Claudia Pickering in ‘Frisky’.
Claudia Pickering’s advice to emerging filmmakers trying to get a foothold in the industry?
“Just make shit.”
“Make heaps of shit, because it’s going to be bad to start with… then there’s going to be some good shit occasionally.
“You’ve just got to keep making stuff, because you’re not going to become a better filmmaker by not making shit.”
It’s that attitude that lies behind Pickering’s Frisky, a low-budget comedy feature she made when living in the States made back in 2015.
Since screening in Hollywood and earning a US digital release earlier this year, Frisky has catapulted Pickering onto the local industry’s radar.
Pickering wrote, directed, produced and stars in the film, about two 20-somethings who move to San Francisco to follow career aspirations that then end up sidelined for sexual interests.
Before Frisky she’d already written and produced one feature, Winning Formula, but this project was her first at the helm. She wrote the script in six weeks and shot it in two, on a miniscule budget of just $5,000.
In order to achieve that, Pickering tells IF she wrote the script around places where she could shoot for free, like her house and her friends’ houses. They used fairy lights and China balls for lighting, and shot on DSLR cameras that they already owned; only hiring a few lenses and a shoulder mount. Besides sound and colour, whom Pickering paid up front, Frisky’s cast and crew signed up for a profit share model.
“I took risks on people who weren’t necessarily pros,” she says. “This was a real community project… that’s actually at the core of it; huge friendship and respect. I didn’t know any of these people [at the start], they were all off Craiglist except for the cast who were off casting networks. But it just became this beautiful circle of friends; no one was going to bail because we were all too thick at that point.”
After wrapping, Pickering moved back to Sydney and Frisky went on to play in various film festivals around the States. She was then connected with an Australian sales agent who took the film to the Cannes and secured a North American distribution deal with Gravitas.
In the meantime, Pickering had applied for Screen NSW’s Emerging Filmmaker Fund with her comedy troupe, Frothpocalypse. They didn’t succeed, but the agency suggested she apply for Australians in Film’s (AiF) Hollywood-based co-working space, Charlie’s.
Pickering spent a few days at the end of 2016 working from the space, where she first met AiF executive director Peter Ritchie.
It was a fortuitous meeting, as a few months later, when Gravitas lined up a digital release for Frisky in the US, Ritchie offered to screen the film at Raleigh Studios and to get her to do a Q&A afterwards via Skype.
In week following that screening, Pickering says her inbox blew up. Screen Australia and Screen NSW wanted meetings, and the Sydney Morning Herald an interview.
Since then, Jungle has optioned Frisky for TV, and she’s signed to The Fleming Agency.
In regards to the film itself, Pickering has done theatrical screenings of Frisky ahead of its digital release via Madman Entertainment.
Screen Australia have also since sought to invest in Pickering, taking her, along with other directors like Jen Peedom (Sherpa), Damien Powers (Killing Ground) and Nicholas Verso (Boys in the Trees), over to the US in June as part of its Talent LA delegation.
Just before that trip, Pickering also directed a Google-supported web series Resting Pitch Face for production company Grumpy Sailor, written by Nicola Parry (Thank God You’re Here) and Jess Harris (Twentysomething). The female-led series follows women working in STEM and stars Bridie Connell (Whose Line is it Anyway?) and Nakkiah Lui (Black Comedy).
In addition, Pickering is also developing another film of her own, Butter Paper. “It’s slightly more high-end version of Frisky set in Australia, but a bit later in life.”
Pickering says everything has happened extremely quickly, but feels lucky to be on the path she is now.
In between juggling projects, Pickering also heads up Freshflix, a regular short film fest. One was recently held as part of Vivid Sydney, where Pickering also ran an emerging filmmakers conference. She conceived the event as a supportive “brains trust” for people in the “twilight years between film school – which I never went to which would have been really helpful – and being in the industry.” There was an industry speed-dating session, five indie filmmakers broke down their process, and representatives from Screen Australia and Screen NSW outlined how they can help and what they’re looking for.
“So many people rag on the funding bodies… I’ve had such a different experience, because all they’ve done is chuck me an olive branch and be like ‘how can we help, what do you need.’ I guess they see someone who’s just gone ‘Fuck it. I’m going to try and do something; I’m going to be proactive and get it done’. I think people just don’t know that they can go to speak to these people.”
In fact, that’s Pickering’s advice for other emerging filmmakers: be pro-active, and unafraid to approach industry bodies like the agencies to ask for help. “Get all of your questions answered so then you’re not treading water. And just make shit.”