The winners of the Make My Movie competition unleash their quirky Kiwi rom-com on Auckland film festival audiences this weekend. They talk to Lydia Jenkin about the challenges of making their first feature film.

If you want to see what happens when you give a bunch of creative types $100,000, some cameras, an editing suite and six months to create a film, then this is your chance. As the winners of the inaugural Make My Movie competition, Wellington trio Dean Hewison, Richard Falkner and Ruth Korver came up with the quirky story of a slightly obsessive shy guy trying to find true love - by stalking his potential dates first.

They might have won the contest in January but they've just finished writing, producing, shooting and editing the film. It was frantic - and even though these guys are used to the stress of the 48Hours short film competition, dealing with that level of intensity for six months was a different challenge.

"Four of those six months we were working in our regular jobs as well, so we'd go home and write at night, or do the pre-production at night. The only time we took off was for the shoot, and a little bit for the edit, so I became a stranger to a lot of people," writer-director Dean Hewison says.

What they have created is much more than an extended 48Hours short though. It's a kooky, whimsical film about whether the ends justify the means when it comes to finding love. It's one of a rare breed - a Kiwi rom-com, a genre not often made in a country that favours death, drama and dark humour.


But, as those at the Wellington premiere during the film festival last weekend would attest, this team have created a film that's both funny and endearing - despite central character Toby's sometimes creepy behaviour.

"The original poster had the word 'stalking' crossed out, and then handwritten underneath, 'how to meet girls from a distance', so we always knew that the point would be trying to get the audience onside with the guy who's stalking for what he considers to be legitimate reasons. You know he does it in a heartfelt way to find love."

A key aspect in achieving that humour and empathy is Richard Falkner's performance as Toby.

Falkner and Hewison have worked on films together for many years and Falkner was also the co-writer, so he had a bit of an advantage in the acting department, having helped to create the character.

"We didn't actually know any real Tobys, but we just took the creepier elements of Richard's personality and put them into this guy," jokes Hewison.

Playing a slightly awkward but sweet guy seems to come naturally to Falkner, but he hopes people don't mistake him for Toby.

"I think he's pretty well delineated from who I am generally, although I probably do spend a bit too much time on Facebook.

"I guess the part of the character that is most real, and based on what we know, is that anxiousness and that uselessness around women, that fear of rejection and so on that goes along with it. That's a pretty universal thing."

Toby does get to prove he's actually a pretty smooth dude though, with a scene in which he serenades the object of his affections with a charming wee song - and yes Falkner actually does the singing and guitar playing, and even wrote the song. It was one of the most difficult scenes to film though, mostly because they only had 17 days to shoot the whole movie, which caused some understandable time pressure.

"We were running out of time, and it was really pretty much, you're going to have to do this in one shot. There was a whole bunch of stuff that had to happen, it was a tracking shot, and the lighting had to change and a mirror ball on a stick had to be swung in perfectly, and I'm trying to play the guitar and remember all the words, and sing convincingly, and then we had to kiss at the end. Phew, yup, it was hard."

So it's been a tumultuous time trying to create a quality product without the luxury of time or a large budget ("we had to say screw the time/cost/quality triangle, we'll make it a square and the other option is ingenuity and resourcefulness," Falkner points out).

Despite the stress, the team are extremely grateful to everyone involved, and are proud to have their debut feature film ready to share with the whole country.

"I would recommend [Make My Movie] to people as a crash course in feature film-making for sure," Hewison laughs. "I'm hopeful that if the film does well then I might not need to put myself through that sort of intensity again, but basically within six months we went from having an idea, to watching a film with 400 people in a theatre at the film festival, so it was definitely worth it."

What: Kiwi film How to Meet Girls From a Distance, winner of the inaugural Make My Movie competition created by film guru Ant Timpson and entertainment editor Hugh Sundae, funded via the Digital Content Partnership of NZ On Air and the New Zealand Film Commission.
Where and when: Screens at the New Zealand International Film Festival SkyCity Theatre in Auckland on Sunday 6pm [BUY TICKETS]

- TimeOut