We’re very proud to premiere the new short film from Australian director Maia Horniak, Love Untitled. Horniak is an established director spanning short film, music video and commercial projects and is currently in preproduction on her first feature Mixtape, another unique love story that shares some ties with Love Untitled.
The film guides us through the journey that love takes us on, through the daily highs and lows of negotiating a long-term relationship to the abstracted world we share when in love with another. Weaving together a Pablo Neruda poem, sweeping natural landscapes and the tiny daily gestures between lovers, Horniak has crafted a homage to love in all it’s struggles and flaws. With the help of some excellent collaborators such as cinematographer Callan Green, and composer (and Portable favorite) Basil Hogios, Horniak stretches the representation of love as more than just a film narrative and into a visceral dream world that leaves a lingering impact on our subconscious.
We spoke with Maia about her own rich background in filmmaking, the production behind Love Untitled and why she will always be drawn back to telling love stories.
Portable: Where did you start out? Did you begin in film or find your way there through other directions?
Maia Horniak: I’ve had a balance between traditional film education and experience and a more art based education and approach, so photography, art and multi media have all been as important to me as narrative filmmaking. I moved to Prague at 18 after being accepted into FAMU, the Prague Film School. There we learnt from the old European masters, shot on 16mm, experimented with colour in laboratories and cut film on Steinbeck’s.
In my 20’s I made a lot of short films and at the same time worked in Prague and LA on multi-million dollar Hollywood films, working as an assistant to actors, directors or producers. Working on those huge films whilst making my own films on a few dollars was a great education. I studied time based art in Sydney at COFA and at the Art Academy in Copenhagen, and then returned to traditional Film Directing at AFTRS. So I’ve tried to have an international outlook as well as be multi-skilled with technology through a hands on approach.
I’ve been directing solidly now for the past 8 years, but I keep a very all round approach to filmmaking. I think a director benefits from being versatile and skilled in many disciplines and art forms, to truly understand the craft of filmmaking.
P: How did your collaboration on both Love Untitled and Mixtape come about?
Maia Horniak: I met Lauren through good friend and producer Rosemary Blight, at Goalpost Pictures, whom I have known for many years since working on the feature Clubland. Rosemary presented me a treatment for the feature film Mixtape by writer Josh Wakely and thought I’d be interested in directing it, and she was right I loved it! Lauren also loved the script and came onto produce, and I thought it would be great to get Lauren involved in Love Untitled as a way of getting to know each other and the way that we worked. It’s proven to be a great partnership.
P: What was your inspiration behind Love Untitled? The film seems to draw on a number of influences, both visual and literary based.
Maia Horniak: Love Untitled was ultimately an experimental process, a chance to explore deeper notions of love through the poetic language of cinema unbound by traditional plot driven or dialogue driven story telling. There was no script and no fixed end goal. It was an opportunity to purely explore the theme of love cinematically, told through the course of one day and one night. I had no direct influence apart from fragments of images I had dreamt up.
I almost always start a film with an image. Then I listen to music. I had images of a couple that went in and out of love, like the tides, and the subconscious dreamscapes that connected and disconnected them. The forest represented the man and the water represented the woman. I was interested in the idea of forgetting the ‘sound’ or feeling of love, and how easily we can slip out of deep love into resentment, and yet how easily we can drift back into true love. I wanted to capture that essential experience, that feeling… that ebb and flow. That was my starting point. The rest was improvised on set, and the story was ‘found’ as I edited the film.
I’ve always loved magical realist literature and poetry but I did not intend on using any dialogue or voice over, yet in the experimental process I found a Pablo Neruda poem I thought encapsulated the ideas in the film. Through some more editing and playing with voice over, the poem brought another layer of meaning to the film, and I love how that can happen through instinct and accident, it’s very exciting.
P: Creating a realistic representation of a relationship on screen can be difficult, but Love Untitled depicts the ups and downs of a long term partnership with honesty and passion. How did you make the relationship between the two characters believable?
Maia Horniak: The actors Kathryn Beck and Kipan Rothbury were really incredible to work with. I worked closely with them and we intensely discussed concepts and feelings rather than results. I involved them into ‘dreaming’ up these characters, I believe strongly an actor must own their character, it is theirs, not mine. We spoke a lot about all our own real life relationship stories and all the small details that make up a long-term relationship. The everyday stuff, the minutia, physicality, inner thoughts, unspoken desires and doubts. We decided to block out scenes in a home, without any dialogue, and that’s how it became ‘a day in the life’ scenario.
The simplicity of a single day was a great place to start unpacking small ‘unspoken moments’ that occur. So during filming and blocking we kept finding new truthful moments as everything was done instinctively in the moment. The actors constantly offered up suggestions and were so deeply committed and completely owned all of their choices. I think intimacy and honesty come naturally if you approach performance from the beginning like that.
P: The imagery within Love Untitled flits between realist and surreal sweeping landscapes. What draws you to combining both the real world and the world we create for ourselves?
Maia Horniak: Good question, because I think I have an obsession with that very idea! I guess because I never think ‘real’ life is that straightforward. We all have inner worlds and for me what everyone calls ‘reality’ is already heightened, as we all experience it so differently. I think cinematically speaking, it’s exciting to explore the many layers of reality in film, even if just subtly, rather than just depict what we think is pure ‘realism’. I’ve always been interested in internal and external worlds uniting and colliding, making an audience delve deeply beneath the surface. I like to explore the very thin line between reality and the imaginary by placing truthful and authentic performances within a slightly abstracted poetic context.
The ideas in Love Untitled were about the feminine and masculine, and their separate dream worlds becoming one so I wanted the dreamscapes of the forest and water to really contrast the domestic world. We were lucky that cinematographer Callan Green had access over one weekend to a Red Epic Camera, as well as an Octo-copter to get flying shots in the forest, and underwater housing for a little house pool. That gave us a few different ‘looks’, even though we had literally no budget, no pre-production time and a tiny crew.
P: Music is an important influence on both Love Untitled and your upcoming work, Mixtape. What lead you to concentrate on this theme as your central idea behind both projects?
Maia Horniak: Music is a huge influence; I think it’s as important as the image in terms of storytelling. I love how the power of music and non-literal sound can work with or against an image. Love Untitled is actually the third film in a trilogy of films I have made that have used similar experimental processes with music as a core narrative drive. I made two other shorts SUB- and Fear Not, both with the same composer Basil Hogios whom I frequently collaborate with. Each of these films have been uniquely made, with music being written and recorded prior to filming rather than composed to picture after editing.
Music drives the emotional arc of many of my films, and my upcoming feature Mixtape is about taking that idea further; it’s about the defining chapters of a relationship as told through the ultimate songs on a mixtape. I think the emotive journey we experience during a single song or a piece of music is similar to the journey we take in a film, it can be stronger than any other communication, it’s very emotively accessible and direct. I listen and use music prior to filming, during filming and very early on in an edit, so the rhythm of storytelling and music are totally connected for me.
P: Looking forward to Mixtape what ideas will you be taking on and expanding from Love Untitled?
Maia Horniak: Love Untitled was a chance at exploring the intricacies and honesty of a relationship, Mixtape has similar themes, but ultimately the two films are quite different in terms of story and tone. Mixtape also explores a long term relationship and the dilemma of falling in and out of love over time, of forgetting the ‘sound’ of love, yet it follows an entire arc over several years. Tonally Mixtape is a lot more entertaining, its offbeat and funny, it’s set in the 80’s and 90’s, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to make! It references early arcade games, vinyl, comic books and has animation, and the soundtrack is directly from the time…..but ultimately it’s a story of love. Love is a guiding theme for both films and I think I will always be interested in telling strong love stories.