Interview: Nic Barker

One year ago, my short story ‘Juliet’ was chosen by aspiring filmmaker Nic Barker, to be adapted into short film (titled ‘Albert and Juliet’). The 11 minute short gained more attention that an anticipated, and has accomplished spectacular recognition in worldwide film festivals. I caught up with Nic earlier this month, for all things ‘Albert and Juliet’.

Why did you choose ‘Albert and Juliet’ as a story for your film–what interested you in particular? What is it about?

Albert & Juliet is about a young, isolated girl living with her abusive mum in commission housing. She’s persecuted at home and at school, and has only one friend – her teddy bear, Albert. For me it’s a story of friendship and subtly, maternity. Juliet has probably the worst maternal figure in the world, but she is kind, protective and nurturing of Albert. I think the final scene, of Juliet’s sacrificial act to keep her loved one from harm – that was the real key image that stuck in my mind after reading your short story. It was that image in particular that compelled me to make the film.
Also, I hadn’t gotten my teeth stuck into a serious drama in 3 years, and felt this story was a great opportunity to stretch myself as a filmmaker.

 Did you have any access to funding for the project?
We didn’t have any external funding for this film – film financing in Australia is rigid to the point of being completely inaccessible. It almost seems like a bit of an old boy’s club, in that you need to be someone’s cousin to get any grants. So, in the spirit of the independent filmmakers I admire, this movie came completely out of our pockets. Thankfully, equipment and post-production facilities in the digital era are very inexpensive and easy to come by, and it’s very easy for any inspired, creative person to find a cheap camera and make an interesting, worthy piece of art. Thankfully, though, it just so happened that the producer on Albert & Juliet, Pat Waring, owns a great camera and some awesome sound gear, so we were able to make a great looking film on the cheap.

 How did you find the actors for the roles?

When writing the screenplay, I always imagined Mim for the role of Juliet’s mother, as I’ve known her for a while and knew she’d be great for the role. For Juliet, we put an open casting call out on the website StarNow, and after auditioning 10 young actresses we settled on Enya Daly. Enya was far and away the most accomplished of the auditionees, and as soon as she left the room I turned to Pat and we knew we’d found Juliet.

How did you go about finding the right locations for the film?

We did a little bit of location scouting but mostly locations came from what we could get, and what was nearby. Juliet’s house is actually Mim’s house, and the streets and school are all nearby – we filmed in those places without permission. It was actually a really guerrilla style film when you think about it – sort of finding rough ideas of where to shoot scenes and just doing it!

What was one of the biggest problems/obstacles in such a project?

Scheduling shoots is the bane of my existence, so I was lucky to have Pat onboard as producer early on to assist me with that. Really, the biggest challenge for a film like this is finding actors to carry it off – if you pull that off, things just sort of start to go right for you. Thankfully we got really lucky with Enya and Mim.

The film has had a lot of success, what are some of the accomplishments it has received?

When Albert & Juliet was completed I entered about 40 festivals, and with that amount there’s always going to be plenty of knockbacks. However, we’ve been lucky enough to make it into some cool little festivals and get some recognition along the way. Enya was nominated for Best Actress at the Northwest Ohio Independent Film Festival and the We Like ‘Em Short Film Festival in Oregon. The film recently played at the Canberra Short Film Festival as a Top 10 Finalist, and will play at the Louisville International Festival of Film next month. The film will also be receiving the Bronze Cineman award for ‘Best Photoplay’  from the Melbourne International Movie Festival next month.

Negative feedback comes with any film-related project, such as ‘Albert and Juliet’, did you receive any? If so, how did you go about getting over it?

I haven’t received a lot of negative criticism, honestly. I’ve fielded a few comments from my filmmaking peers who have said they liked some aspects but not others, but most of these things were either deliberate decisions on my part or weaknesses that I know I need to address with my next film. If you ask someone’s honest opinion, you’ve got to take the good with the bad, and the bad has been very helpful to me improving as a filmmaker.

Has ‘Albert and Juliet’ opened up any doors for you career-wise?

Not particularly, no. The film industry is a tough nut to crack and often requires the luck of certain people seeing your film at the right place, right time… it’s a bit of a lottery. Having said that, this project has been worth it for so many reasons. I feel as a director of actors I’ve really improved, especially through working with Enya and Mim. I’ve also recognised things about myself as a filmmaker that I can embrace and improve upon.
One of the best things that has happened with this film is getting feedback from international, independent filmmakers I admire – people like Joe Swanberg (of whom I am a massive fan) have seen the film and given me some great feedback on it. I didn’t expect things like that from this film and I can’t wait to build upon it with the next one.

What has been the biggest lesson learnt from the project?

I’ve learned there’s so many ways to prepare to make a film, and all of them are right. Our planning on Albert & Juliet was thorough, but there were still things that we didn’t specify and sort of left to chance on the day. I can’t remember anything specifically, but there was a really good balance on this production between organisation and spontaneity and I’m keen to explore those two extremes more in the future.

Are there any upcoming events regarding the film?

Like I said before, the film will be playing at the Melbourne International Movie Festival, and I will be making all the details of that screening and awards night on the Albert & Juliet Facebook page.

What are your future projects? How do they differ from ‘Albert and Juliet’?

I’m working on a ton of stuff at the moment, as I’m just about to graduate from my full time film course and I’m taking the next year off to just make as many films as I can. I’ve almost finished work as an editor for a film called ‘Armed’ for director Tim Wiese, which has been an instructive experience. I’m currently prepping another film with Pat Waring, a crime thriller I’m directing called ‘Worth’. I wanted to make a totally different film to A&J with my next one, just to challenge myself – so I sourced the script for Worth from the American screenwriter Jerod Brennen – production should be well underway by the end of this year.

I’m also working on a whole lot of smaller films, much more experimental in nature, than I’m treating as chances to play around with various old cameras and formats. I’ll be shooting a few little films on old VHS cameras from the 90s, and maybe one on 16mm film which I think will look gorgeous. These are all works in progress however.

Haven’t see ‘Albert and Juliet’ yet? Check it out here (password is albert&juliet).
You can find more information on Albert & Juliet by visiting www.facebook.com/albertandjulietfilm

You can also contact Nic Barker at
nic-barker.squarespace.com

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