Then 25-year-old actress Victoria Thaine must have thought all her Christmases had come at once when she scored roles in Paul Goldman’s The Night We Called It a Day and TV’s All Saints.
Since then she’s been a fairly constant fixture on Australian screens both big and small. She had a leading role in 2006s The Caterpillar Wish – a dreamy, autumnal tale of a girl searching for her heritage, and provided able support in Brisbane-set young love story 48 Shades and the ace Aussie slasher The Loved Ones.
What you might not know about her is that she’s now a short filmmaker, and her creepy dramatic short The Kingdom of Doug – a menacing film about a frightened girl trapped in a charismatic religious cult – screened at Los Angeles’ iconic Chinese theatres at the 16th Dances With Films festival recently.
What’s the appeal of a cult as the subject of a short film?
First of all I was really interested in this idea of how very charismatic people can use charisma for good or evil. I find that personality quite interesting.
Then I was interested in the other side – people who become involved in organisations and cults, how generally intelligent, educated people find themselves in such an abusive situation.
It’s also a very timely topic in indie film right now.
Yeah, and actually I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing. Suddenly all these cult films were coming out like Martha Marcy May Marlene and the Sound of My Voice. Martha Marcy May Marlene was quite good but it’s hard when you’re writing about the same subjects.
We didn’t get in to South by Southwest (SXSW) but we got very close because we actually met up with the programmer when she was here for the St Kilda Film Festival recently. She said it was really hard because she had a lot of films like it and only so many slots. But what can you do? You’ve just got to write about what you want. There’s been thousands of crime dramas and thousands of romantic comedies so I’m sure there’s room for another couple of cult films.
What’s the symbolism or significance of setting The Kingdom of Doug at a skating rink?
There was a significance that isn’t really explained in the film, but when I started to write it a long time ago the character had an obsession with the Artic and the snow. He believed when Armageddon came he would return to this frozen land and be responsible for nurturing it back into existence.
So I wrote the first draft of the short film and it was ridiculously ambitious – it would have cost $300,000. There was a compound in the desert and four-wheel drives and it was ridiculous, so when I sat down to write the next draft I thought ‘I need some really strict parameters’. I thought I’d have it all set in the one location and then I was remembering all the stuff about the snow, so I thought of an ice rink to tie in with what I’d written before.
If there’s an existing mythology, might you explore the characters in other projects?
Absolutely. My intentions are to write a feature version, not necessarily just an expanded version of the short. I think it would still end up being about a young woman who has to escape the cult, but it would probably have a slightly different focus and mythology. And partly because of Martha Marcy May Marlene film and Sound of My Voice I think I’ve got to be quite clever in differentiating myself from those films. Quite often cults are set in those pastoral settings, so the direction I want to go is focus more on an urban cult, one that’s more of a new age self-help organisation that develops into a cult.
Is that a bit more true to life?
Definitely. We find it difficult to understand why people get caught up in cults and how, given their right minds, they’d believe aliens are going to take them to another dimension or something or something.
We only hear all the really whacky extreme beliefs of the cult, but the self-help industry is something we can all relate to – pretty much everyone’s done a yoga class or a meditation class or picked up a self-help book. And a lot of cults actually have a shop front or valid, legal business that taps into that. I talked to an Interpol agent who got in touch with a few cult organisations through a mind and body expo. So I think that’s an interesting avenue to go down and one that hasn’t been explored before.
Has directing and writing always been one of your ambitions?
Writing has – I’ve always written. I didn’t get into acting school when I finished high school but I ended up doing a creative writing degree. I probably wasn’t as serious about it as I should’ve been but when I finished university and started getting a bit of acting work I discovered I still quite liked writing so I thought probably should actually pay some more attention to it.
I hadn’t really thought about directing though. When I came to do the Kingdom of Doug, I was actually going to act in it and get someone else to direct it. Then I just realised I knew how I wanted it to turn out so I thought I should just give directing a go. I can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner because I was totally in my element. I loved it.