After 6 years of rejection, actor, writer, director and filmmaker Holly Hargreaves is on a roll. Her short film 'Diary of a Youtuber' is a Tropfest finalist. Her comedy webseries 'Real Tinder Convos' is playing at NYC & UK webfests. Her short films have played at Oscar qualifying festivals such as Flickerfest and her short screenplay 'Locked In' won the Hollywood Just for Shorts competition.
Clare: Given you are clearly multi-talented, how did you become a writer?
Holly: I was eleven when I knew I wanted to be a writer and actor so I've been writing since then. When I was 28 I started writing short scripts and then making them. And that's pretty much how it started.
Clare: Did you study writing?
Clare: So how did you know how to write a script?
Holly: I feel like it's in me. I definitely sucked when I first started doing it! I read a lot of scripts. I feel that's a great way to learn. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
Clare: Do you ever look back at those old scripts and think, 'actually it's not as bad as I thought?'
Holly: Yes! 4 years ago I wrote this short horror script called Zebra. I thought it was shit, but a few months ago I re-read it and realised it's not too bad! So I fixed it up and entered it into a short screenplay competition and it was a finalist!
Clare: Talking about awards, you've been nominated for, and won, lots of awards so tell us about those.
Holly: It's so funny because everyone keeps telling me: 'you've had such a good year, you're on a roll!' And it's true, I am having a really good year but no-one sees how much rejection I have put up with in the past 6 years. It's painful to get those emails saying 'thank you for your work' – just rejection after rejection after rejection. So this year I've been accepted into things and short-listed and won a couple. I've had a good year but that doesn't mean I'm going to have a good year next year. It's really hard and even if you get rejected, you have to keep going.
Clare: How do you keep going when most people would give up?
Holly: I'm from Swan Hill and I moved to Melbourne when I was 18 knowing I was going to be an actor. I didn't get my first acting job until I was 23. I realised then that acting wasn't really happening so I thought I'd better get a degree in something else otherwise I'm going to be a waitress for the rest of my life. So I studied Early Childhood education. I took a break from acting and writing for 5 years and I was miserable! Then when I was 28 I got pneumonia and I moved back to my parents' (to recover) and because I had time to think about things and I wasn't working, I had a lot of time to write. I made a decision then that I was never going to give up. I'm creative and it's in me and if I don't do it I'm going to be fucking miserable, so I'd rather be trying and getting rejected than not trying and thinking 'What if?' so I started making 2 short films a year and I put them into top tier festivals.
Clare: What is a top tier festival?
Holly: A top tier festival is an Oscar qualifying festival. In Australia we have Flickerfest, MIFF, Sydney Film Festival and the St Kilda Festival. In the US they have Sundance and France has Cannes. If you get into an Oscar-qualifying festival and you win, then your film will be considered for the Oscars. And I'm ambitious as fuck! I want an Oscar like everyone else so when I make a film I put it into top tier festivals. When I first started doing it I put it into 5 festivals, I would get rejected and think, ‘my film is shit' and I would forget about it and move on. But what I've learnt is, it doesn't mean your film is shit. It just means it's really hard to break through and maybe your film just wasn't right for that program. It's funny because I've had this fire in my belly for 6 years and I always think it might go away soon so I want to do as much as I can and put my fingers in as many pies as I can to try and make my career happen before that burn dies. I also think it's really important too, not to do just one thing, to just write one script at a time. You need to have more than one thing going on because that script might not do anything but that web series that you've made might take off. So that's why I'm doing heaps of stuff at once.
Clare: Tell me about all this stuff.
Holly: I write lots of short films, web series and I'm writing a feature at the moment. The feature is the hardest because it takes so long and it's so difficult but web series and short films I can bang them out pretty quickly. Web series you can finance pretty easily as well. I've made 3 this year and it's great when they get into festivals and get nominated.
Clare: How do you finance these projects?
Holly: I nanny full time and I finance through that so with my stuff the DOP, the sound guy and the makeup artist will always get paid. The PAs and actors do it for free. I'm very lucky because I have a lot of really talented actor friends in my life so I've got quality actors in my stuff, for free, which I always feel really guilty about because I want to pay them but I can't afford it just yet. Jackson Tozer and I just made Tinder 2 Convo's and we needed a bar and we knew that would be $1,000 or more. But he knew someone who knew someone, who knows someone in Fitzroy who owns this bar, so we got it for free, which was bloody awesome because that cuts our budget in half! You self-finance, you cut corners but you still want to make something that's of really high production value so you use what you've got and save.
Clare: Tell us more about Tinder 1 and Tinder 2 Convo's.
Holly: I don't do online dating but I think everyone thinks I do because of Tinder 1 Convo's. I was on it (Tinder) last year for a little bit and it's just funny! Guys treat you like absolute shit and I thought, wouldn't it be funny if people spoke to each other in real life, the way they do on Tinder? It's awkward. Guys send you 'dick pics' and say, 'suck my dick' on the first meeting. So I made a web series called Real Tinder Convo's and the log line is: How awkward would it be if Tinder messages were said in real life? I got my actor friends around and we shot it in 4 hours at the back of my apartment pretending it was a café. It just played at New York and UK WebFest and it's doing the rounds right now on the festival circuit. Then my friend Jackson Tozer, who's a really talented actor and writer, asked me if I wanted to do a second series with him as the main guy. So we co-created series 2, which has just been released.
Clare: And will there be a Tinder 3?
Holly: (Laughs). I was thinking about it, but I think, no! I've got too many other things… I've got an idea for it but probably not. Not at this stage.
Clare: Let's talk more about Locked In. You've mentioned you've got a short version of Locked In and you're writing a feature. Why a short version as well as a feature?
Holly: About a year and a half ago I was in this really dark, frustrated space creatively. I started to write a dark script and the premise was: 3 female friends break into a stranger's home and torment her and her daughter. It was violent and there was sexual violence involved. I decided to make one of the main characters pregnant to make it a little bit more fucked up. I sent it into a script contest and their feedback was, "It's dark and it's well written but what's the point of it? They go in and they're violent for no reason and it feels like you're being grotesque for the sake of it." So then I thought maybe I should put another layer onto it. What if the 3 criminals were locked in with their victims because there was an outside threat? That's how the concept came to be. It's my dream to write and direct my own feature film and I've got some other scripts, half-baked on my computer, but I thought Locked In could easily be a feature film. There's so much there so I started writing the feature film and I sent in the draft of the first 20 pages into Australians in Film Writer's Room (LA) and I got in. The Writer's Room is a 6-week workshop where you work on your feature film. Every contest I enter with Locked In, there's always a lot of interest. I'd be silly not to try and get this up as a feature because it's something I want to make and I love the fact that it's female driven. I did that on purpose obviously!
Clare: So what's your process for adapting a short into a feature? Do you take the short film script and then flesh it out to make it into a feature or are you almost starting again?
Holly: This started off as a short but I feel it naturally lent to being a feature because there's so much in it. I can't remember when I decided that I was going to write it as a feature – it just happened. The first 12 or 13 pages of the short film are in the feature and I'm just adding onto that.
Clare: So it's extending the layers?
Holly: Yes. It's an easy script to expand on. I wouldn't do that with all of my short scripts. Sometimes a short script is just a short script.
Clare: What inspires you?
Holly: I'm really inspired by filmmakers who don't make excuses, who just go out there and do it. They're not waiting for funding. Or if they don't get funding, they just go out and make their feature film. I find that really inspiring and that's how I do my stuff too. I'm not waiting for permission. I'm not waiting for anyone to give me money. I'm creative. I'm going to tell a story. I will save my butt off so I can finance it, so I can tell the story. And sometimes it bombs! It's heartbreaking when you put so much work and effort into something and festivals reject it. It's hard.
Clare: Is it important that your work inspires others?
Holly: No, it doesn't have to inspire but I really like it when my work is relatable and someone says; 'oh god I feel like that too.' I feel that's why my Tinder series has hit home because it is so relatable.
Clare: What's your inner critic like?
Holly: Oh, god! Don't come inside my head! Like every filmmaker and actor, there's always insecurity. There's always self-doubt but I just don't let that affect me. I listen to the story I want to tell and I don't think about festivals or rejection or what people are going to think and I just make it. I think that's the best way to do it and then you just deal with your inner critic by yourself!
Clare: How do you deal with it?
Holly: It's different with acting, writing and directing. I feel those things are very separate. I feel I have more confidence in my writing than I do with my acting and directing. Not to say I think I’m an amazing writer, I just find I trust myself a little bit more. I try and think really positively and I try and rationalise my thought. If I go to an audition and I don't get it, I always tell myself it's not because I'm not good enough, it's because I'm not right for it. I'm not going to let self-doubt stop me from trying.
Clare: What do you love most about doing what you do and what keeps you going on the days when it gets really, really tough?
Holly: I'm obsessed with writing, directing, filmmaking, acting – all of that stuff. I love reading scripts. I love watching independent movies. What keeps me going is that I love it and I have this feeling that it's going to work out. If I keep putting this much work into it, I will write and direct my own feature film. I will start conquering some of my goals. I know that if it's going to happen, no-one's going to hand it to me. I have to make it happen. So that's what keeps driving me.
Clare: What's the last book that inspired you?
Holly: Brian Cranston's autobiography. He talked a lot about his early acting. It was hard and his dad was a struggling actor so he had to witness that.
To check out the very funny Tinder 2 Convo's click here