Melbourne based director, writer, actor and citizen Nathan Hill is passionate about film. Cinema fills every moment of his waking mind and then some. A leading proponent of independent genre-filming his latest sensation “Revenge of the Gweilo” (ROTG) recently closed this year’s Underground Film Festival. Buzz Mag recently caught up with him in a moment when he came up for air from his busy schedule.
Revenge of the Gweilo is an “action-packed retribution tale about a retired policeman (played by Hill) setting out to revenge himself on a Triad gang responsible for the death of a woman he loved.
There were a few questions to solve. Was it made for Asian audiences? A “Gweilo” being a Cantonese slang term of a white Caucasian).
“ROTG is a tongue in cheek action martial arts movie not made specifically for an Asian audience, as the protagonist is a Caucasian man. If I had to try and describe the film, imagine if Chuck Norris had of survived the fight in Way of the Dragon and wanted to take his revenge on an Asian crime syndicate, then it would be something like this (or not). The name ROTG was created to entice an audience who might enjoy this style of film. It is cult martial arts genre, and some might say niche. A good is example is when I told Richard Norton I was making a film with this title and he burst out laughing, understanding exactly what I was trying to do, and that felt good. I have found that with Asian people in general when I tell them the title they find it quite amusing and are warmed by the fact that I can also laugh at myself. Didn’t Nick Giannopoulos make a film once upon a time called ‘The Wog Boy’?
How were you able to stage the opening shot in Chinatown, what sort of tick list did you have to create in order to accomplish this?
The opening sequence was shot in the CBD during the Chinese New Year festival, which I believe is the first ever movie to open with this particular style of intro from this country, or anywhere in the world, ie; Chinese New Year in Melbourne, Australia. In this city it is legal to shoot anywhere in a public place without a permit given that the whole crew is 5 people or less. With this in mind I used a couple of other camera operators and we attacked the parade with guerrilla shooting style tactics. There was no particular ‘rules book’ which made it fairly easy to get some nice shots that I could actually use in the edit. You also can’t directly shoot someone’s face without a release form, so I had to also take this into account.
I see you are a big Horror movie fan, but have you ever experienced real horror or the real supernatural?
I am a big horror fan and have been since I was a child. In fact my grassroots in filmmaking are horror movies. ‘Tomboys’ and ‘Hyde and Seek’ being the champion ones. I have experienced some very real horrors in my life, in fact you’d be shocked at how many, and too many to note here. However I will say that I was once awoken in the middle of the night to an intruder, who I found out later was an escaped prisoner, standing by my bed with a large kitchen knife. I used all of my acting skills to somehow talk my way out of an attack. In regards to the supernatural, my father was in fact an exorcist and as a teenager I was somewhat groomed by the Church in the hope that I might become a Priest. I was totally obsessed with ghosts as a child growing up and was always searching for an encounter. My first real experience came one night when I was staying in the abandoned Asylum at Ararat where I was locked into one of the cells by an unseen force, fearing for my life I got down on my knees and prayed, eventually the door opened, and by an unseen hand. My mobile phone suddenly lost all signal too. I was trapped in a space where no-one could hear me scream. I’ve never been so terrified in my life like I was that night.
Mimicing heroes is something you have been quoted as “not afraid to do”, but to you what makes a hero?
I love the fictional ‘hero’ and I like movies that have a hyper reality. But to me a real hero is someone who might be suffering or going through some real hardships in life, but is still able to help others and be selfless. Sympathy and empathy are what makes real heroes in my book. I’ve often been asked why I make movies with unknown actors and am comfortable in the low budget realms of film making. To be honest I’ve often thought that my calling was to help, comfort and support other artists and I am grateful that only recently my reputation is starting to become just that, well at least that’s what I hear.
People often refer to you as that “Horror Guy”, how happy are you with this title?
It’s funny because most people refer to me as the ‘horror’ guy or the ‘Casanova’ because of some of the roles I’ve chosen to play in the past. But to be honest I’ve made and am making a movie in all genres. Once upon a time I was a video store geek, and even worked in them, so I learned how to appreciate all genres of movies. One of my heroes Stanley Kubrick achieved that. A horror, a war piece, a drama, a thriller etc. etc. On the low level scale I have already done very similar. I have a sci-fi, a horror, a thriller, a drama, a comedy and so on. I’m approaching my 9th feature to direct and feel like the catalogue is very well rounded so far, at this level. And experimenting in all genres ultimately helps me find my strengths and style by doing so. Hopefully when the bigger budget comes along I’ll be ready.
Looking at yourself, how would you define your strengths and weaknesses?
Creatively I would say my best strength is writing. Most people that act in my films or collaborate in my movies always seem to forget where the idea came from, my head. Without the story you have nothing to work from. Recently I’ve seen some filmmakers try to make ‘improvised’ style features and I find that annoying as that is called ‘reality TV’ not fictional film. It kind of insults actual writers when people do that. I also have great casting ability and solid producing capabilities. On set I’m told I’m a great director because I’m an actor too so I can speak the language and draw out of a performer anything that a scene requires. I don’t know how many creative weaknesses I’ve got but I have been told that I sometimes spread myself like a small piece of butter over a large piece of bread. Wearing so many hats on set means sometimes you miss some of the finer details. Because I’ve worked in the low budget Indy realm it’s very hard to always nail every department, but I do enjoy seeing the progression (although sometimes slow) from one film to another and where I did improve. Plus the fact that I think you can never make any ‘art’ or ‘creation’ perfect. At least not all the time.
How could the Aussie Government get behind independent film makers in this county?
I think if Screen Australia actually put 1M on the line to test out 10 Indy filmmakers at $100,000 a piece (which was the idea) could really shake up the local industry. You would get the next ‘Madmax’ or the next ‘Romper Stomper’. Why the hell not, it’s chump change for them.
What advice could you give a Year 12 student about going out and being an independent film-maker?
For a year 12 student wanting to be a filmmaker my advice would be to not spend any money. It’s a long road and it takes a lot of patience and time to find not only yourself, but your style. Just shoot, shoot, shoot, whenever you can. Weekends just shoot. Holidays just shoot. You have to become the camera. You need to sleep with it beside your bed. Then research all the film schools and find one that suits you. Whether it’s Swinburne, Deakin, RMIT, VCA, Footscray – there’s a lot of them now! Get in and gel with like-minded people who can assist you in helping you to create your vision. You cannot be too controlling and do it all yourself. It’s impossible. You need to learn that you will need help. Film making is a collaborative effort.