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Joe Hitchcock Interview

Penny BlackWhat is Penny Black about?

Penny Black is a unique film about materialistic Penny Black (Astra McLaren), on a journey to save her career when she meets a mysterious guy named Guy (Anton Tennet), who makes her question her lifestyle and how it affects the rest of the world.

Where did you get the idea for it?
I’ve always wanted to make a fun road trip movie based on funny things that happened on tours I did with bands. The DIY style is inspired by fresh take on French New Wave, when films were based on a few characters instead of having elaborate subplots that intertwine in the end.
How long did you work on the film for?
5 years from start to finish. To give that some perspective, actress Toni Garson was in high school when we were shooting, and now the film is released she’s doing a Masters Degree in film.
Who were some of the people in the cast?
We were incredibly lucky to assemble some really talented cast for this project.
Our road trip actors were Astra McLaren (Go Girls, The Blue Rose, Almighty Johnsons), Anton Tennet (Hope and Wire, Underbelly, Avalon High) and Toni Garson (Lapwing, Shepherd). We also had kiwi screen veteran Cameron Rhodes (Housebound, Lord of the Rings, Deathgasm) and Hamiltonian Sash Nixon (Lapwing) as well as a few other cameo actors you may recognise throughout the film.
 Joe Hitchcock 2
What are some of the themes in the film?
The film portrays a bunch of themes around consumerism, materialism, and narcissism. We didn’t want the film to be a political rant though, so we provide both perspectives of any argument. At it’s core, the film is about what our current political system is doing to the environment, but told through an individual’s perspective.
Are you able to share some of the challenges which came with making the film?
Low budget film-making has some common pitfalls we were prepared for, like having to change cast on the day of shooting when people are offered commercial work. Because of this almost all of our crew appear in the film at some point.
An example of something that happened almost every day, is shooting an “available light” scene on an exterior street in Pukekohe, the lights went out at midnight. We had to quickly find another location that could work as a reverse angle, but I like improvisation and problem solving, so production is the easiest part of making a film.
After a year of post, we had 2 days to compose and record a live score with some of NZ’s top musicians. This was the only way to do it where everyone’s schedules aligned, and I loved hearing the film come together with a live soundtrack. Once the score was mixed, we re-cut the film to the music so the sync is much tighter with the edit.
Post-production was especially difficult. I cut 4k raw files on my 4-year-old iMac when I had time between paid work, and I did freelance camera jobs in exchange for VFX or studio time. Thankfully the New Zealand Film Commission came on board at the last minute to help us with a Surround Sound Mix.
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