The largest grossing NZ film ever at the local box office is this year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which comes as no surprise once you’ve watched it.
The film follows foster kid Ricky Baker, a “bad egg,” who enjoys writing poems but also wants to be a gangster and/or drug dealer with his dog Tupac by his side. Aside from the spot-on characters and hilarious script, one of the most memorable aspects of the film is the incredible cinematography, filmed by talented cinematographer Lachlan Milne. Although the New Zealand’s scenery is one the most incredible backdrops in the world to shoot, a movie set in and around the jungle must have been an absolute bitch to film. MC caught up with Milne to find out how he did it, and whether it was fun being allowed to smash up a cop car.
Where was the majority of the film shot?
Most of the locations were along the west coast, within driving distance from Auckland CBD. All the alpine stuff and the car chase was at the central plateau of the North Island, around a very famous volcanic area that’s significant to the Maori population. The idea of the film is that they go out there for an undisclosed period of time and we really wanted to show seasonal and landscape change to show they were covering a lot of ground. There were a few days of aerial work around The Coromandel Range; using a helicopter is the best way to show the vastness. So much of the film takes place as they walk through different parts of New Zealand, but we wanted to give the audience a visual reprieve from being under the canopy of the forest all the time. Lots of our actors hiked in for hours to get to the different locations. In the film they’re isolated, so we couldn’t have roads and houses in the background.
Shooting in that terrain and in the snow must have been difficult?
It’s really tricky shooting in extreme weather conditions, the biggest challenge was the inconsistencies in the weather because we were in the middle of winter. We’d have to constantly update our schedules and locations based on what the weather was going to do. The snow scenes in the film, we pretty much shot all of that in one day because we turned up to shoot the chase scene and all of a sudden it was covered in snow. You just play the cards that you’re dealt and adapt.
I didn’t realise Taika Waititi (director) was actually the guy in the funeral scene giving the eulogy?
No-one really knew what to expect with that scene, because that part of the script was still being worked on when we went to shoot it. It’s based on an actual sermon that he’d been to; a funeral of a friend. The pastor did a similar version of what he says in the movie, to the point where everyone there was like, “what the fuck is with this guy?” It’s so inappropriate but was screaming to be put in the film. The hardest thing about shooting that scene was trying not to laugh. Taika’s got a really strong acting background, can write and direct. He’s the triple threat.
What’s your opinion on the Kiwi sense of humour? It isn’t something we get to see in movies all that often.
It parallels Australia in a lot of different ways, there’s so much self-deprecation in how we identify ourselves in a comedic sense. I’ve got such a fondness for New Zealand, the people and their sense of humour, it’s incredibly endearing. I went to see the film at Sundance with essentially 1000 Americans, and thought, “Shit, there’s a lot of really specific Australian and New Zealand style comedy in this film, will it resonate with these people, will they get the irony?” But people were laughing and sad at all the points they should’ve been, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise now, it’s so cross-cultural.
People drew comparisons between the film and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, does that come as a surprise to you?
It wasn’t a deliberate aesthetic, but something that evolved. Taika and I watched a lot of older 70s and 80s New Zealand and Australian films, and the film was a real homage to the trailblazing filmmaking of that period. That’s why there are a few throwbacks to in-camera zooms, and some of the characters are loosely based on atypical characters you might see in those films. But the Wes Anderson thing, Taika and I were really interested in minimal coverage, less process orientated and more observational. I guess that can be said for some of Wes Anderson’s films too, but it’s interesting that a lot of people have said it.
The car scene at the end is very ‘Hollywood’ for a New Zealand film…
It feels bigger than it should for a film like that right? We made an animatic, got a whole bunch of toy cars, tanks, helicopters and police cars and built this scene on the boardroom table to set up the sequence which I filmed on my 5D. We shot it in a little miniature scale so we could show the helicopter pilots, precision drivers and actors. We had five cameras going for a couple of days on it. The coordination and logistics of it were immense, I think there were forty moving parts and it’s all on film.
Was Ricky actually driving the car?
We built a hydraulic pod that went through to the accelerator and the brakes. There’s actually a guy driving in a crash helmet sitting in a cage above that was welded onto the back of the ute. Ricky is a twelve-year-old boy without a license. I think we’d all be in jail if he was driving the car.
The police car that gets completely smashed, was that in one take?
That was a once off, you have to get it because we couldn’t afford another car. When it works out, it’s like an overwhelming sense of relief. That was an extreme over the top, Hollywood style accident.
Check out more of Lachlan’s work here