Tell us a little about your film
Existence is a post-apocolyptic tale about a woman who lives inside a boundary fence and longs to find out what is on the other side. She sets into action a chain of events that changes her world forever.
Existence was part of the New Zealand Film Commission’s Escalator scheme – super low budget features that aimed at allowing early career feature filmmakers make distinctive films with appropriate methodologies. Melissa Dodds and I produced the film, it was directed by Juliet Bergh and written by Juliet and Jess Charlton.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a local film and television producer, my company is Little Wolf Ltd. I was born in Wellington and have worked here most of my career as a producer. I have a background in television; arts series and documentaries mainly. Prior to establishing Little Wolf I worked with Wellington company Sticky Pictures for many years. I’ve also made commercials, web-series, short films and multi-media installation work all here in Wellington.
Why did you decide to film in Wellington?
One of the distinctive features about the film are the landscapes the characters occupy. They are BIG, moody and full of cinematic value for the resources we had. Setting the film in effectively another world, we needed landscapes that would feel believably different from everyday existence to a local and international audience. We also didn’t have the ability to travel and accommodate a cast and crew away from our local base so 95% all of the locations in the film are within 25km of central Wellington. You would never guess it to look at them though. It is one of the things I love so much about home.
Our film also has a very distinctive design aesthetic, we were creating props, locations and costumes from scratch or at the very least adapting them significantly from existing material. The design talent in Wellington is pretty phenomenal. In terms of film, it is demonstrably amongst the best in the world. We had some remarkably talented designers on our film – working very, very smartly to create what we needed for the budget that we had. The local industry is generous and passionate, Existence was an incredibly ambitious project and I really don’t believe we could have made this film anywhere else in the world except here.
What locations did you use?
With the very kind support of Meridian Energy we were able to film out at West Wind Farm at Makara under the wind turbines – very, very atmospheric! Our other principal location was Belmont Regional Park in the World War 2 armament bunkers. We also did some filming on the Kapiti coast.
What was your favorite of the locations you used?
They were all spectacular but for me it was probably the Wind Farm. Right out on the coast, intense weather, incredible light and the turbines themselves…
How did you find the local crew?
Amazing!! Obviously, myself and Melissa had long-term working relationships with our crew. They loved the story and we knew they would go the extra distance for the film because that’s what they do. They were creative, adaptable and stoic in some challenging environments.
What aspects with the film did you work with Film Wellington on in pre-production, production, (post production)?
Our relationship with Film Wellington started right from pre, pre-production. Because the film was so location dependent it was crucial to have their support from the early days. They understood the film and the challenges we had. They checked out locations for us. They navigated us through a lot of relationships with various councils and government departments that would have taken us weeks to develop without them. They came through with excellent suggestions for alternatives and last minute location changes (of which there were a few) where never a problem. At the time of writing this interview we are in post-production and Film Wellington are still assisting us - with advice and introductions. They’re very much part of the crew really.
What was the most challenging aspect of your shoot and how did you overcome it?
We were often filming right out on Wellington’s coastline in extreme weather and that was very challenging. It was somewhat intentional – we needed the weather to sell the “otherness” of the world but it meant having to have a very adaptable schedule and a very resilient crew. We tried to incorporate this into our planning as much as possible and warned our crew and our locations we would be changing things at the last minute. We managed throughout the process by communicating as much as we could as soon as we could. Wellington’s compactness definitely helped this. We would have lost huge parts of our shooting day if the locations had been too far away from each other – our cast and crew stepped up to the plate and became incredibly good at adapting. In fact they became so good Melissa and I decided that if we did go through an apocalyptic event we’d probably be ok if our crew was around.
Is there anything about filming in Wellington that is different/distinctive?
Wellington is very compact, by international standards it’s a very small city but it has a remarkable variety of locations within stone’s throw of the centre of town and the depth of creative and technical talent is well documented. It makes challenging projects like Existence possible in a way they wouldn’t be possible elsewhere. On a comfort level, Wellington is town full of great food, great culture and great accommodation (our film received support from the Museum Hotel) this makes a big difference to cast and to crew – when they’re not working hard they can really enjoy themselves.