Psychoanalysis (Australia | 2015, 79 min)
Directed by: James Raue
Written by: James Raue
Cast: Benedict Wall, Ryan O'Kane, Michael Whalley, Jennie Lee, James Raue, Alan Flower, Jessica Craig-Piper, Simon London, Joanna Briant
PAUL SYMMONDS is the country's leading psychologist in the field of suicide prevention. Until five of his clients kill themselves within a one week period. A documentarian begins investigating Paul to discover why this happened and finds out that Paul believes they were murdered by a rival psychologist, Andrew Fendell. And to make things worse, this rival has been put in charge of putting Paul through six counseling sessions to determine if he is mentally fit. But it soon becomes clear that Fendell has no ulterior motives, he is genuinely worried for Paul. But the documentary crew gets in Paul's ear, wanting to see the rivalry grow. But their quest for a good story comes at the cost of Paul's sanity. Paul loses his family and everyone close to him and the director must realize the cost of his film and work to try to repair the damage he has done.
Interview:My name is James Raue. I'm a writer/director from Sydney, Australia. I first started making films as a teenager. Myself and a friend would get a camera on the weekends and make short sketches. We'd develop characters and interview each other as them or make parodies of TV shows. After high school I realised I wanted to take the form further, so I started writing longer scripts, eventually going on to study screenwriting at film school.
NYCIFF: Where did you find inspiration for the script?
JR: The inspiration for the script came from two places. Firstly, I've always been fascinated by the world of Psychology. As I was growing up Dr Phil was becoming very popular. Because his method of psychology was so simple (yelling at a patient until they complied with his beliefs), many parents saw psychology as an easy fix to any issue in their life. So as a child anytime there would be an issue in the family, no matter how small, we'd all go off to the psychologist to fix it. Because of this, I grew up hating psychologists.
Then my girlfriend became a psychologist and I was able to see the industry from the other side. I saw the difference between the two sides of psychology. Those that truly care about their patients and those that keep a distance and are very clinical. I was always a fan of those that cared more about their patients. Until I saw the impact it had on the psychologist. So I decided to explore the ups and downs of these two methods of psychology through my film.
Secondly, the concept came after making a sketch with a friend of mine. We realised if we got together like that every weekend, we could have a feature in ten weeks. So I came up with a character that I thought was absolutely absurd, yet tragic. A psychologist who thinks he's the best in the world, but all of his clients keep killing themselves.
NYCIFF: How was directing for the first time?
JR: Directing for the first time was stressful, but not as hard as I thought it would be. I wanted this film to be small, just like the sketches I used to make. I'm a very hands off director, I like everyone to collaborate. I'm not going to tell a cinematographer or a production designer exactly how to do their job, they're a head of department for a reason, they know how to do their job better than me. So it just becomes about preparation. Making sure everyone knows what I want the film to feel like, what my point of view is, what my sense of humour is, then on the day, I defer to the crew, asking how they think we should do the scene. Obviously I have my own opinions, but it's a group effort.
In this industry directors are often put on a pedestal. We talk about them as if they're these geniuses doing things no one else could do. I think it may stop some people from ever directing who may be great at it. So if you have an idea for a film and know how you want it done, direct it yourself. Most directors suck and you're bound to be better than that.
NYCIFF: What felt right about the mockumentary format for the film? Do you find it made the material more relatable and provided more insight into Paul’s character?
JR: The mockumentary format was always the way we were going to do it because of the budget level. We made the film for $10,000 USD. There are two ways you can make a film at that level, either it's all contained, or you shoot it like a documentary. I knew this film deserved to be bigger than one that is stuck in the one room, so we decided to make it as close to a documentary as possible.
This definitely made Paul more relatable and gave us more insight into his character. Anytime you have a character talking directly to camera, answering any question they want, you get to know them much easier. You can then take that character to more extremes because no matter how bad of a person they are you can always show their vulnerabilities through the interviews and allow the audience to find out why they're the way they are.
However, the mockumentary format also has many downsides. It's often used as an easy way to show character insight. TV Shows such as Modern Family use it to have the characters talk directly to camera, but they don't obey any of the rules of a documentary. If a character is supposed to be stuck in a house by himself, how is he being filmed? (Modern Family episode)
So when coming into the film I wanted to be strict about the documentary format. We would shoot with only one camera. Most documentaries can't afford two. That meant no cutting into scenes, actors would often have to do 4 minute scenes in one take. It meant very limited blocking. The cinematographer shouldn't know what the actors are going to do, a documentarian follows the action. It meant no artificial lighting. This also helped us to shoot in 8 days. By using a low light camera we could just go from scene to scene, take to take without having to light.
Finally, it meant that the story couldn't be immune from the documentary crew. It's almost impossible for a crew to be impartial, to be a fly on the wall, so at some point in the script, the crew has to become part of the story.
NYCIFF: Paul’s journey throughout the film is extremely intense and serves to bring his character through his fair share of ups but many more downs. How important was it to convey all of Paul’s flaws?
JR: Very important. I didn't want Paul to ever be let off the hook. This was an independent film, it should reflect life. There are many more downs than ups in life, but by going through those downs we realise what is most important to us and evolve as people. In order for Paul to become the best version of himself that he could be, he needed to have the worst happen to him. Also, flaws are what make a character funny.
NYCIFF: Your cast was fantastic; they seem like they’d be a blast to work with. What was your most memorable day or experience on set?
JR: The cast were amazing. Most actors were from New Zealand. I'm a huge fan of the New Zealand style of comedy. At the time of shooting the three main guys were all living in the same house together in Sydney. They had great chemistry. Plus, we workshopped the script several times with them to really make the characters theirs.
The most memorable day on set was the day we shot the character of Ryan doing a gym workout at a child's playground. Michael Whalley (Ryan) did a seven minute, uninterrupted, completely improvised take where he went around to each piece of play equipment and showed us how it could be used to work out. He didn't break character at all, even when he fell off one of the pieces of equipment and hurt himself.
NYCIFF:What’s the most important thing you learned about filmmaking throughout the making of Psychoanalysis?
JR: I started off just as a writer. Now, after working with acting coaches, cinematographers, editors etc. My skill levels have grown immensely. But the most important thing I learnt about filmmaking is the importance of a good story and good cast. If you don't have the money to make a film on a bigger budget, just put all your effort into casting the right people and making the story as interesting as possible. If people get sucked into the story, they'll forgive everything else.
NYCIFF: What’s in store for you next? Anything else in the works?
JR: The next feature (I wrote, but didn't direct) is currently in post-production. Made on a much bigger budget, The Pretend One, follows a grown imaginary friend who's trying to become real in order to win the love of the woman who created him. You can view the trailer here... www.youtube.com/watch?v=xK0IXvOOdVE
Aside from that I'm just working on the screenplay for the next feature I'd like to direct, The Great Indoors. It's another dark comedy about a man who has agoraphobia and hasn't left his house in three years.