How To Make a Movie in a Foreign Country: The Final Chapter

January 3, 2018
James Pillion jumped at the opportunity to direct his first feature; the fact that it was to be made in Romania didn’t faze the young Australian filmmaker at first. The result is the accomplished Far From Here, and this series of candid articles that he’s put together exclusively for us.

DO

SHOOT FOR THE STARS

You need to be a dreamer. Sure Icarus got a little too big for his britches but he was on the right track. You’ve gotta be willing to singe your wings on the way up. It’s all or nothing in this business. Persistence is key. Never taking no for an answer is the only true form of survival.

With the edit locked, I headed home for Sydney holding my head high. With plans to reunite with Holland — my California sweetheart — in Berlin within a matter of months, I reasoned the film could ideally premiere as early as mid year. While I was well aware we were penny-pinching, it never dawned on me that I’d be carrying the torch for another year to make it to the finish line. Like many first-time filmmakers, I came to learn the true meaning of ‘time is money’ the hard way.

Reaching out to Alfonso, a talented Spanish composer early on in the editing process, he generously agreed to work on the project as a labour of love. The problem with favours is that there really is no way to expedite the process without coming off as a spoiled prima donna. It would take close to nine months before we locked the score.

In September of 2016 I flew to Bucharest to lock the sound mix and colour grade. It was very surreal to be back in the city, almost a year to the day when we’d arrived wide eyed and bushy tailed. I felt detached from the events of the past, almost as if it had happened to someone else. In many ways the film had taken on a life of its own and I was determined to keep it that way. Renting a tiny airbnb studio in an historic downtown building overlooking the park, I welcomed the change of scenery. With the weather unusually warm and sticky, I usually found myself enjoying the late afternoon sun on my little balcony. The neighbours ogled me with distaste — as if the creature from the black lagoon had moved in next door — but that didn’t stop me from enjoying an iced Campari orange and the company of my book.

Within a matter of weeks the film was locked and sent along to the producers who were hard at work courting potential distributors. It was a bittersweet moment. While I’d been dreaming of this day for months on end, it was nonetheless a difficult transition. My baby was all grown up and ready to leave the nest.

DON’T

MAKE MOVIES WITH FRIENDS

I touched down in the Romanian capital for the third and final time in late March of last year. Jumping in a cab, I gave the directions to a suburban shopping mall and proceeded to bite my nails on the journey into town. I was running late for my first press screening. A small handful of journalists and reporters awaited me in a slick screening room, their measured gazes leaving me on edge. After distilling the tension, I was surprised at the poignant questions and sincere feedback from the audience. It had never dawned on me that the Romanian press would even consider this film, much less enjoy themselves.

A few days later we held the world premiere for the film, a crowd of two-hundred friends and strangers in attendance. Unable to sit still, I paced the foyer through most of the screening until applause brought me back into the house lights’ glare. An older woman approached me at the reception, a furtive smile on her face, eyes stained red from crying. She told me how much the film had meant to her, how it had tapped into something raw from her past. As I looked around the room of smiling faces, a sinking feeling crept over me. Jonathan and Maria — my leading lovers — were both missing in action. It’s a strange irony to receive sincere feedback to a love story that was responsible for cultivating an irreparable rift in its real-life protagonists. It made me reflect on the wise words my producer had shared with me on the first day of production. ‘You’re all alone on this journey. You have no friends on this film.’ I remember snickering at the absurdity of the message. I wasn’t laughing anymore.

That weekend, the film exhibited in forty cinemas across the country. Visiting each and every theatre in and around Bucharest, my eyes lit up as I reviewed the LED ticketing screens. Turning to a wall of movie posters, I let out a sigh of childish wonder to find our little film framed and sandwiched between Daniel Espinosa’s Life and Bill Condon’s Beauty & the Beast. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. All the pain and sacrifice was for something after all.

Making movies reveals the truth in people. Sometimes those dormant realities are hard to swallow. Hard-headed and quixotic, I was willing to sacrifice everything to make the best story possible. I just never knew my friendship with Jonathan would be the cost. Such a reality is still hard to swallow two years on but perhaps a perfect example of the sacrifice that comes with this life. You’ve got to be a masochist to be in this business, to remain vigilant and hold your head high through every stage of the process. Survival is critical, to grit your teeth in the face of adversity and in doing so emerge stronger than ever. In the words of the late, great Sidney Lumet; “It’s the greatest job in the world.”

James Pillion is an award-winning Australian filmmaker based in Sydney and is currently in pre-production on a new feature project. FAR FROM HERE is available on iTunes from April 1, 2018.

Read Chapter 1 of How To Make A Movie In A Foreign Country

Read Chapter 2 of How To Make A Movie In A Foreign Country

Read Chapter 3 of How To Make A Movie In A Foreign Country

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