Home Director Courtney O’Donoghue, A Sydney Moviemakers No-Budget Filmmaking

Courtney O’Donoghue, A Sydney Moviemakers No-Budget Filmmaking

Courtney O’Donoghue is an actor, writer and director based in Sydney, Australia

Courtney O’Donoghue is a New Zealandborn actor, writer and director based in Sydney, Australia. Courtney spent her childhood years in the Pacific Nations of New Zealand, Fiji and Australia, This unique experience affords Courtney a unique perspective to life deep in Pacific Culture and deep regard for the environment. Courtney studied acting at Atlantic Acting School in New York, as well as the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. Courtney has been an actor for four (4) years and has lately began writing and directing. Courtney is an accomplished aerialist, on the Lyra Hoop.

indieactivity : Hey Courtney! It’s great to have you. Can you tell us about your most recent work?
Courtney O’Donoghue : Kia ora! (that’s hello in kiwi). It does feel nice to talk with you. Ah…, my most recent work is a web series I created during “Covid-19 Lockdown”: ‘Virus or Zombie?’ It’s an ironic-comedic web-series that serves as a satire on the current COVID-19 Pandemic about a Vlogger who unwittingly documents her transformation into a Zombie over the course of 7 days. I filmed it during lockdown with photographer and videographer Steven Saphore. It deals with daily life during a pandemic and how to cope with self-isolation, disguised as a comedic ‘Vlog’. Think instagram influencer meets iZombie… with a dash of Big Brother; Reality TV with zombies.

I had moments during the middle of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown in Sydney, where society began to resemble aspects of the classic apocalyptic zombie scenario (in which society breaks down and we revert to surviving based on instincts), and I wanted to expand on that.

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Virus or Zombie? is a web series by Courtney O’Donoghue

The ‘zombification’ theme is a metaphor for how the current virus pandemic is making a lot of people act ‘brainless’ so to speak. Initially people were panic buying & hoarding, fighting each other over toilet paper, rice, pasta, soap etc. For so many people it was a struggle to get basic supplies. I wanted to create something based on the irony of the situation.

Additionally, we’re dealing with the paradigm shift of trying to keep our social lives going while in self-isolation, and realising how reliant on technology we are to help us through these times. Full Cast: Courtney O’Donoghue, Tamsyn Cornwall, Blain Cunneen, Courtney Rachael, Michelle Faye Johnstone, Aimee Bosco, Eli Gallagher. Videographer: Steven Saphore. Original Music: Steven Saphore, Tamsyn Cornwall, Adrian Narayan, Nilesh Pawar.

indieactivity : Why filmmaking? Why did you get into it?
Courtney O’Donoghue : As an actor, I’ve slowly gravitated towards it more and more from my time on sets, and it felt natural to progress into creating my own stories.

indieactivity : How do you choose a project to act in or direct?
Courtney O’Donoghue : I have two main questions when taking on a new project – Will I enjoy the process? And will I grow from it? It’s important for me to be excited to work, and to enjoy the team that I’m working with. The Coronavirus pandemic presented us with a unique setting and the opportunity to stay home and work on something. With ‘Virus or Zombie?’ we wanted to poke fun using the irony/satire of Vloggers, and the crazy behaviour of people during the pandemic. I’ve always been into the zombie genre, so it was just setting out to just have fun with what was around us.

I knew that I’d grow from making a project using only what I had at home and doing all of the post production side of things myself (along with videographer and my long-time collaborator Steven Saphore).

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Virus or Zombie? is a web series by Courtney O’Donoghue

indieactivity : How do you find the process of filmmaking as an indie filmmaker?
Courtney O’Donoghue : There’s so much freedom in indie filmmaking. Obviously budget can be an obstacle, however, if you treat your obstacles as challenges to overcome, it can make your project better. It’s fun and fulfilling to find ways around them.

We faced many creative difficulties filming during the Covid-19 Lockdown, especially the challenge of trying to create content while adhering to the social distancing guidelines set out by the government. We had to be very creative to film around these restraints, but I enjoyed the challenge of that, and also having to create with the limited equipment I had in my apartment, and the very limited number of people I could work with.

indieactivity : Talk to us about your concept of collaboration?
Courtney O’Donoghue : I love collaborating with other creatives from different genres. We have different disciplines, but ultimately are all trying to tell a story. We can use each other’s strengths to overcome obstacles. For example, I collaborated with singer Tamsyn Cornwall, Steven Saphore & Nilesh Pawar to write a track for one of my favorite episodes of ‘Virus or Zombie?’, ‘Day 4: Quarantine Birthday Party’, which is about celebrating your birthday in quarantine, and embodies the struggle of living under Coronavirus restrictions by using them as songwriting elements instead of limitations.

This song was created simultaneously in three parts of the world at the same time as we were in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown & were limited to what gear we had on hand in our homes. Tamsyn wrote and recorded the song over Facetime in New Zealand. Instead of conceding with subpar audio quality, we used the VOIP compression as a songwriting element (which we hope will be looked at as a similar ambience to tape compression, or vinyl crackle).

Courtney O’Donoghue in Virus or Zombie?

Steven Saphore & I chopped up Tamsyn’s vocals in Sydney, then sent the track to producer Nilesh Pawar in India (Nilesh was visiting his parents in India when the Coronavirus pandemic occurred), who added drums and the final production elements. It’s amazing how technology can really bring us together and allow us to create despite thousands of miles between us.

indieactivity : Indie filmmaking is a model of zero or small budget. How did you create your Web Series with such a budget?
Courtney O’Donoghue : I wanted to be resourceful and show that you don’t need fancy cameras or professional gear to be creative and productive when cooped up in your own home, or achieve good looking results, so Steven Saphore and I set out to film the entire project on an iPhone 11 Pro. It keeps in line with the theme of ‘staying home’ and using our technology to cope with isolation.

Filming on an Iphone 11 Pro made it possible for me to film by myself without having to hire equipment and/or find people to operate that equipment.

Being able to edit your own footage is incredibly beneficial. It’s an important part of the filmmaking process that many feel is too complicated or overwhelming to approach, however I love to edit my own videos and have become a fairly experienced adobe premiere pro user. Not only do you have so much more control over your project, but you can save so much money by doing the editing yourself.

indieactivity : What uniqueness do female directors/filmmakers bring to film/TV/cinema?
Courtney O’Donoghue : It’s vital to showcase different views and narratives instead of the predominantly male perspective that has dominated film/TV for decades. As more females occupy positions in writing, producing, directing etc., the film and TV industry has seen a dramatic rise in cool, nuanced, kick ass female characters.

Virus or Zombie? is a web series by Courtney O’Donoghue

There’s no dispute that female writers & directors create better female characters that have so much depth and relatability to them. It doesn’t only stop at females, it’s also important to value the views of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC artists. It’s 2020 now and the conversation is shifting towards equality and empowerment, so we need females, LGBTQ+, BIPOC in these roles to tell that story.

indieactivity : Why would you choose an actor, writer or producer to come on board with your projects? What do you look for?
Courtney O’Donoghue : Most importantly, I look for a really high level of commitment, dedication, and a willingness to put in time. Things ALWAYS go longer than expected and it’s wise to expect delays. I look to collaborate with creatives who understand that and are willing to stay until the job is done.

Flexibility is also really important, I find that often the best ideas come from a place of spontaneity, and I like to know that everyone in my team can change course and adapt quickly. Lastly, I look for people I can enjoy the process with. Filmmaking can be a really long and arduous process at times, and you have to get along and be able to have a good time with everyone involved.

indieactivity : What is your experience working on the story, the screenplay, and the production?
Courtney O’Donoghue : As an actor I would turn up to set, film my scenes, and then my job was done. As a director, you need to understand and control each aspect of the project as a whole. I would constantly butt heads with photographer Steven Saphore over aspects of the production, who is far more experienced than me with photography/videography, but I have far more experience with acting. Sometimes what I wanted to act out simply wouldn’t work in the editing, and what he wanted to do in the edit was infeasible for an actor. There was a lot of reconciling our creative differences in that respect.

It’s important to both have trust and practise compromise. As director it’s easy to take creative control, however, letting each person involved be in control of their respective area of expertise can go a long way. It’s also incredibly important to attain perspective and keep sight of the big picture. I found that it was very easy to approach the project in a granular way, and spend too long trying to improve a minor detail that didn’t forward the story very much.

I wanted to portray a character who copes with self-isolation by turning to vlogging, who, like many others in real life, use the platform as a way to remain productive when the world expects you to stop.We never explicitly mention COVID-19 as my intention wasn’t to make light of Coronavirus, but to find the humour in a situation that everyone in the world was also experiencing.

The filming is only 25% of the project, then comes editing, audio, color grading etc. And a lot of those areas were new to me, or things that I really needed to brush up on. It was definitely a learning experience, and something that I want to continue growing my skills and experience in those fields.

indieactivity : What do you hope audiences will get from the presentation of your Web-Series?
Courtney O’Donoghue : I want to encourage people that it is absolutely possible to create a short film/web series with what you currently have with you right now. A lot of people feel like what they create needs to be worthy of an Academy Award nomination before they can release it, but it’s ok to fail, look silly and create purely for the fun of it. Sometimes you just want to make a web series with your cat lol.

indieactivity : What are your future goals?
Courtney O’Donoghue : I want to keep creating, collaborating and playing interesting characters. One of my all-time favorite TV characters is Villanelle from ‘Killing Eve’, so it would be a dream come true to take on a role like that. I was preparing to move to Toronto when COVID-19 happened, and I’m very excited to experience the tv and film industry there when everything goes back to normal.

Tell us what you think of the interview with “Courtney O’Donoghue” What do you think of it? What ideas did you get? Do you have any suggestions? Or did it help you? Lets have your comments below and/or on Facebook or Instagram! Or join me on Twitter @oladapobamidele

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