Not long ago I had the privilege of talking over the phone with David Michôd the writer/director behind the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning film, which warranted a 10/10 from our reviewer and chances are will be nominated for an Oscar come awards time, Animal Kingdom. I had only seen the film the night before speaking with him and the ideas were still floating around in my head. If you want something with wow factor forget Inception and check out Animal Kingdom - you really won’t know where this one is going until the end and it has a lasting effect that makes it impossible to forget.
Check out the interview below and found out how Michôd created his masterpiece below…
I know that this is based on real events. Is this about a specific event or these types of events in general?
David Michôd: It’s actually just one particular event that happened in Melbourne in the late 80s, which was the random – the ruthless and random revenge killing of two young cops by a particularly nasty gang around Melbourne. And generally, this fascination with that particular year in Melbourne’s criminal history, which was the kind of the last days of these gangs and the last days also of hardened armed robbers, and the last days also of the hardened core of the armed robbery squad. So, I didn’t want to set the film in the 80s. I didn’t want to make a period film. I didn’t want people to be laughing at giant phones and silly haircuts, you know. So, I kept the film in a kind of indeterminate recent past. But it was that era of, in a way, the decline of the old-school bandits that I wanted to capture.
From the handheld shots to the colors on screen you have a very specific style. How did you decide on this style of filmmaking? What influenced those decisions?
DM: Well I think I knew from quite early on that I wanted to make a con film that was viewed with a really palpable sense of menace, and with that menace would be experienced by the main character and hopefully experienced by the audience as well. And when you first start with that as a final aspiration, then it becomes easiest to work out what to do – simple things like what to do with the camera. You’re right. I did want to have that sense. In effect, I was only using slow motion in a way just to heighten certain unsettling, emotional moments of the central character. Generally speaking, it’s actually quite simple, in terms of camera style. There are certain moments in the film that felt like they lended themselves to accompanying handhelds; a certain manic energy. And others just felt they needed something much more still and austere. And then everything in between as well. I mean, I kind of wanted to make a film that was quite sprawling and multi-faceted and multi-people, and I liked the idea that the camera would work in a lot of different ways as well.
I liked that you get to discover the film as it goes along, not everything is spelled out and there isn’t always a lot of dialogue in certain scenes. Did you get pressure from people wanting you to add lines and dialogue to the film? Or is that just the advantage of doing an independent film?
DM: Oh, that’s definitely – definitely one of the advantages of making a film with creative independence. It feels to me like the script has a lot of dialogue in it and a few people have said that it feels quite bare. Which says to me that those moments where we pause and have a moment of quiet are working quite powerfully for people to carry those moments with them. In that way, that makes them feel at the end like the film doesn’t have a lot of talking in it. Actually, there’s quite a lot in there.
During some of the biggest moments in the film, you leave it all to the actors with almost no music or added dramatic effects. It is a brave move to rely on the actor’s looks as opposed to explaining what is going on.
DM: Yeah, I think when you’ve got – when you have actors who are as skilled as these guys are and you can trust in them, then you should trust in them. One of the thing I did is as developed the screenplay was not – I didn’t want to over-laden the screenplay with dialogue that just simply wasn’t necessary. I basically wanted the scenes to feel truthful and I think one of the things that impedes a screenplay is that it doesn’t feel it’s honest and truthful – people saying things unnecessarily. Things they wouldn’t say in the real world. Usually, their expositional nature or just an over-talking.
In this film, there is a new actor, veteran actors and Hollywood actors. Can you tell us about what it was like working with such a diverse group?
DM: Well, I think it’s definitely one of the challenges. One of the key challenges of directing is finding a way – getting to know your actors and working out how they like to work. They all had very different ways of working. I mean, I felt Rocky and James and Laura also were totally inexperienced, but really quite beautifully natural and intuitive performances. And I was relieved that I was able to throw them into the pen with other actors and direct them the same way I would the other actors, which is a relief because the film is quite ambitious and it had a lot of characters and a lot of locations and we had to shoot it in 35 days. If I’d had to micromanage James’ performance, I think we would have gotten – I think we would have stitched ourselves up. Fortunately, he learned really quickly how to work at that speed and I was just lucky that he’s so intuitively talented and takes direction very well, which is, you know, the job half done already. But all of these people, you know, it’s just great. I mean, it’s the biggest part of the process – putting that jigsaw puzzle of people together. It’s the most enjoyable, but it’s also the most important part of the process.
What was the hardest part of making this film? Was is getting it made? The 35 day shoot? Or just everything?
DM: It was the edit. Yeah. I mean, I always find editing quite traumatic. It’s that moment where you – the film is no longer what it was in your dreamland. It is actual footage that needs to be bashed into a shape. You know. The shoot is always really hard, but it’s exhilarating at the same time, and therefore strangely fun in a painful way. But the edit, you know, on this was unusually difficult for me just because it’s 16 weeks of not seeing the film playing the way you hoped it will and all you can do is bounce it off other people to get a sense of where it is speaking and who was playing who specifically. And in the course of that, you kind of eventually find yourself again with the sense of what the film is, but that long transition period in the middle I find quite an emotional challenge.
How has it been since Sundance and how did Sundance affect the movie?
DM: Oh, Sundance was amazing. I mean, I had – I was feeling good about the film by that point, but I had no expectations that it would be received as well as it was. And you could feel it after that first screening at the Egyptian. You could feel a buzz building and it was exciting. It was exciting to be in the center of that. And it was exciting to have a whole bunch of the cast and crew there too. All had felt good about what they had done, but equally had no idea at how it was going to play in the wider world. And being a part of that and feeling that buzz building around us was really exciting. Especially in a – when you haven’t made a tent-pole movie, anything you can do to elevate the film’s profile is a great thing and playing Sundance, having the buzz build at Sundance and then winning the Grand Jury prize at Sundance were all just great profile builders that feel as if they are continuing.
Do you feel this is a distinctly Australian film?
DM: I think any film from wherever it is from, if it works, belongs out in the wider world. You know? I don’t see the film as particularly Australian. I set out to make, what. I hoped would be, a big crime story. And I loved the idea of being able to set that crime story in a city that hasn’t been seen to an international audience in that way. Because Melbourne is a much bigger and badder city than it usually appears in cinema and I loved being able to put it on screen that way.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
DM: I usually hope that they feel like they’ve had a really rich and substantial cinema experience. So often these days when I go to the movies, I come out feeling disappointed because the experience itself wasn’t rich and layered and bold enough. What I really wanted to do was make something that just felt rewarding. I wanted to think what it’d feel like when their head was swinging with all of the detail and the character that they just experienced.
Animal Kingdom will be released in limited theaters this Friday, August 13th. Check it out!
(Not trailer for this one because it’s a MAJOR spoiler… just got see it!)