Creative Pioneer Ned McNeilage Directs ‘Showfolk’

nedkzjWhy are you in New York?

I’m in town for a screening of Showfolk, a film that I produced and directed. We have a screening tonight hosted by Catherine Zeta Jones.

Walk me through how this all came together and unfolded.

We went to a bingo game at the Motion Picture Television Fund in Woodland Hills and met these amazing people. I took photos and later said we’ve got to film this. I ended up leaving my job to focus on making the best film I could. There was something there that seemed so happy with all these people and I wanted to know what it was.

Tell me about that commitment to chasing something and going after it?

I started talking to these people and heard all these amazing stories. They followed what they really wanted to do and were happy. I knew there was something there for me to learn from. I’d been thinking about leaving the corporate world and they gave me the encouragement to do that. I stepped out and it was terrifying. That fear got me so motivated and I followed it as far as I possibly could. A little story became a film.

Tell me about the process of filming.

We would go out once a month for 6 or 7 months and interview someone. I want to mention some of them; Monica Lewis, an amazing lady. She sang with Sinatra, dated Reagan, toured Korea with Danny Kaye. There’s Connie Sawyer, the oldest working member of the Academy. She was a board of the comedian turned character actress and wouldn’t come out to New York for the last screening because she had to do an audition; Mill Goldstein, a distribution exec; Ruthie Thompson, a Disney legend. The best screenings are when some of our folks are there. We recently had one in Los Angeles and had Ruthie, Connie, and Monica there. I’m happy that these guys have managed to be in the spotlight again.

One of the things I’ve always liked about working with you Ned, is it’s always been about committing to the work, making the work the best it can be.

The most important thing is you want to surround yourself with amazing people, work with people you respect. I was lucky to have an amazing team. It was a little film that wasn’t supposed to be anything. You have to push for something great. That means jumping through every hoop, fighting for the things that are important, and keeping your eye on that end product. An audience decides in 5 seconds whether they love it or hate it. I rebelled in the complete freedom of doing exactly what I wanted with my story, that’s a real privilege. You learn from everything.

What’s life like in LA world?

It’s a small town, in the entertainment industry. The more I dig into it, the more I understand that everyone’s connected. In film, that’s what it’s about. You respect people and get on well, that’s what Aussies are good at. We stand up for what’s important.

Tell me about where you’re from in Australia.

I come from Perth West Australia. It’s the most isolated capital city in Australia. Eventually, through lots of different pathways, found my way here. I think Aussies just have it so good around the world because we have a great reputation, so let’s not blow it.

How do you think growing up here is different to what you experienced?

We used to do whatever, you can’t do that here. Kids are more sheltered and parents hover. It’s still a great place, there’s a lot of freedoms and culture. Australia is always home, even though I feel home is here too. Australia has such a strong amazing culture but it’s important we don’t overprotect it. Be proud to be Australian but absorb what there is out here.

The best way to contribute to Australia is if you’re out there learning and share that knowledge back to Australia.

That’s true and it’s what you want to be able to do but in some cases a lot of Australians unfortunately don’t want to. Young Australians are more global. I feel like younger people are more open and excited because they understand that if you live overseas and succeed, you have something that could work back home.

What does a convict mean to you?

There’s a larrikin nature to convicts. Convicts to me is also about looking at our heritage. You are banished from normal, I take pride in that.

What are your spots you stop off to buy vinyl in the city?

I go to Other Music. I started when I was a kid. I have music playing pretty much all day everyday, until I really need the silence. It helps my mood. The Triffirds  “Wide Open Road” is my favorite song in the world. For once, I go home and I hear Aussie accents in all the music. The ones I’ve been listening to are Camperdown and Out. It’s very Sydney. I like Dick Diver.

When you’re working, do you listen to music?

Yeah. If it’s too lyric heavy, I can’t write. Sometimes I’m so in the zone I can play anything.

I think part of a convict is you try to redefine what you’re supposed to be and the other half is we love to party, listen to music, and escape.

Convicts has some Australian roots. Where I go, it’s a vacant coast, national park, surf beaches, and wide open landscape. I’ve dropped out there before for a whole year and fallen off the face of the earth. I love that escape, you can recharge, get back to nature a bit. In terms of convicts, it’s banishing from normal and being okay with that.

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Interview by Pete Maiden

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