‘Double Happy’ dir. Shahir Daud

The volatile nature of youth takes a dark turn in a suburban town in New Zealand.Country: New Zealand

Writer-Director: Shahir Daud
Producer(s): Andrew Brettell and Shivali Gulab
DOP: Andrew Stroud
Casting Director: Abby Lund
Key Cast: Riley Brophey and Augusta Wills

C8: Where did the story for ‘Double Happy’ come from?

SD: ‘Double Happy’ was loosely inspired by a real event that happened when I was growing up in New Zealand. That said, I didn’t feel that this was a ‘based on a true story’ kind of film, since the real event differs quite significantly from the script. I used that event as a bouncing off point to make a film about adolescence, rage and racism.

C8: How did you go about casting the film?

SD: Casting took us over six months. We held a few open calls, then brought in a couple of groups and held full day improvisation sessions with them.

Our casting director and acting chaperone Abby Lund really took the film under her wing and made it her mission to find us the perfect cast. She actually found Des (Theo Taylor) on the bus, and asked him to come along to a casting session!

It was really interesting to see the dynamics between the kids. Teenagers who are fourteen to sixteen are a little more ‘closed off’ than younger kids, so getting them to interact with each other was sometimes tough. Eventually we found the best combination between introverted and extroverted performers for the characters.

C8: You gain some raw and emotional performances from the cast. How did you work with the cast to prepare or rehearse ahead of the shoot?

SD: This was a lot of fun. We took all the actors to the neighbourhood where the real event happened and dropped them off for a few hours. We set up little activities for them to do, like taking photos in certain places.

The most interesting one was getting them to steal from a local store. The owners of the store were in on it, and knew to let them get away with it, but Riley Brophy (who plays Rory) was so bad at shoplifting he actually got caught by somebody else in the store!

After that we got the cast to meet every weekend for about a month before shooting. We played games and acted out scenes, but the main goal was just to get them to feel comfortable with each other and have a real tangible group dynamic.

C8: Where did the title ‘Double Happy’ come from?

SD: A ‘double happy’ firework is a local New Zealand term for a small firecracker.

My wife Shivali (who also produced the film) came up with the name. I struggled with a title for a year, and was just calling the film “Rory” until she suggested “Double Happy”. The title actually tied the film together for me, and I realized it was about Rory’s plan for Rebecca’s birthday surprise.

C8: What obstacles did you face while filming?

SD: We couldn’t find any locations which had the specific dynamics in the script (ie. The dairy needed to be directly across the street from a playground), so we actually had to build a playground in front of a Chinese takeaway store that we dressed as a dairy.

We found a school was selling off their playground equipment on an auction site so we had to bid for it against other competitors. It was pretty stressful auction because we had no back-up plan if we lost. Then after we won, we realized we’d just bought two tonnes of playground equipment which we had to dig out of concrete and transport twenty kilometres across town.

Luckily we got a lot of friends volunteer to help us out, and they were all much better at building stuff than I ever will be!

C8: How did you fund the film? And did you face challenges making the budget work?

SD: We were funded by the Creative New Zealand Screen Innovation Fund. I actually applied to that fund five years in a row before finally being granted $20,000 to make the film.

Interestingly the year we got the funding, we were short listed for another fund for $100,000. When we got the $20,000 from Creative New Zealand we were deemed ineligible for the $100,000, which was a pretty tough day. Although we’d gained $20,000 to make the film, we felt like we’d lost out on an extra $80,000 worth of funding.

The difference between $20,000 and $100,000 was enormous. At $100,000 we had plans to build the whole dairy and set it on fire, as well as shoot it the film on 35mm. At $20,000 we had to be really creative about how we were going to burn down a store.

We got really lucky when we found out my old school was being demolished. We asked if we could burn down the library and they said yes! So we dressed the library as the back room of the dairy and set it on fire. There was something incredibly cathartic about burning down that library, because it was actually the place where I made my first stop motion film with a bunch of friends.

C8: How did shooting a short narrative film compare to the work you had done in music videos and commercials previously?

SD: It’s mostly the same. I think the main job of a director is to gather the elements required to tell a story, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a narrative film, a commercial or a music video, the question I’m always asking is, “Do I have enough material here to tell the story?” The second question I always ask is “Am I telling the story in the most interesting and cinematic way possible?”

I have a background in photography, so I’m starting to think more about ‘single images’, ie. If I only had one image to tell the story, what would look like?

C8: You are now based in New York. What are some of the differences you’ve noticed between filming in New Zealand and the United States?

SD: In New Zealand there was a real sense of community among short filmmakers. I knew if I wanted to film something I could just call a friend to come and gaffer it for me, or shoot it, or even donate a camera pretty easily.

That community exists in New York but I’m a newcomer, so I have to build up those networks from scratch again. The difference in New York is that there’s a lot more commercial work around to offset the favours you need to make something more personal.

C8: If you could give emerging filmmakers any piece of advice what would it be?

SD: I used to answer this question with the old ‘just get out there and film it’ answer that everyone seems to be saying (especially now that digital cameras has made it much easier to capture high quality images).

But the truth is, it’s really really hard to make films. To me it always feels like I’m having to move a mountain to get the simplest things on screen.

Whenever I finish a project, the thought of having to move that mountain all over again for the next project is always incredibly daunting. So the only thing I can say now is, be persistent, and find likeminded people who are willing to give up their entire lives to making films. If you truly love it, you’ll keep doing it.

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

SD: Francis Ford Coppola once said that filmmaking is one of the last true dictatorial endevours. While that’s certainly true, I think collaboration requires mutual respect and a genuine commitment on both parties to doing what’s best for the project.

C8: What’s next for you?

SD: I just wrapped up a Spanish language short film which I wrote and directed, and now I’m starting to focus my energy on a feature film project which I’m hoping to shoot early next year. I’m always looking for collaborators though, so if you like my work, drop me a line at contact@shahirdaud.com!