luci schroder is the saviour of australian cinema
From high tea with Nick Knight to shooting make-outs in mansions, director Luci Schroder takes us into her world.
Luci Schroder is the real deal. She directs music videos, plus the odd fashion film or commercial with a perverse style that's carried her to the forefront of Australian cinema's new wave. She can capture youth culture with the same penetrating insight as Harmony Korine, while indulging in surrealism that'd make Dali proud. We got her to bust some film-making myths, take us behind some of her best work and recount high tea with Nick Knight.
'Hands' Alpine, Directed by Luci Schroder
i-D: My first encounter with your work was the wonderful music video you made for Alpine's song, 'Hands'. Can you tell me about it?
Luci: I'd had the idea for a little while and I was waiting for the right song to come along. It was actually based off a short film idea, where one of the characters makes out with her hand. It was meant to be about female masturbation, but interpreted in an elegant kind of a way. In the casting interviews, we had people make-out with different things, like pieces of paper stuck to pinboards and walls, or their hand. I recorded the screen tests but later deleted them. They would have been a really interesting look into female culture in Australia at the time, it's a shame I don't have them. I pretty much cast everyone who came, because the budget didn't leave us room to pay anyone, and I had no idea who would show up, so I just asked everyone to come. On the day it was crazy, it was pretty debaucherous. I remember some of the crew I work with on commercials coming in, and they didn't know what the concept was. They just turned up and had this look on their face like, "What the fuck's going on? There's all these girls running around this creamy marble mansion." It was interesting, with the girls, because there was a sort of competitive nature. I went to an all-girls school for a long time - so it was a little inspired by that bored frustration that comes from being locked up in this single sex institution.
'Fashion Fetish' Directed by Luci Schroder
Tell me about your 'Fashion Fetish' filmvideo for Nick Knight's SHOWSTUDIO. That had a similar kind of absurdist sexuality.
Well, Nick Knight contacted me after Alpine 'Hands'. There was a girl - who was sort of like his muse - she had shown him the video. I was like "that's crazy, the world is really small," because I knew of him and I loved his photography with Alexander McQueen. He was doing a showcase of female filmmakers, though there wan't much of a budget. After making 'Hands' my friend had sent me this documentary Married to the Eiffel Tower [about people who fall in love with inanimate objects] and I just loved that. So I thought I wouldn't mind just experimenting with boys. Boys are also harder to convince to do that kind of thing. Later, I met Nick Knight in London, he was very well dressed and all 'how many lumps of sugar would you like in your tea?' it was pretty surreal, he is well proper, and very nice.
You mentioned that both of these projects had pretty small budgets - that's surprising. Does that make things difficult?
For sure. Often in the industry, the lower the budget the more freedom you have, and the higher the budget the more constraints there are - in general. So you learn to embrace the freedom of having a lower budget, and coming up with ways to problem solve and make it work. If express your own voice, I think people will eventually see your work, and you gradually get to bring that voice to the bigger budget things. But it can be a slow process.
While we're dispelling these myths about the glamour of film, what's being on a music video set actually like?
Well it probably depends on what the concept is. But generally speaking, it's not glam at all. I'm usually super focused on the job at hand. There's a lot of people to work with on the day, and it goes all day and sometimes into the night. Night shoots are intense, but can also be hilarious once your go past the point of delirium. I used to do the whole no sleep thing. I used to think it was good to work on that really crazy energy, that maybe you'd arrive at a more creative outcome, but it's probably mostly brain damage. It's not very sustainable. I remember reading about a few different musicians, who didn't eat, and didn't sleep in order to get to a state that compels their creatively. I think that's cool, but I don't think it works the same for filmmaking. Probably depends on the type of film you want to create, it could work for say, something that needed to feel, chaotic. I mean real life can be pretty chaotic. I like the idea of representing real life.
I'm hesitant to ask this question because it seems sort of unnecessary, but ultimately, I still feel it's worthwhile talking about being a woman in a creative industry.
I know what you mean, I have this debate with my friends a lot because they often want to talk about it. The only answer is to do work, and to do good work, and surround yourself with a good support team. People who like what you do, and get it. With our generation - it doesn't really matter what your gender is. You're still sometimes butting heads with people from the older school, because it's them who are still a little sexist. But it's becoming easier. If anything, there's probably never been a better time to be a woman in a creative industry. I'm excited by where things are going with females making cool shit, I can feel it happening.
You see these conversations like 'women are making excellent films' or 'great music.' One part of me wants to celebrate that, while the other half is like, 'what did you expect? Of course they are.'
Exactly, females have always made great art. Just the fact they can make a child is the most amazing art there is. But yes, the conversation about it being 'female this or that' almost feels a bit dated to me. I am what I am, and will never know any different. So I just make what I'd like to see on screen. But I can see how it could bring you down a bit if you let it. I think in the next 10 years we're going to see amazing stuff from women. We always have but it's just going to be more and more abundant. I hope more women are going out there and trying stuff. But I do think it's important that good work is rewarded on merit, not just because of your gender and pandering to that. I think making mistakes is an important part of the process. I like the quote that's something like, "If you're not failing some of the time, you're not trying hard enough".
'Georgia' Vance Joy, Directed by Luci Schroder
Tell me about what you're working on now.
I'm working on a short film about a teen mum. I always really ran away from Australian-ness, I was really obsessed with European looking things, French stuff and stylisation, sci-fi, but I'm quite into realism at the moment. I guess with this one, I'm trying to make it the most Australian thing that I possibly can. It's based in an Australian working class world, which is a large part of what makes up the culture in Australia, as we all know. I want to film real Australian people, not fake TV Australians, so I'm going to film in this country town which is up near Morwell, with some local people. There's coal power plants there, kind of like Springfield. It's a captivating landscape, big open skies, and massive open cut coal mines in between lots of suburban townships. The people I've found so far are such amazing souls. I'm very excited about it. The film is about some teens living in this community, the kids are pretty bored, restless, and full of mistake making, but really just trying to learn how to wander through the world. Some of the scenes could end up being a little offhand and perverse. . . we'll see.
Did you always see yourself making making music videos, or film more generally?
Not really, when I was young, my mum would often plonk me down in front of the TV. So I grew up on TV. My parents often took me to weird theatre and to the cinema. I was always obsessed with drawing and painting and creating or making stuff, I always felt I needed to express myself in some creative way, but didn't know exactly the outlet. I thought I was going to a painter, but I decided it was quite a lonely thing to be doing and I like being around people. I went into textile design originally because my grandma made evening wear, and I thought it would be really cool to follow in her footsteps. But I ended up wanting something a bit deeper, so I thought "what's the most exciting medium you can work with creatively? Something that you can do until you die, or you might drop dead doing it". So I did film.
Does your varied creative background -- in fine-art and fashion -- inform your filmmaking?
I tend to be inspired a lot by environments, nature or pop. I love travelling, that's probably one of the greatest ways I get inspired, that's the closest to being a kid again, you notice everything. Not only seeing new landscapes but to see other cultures, and new human faces. It's easy to feel the connection between the place you've come from and where the world's at. I still love art, but I think it's good to roll around in real life, I think that's when the better ideas come. That and taking long showers, which is probably not great for the environment.