Simone Horrock’s debut feature film After the Waterfall
premieres on Rialto Channel this Saturday evening (Saturday 27th
August). It’s a brooding, intense and ambitious debut set against the timeless and remote backdrop of Auckland’s West Coast, and star’s Outrageous Fortune’s
Antony Starr as John Drean, a park ranger who takes his four year old daughter to work one day, only for her to mysteriously disappear....
By Francesca Rudkin
Simone Horrock’s debut feature film After the Waterfall premieres on Rialto Channel this Saturday evening (Saturday 27th August). It’s a brooding, intense and ambitious debut set against the timeless and remote backdrop of Auckland’s West Coast, and star’s Outrageous Fortune’s Antony Starr as John Drean, a park ranger who takes his four year old daughter to work one day, only for her to mysteriously disappear.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, and at times uncomfortable to watch, but this realistic portrayal of grief and human resilience is ultimately uplifting, and features a stunning performance from Antony Starr you don’t want to miss.
Literally on the eve of her departure to shoot a Chinese film called Unforgettable Love in the Yunnan region, in the South West of China, Simone kindly took a break from packing to talk to us about her experience of bringing After the Waterfall to life.
After the Waterfall is based on UK writer Stephen Blanchard’s 1999 novel The Paraffin Child. Why did this story appeal to you?
Initially it was a review of Stephen's book that really inspired me to make this film. The review gave a brief outline of the story - that it was about man whose four year old daughter disappears in mysterious circumstances - but went on to say that "sometimes a mystery remains a mystery, and an absence an absence, we have to deal with as best we can." I thought that was a reckless idea for a story, and that to pose such a mystery and not solve it was a terrible risk. I though it's either going to be terrible, or something really special.
And for me, this book was something really special. Stephen Blanchard creates an off-kilter world, threaded through with passion that maps the small steps of a man's healing. When a child disappears the family is inevitably thrown into the spotlight and we often ask ourselves: How could you live with such a loss? How do you carry on?
In changing the setting to New Zealand, did you always envision it being shot in West Auckland?
When you start working on a property, you make discoveries, you find out more about why you were drawn to the story in the first place, and over time you find your own life has become meshed in the work. The landscapes in the book are iconic - wild stretches of empty coast, the outskirts of town, and the forest. When I read the book, it was easy for me to transpose the landscapes of my childhood, which was in West Auckland. It felt natural to locate the film there. Interestingly, the book is set in Hull (Yorkshire, England), which is where Stephen Blanchard grew up. This is a story about making your peace with the past, so maybe there's something in that too.
Antony Starr is a revelation in this film, his performance is riveting as John Drean. You discussed this role with Starr before he became a household name thanks to Outrageous Fortune, what was it about him that convinced you he could carry this role?
So much of what we do in film is based on instinct. Trevor Haysom, the producer After the Waterfall, was finishing off work on In My Father’s Den. He came from the cutting room one day and told me there was someone in a supporting role that had a real chemistry on screen. He suggested we meet him, which we did, and after that initial meeting, we never looked at anyone else. It was obvious that Antony had x-factor, but he is also a really committed professional. Of course I followed that up by watching everything Antony had ever done, and was then able to track him as he moved on and up, becoming the household name he is now.
How long did this project take from gaining the rights to Blanchard’s novel, to getting the film funded and shot?
About 12 years. But of course to directors, these years are like dog years, one human year is equivalent to 7 director years.
Was there ever a point when you thought, “it’s time to throw in the towel”, and if so, what got you through that stage?
Of course! In fact I think it's important to know that you can do that. You need to pace yourself, otherwise you will burn out. There was a point when I realised that in all the time I'd spend developing this project, I could have trained to be a doctor. That was sobering. But of course I was doing other things too ... including raising two children. I don't know exactly what kept me going, I think I just loved being in the world of that story. I miss it still.
I remember hearing one reviewer make the comment that the film looked like it had been shot on a far higher budget than it had – that’s a great compliment. How long was the shoot, and what challenges did you and DOP Jac Fitzgerald face?
What a great compliment! We had a tight budget, and of course, whatever you've got, it's never enough, so that is a really great thing to hear. The strategy for all of us, was to stay close to the emotional heart of the story, and be ruthless about what was important. Everyone who worked on the film was passionate about their contribution, and the struggles we had came from that passion, so in my view, they are good struggles to have. It was a tough shoot; we made the film in 26 days, with lots of wild weather, and a very cold day under the waterfall for Antony. Everyone worked beyond the call of duty, and I think it shows on screen.
And now for something completely different…what’s the most memorable film you’ve seen recently and why?
Oh such a terrible question! And right after the film festival too. I can't just list one ... so here's a few. I loved Sucker Punch. It was a fantasy film, full of beautiful young women in lingerie and leather, and there is not a single 'adoring gaze'. In my opinion, that is why so many male reviewers had a problem with it. The role of the actress in the average Hollywood film is to gaze adoringly at the male lead - no matter who he is, how old he is, or how bad he is. Other recent favorites were The Tree Of Life, a wildly ambitious car crash of a film with moments of madness, and moments of genius. Snowtown, a really brave film which lifts the lid off the too hard box and has the courage to tell the truth about what it sees. And Cave of Forgotten Dreams, magic, Herzog in 3D, what more could you want?
And finally, how’s your Mandarin?
Ask me again in two months time.
After The Waterfall film information