Alyssa McClelland: Never Second Best

June 26, 2018
Director and co-writer Alyssa McClelland tells us about her dark twin-centric comedy, Second Best, which won the Dendy Live Action Short Award at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.

Exploring the connection between identical twins in a playful and subversive way, Second Best tells the story of two sisters, Nouchka (Raechelle Banno) and Velika Bortsov (Karina Banno). The former is a talented rhythmic gymnast who has a viable shot at joining the Olympic squad, while the latter is overlooked by her family, who lavish Nouchka with attention and support. Something’s got to give – but perhaps not in the way the audience expects. We caught up with director and co-writer, Alyssa McClelland.

What was the initial spark of inspiration that led to this film?

Well, I’ve had a bit of a twin thing going on in my life, I guess. My mum is fraternal twin, and her twin sister’s like a second mum. My best friend at high school was an identical twin, and then I dated an identical twin for six years. So I’ve always had this twin thing in my life and I wanted to make a darkly comedic film that delved into their stories and explored the complex twin connection.

You co-wrote the screenplay with Simone Moessinger – what’s your dynamic like when you write together?

It’s really wonderful. I direct a lot of television commercials. I was shooting one in London and Simone, who is based in Amsterdam, she was the creative on this campaign and we actually wrote the ad together – which is so rare, for the director to be so involved in the writing process. She and I just got along like a house on fire and so we wanted to do other projects together, and that’s how Second Best came about.

It works quite well; we worked out that with our powers combined we’re like a 24 hour writing machine, if we wanted to be, because I basically write when she’s sleeping and she writes when I’m sleeping, since she’s in Amsterdam – the time difference means we’re writing around the clock.

We spent a long time mapping out the story, and then we divvied it up for writing, and then we go over each other’s bits. It works really well – we’re a really compatible writing duo.

Given that the film focuses on a pair of identical twins, was casting a major hurdle? How did you approach it?

It was really difficult. I wrote the script feeling that this has to be done with identical twin sisters. The story was so important to me, and we needed to represent a twin relationship.

But once I finished the script I thought, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to be able to find identical twins who can a) act and b) have one of them able to do some gymnastics. So I started coming at it from a few more angles, and I was meeting up with twins all around Sydney and Melbourne – I just met with a lot of kids, and we were looking at a lot of non-actors at this stage, in order to be able to really meet everybody. It was important to me to have identical twins – I met some fraternal twins along the way, but aesthetically I wanted them to look the same. I was starting to think ‘Oh my god, I’m never going to find these girls’ and then Raechelle and Karina appeared and they were just amazing. Raechelle was on Home and Away and Karina had been living in LA.

Have you seen That’s Not Me, the film? I was like, ‘Oh man, no one’s done a twin film!’ when I started writing this, but it took me a long time! It took me so long because… we actually wrote the script three years ago but then aligning the schedules of the twins, myself, everybody – there was a year and a half of trying to align everybody’s schedules and then in that time a couple of twin films came out. But Alice [Foulcher, writer and star of That’s Not Me] is a dear friend and I said to Alice, ‘The real life twins in your film actually exist in Raechelle and Karina. They’re both actresses.’ 

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