Ellen is Leaving is the latest offering from Wellington director Michelle Savill, whose list of cinematic achievements defies her short years. A bittersweet snapshot of a relationship in crisis, Ellen is Leaving is highly relateable to anyone who has had to say goodbye to someone they love. It presents a different solution to the usual heartbreak, don’t sit and sulk, celebrate. And who better to chose your boyfriend’s next girlfriend than you yourself?

Portable chats to Michelle about where her inspiration comes from, the thrills and trials of being a young filmmaker, where she’s headed next and Sex & Fries.

Portable: Describe Ellen is Leaving in five words.

Michelle Savill: Ellen is recycling her boyfriend.

Portable: What was the biggest lesson you learned making the film?

Michelle Savill: It was the first film where there were more industry professionals involved than friends. It had always been the other way around. Industry professionals have a way of working that is efficient and commonplace on film sets so there was an adjustment period for some of my friends on set. There are certain boundaries within job roles that have to be respected. For example only a props assistant can move a prop. If a prop is moved without the prop person knowing, then it can cause massive problems down the line when it is needed and can’t be found. So I had to try and keep everything running smoothly amongst the professionals and non-professionals. But it worked out well in the end and we all had a great time.

Portable: What are some of the difficulties in getting film projects off the ground?

Michelle Savill: It’s always going to be tough. Financing a film is a major difficulty of course. In New Zealand we are pretty lucky in that we have a Film Commission, a government agency that funds the arts. So we can apply to them for funding for short films and features. But only a few are selected every year. Otherwise it’s on to finding private investors; that’s where a good producer comes in usually. But now filmmakers are turning to crowd funding platforms to get money which is a great idea. Make a pitch, or film a little trailer and get it out there. A friend of mine recently funded a short film that way.

Portable: You funded your trip to the Chicago Film Festival using PledgeMe… what do you think is the future role of crowd funding in the film industry?

Michelle Savill: I think its going to be a large part of the future film industry – in short film especially. There are so many great projects that require financing and there aren’t enough grants and scholarships to help get them all made. Crowdfunding is a good way to publicize your project and creates a middleman between the artist and doners. Door-knocking and approaching individuals can= be a bit embarrassing so if there is a platform up, it’s a nice way for people to give, even just a little
bit, and anonymously if they want too. I wasn’t going to do it but then a friend of mine made me, she came over with her iPhone to film me and just said ‘ok go, talk, and hurry up because I’ve got heaps to do today’.

Portable: Who are some filmmakers you admire?

Michelle Savill: Gaylene Preston, love her work, and the work she did for woman filmmakers in NZ, paved the way for the likes of me, she fights hard. Lynne Ramsay made two of my favorite films, Rat Catcher and Morvern Callar. I love Kelly Reichardt’s work and Debra Granik also.

Portable: You have a blog of weird and wonderful dating stories (Sex, Fries and Lookalikes). Do these stories ever end up in your films?

Michelle Savill: No, not yet anyway. If one ever was to end up in a film I would get permission from the author of the story first. And on that note, I’m always looking for new stories, so readers won’t you send me some please?

Portable: You used to have a fake hand you kept in your freezer to scare people with. Any aspirations to make a horror film?

Michelle Savill: Oh yeah I remember telling you that, the hand looked so real. I found it in a rubbish skip, it looked all bruised and bloodied and there was a bone protruding from the arm, very lifelike. I don’t have any plans to make a horror film though, it is a genre I’m not that familiar with and horror audiences have very high expectations! But it’s weird because I’m not sure what happened to that hand, its not in the freezer anymore, it just disappeared.

Portable: What’s your next project?

Michelle Savill: I’m producing a short animated film called Queenie alongside Melissa Donald, directed by Paul Neason. We are currently in production.

Portable: When/where can people catch Ellen is Leaving next? What will you take away from Chicago?

Michelle Savill: Ellen Is Leaving is screening next in a New Zealand festival called Show Me Shorts. So far, there are no more planned screenings for the States, but I really hope that changes, its just a matter of getting into more American festivals!
Chicago is such an awesome city, vibrant and lots happening in the arts. I have met so many amazing people and it will be all the new friendships that I take away.