Released in America earlier this year, Echoes Of War takes place in post-Civil War Texas where two neighbouring farming families, the McCluskeys and the Rileys, are each mourning the loss of family members, all while trying their hardest to maintain business under difficult circumstances. The film features a bankable cast in James Badge Dale, William Forsythe, Maika Monroe, Ethan Embry, and Australian abroad, Rhys Wakefield.
Strangely, this uniquely American tale marks the feature directing debut of Kane Senes, a 28-year-old Sydney native, whose determination to get this film to the screen screams of smarts and determination. Independently made, Echoes Of War was recently picked up for US distribution through ARC Entertainment, and will hopefully find its way to local screens soon. We spoke to Kane Senes about his journey and experience in getting Echoes of War in the can.
Can you tell us your story? “Throughout school, I was always passionate about the arts: writing short fiction, studying drama, painting, and making visual art. I was going to be a stage actor, or a journalist, or an author. It wasn’t until I took a film studies class in the first year of university that I realised that filmmaking combined all of the art forms that I loved. I was fortunate enough to be able to move to Los Angeles because I wanted to learn how to make movies the traditional American way – I figured those were the films that I grew up with, so why not? I also wanted to throw myself in to a foreign environment and grow as a person.”
How did you go about getting a film up in the US? “During my time at film school, I met this Texan bloke named John Chriss, who had come to LA to pursue acting. We became best mates and clicked creatively on every level. When it came time to write my thesis short for school, I decided to do a period piece – something about the turn of the century in rural America. Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven is my favourite film, and I wanted to emulate the look and feel of that era. John, being a proud Texan, convinced me to go back a little further to The American Civil War. He taught me about that time, and about how America was literally split in two. It was the perfect backdrop for this story that we wanted to tell, which was about this small farming family out in the middle of nowhere and a long-lost family member that returns to them with a bunch of skeletons in his closet. The short became A Relative Stranger, and it did well for me out of film school, winning awards at festivals and proving to me that maybe I could do this as a career, after all.”
So, what happened after that? “My student visa expired and I returned to Australia, planning on getting stuck in to the Aussie industry. I scored a gig working as an assistant to one of the producers on The Great Gatsby for a year. I got to watch Baz Luhrmann throughout his creative process, and see how a huge Hollywood movie is made. It taught me a lot.”
How did you utilise what you’d learned? “After partnering to work on my next feature – which would eventually become Echoes Of War – with a mate of mine from film school, J.M.R Luna, one day out of the blue I got a call from a three-man producing team that J.M.R. had sent the script to a while back, wanting to know if it was still available. We started working together long distance, discussing how we could raise funds in the US and make it as an indie over there. Our first move was to hire a casting director. Emily Schweber came on board and, between my producers and her, those were the reasons that this movie got made. Suddenly I was back in LA meeting with what seemed like every actor in town not named Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. Guys I had known of for years from films and TV. I was amazed at how easy the access was, because we had an experienced casting director and a script that people were responding to. Five months later, we finally had a solid cast that investors could get behind. No pre-sales, no sales agent, no exhibitors in place, just private equity. We still had that connection in Texas, so we moved to Austin for two months and shot the film. We had an investor pull out two weeks before shooting began, and we started shooting with enough money to get through week one out of four. Another investor came on at the last minute and saved the day. This movie almost fell through numerous times but we somehow pulled through.”
This being a very US-focused story, how did you find tackling the subject matter of Echoes Of War? “People say to me that it’s unusual that a young Australian filmmaker chose to tell an old, American story. But I never saw it that way. Some of the best films about America or American life are made by foreigners. I’m interested in a place I don’t know instinctively. There’s an appeal in that mystery, in the search for the things that led to the rise of America as we know it in the first place. All of that is subtext anyway. Ultimately, every story is about something inherently human and therefore, universal. For me, it was just about telling the story of a man coming home after many years away and how his experiences change how he interacts with his family.”
Do you hope to return to Australia to make films, or are you planning to stick around the US? “I will go wherever the projects take me. For now, my life is over here in the US and I don’t foresee a move back home unless a project takes me there. I feel an excitement here in Los Angeles about film. Everywhere I turn, someone is talking about movies. I am at the epicentre. Everyone is ambitious and chasing their dreams. That kind of zest and passion turns me on. Also, it’s where my network is, and it’s where I’ve made my contacts.”
So what’s next? “There are a few things on the boil. I co-wrote and am producing a project called Mr. The Fastest for a super talented South African director friend of mine named Anton du Preez. It’s going to be like if Napoleon Dynamite was set in the world of small town backyard car racing and directed by Wes Anderson and Harmony Korine’s love child. It’s going to be hilariously weird.”