They’re sitting on a beach in Santa Monica, California, just days after winning the Jury Award in the Dark Matters Category at the Austin Film Festival for their film One Eyed Girl.
It’s warm, the sun is shining, they’re surrounded by sun loungers, and behind them is a two-storey whitewashed beach house.
But just as the idea of home-grown Adelaide film makers, and former Flinders University students, Nick Matthews, Craig Behenna and David Ngo living it up in LA begins to take root, Craig drops a bombshell.
“We’re actually crammed into one little room, and we’ve just been blowing up our air beds together. It’s all starting to feel just a bit toooo intimate!”
Listening to them over the telephone from Adelaide, it’s clear that their current logistical conniptions haven’t dimmed their excitement at such lofty recognition for their dark thriller, which was produced, written, directed and shot entirely in South Australia.
The tone is jovial, and judging by the laughter and banter in the background, the team spirit is strong and positive at Adelaide production company Projector Films.
“It’s amazing. We are just beginning to play in this league. We are little players, but just to be invited to Austin was very special,” says One Eyed Girl’s director, Nick.
“It’s a surreal experience, particularly because there was a period of time where I was writing scripts for theatre and it wasn’t going very well, so I was considering giving the game away,” adds writer and actor, Craig. “This has been a very different trajectory.”
One Eyed Girl is a disturbing psychological thriller which tells the story of a young psychiatrist, ‘Travis’, played by Mark Leonard Winter, who after the death of a patient, attempts to find spiritual redemption with the help of a close-knit doomsday cult.
The Girl is played by up and coming Australian actor Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who recently starred in another award winning film created by former Flinders students, 52 Tuesdays.
Asked whether viewers had picked up on the movie’s South Australian backdrop, Nick lets one of the movie’s reviewers do the talking.
“A few people have picked up on the location, but really it’s just a good story,” he says. “One of the reviewers said it’s a kind of psychological landscape, not a literal one.
“From our point of view, South Australia is a great place to make films, and there is much to be had there, but you don’t have to film red earth and kangaroos.”
Nick and Craig studied at Flinders University’s Drama Centre, which has produced a string of award winning actors, writers, producers and directors in recent years, while David studied for a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Screen).
“I went to Flinders as an actor originally,” says Craig. “I was already writing, but the acting course, in the back of my mind, was a way to get into writing and directing for theatre.
“I think one of the best things Flinders Drama Centre does, particularly for people who are writers and directors, is give you a really good grounding in how to pull apart and see how things are constructed.
“Anne Thompson in particular was a great influence on me.”
“I had a great time at Flinders,” adds producer, David Ngo, “particularly with the theory work and with Mike Walsh and John McConchie.
“They opened my mind about how to dissect films and how to think about storytelling.
“During second year I got offered a job as an assistant director for an animation company, which I couldn’t turn down, as much as I wanted to continue my studies there.”
Director Nick also has fond memories of his time at Flinders, but reveals that part of his inspiration for the film began long before his time at the university’s Bedford Park campus.
“I went to an alternative school and I brought that experience to the table,” he says.
“It’s important to say that I’m not representing the kind of place I grew up in – in fact, they encouraged me to make films – but there is a duality, and sometimes I did feel conflicted.
“We’re also not passing any kind of judgement. Even though things may go awry in our story, we never suggest that any other way of living is right either.
“I think that if we can achieve something, then hopefully it will be the beginning of a conversation about what the right way to live is.”
On working in Adelaide, the Projector team have great things to say about the support they have received from the local film industry and community.
“SA Film Corporation took a punt on us, and private investors helped us, and people allowed us to shoot in their houses and on their farms,” says Nick.
“Adelaide’s transport system even allowed us to shoot on moving trains, which is really rare anywhere in the world, and then there are all of those brave actors who put their faith in us.”
The film itself, Craig describes as a view into an alternative Australia.
“The design of the script and of everything through production and post-production has been aimed at showing the story of a world that is very much a different Australia,” he says.
“Travis is not so far away from us. He’s a middle aged man asking some serious questions, and it’s not unhealthy to want to ask them.
“It’s one of the things that you’re not supposed to discuss, that there are a lot of these different kinds of Australians out there.
“We take it for granted that the people will speak in Australian accents, but what are they really about?”
The final word, however, goes to the film’s director, Nick.
“I suppose from a thematic point of view, we wanted to make a psychological thriller, and we wanted to play around with this idea of cult,” he says.
“As we worked, it became clearer and clearer that we wanted to deal with a troubled soul and a troubled man; to create a complex protagonist within the cadre of a thriller.
“We wanted to pull that off, and that’s what’s so amazing about being honoured at Austin.
“It’s cool that there are people out there who get that.”
One Eyed Girl is due for general release in Australia in April 2015. More about the film and Projector Films can be found at https://www.facebook.com/oneeyedgirl