Adele Vuko: Sinking her Teeth into Directing

June 19, 2019
The sketch comedy writer/performer makes her directorial debut with short film The Hitchhiker, which premiered at the Sydney Film Festival and will next play the St Kilda Film Festival.

“Excuse me if I launch into some toddler chat every now and again,” says Adele Vuko when we connect over the phone. With one eye on her two kids and the other on our interview, Vuko manages to remain in control of both during the 10-minute chat. Multitasking has become her forte, especially since recently turning director on short film, The Hitchhiker, though she at least avoided acting on that one.

“Not for this round,” she tells us. “I wanted to really concentrate on the directing part.”

This round?

“Did I say that?” she asks rhetorically. “That’s a sub-conscious thing. Well… for the many, many, many more things that I plan to do!

“I certainly wouldn’t rule out acting in my own work that I’m directing, but for The Hitchhiker, particularly because it was my first time, I thought it would be really great just to concentrate on the one job.”

To get ahead in the highly competitive film biz, you cannot be a passive observer, and Adele has constantly created her own pathway for work.

“I started acting when I was about 21 and realised quickly that I need to do more with my career than wait for the phone to ring and my agent to get me a job. That’s when Skit Box started, was that I’d found these like-minded girls, Sarah [Bishop] and Greta [Lee Jackson]. We all have the same ideas to write and create our own work.”

Skit Box: Greta Lee Jackson, Adele Vuko and Sarah Bishop

Which inspires us to ask about the sketch comedy scene in Australia. In the US, sketch comedy has become a breeding ground for some of Hollywood’s major players, from Melissa McCarthy to Will Ferrell. Do we have such a thing here?

“I wish we had Groundlings and UCB,” Adele says. “I think that’s still in its very, very early form here, the live sketch community, but we found that going through online sketch, going through YouTube, was incremental to our visibility.

“My husband Christiaan [Van Vuuren] is part of the Bondi Hipsters, that’s how he got into comedy and filmmaking, via YouTube. Almost every other sketch comedian or collaborator that’s started out on YouTube, like Aunty Donna, and Superwog, and SketchShe and all these really wonderful acts, they all started on YouTube and they’ve all had a really wonderful career trajectory.

Adele on The Hitchhiker set with Christiaan Van Vuuren

“We call it oncom, online comedy,” she tells us. “The YouTube community’s really wonderful.”

Skit Box made the 6-part show for the ABC, Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am and they went viral with Activewear.

Adele has also fostered a relationship with production company Jungle Entertainment, who produced her first short film as writer/director, The Hitchhiker.

A horror-comedy, The Hitchhiker is a 13-minute short starring Liv Hewson and Brooke Satchwell. “I’ve always loved the vampire genre because they’re beautiful films that are all about exploring the human condition through the vampire monster lore. Films like Thirst (2009), The Hunger (1983), Interview with the Vampire (1994). They’ve got the gothic horror elements but there’s certainly so much more to them.”

Adele with her Hitchhiker cast, Liv Hewson and Brooke Satchwell

So, what was the subtext for The Hitchhiker? “Making the decision about what’s more important in life? Is it to survive at no matter what cost, or to cope with the reality of your situation? In The Hitchhiker, Jade [Liv Hewson] has cancer that she’s running away from. It’s asking the question, whether you want to live or die with humanity, or try and survive as a monster.

“I have a few people in my life that have suffered from different cancer diagnoses and I found it really quite interesting how people react to those really life-threatening situations. There’s a flight or fight mode that I find fascinating because sometimes you can just shut down, and sometimes you can just want to not deal with the problem, and this short is exploring that in a very focused way.

“This short’s always been a part of a larger picture feature film idea,” she continues, acknowledging more of that future planning. “That’s what the feature film will also explore but in more depth.

“It’s definitely a planned process,” she admits. “I’ve got aspirations to further my career into film, Hollywood… I mean, one of my favourite directors is Taika Waititi. Gosh, if I could emulate his career, that would be pretty great,” she says about the Kiwi, who also started out as a performer and shorts filmmaker, before moving onto independent (aka New Zealand) feature films and TV, and now Marvel Studios with Thor: Ragnarok.

For now, though, our time with Adele is up and she must return to herding her two young kids. “That will be hopefully be the last time. Had enough of that,” she says about having more kids, that isn’t part of the plan for the next round at least.

The Hitchhiker screens at the St Kilda Film Festival on June 21 and 22, 2019.

 

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