Take Fountain with Ella James
S02E06 – Louise Alston
Louise Alston is an Australian Director who's found a successful niche in Hollywood....and covid finds her straddling both countries as she navigates her career. A fascinating woman who survived a...
[00:00:00] Ella James: Hello. And I'm really pleased with it. Introduce my guest today. Um, director Australian American director, Louise Alston, who you will know from the will and back of the net on Netflix and some other productions she had in Australia before she went over to LA and started what has been a very successful career.
Hello, Louise Allston. How are you?
Oh, yeah. I watched, I watched back of the net on Netflix and I would say I'm not the target audience for it, but I thought it was the most delightful film and it had all of the things that I love the what's happening next, the character, I hated that. Bitch, um, that character that I loved or she's just gorgeous, are they going to get together and all of that, all of that.
It was just wonderful. Usually that was an American production that was shot back on, on the golden.
Louise Alston: Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was Disney, original. It's been released in [00:01:00] America, Disney original and, um, and it was made, um, for the women's world cup. So, uh, so it was all about, um, Capitalizing on that buzz and getting all the soccer kids to watch it.
So, so yeah, that's cool. A couple of the, the really good soccer kids, you know, poke holes in my soccer, but, um, but that's just, that's just because they're just, uh, the Friday night, that's what happens. I'm getting, I'm still getting letters from. From parents and kids who watch it all the time. So that's lovely.
Yeah. So if you're not, I mean, it's just a beautiful film on Netflix. It's called back of the net. Um, so thank you for creating that. It's been quite a journey for you. Uh, I mean, particularly with COVID it's taken [00:02:00] you back from LA to Australia. What's that been like kind of leaving when you were in the middle of so much and then going back.
Oh, yeah, well, it was, um, I, uh, March 13, Friday the 13th, 2020, um, I got up and looked at my Facebook. And if you remember at week, it'd be getting worse day by day. And by that time, CAA has sent everybody home meetings from home studios were closed down and I was, I was about to go into pre-production on something.
And so I texted my producer. I said, it's not going to happen. Is it? And he goes, nah, it's all gone. So, um, I ended up, um, flying with my kiddo to Australia. Um, we just took hand luggage, um, thinking that w what does go and stay with my parents in law and their lovely little beach side down in Australia. Um, [00:03:00] just still blows over, you know, a couple of a couple of months, maybe.
How lucky at that when they were closing the studios for two weeks, I remember it just, the ninth was the last face-to-face in-person contact hug I had with a friend of mine. Yeah. And that was it. And my manager and agent rang me and said, they're shutting down the studios for two weeks. Here's the article in the Hollywood reporter.
And here it is in deadline and here it is in variety and we thought, okay, maybe it'll be a little longer than that. So, so you wisely took it all back. Luckily, luckily, so, um, so yeah, that was very, that was, that was just like this, this wind playing havoc with your brother Hunan. No, no, make it stop your director.
Stop. Stop the weed, weed, somebody, somebody you do that very well. It's got the [00:04:00] weed.
Anyway, sorry. But, um, but we got, um, yeah, we were lucky to end up in a little coastal town. Of course we just took hand like each I brought pajamas and workout clothes and I'm thinking, well, I'm not going to be seeing anybody. Um, so yeah, that's, that was a big surprise. Um, I have been back to LA in the meantime, um, some.
Uh, it showed some very nice Christmas film, romance stuff, which was a lot of fun. And, um, and yeah, that was, that was how it went. Well, I mean, that's what I was alluding to before. And I do want to get into your, your back history and your journey from Waga, um, through the industry. Yes. Um, but you know, you had these [00:05:00] successes with the, um, streaming site passion flex.
And, and the people that watch these are called passion Easters, apparently, but it's a, it's a huge business over here. And I, I think I read in one of your interviews where you indicated, you know, that the female voice, the romance voice is kind of a bit now, you know, seen as that way, but this is a multi multimillion billion dollar business that attracts a huge audience as we saw with Bridget and.
Oh, it's giant. Yes. It's like, everyone's going, Oh my God. It's just came from nowhere. But the thing is that like it, but in the romance world has been, why did it take so long for people to notice how many people love? Like that's a whole, that Regency period as a whole subsection, there are so many sections of romance.
It's just as complex as horror. And it has just [00:06:00] crazy fans. Fans who just adore writers and a, the sub genre that they're into, like, you know, the subject was going to be as simple as friends to lovers or, um, enemies to lovers or, um, single dads. There are many, there's so many shades that the romance, um, the romance.
Markets has. And, um, and the beautiful thing about turning these into films is there is there is an existing audience. Um, and what's that what that is, um, practically is that don't mind who like their, my actor name, actors, the name that they're following is the author. And, um, and so, um, I'm working with.
Um, with actors doing them, doing [00:07:00] these emotional scenes, um, with driven characters and it's really satisfying to, to make these films. Um, and they're all character led and that's, um, and that's the beauty of it. So how did, how did they find you? How did you tap into this niche? Uh, I guess because, um, it was one of those generals that we all go on.
Oh, there's a plane now that's connect because listen, I thought it would be really great if I, if I did this on my balcony. Sorry. That's okay. Someone's going somewhere though. I know. I can't believe it. There were three people in the plane about to pay $12,000 for quarantine. I love it. They going South.
So I don't know. Anyway, um, so
no kind of middle, maybe see, I don't, I don't know. Anyway, they, um, the, what was the question? Sorry. Um, how did you find [00:08:00] your niche in this passionate flex market? You said it was a general, so, so for people not in the industry in general, is your, your people, your managers, your agents send you out to meet.
Uh, somebody, in my case, it would be a casting director. In your case, it would be a studio or producers or production house, uh, so that they can know, you know, your work and next time something comes up, they think Louise Allston or Ella James, and the way we go, but it worked for you. It was great. It was great.
Um, and, um, I had a general Tosca mosque, and then, and she owns the company and, um, And the company is it's. Um, uh, it's basically the whole reason it exists is to turn these best-selling novels and with existing audiences into films and it's subscriber based. So, um, uh, I just started sending her, so I started sending her some [00:09:00] clips of some romance.
Do you want me to move? I can. No, no, no, no. It's this is, that was my motorbike. And I, can't sorry. That's okay. It makes it interesting. It gives us atmosphere. I mean, I'm in, I'm in Hollywood for heaven's sake. He's too he's to lock down ingenuity, like, so. Anyway, I am. Yeah. I just kept sending us some clips and, um, and remaining enthusiastic.
And, um, and I go to Cole. I was sent a script, um, for the will and, um, and we made it in Boston. It was lovely. It was great. And when you, when you went back to Australia, did you have a feeling of. Fear of what am I going to [00:10:00] miss out? Or I built all of their support. I mean, I know initially you just thought it was going to be short lived, but w how did you feel about making that change?
Well, the funny thing is about this whole period is the lack of FOMO. Okay. Know, I feel like everybody's in the same boat and, um, and everybody is, um, you know, just. Mucking around and, and everyone's got the same sort of, um, coming against the same, big questions. What am I doing? Where am I going? And, um, I guess, I guess we always have these in as creatives, but I think this in particular has sort of brought it out.
Um, and we all just sort of talking about it. I think even more. Than usual. Like the start of him is the start of a meeting, you know? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And there's no more, [00:11:00] um, like I only get from my Australian friends, so what are you up to? And I'm like, well, as you know, I don't go anywhere. So not a lot, you know, like all of my auditions are self-tapes.
Um, I'm up to something in Atlanta at the moment plane and doing the whole testing, the PCR testing and the quarantining and, and all of that. But they've got it nailed now, you know? Um, but largely, you know, I talked to my stuffed animals and do a lot of yoga classes and I've taken up knitting. Um, but I think my meetings.
Um, with casting directors and I've taken some new agents and so on since all of this happened, um, have been on zoom. Um, I wear complete clothes, uh, cause I can't talk seriously to somebody in pajama bottoms. I did try it and they asked me to get up and get something [00:12:00] and it was, I know, and I was like, Oh, hang on little, you know, But, yeah, it's, it's just, it's made things.
Um, I, I feel a lot more relaxed. I feel a lot more in touch with people having to have really authentic organic conversations with people who maybe before I would've had that. Um, no matter how confident you are. There was always the need to impress somebody further up the food chain who can, that's kind of fun.
Cause we are all in all in this together. Yeah, I agree. There is right now I big Chuck and an airplane. Excellent. Um, so the big drug and it's absolutely, but I went to jail. We can hear you. That's an, I'm going to get periodic drag. And because of the time of day it is, and I live on a main road. Um, there were [00:13:00] frequently workers coming home in trucks and they play mariachi music.
And so it's gonna make you homesick when you hear it was it's. It's really. It's like , it's like the ice cream truck of, of living at Bondai, you know, it's that kind of iconic thing. Um, do you miss LA? I do miss LA and you know, who misses even more than me? My daughter, really? Yeah. She, um, she refuses to change her language.
He loves to use American words. She sort of feels like that's, that's kind of defiantly remaining American and for, so for over a year, she's been telling people that, um, that, uh, that way, that we're where we usually live in America. So, you know, I've just, we've just had the conversations about how, um, you know, kids will run the world of, uh, [00:14:00] having strange times as strange year, strange times, and we've discussed the virus and what it means, and, you know, over the issues got bigger and had a better understanding of it.
So, um, I think good, but having a kid is really good at times like this, you know, I guess anybody. Who's who's a bit creative and in this industry, it can get very, um, very one eyed about things. And so somehow, um, you've got to have something that you step outside to give yourself perspective, you know, to have you have your yoga time, you know, um, Maybe, maybe even specific from my screen.
And I'm wondering, did you get a call into your system or something? No. Should we wait? No, one's still recording. The main thing, the main thing is we're still recording and I'm not a [00:15:00] technical person. So just watching this really annoyed by all of the, um, taking the stuff. So I'm just going to walk inside.
Okay. Um, and we can move that to that. And that's done the trick now. I've got you back. Yeah. This is going inside and, um, and I'm going to walk into my daughter's room and then, um, uh, I will say lots of useful things to make people's time worthwhile. Now you are saying useful things. Can I love that? Huh?
I'll thank you. A bigger brim than usual. It's a freebie it's from Sigma Sydney. So I think you can get really good lenses from them. I think it's my, my favorite kind of hat is a freebie, so let's go back way back, back to the time. Um, so you're uh, you're a WOGO girl. Yes. Um, you don't call Jinja and Jin, but you can call
when you, um, were [00:16:00] you, were you, were you somebody who, who wanted to be a director from the get go or what did you see yourself wanting to wanting to be when you were a little person? Well, when I was little, I wanted to be Matthew Brown. Um, but, um, but that job was taken by you maybe. Um, so, um, so, um, but I always loved movies.
I was bit, a little bit obsessed with movies and, um, cause I always thought I was wasting my time when I came home from the, from the video store with like a pile of 10, for $2 kind of, um, videos to watch. Um, and, but that's. That's what I love to do. Just watching lots of movies and, um, and you know, reading books and just loving story out.
I used to write as well. I was very into writing and I love story. What do you say you used to ride? I mean, you still ride, we met at a writer's class. [00:17:00] Are you still writing or I do, right? I do. But when we're talking about. Being a kid. I was a big, I used to think I would be an author sometimes when I, when people, um, talk about, you know, would you impress your childhood self?
I think my childhood self would be like, Oh yeah, for movies. That's fine. Have you written a book yet?
Shut up. Um, I wrote a book during isolation and I got a Savage let down. Yeah. Um, the agent said it's a great story. It's really interesting. And it's well-written, but it needs a professional editor to give it structure and then announced a telephone book of numbers. For the cost of that. And, uh, and I kind of went, okay,
so it may be [00:18:00] something that I returned to, or, or because it was memoir based. Um, I might even start writing it as a third person fiction and just add in stories that I want, you know, since I'm not. I finished finished the script that I was working on when you and I met with the writers Guild. Yeah, I got that far.
Um, and then I, and then I paid 200 bucks to get some notes on it. And, um, and once again, I seemingly have a problem with not being able to move forward when I can. No, no, I just need to do, I just need to do, um, I just need to do a little bit more work on it, but I mean, I think this, this time has thrown everything for a loop.
So I started focusing very much on the here and now, like, um, the auditions that I had to do, the jobs that were coming in to make money and put food on the table. [00:19:00] I took up knitting. So that I had something that was absolutely not related to getting paid, but I could do that would take my mind off, um, you know, the crazy things, but anyway, back to you as a child.
And so, so you finished school in Walker and then you, you got into afters. Was that the. Well, I went to you and SW did, um, uh, English and theater there. And I, um, I then went back to work out where I got a job at the local TV news. So, um, I was an editor of the local TV news. So it was cat shows, um, cattle, sales, rainfall, all that sort of, you know, really exciting stuff.
And, um, you know, um, Ms. Wogawoga pageant. That sort of thing. And, um, and in the end, I, um, I, from [00:20:00] there, I applied to afters and got in, so the national film school in Australia and that, um, and that was very exciting. I did some work there and then I. Um, about a year after that I had a major motor vehicle accident.
I don't know if I've told you this. Maybe I have, but, um, I had a major, um, accident where I broke 17 bones, snapped my shin in half. And, um, uh, the ambulance report said amputated leg, but I was super lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was rive on Paramatta road, right near RPA hospital. And they managed to get a pulse in my toe that night.
And then I got a, um, I had a, and then, uh, they'll moving me and I'm thinking cinematically things started beeping and buzzing. [00:21:00] And, um, and my brain was swelling from, um, from, from bruising. And so they had to take me into emergency surgery in the middle of the night. And I have a hole in my skull right there, where they drilled a hole to give space for my brand brain to expand and, um, and recover from the Brittany bruising.
Um, and so I woke up from my coma two weeks later, uh, when with amnesia. Um, so, um, I have a unique experience of that cinematic trope of the amnesic person. So, um, so the, how is it take, how long did it take for, I mean, that must have been like awful because you're the people who love you would have walked into the hospital room and you wouldn't know who they are.
Well, um, I remembered my [00:22:00] mom. I remembered my aunt, but then when my boyfriend walked in. They said, Oh, look, who's here. And I'd say. Yay. Oh my God. No, but, um, it was like, it was like, it's like, it's like when I visit my grandmother now, someday she remembers me sometimes she doesn't and that's and, um, I think, uh, and, and I'm fine.
I know what that's like, like, you know, and then, but if someone comes in and you know that you don't remember them, but they're really nice to you, you just go. That's nice. I'll be nice back. So that's, um, I know what that experience is. And, um, and so yeah, my recovery from that accident took about five years.
Well, they said, uh, from this kind of injury, it'll take you two years, but I knew in my heart that [00:23:00] it would take me five years. And on the fifth anniversary of being run over on that morning, um, I said action on my first ever feature film on the first day of photography. And that was almost an accident that I got that exact day.
Oh, God, I just got shivers. That's um, that's the magic. That's the magic. Um, in, in all of these interviews that I do, um, I spoke to will McCormack a couple of weeks ago, the co-creator of the Netflix hit. If anything happens, I love you the 12 minute short about school shootings and grief. Um, and it's gone off, it's just got a nomination for the awards.
Um, it's a screen actors, Guild awards, um, and it got lifted on Tik talkers started filming [00:24:00] themselves before they watched it. And after they watched it and he had 55 million imprints on Tik TOK and it became number one on Netflix. And, and when I said to him, how did this writing start? Because when I, when I just very quickly, when I met him out walking, um, it was like, uh, I was like, so what are you doing?
He said, I'm a writer. And I said, anything I'd know. And he went toy story four. And I was like, Okay. And, um, and so getting to talk to him about this latest success, and he said, I was at an acting school in the Valley and I met this guy and we started writing together and he and I discussed the fact that there is the, there's the preparation, there's the skill.
And then there's the magic. And the magic has to come in. And so you've got to be open to the magic. You can't just deny it or, or look around at [00:25:00] what other people are doing. You've just got a head down bum up and believe, but after five year recovery, that would challenge anyone. That's amazing. I'm so glad you are.
Well, thank you. I am too. Um, it's um, It's, it was, uh, a big experience and, um, and the recovery was difficult. Um, I was, I was ha I had the, um, I had the one flew over the Cuckoo's nest experience or the, um, or even the, the, um, Uh, bell jaw experience when I was in a, um, brain injury rehabilitation unit that was locked and, um, and it was not a very good experience for me.
I don't, um, go on about that, but, um, [00:26:00] but that was. Quite that was big, but anyway, they, um, when you take that kind of energy into your body, um, it's, um, I made a decision because the injury is going to go somewhere and I felt like, um, the you, and, and, you know, if you don't use it or turn black. So I just felt like if you, um, If you use it, like use it like a gift and, and make it the power that pushes you forward.
And I, and I had a question for myself, which was, um, uh, can you do the thing you cannot do? And for me, the answer to that, the thing I couldn't do was a feature film. And, um, and so that's where I pointed everything to [00:27:00] I'm so glad that happened. And was that, was that, um, uh, Back of the national? No, that was, um, a film called all my friends are leaving Brisbane.
Okay. And that really launched you didn't it? It was ruined by a friend who I didn't remember turned out. He was a nice guy. But he wrote it. He, um, is now my husband and the daughter. And, um, he wrote all my friends and leaving Brisbane and he was also a collaborator on, um, juicy, which is my second feature.
So, um, yeah, so we're keeping it all in the family. Well, it's nice to have someone around who you can collaborate with. Yeah, absolutely. This has been fantastic. And I've, I've learned more about you than, than I've known before. I think when we've, um, infrequently [00:28:00] got together in the past, it's been to talk about the industry and writing and, and so on.
And, and I'm so sorry. I didn't in the past ask more about you. Um, no, I've kept it quiet, like of only like only just stylish talk to people about it. I think enough. I'm as past, like, I think the anniversary of it is, um, the 5th of January. Um, and when that came past this year, um, that was, I felt like, okay, yeah, I'll move moved that forward a little bit.
In my heart, I guess. Um, so maybe if you'd talk to me about last year, it would have been a little more cagey, but, um, yeah, now I'm a little, yeah. And now I'm a bit more, I will own it as something that, um, that has motivated me creatively. So yeah. Well, I can't wait to see what you produce next. [00:29:00] And we're all getting vaccinated over here.
I know like you don't have the virus, but we're also, our cases are way down. So we're doing really well. Yeah, all the schools are opening again. Um, I'm gonna, so I'm starting to make all the plans and, um, and yeah, so that's and touching elbows with you and, um, it's going to be a new world, but I think it's exciting.
It's going to be exciting. Yeah. Are we allowed to, yeah, I know. I think it's just the goal. I've got to go and buy more black masks. Okay. My darling, well, love to you and the fam, so lovely. Thank you for your time. And it was just wonderful. Well, yeah, thank you. And, um, I hope it wasn't, it was a bit of a slow start and a complicated start, but that, I think, I think we sort of, you know, I should have been sitting on my, on my daughter's bed [00:30:00] earlier
by, by Louise Allston, by my love. See you next time. Okay.
Louise Alston grew up on a farm in rural Australia. Starting out working in local TV news, she went on to study at Australia's national film school, AFTRS. She directed her ultra low budget first feature, All My Friends are Leaving Brisbane for $42,000 and it went on to be screened around the world and become a cult film. Louise has a doctorate in creative arts from the University of Technology, Sydney. Her work is typically smart, gutsy and heart felt.