Stolen Glances: An Interview with Goran Stolevski
Coinciding with the theatrical release of the MIFF Premiere Fund–supported Of an Age, Stephen A Russell speaks to director Goran Stolevski about inspiration, casting and capturing intimacy, as seen in his masterful MIFF 70 festival opener.
Can you talk us through your writing process?
I wish I knew how my brain works at times. [The screenplays] don’t usually emerge as stories or even concepts, most of the time – it’s sort of like a feeling I get that then feels connected to a personality, and then the world around them kind of fills in gradually. And then, once I have a sense of the person in the world, I try to shape that into a story. And it happens usually at a time just before I go to sleep, when I’m super exhausted.
Did Of an Age come to you out of the blue too?
I wrote it literally in the middle of COVID … I wasn’t feeling very productive, so I forced myself to do this writing exercise, which was to write a small story every day for five days in a row. And on the fifth day … I was reading [Karen Russell’s story ‘Bog Girl: A Romance’, which is] about a boy who never went to a party … I got stuck on that, and it inspired me to write [what became Of an Age]. It was 4 June 2021, which I remember because it was the night before my husband’s birthday. And by 11 June, I had finished the screenplay, and that’s the first draft I shot from within a year.
What was it like to tell this more personal story, filmed around where you grew up in Melbourne?
To be honest, [it and my earlier film You Won’t Be Alone are] both actually weirdly personal, in ways that might not be immediately apparent. I think there’s more of my personality in those witches than there is in those guys [in Of an Age]. A lot of people have come up to me and [gone], “Oh well, so your love for your husband is up there” in Of an Age, [but] to be honest I thought there was more of that in You Won’t Be Alone … We had to put [Of an Age] together really quickly, because COVID screwed us over and cut pre-production in half; we had to shoot it very quickly, and casting was very complicated. Like, it took a while to get to these three perfect humans.
So there were actually some hurdles along the way?
Yes, but it’s so strange. We finished shooting Of an Age two days early, and we had a four-day wrap party … I genuinely don’t want to say “hashtag blessed”, but … you know, whatever the normal human equivalent of that feeling is. I just feel so lucky to have had it. And then, with the finished film, I also feel very happy with it myself: not in terms of “I have no objective opinion of it”, but just in terms of how it makes me feel – every element of it.
Above: Of an Age | Header: Goran Stolevski at MIFF 70
Talk me through the casting challenges that you mentioned with Of an Age. Did you have a fixed idea in mind that you struggled to discover in the audition room?
I was quite flexible in the sense that when I write something, I’m not necessarily tied to making sure the actor matches what’s written. And I often adapt [the screenplay] to whoever I find exciting. With Thom Green, something happens with his eyes that is almost identical to what I pictured when I was writing it … That was unsettling, because he’s also not that personality at all in real life. But even just in his audition tape, something was happening with his eyes, and [I was] like, “This boy read my mind.”
With Elias [Anton], when he came in, it was a complicated process. He looks nothing like what was written, and so even before I saw his tape, I was like, “This kid is not appropriate for this role.” But of course I knew him from [2016 miniseries] Barracuda, so I watched the tape because I liked him as an actor. And then I was just hypnotised by his vulnerability, and I was like, “I have to find him a role somewhere in this film, because I have to have him in my filmography somehow.” And I kept watching him and watching him and I just found it so much more interesting and worthwhile; so I was like, “Fuck what’s written; this is what the movie is about now.”
Watching [Elias] evolve through the rehearsal process and the shoot – becoming a man in front of my eyes – I felt like a parent, genuinely. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Some of the most beautiful stuff in Of an Age is the stolen glances captured between these two young men as they’re thrown together in a hectic car ride across Melbourne. You seem to be fond of shooting in intimate close-ups.
To be honest, I discovered close-ups around my 22nd short film [laughs]. I remember I was going through a 1940s phase … I just loved the way close-ups worked in those Hollywood films. There’s no visual-effects extravaganza that can match that for power and immediacy, and that is cinema for me … Obviously it needs to be from the right angle and in the right moment; but with eye contact, when you’re sparing with it, nothing can match that for electricity.
I think most people start with the wide shot to establish the scene, but I always shoot the close-ups first and then take the wide shot at the end, just in case we need it. And oftentimes we don’t even use it … Honestly, to me, it’s all about the eyes; it’s not about the body at all … It was about connection, and they were just really both wonderful to work with.