Connor Fairclough: Making Waves in Head Above Water

August 17, 2016
The upcoming indie mockumentary, Head Above Water, traces the rivalry between two surfers, played by comedians, Elliot Loney and Neel Kolatkar. It's the first feature from Connor Fairclough, after a string of well-received short films, so we though we'd check in to see how the sea change is treating him.

After graduating high school in Ipswich, Queensland, Fairlcough relocated to Sydney to study at AFTRS. After finishing there he went on to freelance between Brisbane and Sydney, all the while honing his skills and developing his voice with short films such as Generation: Diffability and Granny. Now comes Head Above Water, in which the rivalry between two surfers reaches new heights after one of them (Elliot Loney) is shot to international fame after he fights off an attacking shark.

This was clearly inspired by the Mick Fanning incident, but what made you see the comedic potential in the event “Although this film clearly draws inspiration from the Mick Fanning incident, the shark attack in our movie is simply a story beat, a rung in the ladder which contributes to the overall rivalry between our two leading characters. The attack happens within the first ten minutes, it’s the starting point of the movie, we’re really focusing on what happens after that incident, what happens to someone when they are thrown into international stardom overnight, and how that can be taken away just as quickly.”

What was your development process like? “The script went through a few stages. The main changes were regarding the duration. It was a short film in its early stages but we decided to let the story breathe and extend the duration. It’s at fifty-five minutes, a strange length. We’re hoping if it ends up on television it will be classified as a ‘telemovie’ or ‘television special’.”

What challenges did filming on water present? “I don’t think I’ll ever write a scene which takes place in the ocean again. It was by far the most challenging scene to shoot. We had a camera shooting from the beach and a camera out in the water with our actor and myself. Trying to direct and assist the camera operator in the rough waves of Bondi Beach, getting dunked every 15 seconds, was difficult to say the least. In the end we got what we needed which is a huge testament to our talented cast and crew.”

What did your casting process involve? Was it difficult to find the right actors for your two leads? “I’ve been a huge fan of Elliot Loney and Neel Kolhatkar for years. I love their style of comedy and sense of humour, so naturally when it came to casting roles in Head Above Water, I turned to them. I was a complete unknown to them so I didn’t think they’d return the email let alone come on board. Elliot’s told the story before that he initially turned this down for that reason. I think once they read the script they saw the potential, and after chatting to me and ensuring everyone was on the same page, they got excited. They both brought so much to this film and I think they really enjoyed their time on set. It goes without saying Christoper Stollery was awesome and brought so much to the film as well. Also, just a huge thanks to our guest roles for being so generous with giving us their time (Ben Fordham, Nicolette Minster, Scott Tweedie and Des Dowling).”

Given the rate of shark attacks in Australia (two fatalities in WA this year alone) are you concerned about public reaction to the subject matter? “Once again, the shark attack isn’t the focus in this film, it happens within the first ten minutes. We truly are focusing on what happens after that incident.  We’re not making fun or poking jokes at the attack, it’s a beat in the story which catapults our main character into international stardom. With anything, people will agree and disagree. So far the reactions from the trailer have been positive.”

What’s the future of the film at this stage? What is your distribution strategy? “Just like any independent film, we’re going to try our luck in the festival circuit. Beyond that we have a few opportunities for meetings with a few different people, but as everyone in the industry is aware, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. I think this film has festival potential so we’ll just take one day at a time.”

What’s up next for you? “I’m always writing scripts and developing ideas. My hope is that Head Above Water will help lead to the next project getting off the ground.”

Head Above Water will hit the festival circuit in late 2016/early 2017. Keep an eye on the official Facebook page for updates.

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