It’s not often that an emerging filmmaker can include illustrious names such as Kevin Spacey and Dean Cundey in a story behind the making of a short film. However Australian director India Dupré is able to say that the House of Cards actor and the legendary Back to the Future cinematographer each had a personal hand in the development of her latest short film Stripped, which premiered last year at the Los Angeles Short Film Festival and also screened at the Edmonton International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award for Best Dramatic Short.
Stripped is the 12-minute short film adapted from the feature screenplay written by India and based on the true story of her mother Margaret Dupré. Set in 1981, the story follows Margaret and her three children who travel from England to Australia to start a new life. Along the way her children are taken by the Australian government and placed in work camps as part of a ‘Keep Australia White’ program. A determined Margaret is able to recover her children but the family is then forced to flee across the country as the authorities attempt to track her down.
India developed both the short and feature script through the writer’s program at Australians in Film (AIF) in Los Angeles, the industry guild for Australians who work in entertainment in the US. India said the idea behind writing and making the short first was to prove her abilities as a film director, even though India has plenty of experience directing for the stage. “I had a strong vision for the story and felt that I could direct the feature, but needed to demonstrate to myself and others by making a short film,’’ India said. She picked the easiest scene to shoot, one set in a single location with minimal camera set ups and wrote the short around that, workshopping the script with her fellow AIF writers. India said the collaborative atmosphere of the group helped. “Having the constant feedback assisted me enormously during the writing process, particularly when we would read the script aloud as a group to improve timing,” she said.
Armed with both a short and feature script, India applied for a grant from the Kevin Spacey Foundation (KSF), the nonprofit set up by the actor and director to support emerging creatives with dance, theater and short film projects. India was able to distinguish her application with a poignant and well-edited pitch video to accompany the written application, including pictures of her mother and other historical tidbits to better demonstrate the narrative. “The pitch video really helped. It’s one thing to read something but it’s another thing to actually see the idea of the project. I would really recommend that to any filmmaker,” India said.
After her application was shortlisted India had to present the project via Skype to the KSF grant committee, outlining the budget, showing storyboards and casting plans. “Then after a long wait, I got a call from Steve Winter at the Foundation asking me if Kevin had called; he was going to try to call because I had won the grant and I was like, oh, my, God!”
The Kevin Spacey Foundation then asked India to come up with a list of possible mentors to help her with the project, with director Breck Eisner (Friday the 13th, Sahara) and Dean Cundey, the Academy Award Nominated DP (Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future) agreeing to help as mentors. “Breck came on board thanks to his wife Georgia Eisner who served as our Executive Producer. Dean came on board thanks to his daughter Michelle Morgan as I have directed Dean’s granddaughters in several theater productions and Dean likes to give back,” India said.
Dean taught India how to combine several shots on her shot list into one encompassing flowing movement and to shoot insert shots during the dark with lights or before actors arrived on set. “He was a rock throughout the filming process and gave me tips Spielberg had used when working with children, ” she said.
Stripped’s production was not without complications. Shot in Los Angeles to make it look like Australia, the project was limited by time, budget and cast and crew schedules, such as the availability of the lead actor Katheryn Winnick of Vikings fame. Consequently, India had to condense parts of the script due to bad weather, often changing lines on the fly to make the daily shooting schedule.
“We shot in Malibu to look like Australia. Katheryn was a trooper, wearing next to nothing in freezing weather and not complaining once,” India said.
“There were scenes I wanted to shoot, like the kids inside the tent. There was a whole scene of them packing up the tent and running down the road, we couldn’t shoot that,” said India. India received some advice from Fast and Furious series writer Chris Morgan who told her to just focus on the story and avoid obsessing over every point of action or dialogue. “It’s really true what Chris says – be flexible.”
The Stripped short film continues its festival run while the feature is still in development, screening at the Gold Coast Film Festival in Australia in April. India also plans to hold a table read of the feature at the Festival and meet with industry executives, casting directors, location scouts while in Australia.
Learn more about Stripped.