Little Diva Rising

Making a Family

Only one day of filming this weekend, as I was at the Words in Winter Writers Festival in Daylesford on Sunday conducting a workshop on character.

Maria (Maria Tevelis), Vic (Cam Faull), and Ellie (Ellie Tevelis)

On Saturday, we filmed a number of the scenes between the two central characters, Vic (Cam Faull) and Maria (Maria Tevelis).

I’ll start with Maria, who’s also a producer on Little Diva Rising, and a lot of the driving force behind the production.

When Tony asked me to write him a feature screenplay some years ago, he asked me to write parts for actor-friends. This is who Tony is – he is always looking out for and trying to help others. It didn’t make for an easy writing experience, though, when I had a predetermined cast who were all graded on how involved they would be. Maria was up there as one of the actresses who would be heavily involved.

Tony arranged a catch-up so I could meet with him and Maria and get to know her so I had a better gauge on how to write her. She immediately had something in common with me: we both hate tomatoes (something Julie – from my novel August Falling – shares passionately). We then talked about the screenplay, among other things. Around this  time, Maria also worked on the Amazon Prime series Full Disclosure both as an actress and a producer.

I’ve covered a lot of the stuff in previous blogs – how we discussed making something together, but felt we were too ambitious early. I pitched Little Diva Rising as a concept to Maria: imagine a nine-year-old actress found stardom and became a diva. I’m sure part of the idea came from the fact that Maria’s nine-year-old daughter, Ellie, was co-starring in the Channel 9 drama Bad Mothers (although, tragically, she wasn’t behaving like a diva). The rest started to work itself out as my imagination explored the concept.

Now I’m clueless in all the logistical side of production. I can talk about the theory of storytelling, characters, etc., but not the practical breakdown and execution of putting together a production. I can tell you how to put a book together and everything that entails. But television production? This is something I’ve had no experience in (although I’m learning).

This is where Maria’s come to the fore.

She has overseen casting and props (among other things), and scheduled shooting – listing what scenes will be shot, when, where, and who and what are needed. That’s coordination of a lot of moving parts – particularly working out what scenes shall be shot when, and syncing it with the availability of actors and locations. I’m pretty sure I drove her crazy with constant revisions; just when she thought she’d locked a schedule into place, I’d provide another revision that added scenes, and changed the numbers of existing scenes. But every week, she’s uncomplainingly provided (and uncomplainingly provides) that weekend’s schedule.

Maria’s also remarkably attuned to whatever my wavelength is, as she’s often suggested cast who are exactly as I envisioned them. When she’s had feedback, it almost identical to the way I’ve felt. And, best of all, she’s not only driven, but also driven in a way that she’s focused – she actions whatever she’s planning. A lot of people talk about what they’re going to do, but never do it. Maria does what she sets out to do, which has made this so easy for me along the journey. None of this would be happening without her. She’s the back that carries the production.

Her on-screen husband, Cam Faull, was a little bit intimidating when I first met him (on the first day of shooting). He’s tall, handsome, eloquent, knowledgeable, and comes across as extremely confident. Who was I to be directing this guy? The first scene we shot with Cam was when he was remonstrating with his on-screen daughter. It was a simple scene where Cam’s not even entirely seen. But just through tone (of voice) and body language he was also able to communicate everything that scene needed.

On Saturday, we filmed many of the scenes between him and Maria, and him and Ellie. Vic’s an interesting character because although he plays a large part in the story, I never felt I truly saw him or knew him as I did with the others. Cam inhabited Vic with such authority and yet subtlety that Vic then did become truly real for me. The few times I had conviction about how Vic should respond, Cam adapted immediately.

Between takes, he was so friendly, and at times silly (joking around) that it totally defused my original perspective of him. (And this is all my inference, rather than any way he behaved.)

It helps having such a convivial set, because it means everybody’s relaxed and at ease with one another, and it takes little-to-no work at all to find that commonality to head in the same direction.

So in terms of making a family, it hasn’t just been about the on-screen family, but the off-screen family as well.