EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening in the World Narrative Competition at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, Dan Castle makes his directorial debut with “Newcastle.” Previously helming a number of award-winning short films, Castle tells the story of three Australian brothers, each struggling to find a role in a world centered around surfing culture. indieWIRE talked to Castle about the film and its world premiere at Tribeca.
In the Tribeca catalog, TFF programmer David Kwok writes that “the cast is an incredible ensemble of up-and-comers that make both the visceral surfing sequences and tender emotional scenes seem effortless. While the brothers’ complicated relationship forms the crux of the film, he waves and the beaches of Newcastle can also rightly claim a starring role.”
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
I came to filmmaking really through writing, back in the early 90’s when I was banging around LA. A friend of mine who is a playwright, Michael Dinwiddie, copped on to my sensibilities and advised me to pursue writing so that was really the vein that led me to directing. In 1998 I started Jour De Fete, a boutique distribution company with Mike Thomas. Working with other filmmakers, making trailers and preparing release campaigns, and going to every film festival worth going to for about 7 years was such a great education in terms of cinema and the business of it all. I don’t have a formal degree in filmmaking but I’ve had a lifetime of experience. I do a lot of drawing/painting and photography so I’m really into framing, composition and color schemes.
What was the inspiration for this film?
The town itself inspired me to write the story that would become “Newcastle.” The way the place is laid out – the coal ships that line the horizon, the Stockton Dunes that were close by, the working class community, and the town’s history as a surf haven and birthplace of some of the sports greatest riders – all contributed to me wanting and then having to set the film there. It reminded me of the towns I heard about growing up that lined the California coast when I was a kid. Now that I surf, live in LA, and travel up and down the Southern California coast, I know that for the most part those towns have pretty much all morphed into one big extension of each other – from Santa Barbara all the way to Mexico. But Newcastle, Australia is still a somewhat isolated little place with a real sense of its own identity, quite apart from Sydney and the rest of NSW.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
I’m really into European films. They have a much deeper sense of reality in terms of the human experience. Having studied acting, I get really into it with the actors in terms of prepping and even the audition process. For “Newcastle” we did a workshop that incorporated Mike Leigh‘s improvisational approach to character building. We used his techniques to help build the back-stories of all the characters and their relationships so the characters were acting and behaving as if they’ve known each other for years, rather than some actors who just met each other on set. Also having a background in music really influences my approach to film in general. The Composer, Michael Yezerski spent hours talking about the sound of the film, what instruments, rhythms, the drums and percussion aspects to the score and of course the big guitar sound it if all. I also co-wrote two of the songs in the film, “No Complications,” the song the kids sing as they drive out to the dunes and the end credit song – “These Days.”
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Money and the lack thereof is always the challenge of any independent film. So that was an obvious one from the get-go but because I’m an American who was trying to research, write and get finance so I could direct a feature film to be shot in Australia. It was a really complicated process. Just surviving financially for the 6 years it took to get it all going, while spending money to go to Australia from LA plus the logistics of lining up the funding for the film. Fortunately I had a great and committed production team in Producer, Naomi Wenck and Executive Producer, Charles Hannah. Charles was able to attract investment from CINV, a Japanese Investment firm along with Becker Entertainment, the sales company who backed the film. With those companies committed we were able to present a strong package to the FFC in Australia for the eventual funding.
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
After six years of effort it is so gratifying to be coming back to New York City where I graduated from NYU to world premiere “Newcastle” at the festival. I have so many friends here and my family is coming up from New Castle, Delaware. So for everyone it is one of those moments that are rare in life – when you get to celebrate publicly your accomplishments with the people you love. I’m really honored that Tribeca chose us and I can’t wait to see how the film is received by audiences – like 1,500 people are going to see it in the course of the ten day fete – it’s gonna be great.