Interview: The Guys Behind ‘How To Meet Girls From a Distance’

When How To Meet Girls From a Distance plays at the NZ International Film Festival it will be the end of a well-documented creative process that’s been operating in overdrive since late last year. That was when Dean Hewison and Richard Falkner’s entry into the inaugural Make My Movie competition first became more than just a concept and began to resemble the early stages of making a film under intense time pressure.

Flicks sat down for a cold one with Dean and Richard on their last day of audio post-production and started the interview by letting two sleep-deprived men enjoy how a certain combination of syllables felt to say.

FLICKS: So it is actually finished?

RICHARD:  It’s finished.

DEAN: Finished?

RICHARD: It’s finished. We just finished it. It is finished.

FLICKS:  When you entered the competition did you think that you were actually going to have to make a movie at the end?

DEAN: We weren’t going to enter it. It was definitely a last-minute decision, it had been open for like a month or two. Basically, we had some tequila a week before entries closed and thought “well let’s sit down, me, Richard and Ruth and just see if there’s anything we can do”. Discounted ideas included Ghost Knife. Ghost Knife was sweet and…

RICHARD: And Jesus 2.

DEAN: Yeah, Jesus 2 was okay but I preferred Ghost Knife. I was quite serious about Ghost Knife, but yeah, that’s where How To Meet Girls From a Distance was born. We tossed around a few other ideas…

RICHARD: Endangered wasn’t born of that?

DEAN: Endangered happened because there was one that we did put in. Endangered happened because on someone’s G chat they had morepork written there and I just looked at it and then I pictured Richard dressed up as a morepork in a cage and it was just like “Okay, there’s a movie called morepork” and the tagline was “Morepork don’t like to be caged”.  And then that sort of changed to basically Endangered which was about this guy who just takes New Zealand’s endangered animals. Well, who drugs people and then locks them in a reserve dressed as endangered species.

RICHARD: To encourage them to breed.

DEAN: Yeah, that’s right! And that was the one we thought had a pretty sweet poster.

RICHARD: It seemed to be a one roomer as well, and that was the one where we thought  “Ohhh, that could be alright”.

DEAN:  And then How to Meet Girls From a Distance that was one where, when it came up, the whole story line kind of unfolds in front of you faster than you can say it out loud, you know? Which is not actually what we made but standing around with tequila you’d just be like “okay, so there’s a guy and he stalks women because of a real horrible experience that happened once” and tequila really helps come up with ideas like that and after that when it got into the top 12 we were practically trying to remember what this crazy scenario was.

RICHARD: I know that initially it had…

DEAN: There was blood in the toilet…

RICHARD: Amputation and poo and yeah. It got mellowed out somewhat in the scripting process.

DEAN:  Yeah and then when the Top 12 was announced it wasn’t online right away, so the first we heard about it was people putting it on Facebook: “Congratulations!” And we were just like “Congrats…what? What happened?” and then read “One of their movies got it”.

“We all lied. Everybody lied. It’s got on the entry form ‘do you have a synopsis?’ You’re not going to say no because then they might just not pick you.”

RICHARD: And then it was like “Oh, How to Meet Girls…! Okay!” It was funny, because at the first stage of the competition the laborious part was the poster design, you know, and we spent ages on the Endangered one which was really hard just trying to find an endangered animal mask that we could photo shop around my head. We spent ages on that with a four year old kid and a frog or something, and then How To Meet Girls… got it and we were like “okay, okay”.

DEAN: Right, that’s what we’re doing now.

RICHARD: Yeah, yeah and we were like “Okay rethink, rethink. Lots of locations but no effects, no big builds”. And in a typical sort of Timpson-esque timing, that  weekend or something you got an email like “Cool, so we’ll have your two page breakdown of what actually happens in your film by the end of the weekend and then…”  And you’re like “What breakdown? What?”

DEAN: That was somebody who ticked the box and said we had an outline… We all lied. Everybody lied. It’s got on the entry form “do you have a synopsis?” You’re not going to say no because then they might just not pick you. Then on Christmas Eve it was like “Hey, congratulations! You’re in the final two! Now we need a full script by the 20th of January. Okay, well what have you got planned for your holidays? Cancel it!” That didn’t happen.

RICHARD: We came back on the 12th of January from our holidays  and they were saying “How is it going?” “Oh yeah, man. Late nights…”

DEAN:  I got back the 5th and Richard got back on the 12th and so we just hammered straight into it.

FLICKS: Did the shoot itself happen with the same kind of frantic pace as the build up to it?

RICHARD: Oh we were fully buggered. Absolutely buggered. We started shooting on the last day of March and we did five more drafts of the script in February and March, so by the time we were ready to shoot…well we weren’t ready to shoot, you know! It was just like “well, the shoot day is coming up so we better start writing it. This is what’s going to happen now.”

The shoot itself was 17 days, which is not long enough, and we were always running behind every day. The only time I had to learn my lines really was the time I got to rehearse the week before, we got like a couple of hours’ worth, and then there were three days of rehearsal with everyone else – one rehearsal for each scene. That was pretty much my line learning process and then like each night after the shoot I’d go home and like just try and just read over it a couple of times and see if I could retain it.

FLICKS: I presume there’s no sort of five minute monologue?

DEAN: There’s that song.

RICHARD: Yeah the song was a big one. I had to walk a girl into a room, show her around, have some dialogue, sit down and sing her a song and it ended up being the one take because we just ran out of time, you know…

DEAN: The producers put on the hard word they were like “you have to do that scene in one take. You’re running behind.” Which is, you know, we were always running behind.

RICHARD: “You’ve done that yourselves. Deal with it!”

“number one on the next film’s list is to not do it in a ridiculously short timeframe”

DEAN: Yeah, to be fair if we had more than 17 days to shoot it we wouldn’t have been running behind every day. So that’s, you know, number one on the next film’s list is to not do it in a ridiculously short timeframe and actually get some coverage. But…yeah that one we were like “okay, let’s do this two and a half minute scene in one shot” and it’s arguable about whether that was faster or not because we did do five takes of the scene and then we still hadn’t got it and we’re looking at the DP and he was getting completely harangued by the producers like “Where are you now? What have you got? What have you got left to shoot?” and he’s saying “Guys, we’ve only got time to do this one more time.”

RICHARD: I am sitting there and I haven’t pulled it off once.

DEAN: Also I forgot to mention that pashing is a fairly large part of this scene.

RICHARD: There’s also this little disco ball and lighting change and it’s quite a dynamic scene really There’s only one more attempt at it and Dean has his head in his hands, I am looking up and looking for inspiration…

DEAN: Well it’s just the frustration that we’re all feeling waiting to nail this whole thing in one shot and you’re just like “This isn’t going to happen. This is a really important scene and it’s just not going to happen. This is absurd, you know.”

RICHARD: It’s just so far off happening – like all of them – and when we got told one more take it was like “Okay, let’s give another crack” and it just fell into place, and God, the elation at the end of that scene…

FLICKS: Did you think the movie would end up in the International Film Festival? How did that happen?

DEAN: At the wrap party just after we finished shooting the producer comes up and says “How fast can you get a cut ready?”

RICHARD: And we’re like “Oh! We’re just going home now to start working on it.”

DEAN: “We’re pretty good. We can probably do it in a month.” Take that!

RICHARD: Except it was “You’ve got two weeks and we’re going to see the film festival” and we’re like “The festival? That’s insane!” They’d said they were apparently holding a spot just in case, and that was the first time that the festival became even an option for us.

DEAN:  So we readjusted all of our timelines and stuff, aimed to send them a rough cut and just go back to a normal… more normal kind of time frame.

RICHARD: To deal with that festival entry we had to pretty much double the already frantic speed that we were working at, you know? We had already promised the Film Commission that we would have a film for them by September. That was in our contract and we were like “Cool!”

DEAN: That’s a bit of a severe change to the timeframe slightly.

RICHARD: It was already fast, you know. It was like calling in a lot of favours.

“what we really have to talk about is the process, the insane process that we went through to get this film done in six months”

DEAN: We figured you’re going to spend quite a lot of time tweaking the unreasonable circumstances to make the film in at least the post… and I remember saying “Hey, this next part is going to be a lot calmer, you know, there’s nothing more intense than the shoot but this next part is going to be heaps more relaxed.” Then that bomb drops, and everything goes into double speed.

It’s interesting because the way the film was made is such a major part for us. When we’re introducing the film for the screening at the festival pretty much what we really have to talk about is the process, the insane process that we went through to get this film done in six months. There are going to be people who watch this film that have no idea about that and I guess all we can really hope for is that sometimes some people don’t sense it!

RICHARD: I don’t know, because it actually looks pretty sweet but it doesn’t have any crane shots. It’s…I think it’s interesting what we lacked in extensive coverage we kind of make up for with lots of locations which gives it a bit of scope, you know? Like it certainly isn’t shot in some garage.

FLICKS: It seems like there might be a bit of 70s and 80s NZ filmmaking spirit in there.

RICHARD: This is really, really, really, really, really low budget. Properly low budget. Think about the fact that those guys were using a film intermediate process, you know, for making their films. They had to process their film, and for titles they had to make intermediates and all of that stuff.

“This is really, really, really, really, really low budget. Properly low budget.”

It seems like  you could never in a million years make a feature film on film for $100,000 you know? It’s like only by virtue of the fact that it’s digital that you could ever hope to do this.

FLICKS: What should people expect from the film?

RICHARD: I think that they should expect a silliness. They should expect a silly and somewhat whimsical spin on the rom-com. It is not as dark as we initially thought that it was going to be and that came about because… because we knew that our lead character was a complete freaking weirdo psycho freak and we didn’t want to alienate the audience. We needed them to come on the journey with Toby and so we made him like this kind of bumbling, charming sort of guy, not a dude in the trench coat on the corner.

“something that probably attracted Ant, because he’s, you know, a sick f*ck, was the whole creepy, voyeuristic listening to sex under the bed sort of stuff”

DEAN: In an effort to keep the audience on the side with him we lost a lot of the darkness that was probably nearer to our initial concept. I think that something that probably attracted Ant – because he’s, you know, a sick f*ck – was the whole creepy, voyeuristic listening to sex under the bed sort of stuff.

RICHARD: It’s a lot more charming and whimsical than we expected it would ever be. We didn’t really know that until we did the first cut and went “Huh! I am not creeped out by this guy much at all.” Which is interesting.

FLICKS: What’s your strongest memory from the shoot?

DEAN: When we finished the last shot. That was pretty intense, because we were behind schedule. We’re ploughing through the scene as fast as possible. There is a scene that we were meant to shoot that we didn’t get time to do so I thought “Okay, let’s rewrite it. It happens in the café instead.” Then we go up to the café and we’re running behind but how will this movie work if we don’t have time to shoot that scene?

RICHARD: It will be the same but not as good.

DEAN: Yeah, it would be the same but different and not as good. So basically at 6:20 we hadn’t started and we had to be out of there by 7. We’re still on this other scene and all of the lighting setups had taken like 20-30 minutes and we had to be out by 7. We had to be packed up, cleared, wrapped – the lady gets to go home at 7:00 so at that point it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen.

“You’re forgetting ‘Oh hang on we haven’t actually really finished writing the dialogue'”

But we finished the other scene that we were there to do and which gave us 7 minutes before we had to start packing up and so we went “Okay, let’s stay on the lighting setup. Let’s keep them in this position. Let’s just frame out the window so they can’t tell it’s not night time and we’ll do this whole scene, single on Toby and a single on Toby’s mum and they only get one take each and that’s it.”

And whatever we get, we get, and now we’ve only got five minutes – sit down there, you know, focus…

RICHARD: You’re forgetting “Oh hang on we haven’t actually really finished writing the dialogue.”

DEAN: So we didn’t know. We were like “Oh what does she say? What does she say?” you know. So, yeah,while the lights were being shifted around we’re crossing stuff out, writing new things. Five minutes to go we get a shot of Helen, Toby’s mom, one take and she just nails it. She just pulls it out and it was the best thing she had done in the whole film and I was like “man, we should have put you under this sort of insane pressure previously” and then right… okay, change angle. Normally that would take 15, 20, 30 minutes but I just went “right, turn the camera around, point the light, move that” and the lighting dude was saying “I am not happy, but I mean it’ll do”. Then it’s “Okay, Richard are you ready? One take? Action!” We tried a couple of lines and then he got to the very end, does his funny look and we called “cut!”

RICHARD: Yeah! We just all exploded in this righteous, joyous, explosion. I was thinking about it while he was answering that one and my strongest memory of the shoot I think is probably sitting up in the Eucalyptus tree for an hour to the point where my leg is jammed between two branches until I couldn’t climb down because one of my legs no longer worked and I must have had my lunch up there too but they brought us some salad.

DEAN: Yeah it was one of those days where we went “Hey you guys mind like working through your lunch break?”

RICHARD: It was one of those situations where we just wanted everybody to work at the level that we are being forced to work at and we didn’t want to be doing that to anybody else either but, you know, at some point we’re just trying to get some more time out of people. “Look if he can just…just ten minutes”.

FLICKS: How long into the shoot was it before you started doing that?

RICHARD: Oh the first day. The first day, yeah. Also, our crew was amazing but I don’t think…I don’t think we were too bad really…

DEAN: When we went over time we made it up.


FLICKS: What are you doing next?

RICHARD: That’s one of the most ludicrous questions to ask. We’d love to be able to make another film. We’d love to make it in at least twice the time.

DEAN: Imagine spending 6 months on the script? Which is not a long time but…

RICHARD: Full time!

“Imagine if I got more than four hours sleep! Honestly, this is a film about a dude that is sleep deprived”

DEAN: Oh, don’t tease. And then a four week shoot. Imagine that! Doesn’t that sound nice, a four week shoot? Just relax, a nice four week shoot.

RICHARD: Imagine if I’d slept every night. Imagine if I got more than four hours sleep! Honestly, this is a film about a dude that is sleep deprived.

DEAN: We’ve got a couple of ideas and now that this film is going to be at the 37 Degrees South film market that’s also an opportunity for Ruth to sort of pitch ideas to potential investors or distributors or whatever.

FLICKS: It must be great for you guys to have something on your resume that says “we made a f*cking film under these conditions”

DEAN: Totally!

RICHARD: We hope it will be, yeah. We’re not at that moment yet.

DEAN: But we can be. We can be, we only just finished it… so now soon we get to go “Done!” and then we get to go “Alright, next!” and 37 Degrees South is in August which means that we’ve got two weeks now to make some shit up.

FLICKS:  You can get a bottle of tequila again.

DEAN: Oh man we’re going to get heaps of tequila.

RICHARD: I need make some music, you know, like for a couple of months and play some Xbox and I need to reintroduce myself to my girlfriend. ”You remember me? I am that guy that creeps into your bed at like 1am”.

FLICKS: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?

DEAN: I reckon this competition awesome. I reckon. But I mean in terms of development we have just learned so f*cking much.

RICHARD: This experience has been hectic, intense and insane. It’s taken all my energy and it’s probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened.

“This experience has been hectic, intense and insane. It’s taken all my energy and it’s probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened.”

DEAN: Yeah, it’s a very life-changing sort of thing really, isn’t it?

RICHARD:  I can go up to a guy now – a guy who’s got a big, fat wad of cash – and confidently look him in the face and go “yeah, we can make you a feature film”.

DEAN: Yeah, this put us in a really cool position I think. We haven’t found ourselves in this position yet but we hope that we will and that we can now talk to the Film Commission and say “Hey. Did that thing. Got this thing. Kind of want a bit more money. What do you reckon?” And they might not slam the door on us, you know?

RICHARD: Also hopefully everybody in the universe doesn’t hate our film.

DEAN: Yeah, anyway we should leave now. A man can only take so much.

Photography Credits:

Stephanie Kuttner
Chad Moffitt
Ruth Mitchener
Ruth Korver