Allan George (Ngāti Kahungunu) is an Auckland based writer/director/filmmaker. He is a five-time Tropfest New Zealand finalist, won the Academy Award-Accredited LA Shorts Fest ‘Best Screenplay’ award and has been a finalist in some of the world’s most prestigious screenwriting competitions, including Screencraft, Hollywood Screenplay Contest, Canada International Film Festival, HollyShorts and more. He has also had his work screen at festivals around the world including ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival and Austin Film Festival. He recently received ‘Seed Funding’ from the New Zealand Writers Guild to write his debut feature film.
You graduated from SAE in 2007 and were the top student in your year. What were the stand-out learnings for you at SAE?
Both screenwriting and editing were my major interests at SAE. As for writing, SAE opened my eyes to the fact that all you need is an idea, a pencil and a piece of paper to create a story. Ultimately it fed and fuelled my passion for storytelling and writing.
Any tutors in particular you remember as being inspirational to you? Were there any “ah-ha” moments you had there?
When Sam Kiwan [Head of Department, Film at SAE] came into SAE to guest lecture, it was mind-blowing seeing his student work. It was on another level…awe-inspiring to see, and showed me what was possible for someone with passion. Dr John Reynolds was a master screenwriter in my opinion, for every question I had, he had not only a creative answer – he had a practical well reasoned, well thought-out response. There’s nothing worse than when someone looks at your screenplay for the first time, and they just start critiquing dialogue first. It’s the first sign of someone that doesn’t know anything. He never, ever did that, it was always structure or character. With them in place, the dialogue comes naturally, it’s the ‘icing’ on the cake that you’ve been baking for months.
You are a screenwriter, director and film-maker. What types of productions do you work on? What are your current projects?
I have made and worked on many types of productions, but I have mostly worked on short films. Over 40 to date. Ultimately, screenwriting is my passion and that’s something I intend to do for a long time. More recently I have started giving analysis and feedback on feature films for various writers and producers around the country. I try to help them get to their next or final draft. One screenplay I have given feedback was just green-lit by one of the ‘Big Five’ American studios which I am not allowed to name… (yet!).
Other than that, I am working on my short film Everybody Has a Thing, which won Best Screenplay the OSCAR and BAFTA-accredited LA Shorts Fest. I’m intending to do one more draft, and then apply for NZFC funding.
I’m also working on my first feature film. Something in the same tone as Everybody Has a Thing. I’m incredibly excited to get moving on that, as I have had the idea in my head for a long time now. It’s a realistic first feature, well under a million to produce. It will fit in well on the festival circuit.
I also work for The Crowd Goes Wild, as a camera operator/editor and on-air producer. That’s the bread and butter job that still allows me to be creative on a daily basis, I work on something different everyday for a prime-time show, a great outlet for creativity.
Can you tell me a bit about where you travel to for work and what type of work this entails? What does a typical week look like for you?
Recently I went to London for the Rugby World Cup, which is where I shot my latest short film that is playing at Tropfest. But yes I do travel a lot for work, I have been to Hawaii, Phoenix (Arizona) for the Superbowl, Samoa, Fiji, Australia and Bali. I’m fortunate enough to see the world through a lens, filming in some strange but fantastic places.
The sort of work that I do entails collaborating with a reporter; developing an angle and attempt to make it not only interesting but also comedic, and present the finished product in our own style and aesthetic.
I work from my ‘edit suite,’ which is a Macbook Pro and a tablet…once we’re done, we upload the edit overnight or sometimes that day using useless hotel internet.
A typical week generally includes me editing up to six stories and shooting up to two of them. Over the past year, I’ve been focusing more on the editing side of things. It’s a little less chaotic and far more creative. The camera work tends to be more practical and far more physically exhausting, especially the way we work. We have a great camera operator at our job, and I love talking to him and collaborating with him after the shoot. We have a good workflow and understanding. At the moment I’m also editing a documentary, so I am cutting that as I cut my stories for work.
You have won several national and international awards, including Best Maori Director – what sort of opportunities have these awards offered you?
Every win gives you something. Winning the Maori director [Allan’s iwi is Ngati Kahungunu] award two years running got me noticed internationally, with an invite to attend a directors’ masterclass in Hong Kong with Academy Award-nominated director Scandal Copti. The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) presented me with a professional development award to help pay for my flights, accommodation and course fees.
Sounds Perfect screened at three Academy Award-qualifying festivals and the NZFC gave me a short film travel assistance grant to attend both the imagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival in Toronto and the Austin Film Festival in Texas.
The Austin Film Festival was the experience of a lifetime, not only did our film play twice, but we also rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in the industry. We attended panels featuring Peter Mehlman (Seinfeld executive producer/writer); Ed Solomon (Men In Black writer); Ashley Edward Miller (X-Men: First Class writer); Robert Rodriguez (Sin City director) and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon/Iron Man 3 writer/director) who gave us the quote of the trip; “Most of you in this room have no talent.” Also taking place during the festival was a special script reading of Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan’s yet-to-be-produced script, 2 FACE, headlined by comedy legend Will Ferrell. Just being in the same room as him was an unbelievable experience. We even saw Rian Johnson, who is directing Star Wars 8!
As a screenwriter…where do you get your story ideas and inspiration from?
I’m inspired by character. They come first, their internal dilemmas interest me. They come randomly, sometimes by life, sometimes purely out of nowhere. Just like each idea is different, they all come to me in different ways.
In saying that regarding my own stories. I am inspired by independent comedies, films such as Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Safety Not Guaranteed. They are some movies I can watch over and over and enjoy each time. But if you look closer in to what they are, you’ll see that they are what I call ‘launch pad films’. Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), went on to direct Jurassic World, and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) went on to write Toy Story 3 and Star Wars. Not to say that I would intend to abandon my own indie comedy style –it’s more that there are opportunities out there if your work is good enough, and that the indie pathway could lead to great things. I’m just lucky that my own brand of comedy with heart fits this equation.
Who in the film industry inspires you?
Definitely Peter Jackson, the man is a legend. He’s done things for the industry that we all need to thank him for. Film courses like SAE appeared out of nowhere following Lord of the Rings. He is someone who will go down as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, yet he comes from humble beginnings in Pukerua Bay.
Taika Waititi is someone else I look up to. He’s proven to the NZFC that the indie pathway is something to chase. He said that Boy, and What We Do In The Shadows got him the Thor job. His brand of comedy and heart is something I can relate to creatively, he’s proven that this mix can transcend nationalitie, culture and gender. So I’m glad I’m the next one in line ready to follow on, he’s done a lot of the work for me already. Making people believe in that is the hardest part.”
Other filmmakers I look up to are Edgar Wright, Spike Jonze, Chris Terrio, Quentin Tarantino and Richard Curtis. All for different reasons, whether it’s their entire filmography, the story of how they made it or even just because of one film they’ve made. I’ve got most of their screenplays on my computer.
What are your career goals – where would you like to be in 10 years?
Ever since the first day I walked through the doors of SAE, I said to myself ‘If I ever make it, and if I ever get to the point I’m what people call successful, I want to hold a free filmmaking course for my old high school and the community.’ I’ve always had this burning desire to give back to the community and where I’m from. I want young people to acknowledge that creativity is a pathway in life, something that should be embraced at a young age and encouraged.
Beyond that, I want to make Everybody Has a Thing within the next year, finish my first draft of my feature this year and get that made, which could take another two years and then take it to the festival circuit. I’d like to make or at least write two – three other features.
I’d love to tell New Zealand stories, I do have three feature ideas in mind that are Kiwi stories which would translate well overseas. But if a Hollywood film came along at some point, it’s not something that I would turn away in a hurry.
What did the 2016 Tropfest nomination mean to you? Why is Tropfest important? What do you enjoy most about entering Tropfest?
I lived in Australia for a while after high school and saw a Tropfest DVD that came out with the Sydney Morning Herald. Those were the first short films I ever saw and they blew my mind! SAE is huge in Australia and I quickly discovered that SAE Auckland was intending to do a film course – and the rest is history. So when Tropfest NZ was announced it was a no-brainer, I was 110% certain that I was going to make a film for it. Then I made Sounds Perfect .”
There’s no bigger platform for short filmmakers who are trying to prove their worth, before they’ve done anything of note. There’s no other festival with an audience of that size, there’s no other festival that sends you to LA to meet Hollywood executives. It’s the biggest short film festival in the world. But with prizes aside, you have to beat out hundreds of other filmmakers and fight for your place in the top 16 to get your film seen by thousands live. Ultimately we make our films to be seen, and can’t get caught up with money and trips. We are nothing without our audiences, and I hope people know that!