TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL | 2019
Lydia Rui: "I’ve been on too many sets where I’m one of the only women or the only person of colour, and it’s alienating."
THIS PERFECT DAY | 8' | Australia
Julia, a wayward youth, walks into a music store. This could be the day that changes their life.
Hi Lydia thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Thanks for talking to me! It’s great, it’s been absolutely hectic, intense, relentless in the best possible way! Compounded by the energy of NYC, the festival circuit is an experience unto itself. I thrive off the adrenaline, absolutely love it! Sleeping 4 hours a day and sometimes incoherent, but somehow it’s been sustainable.
How does it feel to have This Perfect Day part of this years Tribeca Film Festival?
It feels amazing — the other shorts in the competition are really of the highest calibre. It’s a great honour to be screening among them! The first time I watched our program I was blown away by the other films.
Will there be any nerves ahead of the festival?
There were, only of excitement though! And of course, the fear that something might go wrong in the screening.
This Perfect Day has a predominately female-led crew how did this come about?
It was important for me to create a safe, collaborative, familial environment for the film to be birthed. I’ve worked in the past with men who made feel me like they were trying to strongarm me, whether or not they knew they were doing that. This doesn’t mean that a crew must be female-led for this environment to be created — there are other genders who have the same sensibilities. It’s about finding the right people, and it’s about respect for each other. Olivia Cheung, the producer, was referred to me by another producer, and we just got along instantly. We’re like sisters now. Alice Stephens, the director of photography, had been introduced to me previously and I always kept her in mind as somebody I wanted to work with should the right project come along. I loved her eye and also her spirit. Eleanora Steiner, the production and costume designer, is also someone I had met previously that I’d always wanted to work with — she had just come back from production design on the Cannes Palme d'Or 2018 short film ‘All These Creatures’ directed by Charles Williams, and I thought she wouldn’t be interested in such a small project. However, she loved the film when I pitched it to her. With all her talent, she remains a humble and supportive collaborator.
Is this something that you will continue to do in future films?
Again, it’s not necessarily about having female-led as opposed to finding the right people who share your sensibilities. We still had men in our crew — male gaffer, male grip and best boy, male assistant cameras, male boom operator. My sound designer Gunay Demirci is a man I’ve worked with twice, who is so supportive of me and doesn’t try to shut me down when I ask more from him. Same with Tommy Spender, the composer. That’s what I look for — inherent respect for one another. It seems that people can fall into two camps: those who believe respect must be earned and those who give respect until it’s lost. I try to be of the latter. That’s what I look for. However, gender parity is definitely important. I think balance is important. More opportunities for women, non-binary, queer, people of colour are all important — I’ve been on too many sets where I’m one of the only women or the only person of colour, and it’s alienating. That translates into the stories we tell and feed society with.
"...it was actually an interest in primatology that eventually led me into film."
Can you tell me a little bit about This Perfect Day, how did this film come about?
The film came about in one sitting at a café — I was desperate to make a film as I’d only made one narrative, that being my NYU student film ‘Touching is Teaching’. It’d been four years since I made something I wrote and directed (and edited, both). It had to be made with minimal resources, so I set it in one location, with minimal characters. I based it on a personal premise that has become particularly pertinent since I returned to my birth city of Melbourne, Australia.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
A personal premise!
What was the most challenging part of bringing This Perfect Day to life?
The shooting time constraint — because the location is an operating guitar store and we could only offer a token of gratuity for its fee, we had only one day to shoot the store scenes (which makes up 90% of the film). Fortunately, we had time to do a prolonged location scout and tech recce, where I could compare my storyboards with what was in the shop and therefore make a solid shooting plan. As I was also editing it I knew what shots I could potentially lose if I had to, which we inevitably did. Since we only had a month to make the film, from bringing on Olivia and crew, I worked on it quite intensely rewriting up until the day before the shoot (I will make a point here that I was getting feedback from mentors and friends who kindly helped me with story points, as I don’t want to take all the credit!). It all happened very quickly. We found our cast two weeks before the shoot — I essentially found our lead Michelle Keating in a public bathroom stall.
What was the most valuable lesson you've taken from making this film?
That this is very much what I will be doing for the rest of my life.
Have you always been interested in filmmaking?
Not at all — I feel comparatively to others I came in late, although I feel there were various points in my youth where I could’ve entered into the game earlier. I still remember with pride making storyboards and writing a short story for a class assignment when I was 15, in which the teacher announced to my year level that I was the only one who got 100% and asking me to stand up in class. I wish I had tapped into that skill then and pursued it further! I didn’t have many friends in Australia during that time, as I was living in a hostel in Singapore during my high school years, so would return to Australia on holidays. Fortunately, I had my childhood neighbour, Chappers, who is now a talented editor. I recall spending many an Australian suburban summer going to the Blockbuster store and renting films to watch with him. I’ve always loved various art forms — reading, drawing, music, film. I initially studied Media, Culture, and Communications as my major at University of Melbourne and NYU, taking electives in Classicism, anthropology, philosophy, art history, the curation of photography…it was actually an interest in primatology that eventually led me into film.
I thought I would be a female Asian David Attenborough. After a month studying howler monkeys at a biological research camp in Ometepe, Nicaragua, I took a summer course in documentary at NYU, and quickly decided I need to transfer into film.
How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut film?
I think it’s hard to say as I’ve only made two films! A student film and this one.
I will say that it’s changed in the sense that I want to get my hands dirty, quickly. I don’t want to waste any more of my life living in fear of failure — or analysis paralysis. At the same time, I still employ considered methods — detailed treatments, storyboards, shooting plans, rehearsals. I comb through the potential meanings I might be embodied in the story more thoroughly than before. As I’ve matured I see what big responsibility filmmakers have to their audience, to society.
Has there been any advice you’ve been given that’s really stuck with you?
That no matter how successful you become, you will always encounter doubts. Doubts are a natural part of the process — don’t be afraid of them. Trust the process. I’ve met some of the most influential directors who still have doubts — it’s human.
Also, don’t take everything personally — personally hard for me!
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Surround yourself with good people, who lift you up and vice versa! And listen. Listen to as much as you can, then, ultimately, trust your gut.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
That the brevity of a film doesn’t detract from its emotional impact. And, hopefully, the themes in the film will resonate with most of the audience.