New feature film Don’t Read This on a Plane won an Audience Award at the 2020 Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles, and has just been released in North America and will soon release internationally. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
We often hear 2020 referred to as an “unusual time”. This is certainly an unusual time to make a movie about international travel. Tell us about the production, and how it got off the ground.
Off the ground? Uh, definitely!
Haha. Ok. I’d describe Don’t Read This on a Plane as a drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s about a novelist who resorts to hitchhiking and sleeping rough during her European book tour after her publisher goes bankrupt.
Which countries did you film in?
Italy, Portugal, Greece, The Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Germany, China, Australia, and France. I was living in China for about a year of this production, and a bunch of the cutaway shots were filmed in my apartment there. We shot complete scenes in the other nine countries.
That’s quite an adventure. Tell us about the itinerary.
The first month was a crew of three, plus the lead actress, traveling around with our production gear. We’d fly to a new country every four days, and during these stops we’d film in famous bookstores and on the streets. We’d also film surreptitiously in transit. Then, for the second month, we filmed the interiors of bars, apartments, restaurants, hotels, and hostels in Oradea, Romania, which is where producer Laszlo Kun’s production company Amazing Visuals is based. We also did one day of shooting in Newcastle, Australia, which is where I’m now working as a lecturer. We wrapped principle photography in mid-2019, and pick-up shots continued into lockdown.
You were lucky to finish the bulk of it before the pandemic!
Oh totally. If we’d started 6 months later, we’d have an unfinished movie on our hands. The filmmaking gods were on our side.
What were the best and worst moment on the shoot?
Filmmaking is an intense experience. The highs feel ecstatic and the lows are crushing. One of the biggest challenges happened after flying in from Greece. Our destination was the Netherlands, but the flight was to land in Belgium, then we’d drive a hire car across the border. But a pilot strike delayed our plane. Upon landing, we were running through the airport trying to reach the hire depot by 10pm, but we didn’t make it. So, we had to pay $500 for a 3-hour Uber trip. The next day made up for it though. We filmed in Boekhandel Dominicanen – a stunning 13th century cathedral converted into a bookstore. And I had the most delicious hamburger of my life at a golf club next to our AirBnB. So, totally worth it!
The highlight for me was in Porto, Portugal, when we filmed at Livraria Lello. If you look up ‘world’s most beautiful bookstore’, it’s likely number one. It’s so popular that people queue around the block for hours to get in. My sister was our Portuguese translator, and she met us in Porto. She’d posted a selfie on social media and one of her closest friends replied “No way! We’re in Porto too!” So, her friends became featured extras in the scene.
Good luck or bad luck always makes for great anecdotes on a film shoot.
True. At the time those bad moments were truly gut-wrenching, but I look back nostalgically.
What was your inspiration for writing Don’t Read This on a Plane?
One of the big inspirations was my attendance of film festivals to promote my last movie, Pop-Up. It was accepted into 22 international festivals, and I attended about half of them in countries around the world, and there was this great spectrum between amazing and not-so-amazing. These not-so-amazing ones influenced this new movie. For example, at one point I flew halfway across the globe, and I arrived at the screening, and the auditorium was completely empty. And the organiser said to me, “Do you still want to do the screening?” And I was like, “Um, there’s literally nobody in the audience. What’s the point?”
But rather than being upset about it, I was like, “You know what? I can turn that into something.” But instead of writing about a filmmaker, I made it about an author going to bookstores, because that’s more visually interesting.
How can we see the movie?
You can visit dontreadthisonaplane.com to stream it via Amazon Prime, Google Play, and Fandango Now, or to buy the Blu-ray. It’s currently available in the US and Canada, though it’ll soon be released in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Taiwan. We’re yet to find distribution in Australia, but hopefully our sales agent secures a deal.