:: Spotlight :: Interview with Writer/Director Cathy Randall - Hey, Hey, It's Esther Blueburger
By: Matthew Pejkovic
Q: Congratulations with the film Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger. I watched it last week and I quite enjoyed it. I want to talk about the script for the film. You first wrote the script in 2002…
A: I started writing it about then, yeah.
Q: …and on the strength of that script you received numerous accolades, a scholarship to Los Angeles…
Q: What I would like to know is with the script in development for such a long time, and with a lot of it based on your own personal experiences, when it came to filming was it hard to let it go? Were you continuously adding to it during filmmaking?
A: No. I didn’t change a line of the script during filmmaking. The script changed during the writing process, but once we started filming it stayed exactly the same. I think I changed some of the Hebrew, because I got it wrong. But that’s it.
Q: One thing that really struck me in the film was that Esther - like many other Jewish, Muslim and Christian teenagers in Western society - reaches a point in her life where her secular and religious worlds clash , culminating with confusing and exhilarating results. How important was Esther’s Jewish faith in the film? Was that an important element to the context of the story?
A: It was important because it was another factor that set Esther up as an outsider, because (Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger) is an outsider story about a girl trying to find her place in the world. There aren’t that many Jews in Sydney (or Australia), and so because she is Jewish she is an outsider, and it also feeds into her family identity and how they operate as a family, and the traditions, and the culture, and it was more a device which to tell an outsider story. It is a good question, and one I haven’t been asked to often.
Q: Well, I find that a lot of people tend to side step the subject of religion. I am Catholic, and when I was younger I went through the same thing so I can relate. Especially when I was hanging out with kids from public school, and I attended an all boys Catholic school, so the differences between us in a religious and cultural context was quite glaring. So I liked your approach to Esther’s faith. Another thing that took me by surprise was your approach to the increasing sexuality of today’s adolescence, which was done in a very upfront yet tasteful manner. A scene that really shook me – and I think it is a scene which a lot of people will talk about – is the group felatio scene. Did you have any apprehension approaching the scene? And how did you come about structuring the scene?
A: Well the scene is about how far Esther is prepared to go in order to fit in. It’s about the fact that there is a lot of peer pressure on kids to do so many things, and there is a lot of peer pressure to start experimenting sexually at an early age. And I did not want to shy away from that. We had four weeks rehearsal process and even prior to rehearsal I was talking to my cast for month’s, and maybe in Keisha (Castle Hughes) case years before about stuff like that, and we were very open about sex. Because – and I am not saying that teenagers every where are giving group blow jobs – but exploring issues of sexuality is what teenagers are doing, and so I found it very easy to talk about this stuff openly with them. And for them to act…they really understood what the essence of the scene was about, what the dramatic and emotional ramifications of this scene were, and it’s really the sequence of point scoring and one upmanship with Suni (Keisha Castle Hughes) and Esther (Danielle Catanzariti) and there is a lot of bluff and a lot of - like a game of truth or dare – a lot of initiation. And all of that stuff is very real to them, it’s very real to any teenager that I have spoken to, and I spoke to a lot of teenagers when I was developing this film. Not saying that they all go out giving group blow jobs, but the issues around that, the motivation for doing that, they can all understand that sometimes you do extreme things that you regret because you are under a lot of pressure.
Q: When I saw that scene my heart broke, because - as her mother says to her in later scene: “You were an angel” – and when I saw that scene it felt like she was falling from grace. Do you think it is a generational thing…. a theory I have is because of the advancement of technologies –especially in regards to the internet – things like that are much open to teenagers these days, without a filter to stop them from viewing certain things. I know when I was younger the internet was just about to break, and now it is apart of the mainstream, it’s everywhere….
A: It is everywhere. You know teenagers are unbelievably sophisticated in their knowledge. It is amazing. Younger and younger they are picking up new stuff, and I found that they taught me a lot and I was…I don’t think we give them enough credit for being able to talk about stuff at an early age. Also, it’s not just the internet. It’s magazines, it’s television…
A: Yeah, everything is so highly sexualised. Watch Video Hits and all of those video clips. It’s everywhere, so we can’t expect there to be certain boundaries when it just does not exist in the mass media.
Q: Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger was your directorial debut. There are number of scenes – especially during the films opening – that seem to be very well choreographed. Did you use storyboards for the film?
A: I did use storyboards. I actually have been collecting images for many years, and compiled a book of concept art. I worked with my production designer and my DOP for months before we started shooting to compile what we called “The Bible”, which showed the look of the film. I did not physically storyboard myself, I got someone else to do it, but I did storyboard in a very rudimentary fashion because I was doing all the pre-production in Sydney –where I did all of my storyboarding – but we shot the film in Adelaide. So I storyboarded the kind of how I saw the blocking of certain things in my mind, but I couldn’t story board exactly, because we didn’t have locations, we didn’t have any of that, so quite often I had to throw the story boards out and start again. But with the opening with the cart wheeling, that was all exact to the storyboards.
Q: There was a certain rhythm where you could almost click your fingers to it. Final question: Lead actress Danielle Catanzariti – who I thought was amazing – she was only 13 years old? Or 12 years old during filming?
A: No. She was 14 playing 13, and she just turned 16.
Q: OK. With a lot of the things her character goes through –which are very adult oriented – was she inquisitive with a lot of these themes? Was there a lot of dialogue between you and her, especially in regards to the scene we talked about earlier?
A: Yeah, we did loads of talking. All of us, kids, adults, the whole cast and myself, we spent a lot of time talking with Danielle. She is very inquisitive. She is also very intelligent, and she has got a lot of craft skills…we did a lot of preparation, because she is also Catholic and had very little exposure to Jewish people. So I took her to synagogue a couple of times, we had Jewish classes for her and for Christian (Byers) - who is also not Jewish – and plays Jacob. So we did Jewish school; Hebrew school… we had break-dancing lessons. All kinds of stuff, because they had to learn a lot of practical skills in order to play a character that far from themselves, because Esther is very different from Danielle.
Q: That was my final question. Thank you very much for this interview.
A: Thank you.