The drama of growing up: We meet Dominique Mathisen, producer of the Australian feature Drama

In an ever-changing entertainment landscape, Aussie sisters and co-producers Sophie and Dominique Mathisen have taken production and distribution of their Australian feature film, Drama, into their own hands.

Creation of this indie film was possible through a crowdfunding campaign, and they are releasing through a film biz model known as “day and date”, whereby content is available online to the public at the same time as it is released in cinemas (where normally a film would be available to download or own for home viewing consumption 3 months after cinematic release). They’ve also ensured, with Sophie writing, directing and starring in Drama, and Dominique producing it, that their female colleagues were also represented on the project; there was a minimum of 50% female across all departments.

Here, we chat to producer Dominique Mathisen about the film’s themes, the process of production and the business end of all the drama.

Like the lead character Anna, Sophie also spent time in London. Is Anna’s experience autobiographical, or is Anna’s story a combination of various people’s stories and experiences?

Drama’s narrative speaks to a varied audience, of different genders, sexualities and ages. While the story of Anna has echoes of Sophie’s experience, I think it has become an amalgam of Sophie’s and my own story. Everyone has had horrible break-ups, we’ve all had times when we are paralysed by indecision and fear, and also times when the drive to make decisions (good or bad) overrun logic! I think it’s this meshing of experience that makes Drama so visceral and relatable.

How important an idea to you both was the placing of an Australian in Europe (in the film), when so much of Australian film is based on a “type” of Australian in a “type” of Australia?

Placing our film within a French context was an idea brought upon by necessity! Drama came about when Sophie was living in London, and Jonathan (who plays Jean) suggested early on that his parents had kindly offered their home for our crew’s basecamp. With this amazing gesture on the table, we then engineered the story to take place in Paris. I think it’s a refreshing change to see a story of an Aussie out of water. The Australian “type” in Europe is still very visible though- everyone knows someone, or has done their own stint in London, so although Drama is definitely not a typical Aussie story, it is one which speaks to those who do see that there are different, and sometimes brighter, lights over the sea.

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You’ve noted that many of the production staff/crew were female, in a conscious effort to address the gender imbalance in the film industry. What do you think of the current state of the film industry i.e. gender representation on screen, and how have your peers been shifting this balance?

Recently, there has been a concerted effort to address the imbalance within the current state of Australian film and TV, with serious funding from Screen Australia with the Gender Matters incentive, but more can still be done. The recent absence of female nominations in the AACTA awards is particularly disappointing. When such an exciting push for gender balance is made by the government industry leader, which is celebrated and heralded as the first step in re-addressing such an obvious problem, to have the national awards not reflect the same ideals is really shitty. We need to recognise and celebrate female and male talent to keep the industry alive! Having a powerhouse cast and crew of lady bosses is a force to be reckoned with, and Drama is one very strong example of that.

Drama is in a lot of ways a “coming of age story”, for both Anna and Jean. Whilst they’re both characters in their 20s, could this be a story for all ages and times in life?

Absolutely. We’ve had women of our mother’s generation come up to us after festival screenings needing to tell us that they see themselves in Anna! This is, after all, a friendship/romantic comedy – hopefully everyone has a great bunch of mates that surround them in all age brackets. Life does change as we age, but the true friends remain steadfast. This is a love letter to those relationships that realistically define us. When partners come and go, the besties hang around.

How long had the idea for this film been kicking about, and when did you decide to get the ball rolling?

Sophie wrote the first draft of the script in a German winter surrounded by friends at Christmas, and 8 months later we were shooting. It was an extraordinarily quick turnaround, but was possible because of the drive, commitment and passion for the project by everyone involved.

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How did you gather the cast and crew together, and had you worked with them before?

We had long friendships with some of the Australian cast (Nicole Da Silva and Tom Wren) and we had established strong working relationships with some of the Australian heads of department also, but most of the crew we found in London and Paris. We put a call out to a Parisian film school for students and alumni who would be interested, and were blown away by the calibre of people we found. Drama was a hectic shoot, one which needed people to say “Yes” and “How” instead of “Maybe not” and “Why”. We needed our team to be flexible, resilient and eager.

Your distribution model is an Australian first. Explain the importance of this, and why it’s such a new thing for the industry.

Basically when you sell a film to a distributor, a deal is made that allows maximum revenue recouped from the cinema house before other platforms (i.e.VOD, which stands for Video On Demand) are offered . A cinema wants to make the most amount of money from the film’s proposed audience before they can download the same film for less money (and in our case $4.99). It slows down the process though, although it is much quicker than it used to be it still is close to 3 months from cinema release to online.

This old model doesn’t account for the way we ingest content these days. “Day & Date” releases are quite common in the UK and the US – basically it’s when you release the content online at the same time you release in cinemas. Soph and I watch most of our stuff online (but we still spend the bucks supporting indie cinema) and think that you shouldn’t be punished if you want to watch Drama in your pyjamas and drink wine at home. Sure there is a definite different experience sitting with popcorn and a choc top in a darkened room, but hell, a couch is just as good. Also, our audience may find it a bit of a mission to get there, to be honest – mums, we’re talking to you! Grab your gay bestie and have a date night in. We don’t care where you watch it, we just want you guys to swing us a fiver and share in this little film of ours.

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What does this mean for the future of film distribution, and does this then allow distributors better flexibility?

I hope so. I hope that Drama allows people to take note of different ways of doing things in general. Distribution models are changing and hopefully when we can show that by taking risks on films like ours, we are breathing life into the industry. Change should always be for the better – and it’s our generation of filmmakers who are pushing for it.

Drama is essentially about love, but love from the RIGHT people (you’re oldest friends, your true love, your supportive families). Was writing and producing this film a cathartic and personal project?

Drama has been the most difficult, the most challenging and the most crazy thing we’ve ever done as sisters, and as individual filmmakers. The odds were completely stacked against us, but we have come away with a brilliant debut feature which stands for the tenacity, bravery and love we have for each other. This project has sent us both grey but it’s awesome – we are insanely proud of it, and it’s so humbling and affirming that Drama is starting to find its intended audience.

Drama will be released in cinemas and online ($5 download via iTunes and Google Play) from November 17th.  

Book your ticket today via fan-force.com/films/drama/, or make a diary note to purchase via download on the 17th.   For more information, visit http://www.afilmcalleddrama.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/afilmcalleddrama

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