An Interview with Susan Daniel, Director of The Dealer on Campus
Please tell us what or who made you fall in love with cinema. How did you learn how to make films and how many projects did you work on before moving to The Dealer on Campus?
My love for cinema stems back to when I was a kid. Growing up, I watched classical films with my Dad and that inspired me to make films. I learnt how to make films through studying Screen and Media, Film & Television at Randwick TAFE. Before moving to The Dealer on Campus, I collaborated on a couple of projects with friends as well as some film school projects and my own projects. So that would total to about eleven projects I did before moving to The Dealer on Campus.
Where did the idea for the film come from? How long did it take you to form it into what it is now?
Back in 2019, while I was in Film School, my class and I were working on our Student film. My Producing Teacher has requested we make another Short Film as the semester was wrapping up. We usually make two films a semester. I wrote what was an early rough draft for the script. It was for a class, in the hopes that we could squeeze in one last film to make at the end of the semester. Sadly, we ran out of time, therefore couldn’t make another film. Eight months later, my family and I were packing to go on vacation to Coffs Harbor. The day before we left, I worked on the script, in which I fleshed out the story, the characters, made it more multi-dimensional, than it was before. This was back in December 2019 but I like to film during the colder months so I wait a while. We were originally going to film it in April, but COVID delayed the production and we ended up filming in mid-July. Which wasn’t too bad.
Tell us about the themes you wanted to incorporate into your film. What are the concerns or problems you want to reflect in your work(s)?
The themes I incorporated in Dealer on Campus are Injustice and Judgement. They mix with the overall message of the film, which is “Don’t jump to conclusion, before all the pieces are there.” The concerns I wanted to reflect in my work is that through a clouded judgement, you might not see everything clearly, therefore causing you to take action that will eventually lead to injustice.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom? How do you think filmmakers can overcome the problems that arise when making independent films?
One of the things I like about Independent filmmaking is that working with limitations and a small budget really helps me craft a story better, from there, I can work around that story, in a creative way, through the limitations and a small budget. I want to show other Indie Filmmakers that limitations aren’t always a bad thing and that your best ideas come from limited freedom.
What were the challenges that you faced when making this film? Tell us about the shooting.
I think the challenges for me with any of my films are getting funding and finding a location. Unfortunately, in Australia, funding for Short Films does not exist. Finding a location was difficult, but I was able to secure a spot at the University of Sydney campus and my little brother’s bedroom.
Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed? What do you think about the fact that most film festivals have become online? How has the change affected the films?
The Dealer on Campus has been selected into various Film Festivals. It was a finalist for “Seoul International Short Film Festival” “Tokyo Short Film Festival” “Roma Short Film Festival” and “New Wave” so that is really good for me. That definitely provided me the exposure I need.
Though a part of me wishes they weren’t online, because it would be nice to travel to a city where my film is being played and seeing people in a theatre watching my film, seeing their reactions. I hope we can all get a chance to live that experience again someday.
What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?
The feedback I’ve gotten from people on YouTube, Reddit, Social Media, Film Festivals, has been generally positive. Which is pretty good, it was exactly what I had hoped for.
Are you planning to make more short films in the near future or are you planning to move to feature films soon?
Right now, I just wrapped up shooting a Short Film for MY RØDE REEL. And I do plan on making another Short Film, that I submitted in to Shore Scripts for funding. I am planning to move into features soon, so I’m hoping to make my first feature film and have it distributed before I turn twenty-eight. Fingers cross.
Please tell us about your future project(s). What are you working on?
I am currently editing my Short Film for MY RØDE REEL as well as an online series I’m trying to get funding and distribution for.
Tell us about the risks of making a feature film. What financial or technical obstacles can stand in the way of making a feature film?
Committing to the uncertain fickle task of filmmaking is similar to opening up a restaurant in an unpopular area with an unconventional flamboyant chef who likes to take chances with cuisine. Fundamentally, I am an experimental filmmaker and for artists working on the periphery making a film is a huge risk. Cost/benefit analysis hardly enters the room without busting the door down whence making an independent film. The filmmaker takes a risk of never actually making a return of profit—never being successful—never seeing the film roll on the silver screen. I take these risks because it is a calling. I still count on my fingers and I cannot understand the simple principles of science—yet my vernacular and view of the world lends itself to the medium of film and if I can impart a meaningful snowflake upon the landscape of motion-pictures; the dream that I had to be a filmmaker as a young émigré, has indeed come to fruition. There is a specialty sector of the independent representation business which was once dominated by Robert Altman, Gus Van Sant, Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Alan Rudolph, and Wayne Wang. Films such as Used and Borrowed Time, connect first and foremost with avant-garde and with various international art-house traditions, which is why such films are a tough sell. Given the changes in the realms of financing, production and distribution in our contemporary film market, it is no surprise that exhibitors and backers are not staunch supporters of the indie business where there are more misses than there are real hits or sparkling cinematic jewels. Notice that the list of filmmakers working in that specific independent realm did not include a single female director and that is not to say, by any measure, that there was a bare absence of female talent in the movie industry. The real problem is that the film industry has never fully accepted female directors as strong vocal/visual leaders in that arena—not wholeheartedly and with open arms. Long surpassed have those days when Pulp Fiction represented some cathartic statement. The immense financial, critical, and popular success of this edgy film signaled the assertion of independent cinema not a cry for reality television which seems to permeate the cinematic landscape these days, bastardizing this profession. Independent cinema was once most closely linked to the grind house movement rather than the art house—with a pinch of fairytale quality. A film like Pulp Fiction finessed its prime appeal on the cinematic tastes of generation X, which defines my generation. Today, there are few specialty film companies left to promote independent work or to subsidize larger scale visually demanding productions such as Used and Borrowed Time, which was literally carried as a production on the backs of a few dedicated domestic and international backers who still believe in uncompromising statements fashioned in the whimsical world of art. Technical obstacles stand in the way of making a feature film for the simple reason that a solitary filmmaker never has enough funding to attain the exact film equipment which the director wishes to utilize to convey the message to the audience and so one settles for the mediocre yet feasible choices to abide by the guidelines and confines of the funding party unless the filmmaker is that one of a kind lucky bastard who has money to invest in one’s own project and hence can be his or her own master of ceremonies, which is seldom ever the case in the realm of indie film. That presents an obstacle in itself since sacrifices must be made, trimmings must be achieved and the craft of making a film may very well suffer significantly as an orphan child does in the arms of negligent foster care.
Your film uses special effects quite cleverly. Was it challenging to use special effects? Do you recommend it to young filmmakers?
My Estonian Post-Production Team, Revel Film Studios, and our editor in chief, Sergio Voronin, understood precisely in which fashion film could use special effects to efficaciously underscore the horrors of Halloween at an Autumn Fair as well as the effects that speckling yellow/emerald fire-flies would produce to phantasmagorically transport Eva Gold to her horrendous past. The color grading process naturally took eons but we all worked in tandem and walked the fine line of occasionally introducing larger than life symbolism with the personification of wild animals, rodents and reptiles in order to create a fantastical sense of an alternate universe such as the author Mikhail Bulgakov had achieved in his surreal social commentary masterpiece, “Master and Margarita.” Visual special effects are hard to contend with. Optical effects such as using multiple exposure, mattes or the Schüfftan process or in post-production using an optical printer have been overcome by CGI which has come to the forefront of special effects technologies. Now, filmmakers have greater control and we can achieve a myriad of special effects safely and convincingly, and as technology improves, filmmakers are able to use special effects at lower costs. Many mechanical effects and optical techniques have been superseded by CGI. But I still remain a fan of films such as Sunrise by the great F.W. Murnau, where special effects were used with a sense of lyricism driving with force the theme of “love conquers all,” without much concentration on the visual effects themselves and more on highlighting the memorable tender moments between the lost husband who expatiates for his desire to murder his wife and his wife’s insatiable longing to fully forgive her husband for his human folly of falling for a manipulative sex driven city girl and commit a felonious act.
What are you currently working on? What is your next project?
At New York University, I had a professor who had taught a class on Vladimir Nabokov and the students were assigned to read practically each of his novels. I was a young lady who was touched by the story of Mashenka which in my opinion served as a prelude to Nabokov’s infamous banned novel Lolita. In Mashenka, a young man, recuperates from typhoid fever, clenched in the clutches of boredom and thus conjures up his ideal love—a girl whom he actually meets a month later. Mashenka is the love of his life. Nabokov describes the lass: “a girl with chestnut scythe in a black bow, burning eyes, a swath face and a rolling carted voice.” Once the protagonist, Ganin, catches a glimpse of this girl, he is instantly smitten with her much like the lewd character of Humbert Humbert was possessed and consumed by Lolita’s underage visage and aura. Mashenka and Lolita are primary examples of young girls who are victims of solipsism. The two young girls exist only in the sole minds of Ganin and Humbert Humbert as they appear as clip-on identities and not as real youthful ladies imbued with distinct individual characteristics. In a sense, these unfortunate girls are victims of a contrived imagination. I am currently engaged in writing a screenplay revolving around Lolita’s perspective regarding Humbert Humbert in which I depict her every reaction to his haughty sexual advances towards such a young girl. I believe that as a woman I am equipped to ascertain and portray Lolita’s version of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation with a twelve-year old Dolores Haze and to express Lolita’s vision of this rather perverse seduction of a pubescent girl. While the term “Lolita” has been sadly assimilated into our popular culture as a description of a young girl who is “precociously seduced….sans the wicked connotations of victimization,” I aim to prove on the contrary (drawing from a similarly situated experience) that Dolores Haze is indeed a victim and not a seductress, at least not a conscience one due to her obvious inexperience, fickle pre-teen posture, youth and fleeting innocence which is prone to serve as sensual prey of worldly educated men like Humbert Humbert. I feel that a film based on Lolita’s response to Humbert Humbert’s uncomfortable physical and emotional advances may be timely in the era of meaningful social change movements seeking female empowerment while holding guilty men accountable for their despicable acts against women, such as the #metoo movement demonstrates. I would also very much like to shoot an adaptation of my play, which premiered at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre, entitled, “The Blacklist,” which is a fun political satire about an afterlife party hosted by the Grim Reaper with a comedic streak.