Interview: Martin Sharpe, writer and director of STILL LIFE (2013)

Very recently, Film Blerg editor James Madden had the opportunity to discuss STILL LIFE, one of 2013's Tropfest finalist entries, with writer and director Martin Sharpe. Sharpe has already won the Qantas Film Cadetship at this year's Tropfest for his surreal and unique short film about a museum security guard who falls into the world of the artworks he patrols.

Very recently, Film Blerg editor James Madden had the opportunity to discuss STILL LIFE, one of 2013’s Tropfest finalist entries, with writer and director Martin Sharpe. Sharpe has already won the Qantas Film Cadetship at this year’s Tropfest for his surreal and unique short film about a museum security guard who falls into the world of the artworks he patrols.

Amidst controversy surrounding this year’s winning short film, it is refreshing to see a film ambitious in scope and extremely well executed, all the while displaying Martin Sharpe as one of Australia’s most promising and emerging filmmakers.

STILL LIFE is eligible for the Tropfest People’s Choice award.  Voting ends Wednesday night and can be completed by downloading the app here.




James Madden: You come from a quite an established and impressive background in acting on the stage as well as having appeared in the film Lake Mungo (which I loved) and television series such as the hysterical Lowdown and Killing Time. How did you stumble into the world behind the camera?

Martin Sharpe: I’ve just always been a massive film nerd, I used to make little miniature sets in the garage and blow them up, and force all the other kids into being in my little plays / movies, so I always had a hunger to direct and create these epic productions I had in my head. The acting background I had was almost like a fast track. I had all these amazing and supportive contacts and i’d been watching and observing directors workflows and processes for years.  
JM: How does acting and filmmaking complement your work as an artist and a storyteller?
MS: They’re all so tied into each other. When I’ve had to direct actors in live action short films, there’s no mystery, I know what its like and I know how best to communicate that with performers. My many years on set as a younger actor also helped my storytelling in that I was able to see how complex shots were composed and also what mistakes I saw directors making.

martin sharpe

JM: Illusion and surrealism play a big part of STILL LIFE. Are these stories and themes you’d like to continue exploring?
MS: Always, my last short film THE CRIMSON ROOM was particularly surreal, I’ve tried writing straight drama, or even stories more closely based on my own experiences, but my imagination always brings me back to Sci-Fi and Fantasy and Horror. My tastes as an audience are extremely broad, but the stories that I get really excited about making are the ones that have that sense of mystery to them; when I have all the answers it sort of bores me. Often my ideas are extremely dark and macabre unlike STILL LIFE, but my writing always tends to gravitate away from reality. 
JM: Watching STILL LIFE struck me as slightly reminiscent of the animation sequence in MARY POPPINS, and also of Vincent Ward’s WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. How did the idea of a security guard falling into his artwork come to you?
MS: MARY POPPINS! Of course, oh wow, I only made that connection and now I want to go back and watch MARY POPPINS! I loved that sequence as a kid, so subconsciously perhaps a bit of Mary P thrown in! But the idea itself came to me in an intense long walk / brainstorming session… I wanted an idea that would fit the medium perfectly, something that would lend itself to animation over everything else, and I wanted something magical. I had a whole notebook filled with different posibilites and versions for this film, it came down to two very similar ideas, the second one was basically the same character but he worked in a cinema, and the characters in the films started to walk off the screen, and it had dinosaurs coming out of the screen and armies pouring out into the auditorium…. Suffice to say it was a little too ambitious to achieve by the Tropfest deadline.
JM: Who inspires you as a filmmaker, and perhaps more specifically, as an animator?
MS: Most recently I have been blown away by Shane Carruth who has released the extraordinary UPSTREAM COLOR. This man wrote, directed, produced, edited, acted and DISTRIBUTED this film, but thats almost beside the point because this film has me sitting bolt upright from the first 5 minutes. I feel he taps into some sort of higher truth and universal knowledge in this film that actually gives me chills. Although I must add that i’ve yet to meet anyone else who shares my enthusiasm for this film. I – of course – love so much of David Lynch’s best work, MULHOLLAND DRIVE and LOST HIGHWAY are two movies I can dip into whenever I need inspiration, they never seem to lose their potency. I suppose I don’t looks at myself as an animator, I definitely see myself as a filmmaker. Although I did large amounts of animation on STILL LIFE I’m not sure if my next film will be an animation at all, or if any of them will be, it was just something that I was drawn to at the time while I was studying. 

still life

JM: Is it true you only started studying animation in 2012? What drew you into this field? Are you planning to work across more artforms? 
MS: Yeah thats right! I studied Visual Effects & 3D animation because I wanted the effects skills to be able to create ambitious shots that I had in my head without needing to find someone else to do them. Often directors can kind of be a little bit at the mercy of the level of skill of the people around them, as film is such a collaborative medium, so I like the idea of not feeling so in the dark about all the different aspects of film making and being really hands on. I don’t have specific ‘plans’ to work across more artforms but I have not a doubt in my mind that I will. On the one hand I don’t want to be a jack of all trades but master of none; I hate the thought of that, but give me anything remotely creative and i’ll pick it up and run with it, so even music production or painting are things that I can become quite obsessed with when I start playing around with them. Plus we’re so lucky these days that the technology available to us and the resources on the internet mean we have acess to all these amazing programmes and technologies. 
JM: What does Tropfest mean to you as a filmmaker?
MS: Tropfest means to me; the best damn launchpad for our final animation assignment to end up in. I wanted STILL LIFE in Tropfest all along, so to be able to graduate and have all these doors open up at the same time is really, really lucky and I feel very blessed. 
JM: And finally, what’s coming up in the future for you?
MS: Well next up I’m playing a role on UNDERBELLY: FAT TONY, my character comes in about half way through, I also will be starting the Qantas Film Cadetship which I won at Tropfest, I have no idea what to expect. And im looking forward to not being hunched over a computer screen animating for months on end and letting my mind wander again until i’m ready to start writing something else, hopefully something bigger and far more ambitious than the last!
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