Kelly Walker’s Messy Authenticity in My Fiona

March 14, 2021
The Australian born filmmaker discusses her journey as an artist and how it led to her US feature debut, My Fiona.

Can you tell us your story with regards to where you grew up, how you ended up in the US, and what the US experience has been like?

“I grew up in Brisbane and moved to Los Angeles shortly after high school. My mum is American and Dad, Aussie, so I have dual citizenship. I always wanted to get into the entertainment industry and my aunt, Kim Flagg, a sitcom writer in Los Angeles, welcomed little naive seventeen-year-old Kelly in with open arms.

“I’ve had a relatively sheltered Los Angeles experience because I was becoming an adult while living with my aunt, and she acted as a moral compass, so to speak. Our idea of a wild night was a bottle of wine and playing show-tunes on her piano while wearing wigs. The BIGGEST difference between Brisbane and Los Angeles – I can’t speak for the rest of Australia or the US – is that back home, strangers say hello when they pass by each other and that doesn’t seem to be the norm in LA. Believe me, I try and am usually met with a look of suspicion. It’s pure joy when I get a ‘hey there’ in return.”

Was writing/directing always part of the plan?

“No!! It all started when I was making movies with my best friend from 12-15 years old. We would make one feature film a year. We would write, direct, act, produce and edit ourselves. When our friendship ended, so did my pursuit of filmmaking. When I moved to LA I focused on acting and video editing was my day job. In my early twenties, my aunt and I created a web series, Kat n’ Chloe, with sixty or so episodes and it was that familiar happiness I felt making movies in my early teens. What draws me to filmmaking is creative collaboration, coming up with pretend worlds, and having fun playing make-believe. By my late twenties, I spent more time pursuing writing, directing, and editing than I was acting. I lacked a lot of confidence as an actor and couldn’t shake this feeling of never being enough, not for our industry or for myself. For whatever reason, I don’t have the same relationship to filmmaking. I have doubts and insecurities, but I appreciate the process and the journey more than I ever did as an actor. And follow what sparks joy, right?”

Where does the story of My Fiona come from? Is it biographical?

“It’s not so much biographical as it is based on some experiences in my life. When I was twelve, my babysitter died from suicide. When I heard the news, I understood the world is not safe, life is not promised and those you love could go at any time. I developed a lot of anxiety and fear, stuff I still battle with today. Over the years, I’ve lost more people I’ve been close to, and my biggest takeaway is we all grieve in our own way at our own pace, and we can’t judge or control the process.

“Another aspect of My Fiona is the power of female friendship. In my experience, my ride-or-die friendships have been the most integral relationships in my life. When a friendship ends, whether it’s from death or growing apart, a little piece of your identity dies with it. How do you become a fully realised human without that person who keeps your soul safe. I have a feeling I’ll tell more stories about female friendship. I’m not done with the subject yet!”

Can you discuss the budget, and how you managed to make the film?

“One of my producers, Matt Minshall, got on board in the summer of 2018 after reading the script. He’s a producer on NCIS and rallied crew and post-production connections to help out with the film at a fraction of what it would typically cost. This helped keep our budget down without having to sacrifice quality. We acquired the finances from private investors, and we were off to the races! It sounds easy and simple now, but there were many moments where we didn’t think we would raise the money in time to start production. We are so lucky to those that came in and believed in the project, and were willing to take a chance on a first-time filmmaker.”

I loved the central theme of the film, sexual identity, and the way that you’ve explored it in such a relatable way – is sexual identity something that is a personal concern of yours?

“Sexual identity has been a huge aspect of my personal journey. I identify as bisexual, but it wasn’t until I was happily married to my husband that I started talking about it openly. I wasn’t ashamed or afraid or anything like that. Even though I had been involved with women in the past, I felt like my marriage choice negated that part of me. Through Jane, I really wanted to explore the idea that love can be circumstantial, sometimes for a reason or a season and never does it have to be man OR woman. Why not let all the messy authenticity exist without having to analyse it so much. (I love to overanalyse EVERYTHING!) Jane’s experience showed me that the only identity that matters is the one we give ourselves; no one else’s opinion has to hold so much weight.”

Kelly Walker with Jeanette Maus on the My Fiona set

You elicit great performances in the film – are these all performers that you have acted with before? Can you talk about the casting? And how come you don’t act in the film?

“Originally, I wrote the character Jane for myself to play. I started writing the film in 2016, and by 2018 I had begun directing shorts and web series. By the time Matt signed on to produce, I knew I wasn’t ready to direct and act on the same project. Some people can champion this skill set, but I can barely pat my head and rub my stomach simultaneously, so I knew it wasn’t a smart move.

“Jeanette Maus, who plays Jane, was one of the first people to read the script and played different characters at every table read. At our last table read, I asked Jeanette to play Jane. I was expecting to feel envious of her playing ‘my’ role, but that’s so far from what happened. At the end of the night, Matt turned to me and was like – ‘That’s our Jane’, and it hit me, it was always supposed to be her. Jeanette is Jane, Jane is Jeanette – how hadn’t I seen it! Jeanette’s Jane is mesmerising and strikingly vulnerable and nailed the humour in ways I didn’t even know how to do. Jeanette still auditioned for the part, but once again, her tape was above and beyond and probably the easiest and best decision we made during the entire process.

“At a talk, back in 2019, of Little Woods, Nia DaCosta said something along the lines of, ‘Cast smart actors in your films, it will make you a stronger director, and you’ll have a better film because of it’. I really took that to heart and cast actors I had met in acting class and on set. Not only were they incredible actors, but they also emotionally intelligent people that understand the art of storytelling. The part of Alec is played by my husband, Ryan Garcia. He also auditioned and nailed it because he’s brilliantly talented and no nepotism was necessary.

“I hadn’t met Elohim Nycalove, who plays Bailey and Corbin Reid, who plays Gemma, until casting. When I saw Elo’s tape, I knew within seconds he was our Bailey. He had this wise above his years mixed with the curiosity of a child vibe. And when Corbin and I met for coffee to discuss the project, she had a quiet confidence and calm aura around her. It felt kismet to how I imagined Gemma to be. Like meeting your character in real life for the first time. It was a very spiritual experience! What I love about her performance is the emotions are right under the surface. It’s magnetic, a little dangerous and heartbreaking to witness.”

Corbin Reid with Kelly Walker on the My Fiona set

Australia is experiencing an explosion in overseas productions right now – have you looked into whether you could come back to make something, or is your life and your stories now US-centric?

“THIS IS ALL I WANT!! Honestly, my dream is to come home and make a film in Australia, while saying hello to strangers on the street and eating Pizza and BBQ Shapes for breakfast, Brumby’s cheese and bacon roll for lunch and red frogs for dinner. I’m manifesting this dream every day.”

What’s next?

“Lately, I’m really into writing biopics and stories based on true events. I love telling female-driven stories with women from history that didn’t have a platform to share their experience. I have an Audrey Hepburn biopic in the works and a script I’m co-writing with my aunt about Edythe Eyde, the creator of the first magazine for lesbians in 1947, Los Angeles. I’ve got a couple of other scripts in different development stages. Two of them are set in Australia! I really should speed up the development of these two, so my Aussie manifestation has a better chance of coming true.”

My Fiona is screening at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

It is also streaming here:


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