Virginia Gay: Making the Paper Cut at Tropfest

February 6, 2018
A familiar face on our small screen as an actress and presenter, Virginia Gay turns filmmaker with the Tropfest finalist film, Paper Cut.

Congrats on Paper Cut making the final 16. Can you tell us a bit more than the one liner about the film?

Hey, thanks! We’re pretty stoked! It’s based on an actual thing that happened to a friend of mine, the woman whose song goes over the final credits. Her name’s Siobhan McGinty and she’s the genius behind the band Magnets. So, a version of this happened to my mate, she was alone at night in her big open empty office space, hundreds of computers around her, all dark, all switched off, and a printer started up of its own accord in the corner of the room. As I was hearing about it, I thought ‘that’s a perfect premise for a short’, but I was so TIRED of seeing women being traumatised in film, that I flipped it, I made it all happen to an alpha guy, a guy who’s never been a victim in his life, and let him feel what it was like to be terrorised. I tried to get as many female filmmakers as I could along for the ride, just to really make the gender flip work on all levels, and also because I love working with women – the future is female, motherfuckers!! So, we had a female DOP, producer, editor, composer, first, continuity, camera assist, runner. I wanted an entirely female creative team and crew, and we were close – I’m working towards that as a long-term goal.

Did you study other shorts, and filmmakers, for inspiration/guidance? And if so, who/what?

Yeah, I did. I looked at a lot of past Tropfest shorts. I looked at a lot of Mirrah Foulkes’ shorts – she’s part of Blue Tongue Films and she’s a bloody legend, I looked very specifically at how quickly you needed to work in a 7-minute short. Like, ‘we get it. Stuff’s going to happen. People are going to pay attention and be ready to move quickly. Get started with the story, already.’ It was really important, I thought, to not have it lag. In my head, when I was writing it, the film played out in real time. We’re a bit over that (my continuity person would say, we’re considerably over it), but still, it’s got that 24-Jack-Bauer sense of the pressure of real time ticking away to it. Sky Davies, my DOP, and I both watched a fair bit of horror and referenced a lot of Hitchcock frames when we were talking about making it. We sat and together watched a movie called The Autopsy of Jane Doe and it gave us a very useful shorthand. On set, we would say things like ‘the phone is Jane Doe in this shot’ and nobody but us would know what we meant, but we immediately understood what the frame needed to be.

Was it made specifically for Tropfest, and have you ever entered before?

Absolutely it was made specifically for Tropfest, and no I’ve never entered before. Tropfest was a big part of my life growing up in Sydney, I’ve seen a lot of them, gone to the Domain, camped out to get seats, snuck booze in, etc, etc. It’s not a revelation to say Tropfest has an iconically Tropfest tone, I think. Funny, one clear idea, one simple story, well told, it loves genre, loves a twist. As I was writing it, I was always aiming it for a Tropfest crowd.

Where/how did you find out that you got in?

My amazing producer Nicolette Minster emailed me in LaLa and the title of the email was ‘can you keep a secret???’ We had to swear each other to secrecy for two full days. I was not good at it, let it be known.

You’re primarily known as a performer, how/why did you turn director?

So, listen. I’ve been on sets for 11 years of my working life. I have been fascinated by how screen work gets made. When you’re an actor, especially an actor on long running TV, you have very little agency. (The great cliche is meat puppets, right?) So I was very into the idea of: ‘alright, I want to tell a story, I want to tell it my way, if it fails, it fails. But it fails on my terms, it’s my responsibility, the whole thing, rather than just being a tiny part of someone else story telling.’ When we were in pre, I texted a couple of director mates, saying ‘so, being a director is just people asking you questions, all day, every day, right? Like, that doesn’t EVER stop, right?’ Also, very importantly, collaborate with the best quality of people you can beg favours of. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t understand – why?’ And everybody should pay attention to Sky Davies – my cinematographer. She’s fucking going places. And collaborating with her making this film was exhilarating.

Have you screened the film for many people and are you prepped for it screening in front of a massive audience?

I have sent it to maybe 10 people, and I have mostly not been in the room with them. I will find that extremely awkward, to watch with other people. The best praise was from Siobhan, the woman who this actually happened to who said ‘that’s it! That’s EXACTLY what it felt like! Fuuuuuuuuck….’

What do you hope the reaction will be?

I hope they’ll laugh (Jesus Christ, I hope they’ll laugh) and I hope there’ll be some jump scares.

What are you doing in LA?

Auditioning, along with the rest of the known world.

What’s the future hold?

Definitely making more films. I felt so blundering and first-time-y about this one. I want to get better at it. I want to shadow some great directors and learn more about how they frame their shots, about how they manage time, and vision and people and time, and I want to make more. I have about four more shorts in my head right now, two TV series and a full script for a feature. I always feel like time’s running out. Let’s DO this. Let’s get this DONE.

Be there to check out Paper Cut and the other 15 finalists at Tropfest on Saturday February 17 in Parramatta Park. Head to the Tropfest website for more information.

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