‘Wish You Were Here’ is the passion project of award-winning writer/director Kieran Darcy-Smith, celebrated actor/ playwright Felicity Price and acclaimed producer Angie Fielder. Between them the team has won numerous international awards for their work and their films have screened in prestigious film festivals all over the world including Sundance, Venice and Berlin. They are recognized as one of the most promising creative teams to emerge in the Australian film industry in recent years. In 2009 ‘Wish You Were Here’ was selected for the prestigious Aurora Script Development Program, the screenplay hothouse that includes ‘The Black Balloon,’ ‘Somersault’ and ‘Animal Kingdom’ in its alumni.
‘Wish You Were Here’ focuses on four friends indulge in a carefree Cambodian holiday, but their sun-soaked retreat quickly takes a horrific turn when one of the travelers disappears. As the search ensues, the others return home, racked with guilt and struggling to return to their daily lives. Does one of them hold the answer to the fate of their lost companion? Tightly-held secrets from their life-altering trip are brought to light, revealing clues to the whereabouts of their missing friend. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently had the opportunity to sit down with the dynamic duo of Kieran Darcy-Smith and Felicity Price to discusses what inspired to venture into the entertainment industry as a career, the creative spark that spawned their latest film and the challenges involved with bringing it to screen.
Was there a moment, a mentor or some catalyst that made you realize that the worlds of acting and filmmaking were something you wanted to pursue as a career?
Kieran Darcy-Smith: There have been a few mentors and inspirations along the way. I have had kind of a strange to and fro. I started out as a musician and was really deeply committed to that and was doing quite well with it. I was twenty six or so, for some random reason, when I decided I wanted to try the acting thing. Before I knew it, my whole world had changed. I had left the band, enrolled full time in drama school and went on this acting journey for many, many years. Through that I met a lot of truly inspirational people. I also read a lot of interesting and inspirational material that made me really look at storytelling and character. I was really learning about drama. It was an important part of my young life. I was discovering these great texts like Shakespeare and Chekhov and all of this great stuff, so that kept the ball in the air for me. I started to write some of my own material and continued to develop that during the many years I was acting. I kept writing and writing and writing. There were a lot of inspirational individuals along the way. I remember very early on when I was in my early acting days, I read a biography about U2 and their very early days and how the band would always ask questions. They didn’t pretend to know everything. They would jump into the recording studio and rather than pretend to know it all, they would voraciously ask, ask, ask and learn, learn, learn, learn. I guess I went into learning about story and filmmaking in exactly the same way. The first short film I made, we just borrowed a camera and shot some material for a little story that I had written. We just learned on our feet and we did that for a number of short films. We were self-taught. We would read and watch everything we could and ask questions. A lot of the mentors were people I met along the way who would I was asking questions of, like producers, camera operators, directors of photography or writers. I would pick their brains for everything I could learn. I can’t really identify one but there were so many and I think you are lost without them.
Felicity Price: For me, as an actor, I started off in the theater and I certainly haven’t finished with it! My great, great love is the theater. I was always enormously inspired by amazing directors who I met in the theater. I remember I worked with a Russian theater director and I was greatly inspired by him. He taught me about how far and how deeply you can go into a character and how deeply committed you need to be. I worked a number of times with a director named Neil Armfield, who is a wonder and joyful talent. I have had a great deal of theater directors I have worked with. In terms of film and writing and creating theater, I find it can be very a very inspiring environment in Australia. I remember reading a quote where one woman said “Being an artist in Australia is like being a flower in the desert.” There are very beautiful but because there is almost no work you have to work so hard to create your own work. However, in Australia, there are so many actors and fellow creatives who are working so hard to get work off the ground. That is something I find very inspiring. It pushes you to be as good as you can possibly be!
Your latest project is a film titled “Wish You Were Here,” which has received critical acclaim. What can you tell us about the inspirations for the story and how you brought it to life in script form?
Felicity Price: The germ of the idea came from me. I had has come off working on another film and I really loved where I had gone with the film. I was working as an actor on that film but the script had been quite a collaborative process. I was interested in again diving into a character as deeply as I had with the previous project. I had been doing a lot of writing but I hadn’t yet found a project that popped for me. I wanted to create a project where I could be in it as an actor but it had to be a low enough budget to happen in a foreseeable timeframe. I was really interested in the place I was finding myself in and other friends where you are in a relationship but you are no longer in the first flush of romantic love but you have moved into something stronger and deeper. I really wanted to investigate a relationship that was really put to a real test, where their love is tested so much they would fight to keep it together. I knew that alone wasn’t enough for a film and I was then inspired by a true story that had happened to a friend of Kieran and mine. This true story was about a friend of ours who had gone to an Asian country with her boyfriend at the time and another couple. The guy in that couple had gone missing. That really informed the story I was writing at the time. I wrote a treatment and Kieran came on board to write the first draft of the script.
How much did the script evolve during the process of making this film?
Felicity Price: Enormously! We filmed the tenth draft of the film. We had done four years of development on that script and had been through a really amazing script lab in Australia called the Aurora Script Development Program. It is a year long program. We really had developed this script enormously but I guess the germs of those ideas were there. One of the main elements, which I won’t mention directly for spoiler purposes, was always there from the first draft. There was a great deal of change that went on with Jeremy’s character. In the first few drafts of the script, you never found out what happened to him. Subsequent to that, there are number of different things that happened to Jeremy during the process but the last few drafts are what you see on screen.
Kieran Darcy-Smith: Just to add to that, not only do we find out what happened to that character, it was more about the fallout of his disappearance in those initial drafts. We actually never went to Southeast Asia in those scripts, it all took place in Sydney post-disappearance and it was more about exploring the domestic fallout. It was a massive evolution. The amount of work you see on screen is literally what came off the page and we didn’t get creative in the editing suite. We didn’t drop any scenes and we didn’t have to add anything. It was pretty much cut to script. I really think that script is everything and that is really where the hard yards should go in. It certainly paid off in this case!
Looking back on the entire project, what do you consider the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
Kieran Darcy-Smith: I will be honest, I found this to be quite a blessed project. I felt like the sun was shining on us from the beginning and the project always had a very positive energy around it. Everything from the shoot to the post-direction process was very positive and optimistic, not to mention the material we were getting was fantastic. Everything came together quite smoothly. One of the biggest challenges was getting the film financed. That was one part of it but it still came together smoothly compared to a lot of other projects I know. I guess the most dutiful, challenging part of the whole project was the ten days we spent shooting in Cambodia. That was a really crazy experience. It was a process of keeping one foot in front of the other and trying to survive the ten days we were there. There were a lot of things through at us during that time period. Felicity and I were both desperately ill and verging on hospitalization during the entire shoot in Cambodia. On top of that, our Cambodian crew didn’t speak a word of English and vice versa. Locations were being demolished in front of our eyes! It was an exercise in survival. I was so thrilled with the material we got out of Cambodia. I don’t think we would have had the same quality of material had the environment been more comfortable. It was like going to battle and as a result, great stuff arose. That was wonderfully challenging, extremely exhilarating and I would do it all again in a heartbeat!
Was there anything you were looking to accomplish with this film stylistically or from an acting standpoint which you may not have tried before?
Kieran Darcy-Smith: Stylistically, no. I always saw the film very, very clearly through my mind’s eye, so I didn’t want to draw attention to the camera or the external machinery behind the filmmaking process. I really wanted for the audience to feel like a fly on the wall as if they fell into this world and stayed with the characters. Stylistically I made choices to be very judicious with the camera. Every camera move was very well thought through. It was always purely for psychological effects than trying to use tricks to impress other filmmakers. Really, I tried to stay true to the story and the characters. That is the way the camera worked. With locations and lighting, I wanted to shoot on location with everything and available light was part of that. I wanted a spontaneity and a freedom. The environment was very deliberately set up so we would have that. I have always been a photographer and I had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to look. There is a lot of work that went into the color palette and the production design — there were a lot of discussions with the DP. It wasn’t about drawing attention to me or the filmmaking, I just wanted to keep the focus on the characters. I think Felicity and the rest of the cast saw the same movie and brought their game into match that.
Felicity Price: I think for me, as an actor, it was different. I have known this character for four years, so by the time I got to remove the writer’s hat and put on the actor’s hat, I was very keen to get into it. I guess the way it is written, you could call this a dual protagonist story with Joel Edgerton’s character and my character. They are both telling different elements of the story. With his character, parts of what he knows is being withheld a lot of the time. For my character, sometimes the audience is in front of me but sometimes they are sort of with me. I had not played the role in a dual-protagonist film before, not a feature length film. I guess there is that moment when you don’t know if you can carry a film in that way but I didn’t think about that too much! [laughs]
This was such a great collaboration between the two of you. Will we see you two working together again in the future!
Felicity Price: Why sure! There are definitely a lot of plates we are juggling!
Kieran Darcy-Smith: Yeah, definitely! There are a lot of things on the boil at the moment. We have been in Los Angeles now for twelve months and are at the point where there are a number of projects happening. We don’t know which of those is going to fall first. At the moment, in terms of collaborating, Felicity is writing a script at the moment and she is deep in the trenches on her second draft. It is a really great, really sharp physiological thriller. I really want to direct that! That is one of a number of projects I am attached to direct here. All of those other ones are at various stages of casting and financing. It is one of those things where you are juggling and you don’t know which one is ultimately going to go before the others. We don’t know what is going to happen first, but certainly, we are in this for the long haul and it is a successful collaborative relationship creatively. We are definitely want to and we are doing more together!
Thank you so much for your time today! I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed the film and speaking with you today! Keep up the amazing work and we will hopefully talk again soon!
Felicity Price: Fantastic! Thank you so much, Jason!
Kieran Darcy-Smith: No Problem! Thanks so much!