MILEY TUNNECLIFFE Flickerfest Calling

It’s that time of year when Australians get their shorts on, in a cinematic sense, with the 28th Flickerfest International Short Film Festival. Coming to Perth’s Camelot Outdoor Cinema on Thursday, February 28 (and touring WA in the following months) Flickerfest showcases the best in local, national, and international short film. It includes the work of WA director, writer, and actor Miley Tunnecliffe, who was awarded Outstanding Emerging Female Director at the Flickerfest Bondi launch earlier this year. Her short film, Calling, comically details the dysfunctional relationship between a mother (Deborah Lawrance) and daughter (Miley Tunnecliffe). DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to Tunnecliffe about the festival and her time both in front of, and behind, the camera.

Miley Tunnecliffe in Calling

What does Flickerfest mean for you?

Flickerfest is the (ahem)… one of the… premier short film festivals (can’t forget about the other ones) in Australia. If you’ve got a short film, you wanted to be in Flickerfest, and we were so honoured. I think there were two and a half thousand entries this year, and they selected just over 100 of those films to be in the program. 48% of that was female directors, which was amazing, considering. We’ve come to that percentage of female directors. So it’s a really important break for female directors, and other diversities. For us as a new filmmakers in Australia it helps to get your work out there, and get people’s eyeballs on it. Just to get you in front of people that can help further your career.

And I believe congratulations are in order, as you were awarded the Outstanding Emerging Female Director at Flickerfest in Bondi…

This is another cliché, but I was really really surprised. It is the first award that I’ve received for my directing. This meant so much, just to boost my confidence, and to know I’m on the right track. Also as it was the award in honour of Samantha Rebillet, who was an amazing filmmaker who passed away before their time. It’s awarded by a great group of people in Sydney and includes her friends and family. That includes people like Gracie Otto and Claudia Karvan who mentor the winner… they now mentor me as part of the prize!

Which seems to be one of those great things about Flickerfest, it strives to encourage mentorship?

Absolutely! Any good film festival has got to be about more than showing films. It’s got to be about helping you to get up in your career, and get your work out there. And that’s exactly what Flickerfest has done.

Was Calling written as a short, or as a web series?

It is a web series but we’ve cut this version as a short film. We received funding from Screenwest for a five part two minute web series, but it works really well as a short film. The web series is meant to showcase my ability as a writer, and to show this mother-daughter relationship, and the tone I like to work with with as a creator.

How much of your personal relationship with your mother is up there on screen?

Let’s just say it’s 100% me, but none of that actually happened. The mother became her own character as the development went on, drawing from my own mother and things that happened in our relationship, but as in any development process the characters take on the life of their own. They guide you a certain way, and eventually come to life. This is probably my most personal project to date.

You give an outstanding performance. What was it like directing from in front of the camera?

This was the first time I’ve ever directed myself. The way we did it, made it easier. We shot all of Debra Lawrance’s scenes first, I got to direct her and read my lines off the screen. So I wasn’t worried about my performance at that point. Then we did all my scenes in a completely different shoot. So I was able to to work out which of Debra’s takes was the best, and use those when I shot my stuff. It was a lot more manageable. Something I did was…for a lot of it, it was fine for me to stop, watch the take, and then go back and do a variation on my performance. But with the ending being highly emotional, I wouldn’t have a break from that to watch takes. I had to rely on feedback from my D.O.P (Jim Frater) and Emilia Jolakoska (producer). So it became this incredible creative triangle, so I was able to stay in the zone for the scene.

You wear a lot of hats in this production: actor, director, writer… Is there any you would chose above the other?

If I had to choose one, I’d be a writer. You get to wear pyjamas while you work! But I’m really enjoying the challenge of directing, it’s very exciting to be able to execute that vision. As a writer you see a story in your head in your room, as a director you get to bring that to life.

I know what you mean about writing in your PJs…

You’re wearing pyjamas now, aren’t you?

(laughs) Nooooo…!? What’s next for you? You have a fair few things in the works…

I wrote an episode of The Heights that premiered on February 22 (and currently available on iview). It’s going to be my first broadcast credit in Australia. My producer Emilia Jolakoska and I are also about to shoot a digital webseries for SBS On Demand, and we’ve got a couple of other projects we are working on.

Finally, you’ve been around in the industry for a fair few years now, can you tell us what your background is?

I’m an actor. I studied theatre, I went to New York to study method acting at the Stella Adler Studio. That was going to be my trajectory, until I started to move, more and more, into writing. Acting is such a “wait by your phone for something to happen” sort of job. I’m a bit more proactive a person than that. So I was writing more, and more, and more. Then as an actor I’d be on the set and wonder what the director was doing. I got more into the macro of the process rather than the micro, and something just clicked. I love acting but I’d leave it in a heartbeat to be able to do the other stuff, to be able to create the world and the characters.