“What I really want to do is have a career and make movies,” Louise Alston tells us when we catch up to discuss her biggest movie yet, Back of the Net.
A producing graduate from Australia’s leading film school, AFTRS, Wagga Wagga native Louise Alston is based between the US and Australia, travelling wherever the work takes her, with husband screenwriter Stephen Vagg and young daughter in tow.
Although Louise had directed two theatrically released feature films in All My Friends are Leaving Brisbane and Jucy, she still found it difficult to make a living making films, hence the move to the States.
After seeing the Australian tween movie Rip Tide, Louise sent the film’s producer Steve Jaggi a Christmas card, congratulating him on its success. That small gesture – no doubt picked up from her time in the States – resulted in a meeting and a new gig, directing Back of the Net, ironically back in Australia, in Wollongong specifically.
“Steve had already done a lot of work on the script [by Alison Spuck McNeeley and Casie Tabanoi], and they just wanted me to come in and direct it. I came in with extra freshness. What I really liked about it was the fast turnaround. It wasn’t a matter of waiting a couple of months to get funding. I did bring my own take and my own ideas, but it wasn’t like it’s my party.”
The cast for Back of the Net was also in place when Louise turned up, including leading actor, US import Sofia Wyllie (Andi Mack). “She brought an amazing work ethic,” says the filmmaker. “She was really on it from when she sat around doing the table reads. This was something she did weekly, you could tell she was convincing every line, she was trying the jokes, and I think that some of the Australians, who aren’t professional actors, really rose to the challenge; they rose to her level.
“We worked within the sort of personality that the actors brought to it,” Louise continues about the rest of the cast. “Actors love bringing their own energy into it and changing things as we build it up. They were all cast for their individual strengths and I think they knew that, so there was a real comradery there – just like a team, it’s like you’re the wing and you’re the goalie. They felt like they were bringing different things to it.”
The soccer analogy is appropriate for Back of the Net, which follows Sofia Wyllie’s geeky character from the US to Australia to attend a science camp, only to board the wrong bus and to end up at a soccer camp.
In order to make the soccer depicted in the film authentic, Louise watched the likes of Bend it Like Beckham, but ultimately, she approached Back of the Net as more of a rom-com. “It’s got that great mean girl antagonist; it’s got the super nice hot boy… it was about the energy. When we had a test screening for kids from year 7 down to year 3, the biggest delighted squeal came when the guy holds the girl’s hand and says I really like you… I think it’s going to be for the little girl in all of us.”
Louise certainly hopes so, having experienced first-hand the next generation’s reaction to Australian film. “One of my money jobs was working as a relief school supervisor where I was basically babysitting girls at a boarding school,” she tells us. “I would do it on the weekend, I would sleep over one night every weekend. I can remember girls who were in like year 8 or 9, and they were all crowding around trying to work out which movie they were going to go watch and I can’t even remember which movie it was but then someone said ‘oh, that’s Australian and they went ‘oh’…. I went ‘what does that mean?’ And they went, ‘well it’s Australian, what’s good about it?’, and I was ‘oh my goodness, that is what people are thinking’.
“I hope this movie becomes something that they would like; to see herself in it because it’s exciting, colourful, has movement, drama and speaking to them; I think this movie’s doing that.
“I love The Parent Trap… and I also drew on that part of me that liked to watch Neighbours, Home & Away and school yard settings.” Louise continues about her thinking behind her direction in the film. “And things that bring joy! It was really nice to work with costume designer Jan Hurley, who did Dance Academy. I knew I wanted the colours of the soccer uniform to be yellow; Sia wore an amazing yellow dress to the Nickelodeon People’s Choice Awards, and I thought ‘wow, let’s make the whole team wear yellow’. Jen comes back with sunflower yellow, and I’m like, ‘cool that’s going to keep the eleven-year-olds happy’.”