my proudest moments. I guess it is there so hopefully you don’t make some of the mistakes I did. I hope it is inspiring and candid, and I think whatever type of artist you are – a filmmaker, a musician or an actor – there will be something in there you’ll get out of it. The book is free if you sign up for the mailing list on the home page of my site.

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Filed under Australia, Fiction, Film, Kickin' it with, Photography

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