‘Flight’ dir. Nicholas Verso

Jonah dreams of being able to fly away from his life in the housing commission. But after an encounter at the local skate park, he finds his wings in an unexpected way.

Writer-Director: Nicholas Verso
DOP: Stefan Duscio
Art Director: La-Ra Hinckeldeyn
Key Cast: Timothy Regard

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Flight’ for come from and how long did it take you to write?

NV: I had just written a feature film, ‘Boys in the Trees’, that was set in the world of skate culture and I realized I had never filmed anything skate related so I wanted to make a short film in that world but through my own lens. I wanted it to differ from a lot of the other skate videos I had seen which were a lot more boisterous and high-spirited. I was drawn to the idea of slowing it down and showing their skill and grace. From there, the images just came from the locations near my place. I wrote it in a few hours and shot it soon after.

C8: Can you describe your writing process? Does it vary with each project?

NV: Definitely. Short films I tend to view as experiments so I just try and focus on experimenting with one thing that I haven’t done before and doing that well.  To be honest I don’t think too much about trying to create the best short ever or some huge experience for an audience. I just want them to capture a moment or a feeling. Writing features is quite different. I tend to germinate on an idea for weeks or months, jotting down images, lines of dialogues or moments on Post-Its which I then start to collate on index cards. When I see a beginning point, an end point and a lot of interesting steps in between, I create an iTunes playlist, put in my headphones and start writing. I always write the first draft by hand.

C8: How early was the decision made to have sparse dialogue?

NV: Almost immediately. I love writing dialogue and so a lot of my scripts are very dialogue heavy.  So with this one I wanted to take away that crutch. That became part of the experiment. I approached it like a ballet so that the story is in their bodies.

C8: Describe your directorial style. What is your approach to working with cast and crew on set?

NV: I normally make music playlists that capture the feeling or mood I’m trying to achieve with the film to help people get into that space. I also collect lots of photos that might have an idea in them that I want to explore. So I try to get everyone on the same page about the mood we’re trying to convey. I try not to get too intellectual. I like to rehearse with actors but with this short, they weren’t actors and I didn’t know them so it was a different process. Timothy Regard (who plays Jonah, the lead) was introduced to me by New Era who were sponsoring the film so I sat down with him and we just talked it through. The main question was “what are you going to do with your hands?”  He introduced me to the rest of the skaters who formed the cast. I didn’t meet them before the shoot. They were all very courageous as they hadn’t met me and got a little nervous when we handed them masks and costumes but they all trusted me and went with it. The interesting thing was they’d do all this amazing stuff clowning around but they’d freeze when the camera got turned on. So we had to start secretly filming them when they weren’t paying attention and they were just being themselves which is how we got some of the best moments.

C8: Did you have any time to workshop scenes with the actors prior to shooting?

NV: Not at all. It was a real collaboration between myself, Tim and Stefan Duscio (the cinematographer). I’d tell Tim that I wanted a certain kind of effect and he’d translate it into skate-speak for the guys.

C8: Do you storyboard your films in pre-production?

NV: I am possibly the worst drawer in the world. So I’ll avoid it as much as possible. I only tend to storyboard shots that require VFX as they’re so specific and everyone needs to be on the same page.

C8: Talk us through the final shot of the film. How did you achieve this?

NV: Originally it was going to be back in his bedroom but I spoke to Zev Eleftheriou (our stunt coordinator) and once he explained the rig, I knew there was no way we could fit that inside the apartment. So then I wanted it to be on the roof of the building but they’re all locked up to prevent suicide. It was the day before the shoot and I was running out of options so I went on Google Maps and saw across the road there was a building with a flat roof that looked across at the housing commission so I raced out of work on my lunch break and knocked on the door. The guy who lived there teaches guitar lessons and it was his roof so I offered to pay for some guitar lessons in exchange for filming on the roof which he agreed to. I then had to come back at sunset because I really wanted that sunlight lens flare to show the shot wasn’t a green screen effect and discovered there was a five minute window where the sun peeked between the buildings so we knew it would work. The next day when we filmed it we all had to be absolutely ready because we had five minutes and no room for error. But luckily Zev and his team were absolutely awesome and they built the scaffolding rig early and hoisted Tim up on wires when the sun hit the position.  Dave Hase then removed the wires and rig. The lens flare caused a few headaches (as did a pigeon that flew through the shoot at that exact moment in the background) but we got there.

C8: What camera did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

NV: Originally I wanted to shoot on the Canon 5D because they were new at the time and I really wanted to try them out. But Stefan advised trying the Red MX because we were shooting so much at 75-100fps and he correctly felt this would give the right effect.

C8: What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot and why?

NV: Time. Always time. It ended up being shot in about eleven hours which is pretty quick for a film with this many shots and locations. It also relied on a lot of support from the crew and cast who were either working for free or for next to nothing. The skate park was also tricky as we were shooting on location. We had a permit but we couldn’t block the path so we had to make space for kids on scooters who wanted to actually use the park for its intended purpose.

C8: The film was made with the support of New Era. How did this collaboration come about?

NV: Our designer, La-Ra Hinckeldeyn, came up with that idea and facilitated the introduction as she knew somebody who worked there. They were really supportive by sponsoring the film but also providing the skaters with gear which sweetened the deal for them. A lot of people turn up their nose at “product placement” but it fit the film we were making and it was mutually beneficial so it definitely worked for me in this instance.

C8: What had you done in your film career up until this point and what have you done since?

NV: I had done a few short films and directed some kids TV.  Since then I’ve developed several feature scripts, worked on a fair bit of Australian TV and shot another quite big budget short film, The Last Time I Saw Richard, which won the Australian Academy Award in 2014.

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

NV: Working with people who have a positive attitude, listening to everyone on the team and maintaining good communication so that everyone’s on the same page and working to the same goal.

C8: What’s next for Nicholas Verso?

NV: I just received an Asialink Fellowship so I’ll be heading to Beijing to work with a robotics lab on a new feature script I’m writing. Then I’ll be coming back to Australia to shoot another feature film, ‘Boys in the Trees’ in Adelaide. It’s a supernatural skater film – a kind of hybrid of ‘Flight’ and ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’. I can’t wait to share that one with the world!