Window from the West

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He’s a Hollywood hunk with a social conscience who just happens to be a Kiwi. Actor Daniel Gillies tells Jo Bailey how he plans to raise the awareness of poverty-stricken countries through his movies.

It’s been a few years since he left New Zealand, but there’s definitely a bit of “number eight wire” mentality behind Daniel Gillies’ latest project. The talented 31 year old Kiwi has managed to write, act, direct and produce an hour-long film ‘Wait for Me’ on an incredibly modest budget of just US$4,500.

The movie was filmed over ten “crazy” days in Panama, using one cameraman (his friend, music video director and animator Geoff Oki), a small HD (high definition) camera and one body microphone. Gillies didn’t start writing the script – about an American guy searching for his lost love – until he was on the plane to Panama, a country he had never visited before. “I wanted the whole experience to be completely foreign and difficult as I thought that would be more interesting to film.” Local people were enlisted to play bit parts, and random conversations were captured on camera. Gillies and Oki filmed at a frenetic pace in Panama City, deep in the Panamanian jungle (where they stumbled across a group of naked pygmies) and on the forgotten islands of Kuna Yala, which are only accessible by small plane. “It was so much fun, although we didn’t sleep the whole time.”

Through “Wait for Me” Gillies has shown that it’s possible to create an intimate, visually beautiful movie on a shoestring, without involving the multitudes of people you find on studio film sets. “Making this movie is a kind of rebellion. I wanted to prove that I could create something from virtually nothing, and see how few people I could involve in the process.”

On their return to the States, Gillies and Oki edited “Wait for Me” before releasing a trailer and the first six minutes of the movie on Gillies’ website HolyMonster.com and YouTube. Over the last few months they have continued to release segments of the movie prior to its being submitted to the film festival circuit. “The internet release wasn’t a real strategy to begin with. We had decided to put the first few minutes of the movie online to show our friends what we’d been doing, but after a while it got so popular that we started releasing more. To be honest the only strategy in making “Wait for Me” has been to get funding for my next film – so I could say to investors ‘look at what I can do with nothing – imagine what I could do with some money?”

With the positive feedback “Wait for Me” has already attracted from producers and investors, Gillies is confident of raising funds for Holy Monster’s next project “The Disposables” – a full length feature set in Columbia with four narratives and characters including a 12 year old prostitute girl and an eccentric American writer. It’s another story written by Gillies to highlight the divide between comfortably affluent Western nations and their poor, underprivileged counterparts. “I was shocked to learn than only 18% of Americans have a passport. Most have no desire to leave their country, or show any interest in countries that struggle. That kind of apathy blows me away.” Gillies says the idea behind Holy Monster is to create films showing Western protagonists in difficult foreign settings, “to provide a window from the West to the rest of the world.”

Gillies admits his achievements wouldn’t be possible without the advent of the latest HD technology, which allows movie-makers like himself to capture vast amounts of footage at almost no cost in comparison to the prohibitive expense of using film. “Digital footage may never truly capture the depth of film but the gulf is narrowing.”

With regular work in studio and independent movies and a gorgeous wife in actress Rachael Leigh Cook, Daniel Gillies admits he has a “nice life” in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. (He left New Zealand at 25, with his most high-profile local role in television drama “Street Legal”.) While he did his share of slaving in restaurants and kitchens in LA while waiting for his big break, it was a relatively short time before Gillies advanced from struggling actor to known personality. Scoring the part of John Jameson (the love interest to Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson) in the blockbuster “Spider-Man 2” gave his career a huge boost and he’s gone on to appear in other high profile movies including “Bride & Prejudice” (with fellow Kiwi Martin Henderson) and his most recent release, “Captivity”.

Despite Gillies’ success there’s not a hint of pretentiousness as he chats on the phone from LA. Instantly likeable and down-to-earth, he talks at a million miles an hour, with his passion for his independent projects unmistakable. “Although I’m grateful for my life here, it’s easy to get jaded – especially when you’re waiting around on the set of bad studio movies, or going to cattle calls for movies you don’t even want. That’s the reason for making my own movies. I don’t want to get to 35 and be making somebody else’s dream happen.”

SIDEBAR :
Has Gillies inspired you to create your own mini-movie? Using your Video Messaging capable Telecom mobile why not ham it up with a group of friends and capture your own 15-30 second video that you can share with others via your mobile phone or Telecom Broadband service.

By Jo Bailey