Gracie Otto: Game On

August 29, 2018
With a documentary about her father in the works, and her first feature film in development, we catch up with Gracie Otto, who also recently won a screenwriting prize, which produced the short film, Desert Dash.

Can you tell us more about this Soho House North American script incubator, and how does one go about winning it?

The Script House competition is an initiative of Soho House and luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen, designed to foster screenwriting talent by funding short films, loosely based on a theme of time, by two screenwriters. It’s only open to members of Soho House in North America, and fortunately Soho House West Hollywood was my local meeting place, only minutes from where I live in Los Angeles. The 10-minute scripts were judged by a panel of industry leaders including Barry Jenkins, Bruce Wagner, Sean Baker, Christine Vachon, Sharon Badal, Alison Chernick, Marcus Hu, Chris Grainger-Herr and the Black List.

This year there were over 200 submissions and I was thrilled that Desert Dash made the Top 10. I never expected to actually win – the prize is $US20k, so setting my story in the Australian outback was definitely going to stretch the budget. The initial excitement of winning was tempered immediately by the demands of actually making this film, and within the time constraints of a couple of months before premiering it during the Toronto Film Festival at a special event. The film is produced by myself, Jessica Carrera, Craig Deeker and Francesca Duncan.

How does it feel to have your work judged by the calibre of this particular jury?

It was especially cool to win, even to make Top 10, as all entries are anonymous. I had Bruce Wagner as my mentor, who was very supportive and gave me some good feedback.

What inspired you to make a film like Desert Dash?

When I wrote the script I had just been back in Australia to direct a Bonds underwear commercial filmed in Coober Pedy in 47 degree temperatures, and was inspired by the cinematic landscape and its literally “off the grid” population, many of whom live in underground houses. I couldn’t afford an interstate shoot, so decided to locate to Lightning Ridge, home of the iconic black opal, and a 10 hour road trip from Sydney. The script was based on the premise of how to escape such a town, and also a quote from Elon Musk about how we are potentially living in a video simulation and that was how the idea of the 8-bit game came about. On a deeper level, one of my best friends and mentors, Samantha Rebillet, a wonderful director, passed away last year. Sami had an association with Lightning Ridge, and part of this story is based on our last conversation. So it’s a little about me trying to understand life. In the edit it’s become more of a comedy, and I think Sami would have enjoyed that!

Are you a gamer?

Not really. But I used to love playing Game Boy and Super Nintendo and old games on our first Macintosh computer when I was young. Games like Shuffle Puck Cafe! It’s amazing now with games how much you can do and how layered it is. So my theory for my short is, well if we are living in a video game who is controlling me? I play a game called Sliter.io with my niece Darcey (Miranda Otto’s daughter ) and she has a very special part in my short film; her first acting role and I can already see she’s going to be an incredible young actress!

Can you tell us more about Girls in Hotels and the documentary about your dad?

At the moment we have been further developing my feature drama Girls in Hotels that Jessica Carrera and I are producing through Dollhouse Pictures. Lee Tulloch has written an incredible multi-layered screenplay and it’s at a really exciting stage.

Otto on Otto has become more of a personal documentary on my relationship with my father Barry Otto, but still obviously about his extraordinary acting career in Australia. I’ve been living at home on and off this year, so I’ve been shooting observational footage, as well as going back to his hometown of Brisbane and talking to some of his acting colleagues. I’m back working with the same team as The Last Impresario – producer Nicole O’Donohue, editor Karen Johnson, archivist Lisa Savage and Craig Deeker at Gingerbread Man.

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