School bullying inspires Angela How’s thriller ‘Rock Sugar’
As a child at school producer-writer-director Angela How was bullied – an experience which partly inspired her debut feature Rock Sugar.
The psychological thriller follows Charlotte, a 12-year-old Asian girl who is tormented by Brenda, the school bully. When she is attacked in a park late one night Charlotte fights back, knocking Brenda to the ground.
The bully falls, hits her head and stops moving, creating a terrible dilemma for Charlotte, who must either hide the body or face the consequences of her action.
“I was thinking about a major issue that affects children and identified bullying as a topic very quickly,” the Singapore-born, Australian-raised filmmaker, a graduate of the MFA Directing program at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, tells IF.
“I was bullied as a child in Australia and know first hand what that means. The stats of childhood bullying in Australia and worldwide disturb me. I do feel the level of bullying we see from adults today, both in everyday life and from certain governments, starts from this need to bully as children. It is a universal issue that is dear to my heart. It is also a theme that suits the psychological thriller genre.”
How blended the fictitious story about bullying with the location of a large suburban park like the one near her home, where there is an obedience school to which she took her dog every weekend. The cast includes Samuel Barton, Saya Minami, Akira Bradley and Francine McAsey.
“The film is a drama/psychological thriller about children for an adult audience and explores issues like bullying and racism. It advocates anti-bullying and the empowerment of young girls,” she said.
All the child actors made their feature film debuts except for Olivia Sprague, who was in The Dressmaker. The director found Jacinta Klassen, who plays Charlotte, via Casting Networks and Lulu Fitz, who plays Brenda, through Starnow.
“Prior to beginning the casting process I was told by industry colleagues that the film will be hard to cast as child actors in Australia (in their opinion) can’t act,” she said. “So I was preparing myself to have to work with non-actors. However once I started casting I was pleasantly surprised by the calibre of acting from the children who came in to audition. They were very prepared and on time. The crew was very surprised by the skill level of all children involved in the film.
“Jacinta and Lulu both have the good mix of maturity and innocence I was looking for. They are both brilliant actors and a joy to work with. Same goes for all the other children. They all possess the right energy for their respective parts and were great in character.
How shot the film in Melbourne in January with DOP Ben Milward-Bason, art director/costume designer Yvette Brereton and composer Aiko Fukushima.
Later this month she will launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, aiming to raise at least $15,000 and preferably closer to $36,000 to complete and distribute the film.
Explaining how she came up with the title, she said the word rock connotes toughness and sugar sweetness, a combination of two seemingly opposite forces and energies that the film and the main character embody.
She plans to screen the film at international festivals, hoping that will lead to finding a distributor, and to arrange online distribution.