“Work is mostly in the USA now, but I’m grateful to be in Australia this summer,” says Louise Alston, who made an impression with Australian indies All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane and Jucy, before helming the family film Back of the Net, and then heading stateside for The Will, her first feature for Passionflix, a US streamer focused on ‘turning your favourite romance novels into movies and series.’ Off the back of that success, Passionflix asked Alston to direct a series of short films.
“As with everything Passionflix makes, they were based on the work of best selling romance authors with massive existing audiences, The films are labelled ‘Holiday quickies’, but they are relatively family friendly because of the Christmas theme.
“I love Passionflix,” Alston proclaims. “It’s a chance to make emotionally intense stories with driven characters and transformative scenes. I love that there is an existing audience for everything Passionflix makes. The fans are passionate! They call themselves ‘passionistas’.”
Brought up in Wagga Wagga, before a stint in Sydney at AFTRS, and then living and working between Sydney, Brisbane and LA, Alston is excited about the opportunities that exist in the US. “The wonderful thing about the US industry is the abundance of work and the size of the market,” she says. “It feels less like a game of musical chairs with very few chairs available! The USA also feels less self-conscious about pursuing genre. Romance is stepping into the light right now. 63 million households streamed Bridgerton on Netflix in 28 days. As women’s eyeballs are taken more seriously, watch romance become a major force to contend with on screen. Bridget Jones and Fifty Shades are just the beginning of romance film franchises.”
But how about Covid? “Going into the [Passionflix] shoot was nerve wracking. Especially when my Covid test didn’t come back in time for day one. We had to scramble to find instant testing after 4pm on a Sunday… But once onset, everything fell into place easily. Film crews are by nature adaptable and this was just another set of circumstances to work with. Actually, everyone was so super pleased to be working.
“There was a Covid officer on set at all times and we had to check in with her every morning. She would be consulted each time we set up and each time personnel moved around. She also policed masks and sanitiser.
“We were shooting in a studio environment, so it was a one stop shop location, but we had the barn doors open all the times for ventilation. This made noise an issue when it’s usually not a problem in studio.
“A couple of times, I’d see someone eating (more than 6ft away) at lunch time and I’d think “who the hell is that?”, then I’d realise some people looked completely different than I expected underneath their masks!”
Alston may have sneaked in a US production, but she’s not so sure about the immediate future.
“One thing that’s noticeable in LA is all the ‘For Rent’ signs. The trend of people leaving the big cities is real. I know lots of people who have come back to Australia and lots of people who are working remotely from somewhere else.
“Before Christmas, it did feel like things were picking up in Hollywood and it looked like everyone was getting the hang of shooting in Covid conditions. Auditions were happening and the vibe was hopeful. But I had a bad feeling about the coming winter. I felt like Australia got a special preview given what happened to Melbourne in cold weather.
“Right now, Los Angeles hospitals are at capacity and people are dying in ambulances, waiting hours to be admitted to emergency departments. SAG has just come out and advised all members not to work on anything because even having a minor accident would be problematic without hospital support. I think it will take a while for most industry people to do more than plan month to month. My hope is that vaccines will make a difference and numbers will be falling in California by the end of summer 2021.”
And what’s next for the filmmaker? “The Pandemic has given me a lot of time to work on development and writing, so now my top draw is overflowing with projects. Also, It’s been much easier to make general meetings. In some ways, these meetings have been better than the ‘real’ thing because zooming with tracksuit pants on with someone sitting in their lounge room has great BS cut through. Meetings become a kind of shared trauma connection rather than a show-off, name-dropping Hollywood experience.”
“The best thing about the pandemic is that it’s clarified so much about creativity and the pursuit of happiness.”