In Cold Light – one location, two characters, seven days and a voluntary crew

22 February, 2013 by Yuan Liu

Matt Nable in In Cold Light (photo from Lisa Maree Williams)


“I don’t like thinking about things that are not possible. I’d like to think how to make something possible.” For Australian film director Peter Slee, working with a tight shooting schedule and low budget can be a real challenge, but it also motivates the filmmaker do his best work. Slee’s first feature film, In Cold Light, shot in seven days in one location with two main characters is now in the process of post-production.

Based on Duncan Ley’s script, this psychological thriller takes place in a closed interrogation room and features the confrontation between a respected English teacher, Father Lamori, and a relentless investigator after the murder of a young boy.

Slee first came across Ley’s writing about seven years ago. “There was a stage play script of Duncan’s that I found amazing,” Slee recalls. He managed to get in touch with Ley to talk about the play, only to be told that the rights were unavailable at that time. Then he was offered another script from Duncan. Slee recalls, “I was not sure if Duncan had two amazing scripts ready to go, but I asked him to send me the other one just in case. I remember that at the time I didn’t think I would have a chance to read the whole script. But I started reading the first couple of pages and before I knew it, I finished the whole script.”

“I was captivated by the writing,” Slee says. “I felt the dialogue was so articulate and beautifully crafted. It was actually the exact project that I had been looking for, for some time. The twists and turns were so compelling, making it a smart and intelligent drama. The other thing is that although it had controversial themes and subject matter, I still felt it managed to keep me entertained and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through.” Slee did not hesitate to option the rights for the script. From that moment on, the two started working together to adapt the stage play for the screen.

For the first-time feature film producer Jacqui Louez, the project began unexpectedly. “I came on board originally to consult two days a week, in terms of their long-term distribution, exhibition and marketing strategy. As Peter and I began working together we gained a momentum, and before we knew it we were going into production! I don’t think either one of us expected it. I ended up producing the film with Peter and Michael Pontin. There was a magic between the three of us that really worked. For me it’s one of my many career highlights, definitely.”

As a feature film, In Cold Light is unusually set in one location, an interrogation room built in one week in the middle of Fox Studios Australia’s, Stage 4. “When we adapted the original script, we thought about moving outside of the interrogation room, integrating a couple of locations referenced in the script,” Slee says. “But through a process of development, we found that we lost something when we took the characters outside of the room. It broke the tension of the interrogation that was inherent in the initial draft. We ended up coming back to keep it contained. When we committed to the single-location plan, we knew it was going to be a challenge. The question became: can we make a compelling film with two actors, set in one room, lasting for 85 minutes?”

For a character-driven film like this, the director realised, the challenge lies mainly in the casting. The casting process for In Cold Light started seven years ago. At one stage, Sam Worthington was cast as the Inspector until he left for Avatar. “We have spent the last six or seven years looking for the right actors that could carry a piece like this,” Slee says. About four months ago, our casting director Leon Fryer recommended Matt Nable to Slee. “I saw Matt’s performance in Bikie Wars but wasn’t hundred per cent sure that he was right for this part. But when Matt met me in the audition, I said, ‘I have to go with Matt Nable. He is amazing’.”

“Matt is the kind of actor that really can deliver a powerful and nuanced performance that we could build the film around. In fact he’s been involved in the filmmaking process before: he wrote and starred in the film The Final Winter a number of years ago. He kept on reminding me throughout the whole process, ‘Peter, you only get the opportunity to make your first film once, so make sure you enjoy it.’ He’s such an amazing guy to work with. That’s why we needed him to make this work. We needed actors that were committed to trying things.”

Another lead actor Felix Williamson got on board several days before shooting commenced for the role of Father Lamori. “As an actor coming into a project a couple of days before filming and jumping in to do basically ten or eleven pages a day for seven days, he is to me phenomenal,” Slee says. Slee was also surprised how fast the actor could adapt to his new role. “We met on a Tuesday, cast on Tuesday afternoon, rehearsed on Wednesday and Thursday and we were ready to start filming on Friday! Every night Felix would go home, wearing his noise-cancelling headphones, to learn eleven pages of new dialogue per night. As soon as he walked onto the set, he understood the character and he enjoyed the process. He really thrived on the challenges of creating a character within such a limited amount of time.”

Interestingly enough, Williamson originally came to audition for the Inspector role. With the same agent as Nable, Williamson read the script and told his agent that this was the best script he has read in a number of years. The information went through to Nable, who decided to read the script himself and later on found himself auditioning for the part. “Felix did an amazing audition but Matt really owned the role,” Slee says. “However, I knew that Felix had to be part of the project, and he was a revelation in the role of Lamori. He was able to bring his wit and intelligence to the role, while being the perfect foil for Matt.”

A self-financed indie film, In Cold Light managed to gather a group of industry professionals who were willing to work voluntarily for the project. “I have worked with lots of the crew for ten years or more,” Slee says. “They had known about this project for quite some time. Once we got the chance to pull it together, everybody just threw their support hundred per cent behind it. I couldn’t be happier.”

For Louez, Duncan’s script is another key reason why so many industry talents came on board. “We had an outstanding script,” she says. “People wanted to be part of this project knowing it would be a unique experience in the sense that it is one-location, one-set through the whole shoot.”

For Slee, the internal funding of In Cold Light allows them to work out a plan that best serves the project. “This film has niche audience appeal rather than a broad audience appeal,” he says. “We made the film and funded it internally because we genuinely believed in the project.” On the other hand, Slee believes that he needs to create the opportunities for himself and invest his own project to learn & develop as a filmmaker, without expecting funding bodies or investors to pay for it. “It’s not fair for a studio or a network to finance for you to learn and develop. I had to do this myself. I know my strengths and weaknesses and I can build from that.”

Besides the finance, another challenge came from the tight seven-day shooting schedule. “We knew we had a certain time frame but we made it work,” Slee says. “You know it is going to be a challenge, but that’s when you can do your best work. It makes you appreciate it when you do have a longer production period and you won’t take anything for granted.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” Slee says in the end. “With this film, the right thing just happened at the right time. I think the most important thing is to trust and not to panic when things didn’t go hundred per cent your way. There’s always a solution.”

The post-production for In Cold Light will come to an end by mid this year. For Peter Slee and his crew, the ultimate goal is a premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2014. “The story and the performance are something that I hope can stay in the audiences’ minds long after the film ends.”