by Ivan Barge, 2015 ICA Winner for MADAM BLACK
I love and hate both the short films that I’ve made. It depends on what time of day it is, the temperature, what I’ve eaten, how much I’ve had to drink the night before. So many factors influence how I feel about either film at any given time. I suppose, like some relationships, it’s because we have been through so much together.
When I met ‘Madam Black’ for the first time I was very drawn to her. I’d been with other scripts before: some were boring and others I didn’t find attractive in the slightest. So when Matthew Harris introduced us, I knew we were meant to be together.
Like any relationship though, it wasn’t without its problems. Films demand a lot of money to please them. My first film, ‘Snooze Time’, I ended up funding myself with a bit of help from Visa. Fortunately, with ‘Madam Black’ I managed to get a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission – it was my third attempt at getting a film funded, so it turned out that perseverance paid off.
So with the money in the bank, I thought surely it was going to be plain sailing for us. But I didn’t realise how much work was involved. But it was OK as I enjoyed spending time with ‘Madam Black’, it felt like we were a match made in heaven.
Then I saw the first edit, it was nothing like the script. It wasn’t even like how I remembered the time we spent together on the shoot. I felt like ‘Madam Black’ had lied to me. Like she wasn’t worth the effort. Anxiety and depression started to rear their ugly head. Around this time the money ran out. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be with a film.
We decided it would be best if we spent some time apart. A couple of weeks turned into months before I could muster the energy or interest to see her again. I had work to distract me, I didn’t have much of a choice as Visa kept hounding me. When we eventually met up again, things were different, not as bad, but there was still something fundamentally wrong with our relationship. After much thought I realised she needed a new scene. She needed a pick up shot.
This worked wonders and – I know it sounds shallow – but the more cosmetic work she had done the more attractive I found her. A cut here and a trim there. Then we added the music, the sound, and the VFX shots. It was almost as if she was a completely different film. Sure there was stuff that wasn’t perfect and that I would change if I could do it all over, but I was in love again.
I started to introduce her to people, close friends at first, to see what they thought. It went well and the feedback was positive. It was time for our first public outing together, so I submitted to Cannes. They were bound to accept her, I thought. After all, I knew she was great and everyone else seemed to like her too. Strangely enough though, 4550 people had the same idea and only 9 films were selected. ‘Madam Black’ was not one of them.
This was starting to feel like déjà vu – a rerun of my relationship with ‘Snooze Time’. I was determined to do it differently and so I submitted to more festivals than the handful I had previously. Lots more. The first to accept the film was Dances With Films and we had our World Premiere in May. ‘Madam Black’ was very well-received. The audience laughed at her jokes, other filmmakers were very generous with their compliments, and she went on to win the Industry Choice award and an Honorable Mention in the Competition shorts.
Since then we have had our ups and downs. Visa still has me on speed dial and we still regularly get rejection emails from festivals, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased with how well our relationship has gone. By the end of November ‘Madam Black’ will have screened at 14 festivals, five of which are Oscar Qualifiers. She has also won the Audience Award at the New Zealand International Film Festival and the Directors Choice Award First Prize at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. She has been picked up for distribution by Network Television Ireland and is BAFTA qualifying. Which I know is a real long shot, but dream big right?