Neil Triffett and Corrie Chen talk Film Victoria’s attachment scheme

13 January, 2017 by Harry Windsor

Neil Triffett on the set of 'Newton's Law'. 

Film Vic’s attachment scheme aims to facilitate skills development among emerging practitioners. IF talks to two of them, Neil Triffett and Corrie Chen, about their experiences.


Emo the Musical director Neil Triffett has spent the tail-end of 2016 as an attachment on TV series Newton’s Law, starring Claudia Karvan and produced by Miss Fisher’s Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger.

Triffett’s placement was organised through Film Vic’s attachment scheme.

“He’s had a smorgasbord,” says Eagger, talking to IF mid-shoot. “He sat in a lot of meetings. Because he's around for the whole shoot and he's been doing some behind the scenes for us, he's sort of become part of the furniture and as a consequence I think got great access.

"The production pays for part of his wage, and he has days where he does behind the scenes and days where he's purely a director's attachment. He also gets the opportunity to direct – he's just shot a scene for us.”

Eagger is no stranger to the scheme, having had a director's attachment organised through Film Vic early in her career – on Paul Cox’s The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh.

“It's a great scheme and a great way to learn,” she says.

For Triffet, the attachment is a chance to see a professional production in action, with a focus on pre.

“I know what I want, which is experience in pre-production, so I look through the call sheet at the start of the week which lists [the] production meetings for crew.”

“I probably came in later in the process so a lot of the script is already written but I do get to see the process from the full read, [and] the director’s notes. I also get to hear actors give input and get to sit in when the ABC had lunch as well, which is just such a wonderful relationship to get on the inside [of].”

Triffett has been impressed with the amount of voices helping to shape story in script meetings, where everyone is kept up to date with the latest draft.

“I think in some cases they’re up to mauve amendments. I didn’t even know that mauve was a colour. But everyone caught up and everybody’s read their draft and they’ve all had thoughts on their draft. We’ve had plenty of feedback.”

Triffett will be shadowing director Jen Leacey during the shoot’s fourth block, after originally having been lined up for the pilot episode: “Because she [Leacey] opened the series and was quite under the pump with pilot episode they actually pushed back my onset time with her,” he says.

The emerging filmmaker is also shooting behind the scenes content for the production.

“It gives you good access to set and it gives you something to do on set. I'm getting about 2 days a week in pre-production at the moment and then on set I probably spend 1-2 days a week doing behind the scene content. They call me in [to shoot footage] on the interesting visual days or the days where we have well-known cast on set.”

Shooting his own footage has been “a learning experience,” says Triffett.

“I've done it before with community groups and arts grants but definitely it’s a higher standard [here], so I am having to pull up my socks and learn a bit about equipment, which has been a lot of fun.”

“You’re not working all the time so when I'm not working on the behind the scenes stuff on the same days I'll be able to pop behind the monitor, ask Jen some questions, and kinda of pick it up that way.”

Where Triffett was after insight into productive pre, veteran attachment recipient Corrie Chen was more interested in being on set during her spell on the set of season three of HBO’s The Leftovers.

Chen worked on episode five – “dead in the middle of the season” – shadowing American director Nicole Kassell (The Woodsman).

In the US they have very limited pre but a longer shoot, which was interesting to see. I think the director only got eight days pre, nine days pre. We had ten days for a one-hour ep, which compared to Australia is a bit longer. But a week and a half or so of pre I thought was quite unusual. But [with] the showrunner model, there was always someone else overseeing everything, handling the mechanics of day-to-day production.”

Chen calls the final production meeting before shoot “one of the biggest meetings I've ever seen in my life.”

“There were just so many people at the table. But Nicki was pretty generous in how much she shared with me in terms of her planning and shot-listing. She included me in all her emails and was very open in terms of me looking through all her notes and folder and everything.”

Asked what she learnt from a director with TV credits that include The Americans and Rectify, Chen points to “obvious practical things like three-camera coverage,” as well as “people management stuff.”

For instance: “How to handle a crew when it's 3am in the morning and you're outside on open water and you want to ask for half an hour overtime. And that happened with us. And later on Nicki said to me, you know: it was very scary for a director to ask a crew to do that early on in the shoot because you always go, ‘am I gonna lose them after this’? But she was saying she knew that she had to go for another take, because she'd regret it in the edit [otherwise].”

“For me, the biggest thing is communication,” says Chen. “That's what I'm always really keen to see and learn, because it's rare to see other directors work and communication is the key tool that directors have.”

But it wasn’t all eat-your-greens: Chen recalls “the fun stuff that comes with an HBO show – the scale of it.”

“We shot in a cargo plane and on a ferry and there was a real lion for a few days. And I got to see how to stage a really great orgy. So it was peak HBO.”

A veteran of directing attachments – on Nowhere Boys with Matchbox, with Shawn Seet on Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door – Chen describes working on The Leftovers as “a different world”.

“I was just treated with incredible respect by all the Americans involved. I got there on the first day and realised that they had all watched at least a couple of my short films and spoke to me like an actual director rather than someone who was on work experience. They insisted on giving me a chair in video village, and I felt like an important person rather than someone who was around. And I think that's a reflection of how they see the next generation compared to in Australia, where the attitude's a little bit more – oh, wait your turn.”