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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Flyabout' Director Monika Petrillo

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Flyabout' Pitch: Flyabout is the heartfelt, personal story of a young woman who gets a pilot's license, inspires her father to do the same and, together with him, follows her dream to fly a plane around the continent of Australia. Her introduction to the Australian walkabout fosters the realization that piloting the plane won't be the hardest part of the trip.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
A young woman follows her dream to fly a plane around the continent of Australia. Her introduction to the Aboriginal Walkabout brings on the realization that piloting the plane won’t be the hardest part of the trip.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
This is my first time at SXSW; my first film; my directorial debut. I went to Sundance when my husband's film Word Wars was playing there. It was fun, but very cold. Austin in March shouldn't have that problem. Although with Texas weather you never know...

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what? actress. I was on a few TV shows in Germany where I grew up, and I loved being on the set. My parents, trying to prevent me from putting any further strain on Germany's unemployment system, said I could do whatever I wanted to, but I had to learn a "real job" first. The result is that I chose a career BEHIND the camera.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
I started out as an intern on a TV production in Munich. I went on to become a script supervisor and worked on many films in Germany, New York, Los Angeles and Austin, always with the goal to direct my own films eventually. As script supervisor I've been lucky to work alongside some great directors like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Wolfgang Petersen, Hal Hartley, George Hickenlooper, and Tony Bui. That has taught me a lot. And then one day while preparing to go on my trip to Australia, I realized: This is it. This is the story I want to tell in my first film.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
I feel great about the fact that the film will finally get out and see the light of day. After a seven year incubation period where it was stuck in my
dark, old editing system, I can't wait to see it spread its wings out in the open. It was always my distinct goal to have the film's premiere at SXSW and I am excited to see where it will go after that.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
I didn't really watch the Muppets back in Germany. Was Popeye a muppet? I like cookies. Isn't there a muppet that eats cookies all the time? That's who I'd pick.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Everybody does. How could you not? But it's a lot more fun when you have an actual screening date to look forward to.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I went to Australia with a digital video camera in my luggage and no experience in documentary filmmaking. I returned four weeks later with only 25 hours of footage, borrowed an outdated editing system and taught myself how to edit. I got married, had my first child and finally locked picture four days before my second child was born this past October. I excitedly hired somebody for the first time and spent 50% of my shoestring budget when color correcting and sound mixing. And last night I wrote my press release in the process of publicizing the opening at SXSW.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Watching Ross Mc Elwee's Sherman's March in preproduction gave me the idea to use the camera as an extension of my eyes, to just aim it wherever I was curious to look, including at myself. Other inspirations came from the documentaries Hitchhiking Vietnam and Pop and Me, as well as the feature film Walkabout, by Nicolas Roeg.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Homer who?

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
I've always liked the Beryl Markham stories told in "West With the Night", but really I would prefer to write an original screenplay and direct that.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
Taffy, the guy in Western Australia who lives all by himself in the middle of nowhere. He's the real deal. And he could kick Crocodile Dundee's ass.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
...still working on my outdated editing system in anticipation of becoming one.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
No need to kill any puppies. I would be happy to work with the actors that are right for the part. Although I do like Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhaall and Andy Garcia.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
Goals are whatever you make them. It was my distinct goal to get this film finished. Anything after that I consider a bonus. I feel like I made it right now. :-)

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
I guess I'm about to find out...

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
"Ritter Sport" German Chocolate

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
Well, I have certainly witnessed many productions where collaboration was key. However, in most cases, there was one vision, one person's direction without which the film would not have come together. With regards to Flyabout, there is absolutely no debate because I made the film all by myself.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
I say: "There are a couple of reasons why you might really like this film -- because you always wanted to see Australia; because you dig flying; because you have a dream you'd love to fulfil; because you have a dad. Come see my movie and you'll know what I mean. :-)


Flyabout, directed by and starring Monika Petrillo, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to keep an eye out the official Flyabout website.

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originally posted: 02/28/06 17:32:12
last updated: 02/28/06 17:36:33
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