First, how did you get the idea of doing a movie based on the play ?
R.M: Matt (writer) and I took part in a workshop called the Hive that encourages artists from outside the film industry (including choreographers, visual artists, musicians and theatre-makers) to explore ideas for the screen. The workshop had a fund attached to it so we pitched Girl Asleep, which was the play we were working on at that time.
What are the main differences between making a movie and creating a play ? And how did you incorporate elements from the theatre world into the movie ?
R.M: They are very different processes. With a play, you have the rehearsal period to uncover the work and you can stop at any point and see where you are up to. . With a film, so much of the work happens in pre and post-production. The shoot itself was only 22-days, whereas the pre-production was on and off for eight months and the post-production was sixteen weeks.
In the theatre, we like to heighten elements from what would be considered naturalism to make the storytelling feel quite visceral and immersive. It was important for us to keep that when we transferred the play to the film world. We wanted to bring out theatrical voice to the film which actually helped solved a lot of issues. Trying to realise a period piece on a relatively small budget was a major stress, but we were able to use our theatre thinking to stage scenes. A perfect example of this is the horse-riding scene where we opted to use puppetry rather than a real horse.
Did you change the story from the play ? Or did you try to stay as close as possible ?
R.M: In many ways it’s very close but there are extra characters and locales in the film. I had the great advantage of working with the same group of creatives I worked with on the play, so we all had very similar ideas about how we wanted to adapt it.
How did you choose your actors ?
R.M: For our two lead characters we saw a lot of actors throughout the audition process but Bethany and Harrison were always our frontrunners. They’re fantastic and so professional with the way they go about everything and were always keen to take a risk, which is something I look for in an actor. Matthew Whittet (Conrad/Abject Man), Amber McMahon (Janet/Frozen Woman) and Eamon Farren (Adam/Benoit Tremet) were all in the cast of the original play.
Your movie made me think of many other things (in a really good way). I’m going to cite them. Can you tell me if they were part of your influences ? Alice in wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Wes Anderson. If not, can you tell me what were your main influences, if you had any ?
R.M: Matt and I were always interested in the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and what happened once she went to sleep. We also liked this particular mode of storytelling where the dream state represents the protagonist’s psyche like in The Wizard of Oz.
Jonathon (designer), Andy (DOP) and I were discussing design ideas in the lead up to the film and took a lot of inspiration from the 70s itself. We created lookbooks of 70s photography and created tests of certain environments for the film. We drew on work from a range of people including Wes Anderson. Michel Gondry was also a big influence along with Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Jane Campion, David Lynch, Hal Hartley and Sofia Coppola.
Why did you choose the seventies ?
R.M: Aesthetically, it was like a designers dream. In many ways it was a much simpler time for young people. There was no Internet, no Google; it was a whole different world. It was also a very influential time for feminism. The opportunities for women were radically opening up after the post war period where women had been very relegated to the home.
I really loved the way you ended your movie. The scene in which they exchange their clothes. When in the process of making the story did you choose this end ? What does it mean to you ?
R.M: This is an image from the play. Matt had the idea really early on and I immediately loved it. The final image to me that Greta’s not going to bow to pressure to be a certain way but hold true to herself. It’s about Greta embracing the notion of growing up but doing it her own way. I think it’s a great message for everyone, particularly for young people. And given the current global events, it makes it even more important to keep the feminist agenda active.
Do you want to shoot another movie ?
R.M: Absolutely! We had such a great time making Girl Asleep. We’d love to have the chance to take what we learnt and apply that knowledge to a new film project.
Do you have any other plans ? And do you plan to work on adolescence again ?
R.M: We’ve started working about a follow-up film and it will be an adaptation of another one of our theatre shows. We feel we have lots of strong content, as all our plays are original works. WE love rites of passage about the transition from childhood to becoming and adult- we’ve all been through it, are going through it, or are about to go through it so there’s always a certain degree of relatability with the themes. It’s definitely something we never tire of exploring.
How did you get chosen for the part ?
B.W:I was asked to do a self-tape audition for the role of Greta Driscoll, and luckily I was given the script beforehand to get a good understanding of who Greta was. Rosemary Myers and Matthew Whittet loved my audition and flew over from Adelaide to Melbourne to meet me and audition me in person with Harrison Feldman, as a chemistry test. Luckily we both secured the roles and had the opportunity to work together.
How did you prepare it? Did you read anything or see any movie ?
B.W:To prepare for the role, I read the script again, and a few months before the shoot I workshopped through each scene with my acting coach. I rehearsed with Harrison Feldman, Rose Myers and Andrew Commis, the Cinematographer, to get an understanding of how we were going to shoot the film. We also talked about the symbolism, themes and motifs hidden within the film which aided in developing a further and more thorough understanding of the narrative. Rosemary recommended that I watch films that incorporate surrealism and explored the similar aesthetic qualities to that of The Science of Sleep by Michel Gondry, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson.
Did you see the play ?
B.W:I made a conscious decision not to see the stage play. I wanted to bring my own rendition of the character to screen. I did check with Rosemary, and she agreed that it was good for me to bring in a fresh idea of Greta as it aided in giving the narrative a different emotional feel to the stage play.
Do you feel close to your part, Greta Driscoll ?
B.W:At the time we commenced shooting, I had just turned 15, so I was the same age as Greta and understood the challenges and changes she was going through. I am also a creative individual who played with my horses and other toys, right up until the age of 14, just like Greta. However, I think the part us that we share the most is that we both aren’t the overly popular girl who rules the school and follows the social norms. Instead, we conquer the social norms and live by our own definition, one that thrives on creativity and individuality. We also both tend to gravitate to friends who are slightly nerdy, optimistic and most of all funny, just like Elliott.
How did you work on set ? What was it like with the other actors ?
B.W:The set of Fantastic Birthday was extremely collaborative, and everyone was on the same page and invested the same amount of energy, 100%. Harrison Feldman, Amber McMahon and Matthew Whittet are all excellent actors and beautiful, funny people. Filming was a blast and very enjoyable and incredibly fulfilling for me as an actor. Working as the lead, creating and discussing each scene with Rosemary Myers, Matt Whittet and Andrew Commis was a dream come true.
Do you have any plans in the future ? Other movies to shoot ?
B.W:I am currently on set for FOXTEL’s TV miniseries remake of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. I am extremely excited to be part of yet another fantastic production. I hope to film season 3 of The Family Law later in the year, and I am also graduating high-school. Next year I am planning to move to Sydney to study script writing, along with the prospect of working on new and exciting projects. I also plan to travel to LA for pilot season. Long-term, I would love to work on a French set, as I am also going to continue learning French next year.