London-based filmmaker and AFTRS alum Laura Scrivano’s (Graduate Certificate Screenwriting Fundamentals, 2013; Graduate Diploma Directing, 2012; Graduate Certificate Directing, 2010) prolific career has taken her from a start in Australian theatre to the global stage, seeing her work screen at festivals the world over and working on an impressive list of film and television titles. With credits on The Letdown (Netflix), HANNA (Amazon Prime Video), brand new thriller, The Lazarus Project (out now on Stan) and upcoming Disney+ action/comedy series Wedding Season, together with a debut feature in the works, Laura spoke to AFTRS’ Alumni Program Manager Christine Kirkwood about some of the exciting projects she’s been lending her talents to.
CK: What were the challenges of The Lazarus Project and what was your approach to working with the amazing cast?
LS: It’s a very big ambitious series. It’s about a man who relives a six-month chapter of his life over and over again (referred to as ‘time loops’ in the script) in order to prevent extinction events. It explores themes such as morality, love, and fate. It’s a complex non-linear story, which was incredibly written by Joe Barton. He created something riveting but was careful to consider the audience all the way through. I directed episodes five and six. One of the episodes had a lot of time loops, and the other one was the end of a particular story arc. One of the challenges in prep was approaching the action sequences – I hadn’t directed action at this level but it ended up being one of the most straightforward and enjoyable parts of the process. Coming from a theatre and dance background really helped as so much of action is about choreography and rhythm. I was surrounded by an incredible crew and resources, for example, I worked with a fantastic storyboard artist who I’m now working with on another project. On any production, you’re always battling time, and we were challenged by multiple locations as well – we shot in Wales, London, Czech Republic, and Barcelona. We were very fortunate though to have brilliant producers and execs who understood what we were trying to achieve, and we felt very supported. My other big challenge was having my four-month-old daughter Siena on set every day. I wasn’t sure at the outset that I could undertake such a high-octane production with a baby, but it was a credit to the entire production that she was factored in so well, and everyone involved was flexible and adaptable.
Each time I heard a name added to the cast I was so happy as they are some of my favourite actors. I’m a very actor-focused director. We didn’t have a lot of time in rehearsals but we had in-depth conversations about the storylines and emotions. Paapa and I shared a lot of references to films and performances we liked, in order to get on the same page. It’s important to prepare with your cast and crew to get your heads in ‘the same show’.
CK: How do you keep everyone in the ‘same show’ when there are multiple directors on a series?
LS: Each project is different. On this occasion, I saw the rushes of the first episodes from the set-up director and loved the world that had been created. The cinematography and the set design were beautiful, so it was a pleasure to keep creating from that world with my DOP. When the script is as good as this one, it makes a huge difference in terms of creating cohesion. Our production designer Paul Cross (I May Destroy You) created a key set that was a huge playground that you could shoot in different ways, so it felt fresh even on my later episodes.
CK: You mentioned meeting director Jessica Hobbs in your AFTRS Showcase profile, what key advice did she give you? Are there any other key mentors you’ve had in your career that have enhanced your craft?
LS: When I graduated from AFTRS, television hadn’t evolved to the high-end streaming world that we know now. One of my lecturers got me in touch with Jess which was fantastic. Hearing about her tenacity and her long career was inspiring. The main thing I took from her was that she ‘gets on and does it’, she doesn’t wait for opportunities to come to her. She worked hard and pushed for every break.
I’ve been really lucky to do several professional development programs, such as Raising Films. I met Hope Dickson Leach (director, The Levelling) through that, who gave me some key UK contacts. I also met Amy Neil who was doing high-end TV and she invited me to direct Second Unit on Amazon Original Hanna. Edinburgh TV Festival’s ‘Ones To Watch’ provided me with the opportunity to be mentored by Jane Tranter who runs Bad Wolf (Succession) – that’s a very different relationship as her role is a high-level exec position.
CK: In terms of those professional development opportunities, do feel the programs have helped you get to where you are today and do you have any tips for creatives who are applying for similar opportunities?
LS: Yes, they all help in different ways. Sometimes it’s not immediate, some of them lead to relationships or opportunities that bloom a few years down the track. They can be good for different reasons – sometimes it’s about professional development, sometimes it’s about raising your profile or making connections. The Raising Films Workshop was incredible as I was trying to get back into directing drama after having my first child. Hearing from people who had been through that was really helpful. There was a kinship that made those connections deeper.
My advice is to always apply for everything. Even though it’s time-consuming and exhausting, keep going. You’ll eventually find an opportunity that unlocks something for you.
CK: Tell us about your upcoming debut feature Ring Road – what is the premise, what stage of development are you in and when we can expect to see it?
LS: It’s a thriller set in Iceland where a couple ends up on the run with a baby that’s not theirs. We just went to Cannes to meet Icelandic producers and hopefully, the script resonates with the right ones. Obviously, features are very different to TV and the process can take longer. But fingers crossed!
CK: You have mentioned that your ultimate career goal is “to be a features director and showrunner on innovative high-end TV drama, both in the UK and worldwide”. Was this always your dream or did it take some time to find the right path? How did AFTRS fit into your grand scheme?
LS: As I mentioned I have a theatre background. I directed a lot of independent theatre in my 20s, and I worked at Sydney Theatre Company writing for their magazine and website. I then started directing trailers for them, getting behind the camera for the first time. I went on to the Graduate Certificate at AFTRS (2010) to direct a short film. It did some festivals, and I really enjoyed the experience. So I continued down that path. I wanted to find ways to make it sustainable. I don’t come from a family of creatives, my father was a coal miner. I wanted to make sure I could survive. I freelanced for a year doing theatre and TVCs. Then I made The Language of Love, which got millions of views on YouTube, and realised the reach of film as opposed to theatre. I then applied for the full-time Graduate Diploma program at AFTRS so I could get closer to my goal of being a writer/director. The streaming bubble that we’re in now hadn’t happened yet, so at first, I was focused on film. It’s been really interesting to see the shift where now long-form story-telling doesn’t have to be feature film to be cinematic.
CK: What is it that drew you to London, and do you see yourself coming back to direct in Australia in the near future at all?
LS: We initially moved to the US. We were based in NYC which was great for commercials but it’s harder to break into TV and film there. My partner’s work then took us to London and it ended up being a great career move for me. I feel like having a theatre background was a challenge in Australia and it’s never been the case here in the UK. It’s seen as a real positive. Over here there’s now a situation where we have double the work compared to two years ago, I’m regularly turning down work which just doesn’t happen in Australia. We do want to spend more time in Australia for family reasons, but obviously, the tyranny of distance is a challenge.
CK: What words do you have for current students or budding directors looking to make the leap from short films to series or features? Especially those who might be parents!
LS: Tenacity is important. Finding a way to work no matter what. Trying to find development opportunities with on-set experience. Sometimes you can’t step up until you have experience, so acknowledging where your gaps are and filling them. This industry is also a business so you must be able to show that you can deliver on each job and deliver well.
CK: What are you looking forward to now?
LS: I’m enjoying a break right now, as I completed two shows back-to-back which wasn’t intentional [Wedding Season is coming soon to Disney+]. It meant I was shooting and editing from when Siena was 4 months to recently when she turned 18 months. I’m finding pockets of time to work on Ring Road which is a nice change of focus. I’ll be doing a few commercials down the road and will hopefully find an opportunity to be lead director on a high-end series, like The Lazarus Project.