with Daniel Askill
Daniel Askill, writer/director/co-producer of the short film We
Have Decided Not To Die
Daniel speaks to Sarah Runcie, AFC Film Development Administration
We Have Decided Not To Die is an unusual short film. A modern day
allegorical triptych, three figures under go transformation through
three rituals. Though not a story in any conventional sense, We
Have Decided Not To Die succeeds in taking audience on an emotional
journey. Aurally intriguing, often stunning and always beautiful,
Danielís short film has been winning fans from around the
S: What was your initial inspiration for the
D: I think it was actually a single image of this guy floating outside
this 50th story window and the idea of him not dying. Just that
single image. And around that came these kind of ideas of some kind
of transcendence and ideas of, I guess, religious rituals and building
a film, instead of around the idea of a story, around the idea of
a ritual being the story.
S: How did you choose the title We Have Decided
Not To Die?
D: You know, it's actually from something that I saw in a book.
A couple of artists that work in the States called Arakawa and Gins
and they did this book called 'Reversible Destiny'. It just felt
like this crazy kind of statement. I just like the "matter
of factness" of it. It seemed to sum up the kind of idea of
where the whole film was heading.
S: What do you think is the power of ritual
as an action?
D: I think, you know, the idea of rituals in cultures, historically,
has been so strong. [Ritual] is always attached to something of
spiritual significance - whether it is monks walking on hot coals
or parting of Red Seas or some sort of an event, sometimes spectacular,
sometimes small. [Ritual is] attached to the kind of foundation
building blocks of peoples psyches and spiritualities. I don't really
subscribe to any particular philosophy myself but I like a lot of
ideas from different spiritualities. It seemed an interesting idea
to build these stories around rituals I had constructed myself in
a modern day context with skyscrapers and cars and swimming pools
- to bring together a little personal mythology.
S: How did you go about choosing the three
rituals, the first ritual being the girl breaking through the surface
of the water; the second being the figure that cheats death by levitating
above the two crashing cars; and the final being the young boy jumping
through the glass window?
D: It started with the one with the glass. That had certain elements
attached to it - air and glass and breaking through a surface. It
always felt right that that was either the first one or the last
one. Working backwards from that, I guess, was a matter of finding
two others that kind of balanced that and felt right.
S: What is the element in the second ritual
D: I guess, it's metal and earth. It's much more grounded because
it's these crashing cars. [The rituals] were structured around the
idea of this infinite kind of life cycle.
S: With the second ritual, you have two other
ghostly jittering figures that mirror, and "frame" the
central lone figure. That is the only one of the rituals that you
utilise that technique. Why did you choose that for that ritual?
D: The idea is that the two bookends - the entering and exiting/re-entering
life rituals - are the more ethereal, more centred and focused,
a more pure kind of entity. And the idea with the middle ritual
"Between" was more about a time between [birth] and rebirth.
It can be equated to the real life. There's the possibility of other
figures and possibility of distractions and the possibility of the
multiple little strains that your mind goes off on when you are
in life. So, I guess those appearance of other figures are kind
of bit of a metaphor for that.
S: Do you think that ritual has it's transcendental
value because it's metaphorical action?
D: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah.
S: Why didnít you include the element
D: Well, to be honest, fire was actually initially in the first
ritual in the script. When the girl breaks through the surface of
the water, there's an ignition of some kind. We did actually shoot
that but when we were putting the whole thing back together in post,
it just felt too much. In the last [scene], there's a single break
through a surface [of the glass window] and in the middle one, there's
a single levitation above the [crashing] cars. [Fire] was actually
there [as an element] but, in the end, it was actually the one thing
that changed from the original script.
S: The third ritual, entitled "Rebirth",
he's jumping out of a window. Initially, I thought, the guy is so
going to die. We have Decided Not To Die - except one.
D: Yeah. In a perfect world, what I would have done with that last
ritual, which is kind of in the script, is bring it to a point where,
he does, more obviously, hover [outside the window] and not fall.
That was my intention with the story. At the end [the film] kind
of loops back through the other two rituals. We go back to the vista
that it starts from and hopefully, that, combined with the title,
gives the idea that he doesn't necessarily die. What exactly happens
to him, I don't know.
S: Is that why you returned at the end of
the third ritual to the other rituals?
D: Yeah. I guess, hopefully to try and bring across the idea that
basically all are left hovering. Obviously I didn't want to tie
it down kind of too much because it is, you know, when talking about
concepts of spirituality and life and death, no one really knows
the answers. Maybe, in death, there is new life.
S: What were the difficulties in writing something
that wasn't a strict narrative?
D: For me, it feels much easier to write this sort of stuff than
to write traditional stories. [But] there's an access point in it
because maybe on the surface, you know, it's kind of spectacular.
There [are] crashes and smashes and splashes.
S: Given your background, you have directed
music videos and TVC's, what elements of your visual language did
you bring to We've Decided Not To Die?
D: A lot of stuff technically - like certain editing techniques.
A lot of stuff playing with pictures and creating a space and an
ambience. There's a section where there's three stuttering figures
in [the second ritual]. [This] kind of stuttering movement was an
idea I had experimented with in a music video film clip for Groove
Terminator. [In the music clip] these kind of stuttering figures
were almost like a virtual musical equaliser to the sound track.
S: So experimenting with the relationship
between sound and movement and how that creates meaning for an audience?
S: What is the difficulty in directing movement
that you are going to play with backwards, forwards and at a different
D: That does get really loopy sometimes actually - especially storyboarding
it. Because I knew that there was a lot of reversal and speed ramp
ups and stuff like that [I was] always doing those little mental
puzzles of 'how does this fit in backwards?' And the film was storyboarded
very meticulously. The shoots, to be honest, nearly always completely
freak me out. I always edit my stuff myself. And that's the part
I really kind of love. So I just kind of try and shoot material
that I know is going to have enough leverage one way or the other
when I get into the edit suite and [then I] just collage it up.
And I work very much with the music happening at the same time.
S: How important is the music for you in terms
of structuring it? Was it something that you thought about before
you were shooting? Were there sounds for you that you had in your
head when you were writing the script and that then became a touchstone
to the kind of sound that you wanted in your track?
D: Yeah. Completely, actually. My father (Michael) actually composed
the music. I know his stuff really well having grown up with it
so that music was always in the back of my head - combined with
sound design elements that I knew that I wanted to add. [I]n the
end, it was really nice because I was able to lift little bits and
pieces of his music from different tracks that he had written before
and tracks that he was working on at the [time] and then kind of
take them and kind of collage them and rework them as I was editing
it. As I was editing the vision I was editing parts of his music.
S: Does the music help you think in terms
of directing movement?
D: Yeah. Yeah. I think it does. I think it probably helps much more
in the editing than it does in directing. For me, it is usually
about putting some random movement in a controlled space and then
taking that randomness and letting the music control it in the edit-
whether that be this kind of spasming, convulsing kind of stuff
that goes on in the film or more traditional movement. So I guess
a lot of it is about making the pictures/ movement feel like music
to some extent. The process is a bit like getting a pianist to improvise
a whole lot of stuff that feels interesting and then taking that
and working it into something that is hopefully tighter, more concise,
once it's been edited. I guess thatís what Iím doing
with the performers, getting them to improvise movement around an
idea and then chopping that up in relation to the music/mood/narrative.
S: How did you go about directing yourself?
D: That was weird actually. Actually, it was OK in the end because
I think we so knew what we were doing with it that. I wasn't actually
going to be in it initially. We had casting sessions with all sorts
of different people but for some reason, in the end, it felt right
[to be in it]. It felt pretty much like directing someone else for
S: How did you actually shoot We Have Decided
Not To Die?
D: Since we had the luxury of not having to deal with any dialogue
it was always my thought that "let's not shoot any of this
at 25 frames". It was all shot at anything between 50 to 500
frames per second. And the 500 frames stuff was this, kind of, nightmare
because we had to get in these photosonics cameras.
S: How do you deal with lighting issues at
500 frames per second?
D: To be honest, there's a few little grain issues in there but
[Cinematographer] Denson Baker did a really fantastic job of balancing
the standard 16 stuff - and a lot of it was outdoors so we were
lucky lighting-wise there. The car crash was the biggest nightmare.
Our location had been cancelled on us the day before [we were scheduled
to shoot]. We ended up at Oran Park where we did our glass jump
scene and the car crash scene. To cut a long story short, we lost
two sheets of the glass before we even got started. One had been
blown over by the wind. The other one got smashed as it was getting
up into the frame. Because we were on this location, that we hadn't
expected to be on, it was much more windy. At the last minute, Jordy
[Jordan Askill] finally made it through just before this slit in
the glass was about to take the final piece of glass down. He hit
the crash mat and rolled over on his side and cut his side open
on the tarmac. And then we had an hour and a half of daylight left
to shoot this car crash that has been set up by Grant Page [Stunt
Coordinator], over on the other side [of the location]. I was basically
standing by this candy glass praying.
S: What was the hardest thing about directing
D: Yeah. I think it was that day with the stunt with the glass.
I think shoot-wise that that was the most stressful. I think casting-wise,
in pre-production, was certainly [difficult]. I really did go backwards
and forwards for a long time about, you know, was it too much to
[cast myself] and that whole kind of thing.
S: What was problematic about the post process,
given that it is the part that you most enjoy?
D: To cut a long story short, once I'd finished editing it, all
the on-line footage ended up scattered between about four or five
different post-houses and four or five different compositors. So
there were points there where I was completely freaking out because
I wanted to get the film finished because it had taken so long and
I was feeling a little bit embarrassed. And I wanted to get it to
the Australian Film Commission. We were kind of hoping to have it
ready to enter into Cannes. As it was, all those deadlines just
completely slipped by. I was just watching it ever so slowly come
together. I just felt so out of control. And I didn't know when
it was going to be finished or if all these pieces were actually
come back together or was someone's hard drive going to completely
crash and lose half the film. It was just a great lesson for me
in terms of really pinning down the post-production route much more
specifically. In the end though I must give credit to Theo (VFX
Supervisor) who managed to pull it all
off in the end.