Designer, Director, Filmmaker, Storyteller.
Always a lover of film, Richard de Carvalho pursued a career in graphic design which led him to work as the Art Director of Australia’s premier movie magazine, FilmInk, before shifting the gears of his creative career onto starting a production house. In the short time since leaving the design world behind him, and returning to study film formally, his creative flair, love of film and business acumen has seen him unearth opportunities to do what he loves; make films and tell stories.
Along with his business partners, Richard has helped Lunacraft Productions create short films - such as the winning entry in Dolby’s inaugural sound challenge competition and episodes of the cult web series The Witness Articles. As well as creating video content for large brands such as Blizzard and Rooster Teeth among others.
In this interview Richard talks about his journey as a designer and the deciding factors which led him to take the plunge into a filmmaking career.
So, I’m a filmmaker and a co-founder of Lunacraft Productions along with my business partners, Lauren Simpson and my wife Carol Jovicic.
"Make something, then push it as much as you can out there to find its own audience."
My love of film is something I’ve had, for as long as I could ever remember. When I was really young, as soon as I was able to pick up a pencil, and draw, and write I wanted to be an animator. I had this deep love for Disney films and Looney Tunes shorts by directors like Chuck Jones. Animation was something that I was always had a deep kind of affinity for.
It wasn't until my brother took me to the cinema for my earliest movie experience. I think it was 1989, 1990? I must have been five years old, but Batman, Tim Burton’s Batman was released. Now, for a five year old that has never been to a cinema-- and you have this love for Batman-- You’re sitting their with your big popcorn and then that big Danny Elfman score comes on-- it’s the opening credits and the camera travels through these tunnels and then it pulls out and reveals a big bat symbol... And then, the whole opening act with Michael Keaton grabbing those two thugs on the rooftop, “I’m Batman” you know? [Laughs]. That blew my mind as a kid! The whole visual. The sight and sound of it and everything. Yes, it’s a comic book film and everything but again, to a five year old, that was mind blowing.
I started watching all kinds of films from a very early age. But it was like a Saturday night on TV that I watched JAWS .... The rest is history [laughs]. Yeah, JAWS-- The suspense, the characters-- just everything. My love for Spielberg. It didn’t come from E.T. or Indiana Jones, it came from JAWS. How Spielberg used the camera and how he created suspense in that movie was something that has always stuck with me. You can go, “well, yeah, that’s a fake looking shark.” But when you sit there you’re completely engrossed in that film, it’s that suspension of disbelief. You believe that’s real and the great performances, I think that’s why I have that love of film, it’s just two hours of your life; pure escapism.
"How he created suspense in that movie was something that has always stuck with me."
I think both illustration and design were very big parts of my life as well as film. The interesting thing was when I finished high school I came to a fork in the road; it was two career paths I needed to choose. It’s very risky to go down the film or performing arts route, you know what I mean? And design was something that was more of a safer bet, it was something that felt that I could at least be guaranteed a job. So, it was very much a decision of, "do I follow my heart or do I follow my head?" So, it really came down to that.
At the time in Sydney there weren’t many avenues, other than NIDA I think, to really pursue what I wanted to do in film but there were really good TAFE courses, so what I did was I applied for both (Graphic Design and Film) through very rigorous and hard applications and said, “Come what may.” What I didn’t expect was to get into both [laughs]. So that didn’t make my decision any easier. So, yeah I went down the design path with the idea of furthering my skills in art, exploring graphic design but also seeing how it could actually benefit and influence film. If that makes sense?
"Why I have that love of film, it’s just two hours of your life; pure escapism."
Yep, so, upon graduating Graphic Design I worked-- well, firstly I worked in a small design firm that shall not be named. It wasn’t the best experience [laughs]. I think it’s an experience that every kind of Graphic Designer will experience in their career. It was, for lack of a better word-- a sweatshop, you know? You’re underpaid, doing overtime, doing work that you’re not passionate about-- clients that really do your head in but you push on. I lasted about a year, year and a half maybe, until I was just, “I can’t do this any more.”
That’s when I felt like I was actually just going to change my career and just do what I always loved which was film. But I did what you should never do and that is, quit without having something else lined up [laughs]. I-- I kind of did that, I didn’t have anything lined-up and I needed work. So, the only thing I could apply for were magazine jobs, and then FilmInk gave me that opportunity. Not only did it give me an opportunity but [laughs] I didn’t realise that I was going for a head of department (Art Director) role. Something that I wasn’t qualified for on paper and something that I didn’t even feel like I was even qualified for, but once I was there, I just gave it my all.
In film, I was mostly self taught. I did a lot of my own research back in the day when video stores still existed [laughs] I’d go to a video store every week and borrow seven ‘weeklies’ and they were a dollar each, that was my film education! So when starting at FilmInk, video stores were ending and DVDs were coming in and there were rumours of online streaming becoming a thing and everything. So FilmInk, was not only a job, but it became my film education. I was surrounded by people that were passionate about film as much as I was. I was already well versed, in films including independent and foreign films, but working at FilmInk I became more so, especially being an Australian movie magazine it furthered my knowledge of Australian cinema as well. So it was a great experience while I was there.
Having the kind of peers and the boss that I had, allowing me to do what I could with the magazine was a really rare thing. At times I would sit there and just think, “Geez, I would not be able to get away with half this stuff in any other publication.” So that was great for me because as a filmmaker you need to make the films that you want to see first and foremost. You can’t cater to everybody, right? But you’ve got to know your intended audience. That applied when I was working on the magazine. So, my design, the structure of it all, the feature editorials where I could go a bit crazy with layouts and even with some of my illustrations, I was speaking to an audience, which was your average FilmInk reader, your moviegoer but also the niche audience. So, if we were doing a-- you know, George A. Romero piece, I knew exactly who I was ‘talking’ to and how I should lay that out, what fonts and images to use. You need to understand why you’re being creative and so for that-- was me understanding what the editorial was about. Who are we speaking to and who are we representing needs to come from the design.
Early midlife crisis [laughs]... yeah, no. So, design and film have always gone hand in hand in my life and working at FilmInk was great but after six, seven odd years it got to a point where-- I didn’t feel like it was my place. It was great for me, like I’ve said, but I felt like I wasn’t being true to myself, I was no longer creative writing, I wasn’t writing scripts anymore, I wasn’t visualising stories, I was becoming too much of a fanboy and less the filmmaker I intended to be or I wanted to be.
While I was working at FilmInk, my wife and I made a short film for TropFest. Back then, what should have been a simple five to six minute short film resulted in a bit of a ‘stranger than fiction’ kind of story which was derived from an experience in my life about a group of friends that couldn’t agree on the film they wanted to make. That short was called 'The Pitch' and it was virtually three stories in one because you got to see their movies… and look, it was big, because-- one was a Film Noir which I really loved making because it was (shot in) black and white and very Chinatown, that was one story. The other one was like an eccentric comedy, a nod to films like Amelie and then the third one was a piss take on Michael Bay action movies. In a way, it was kind of like a student film. We just went out and made something-- it was a failed experience but a great one. One of the great things was that it showed that we can actually do the big concepts and entertain people. A lot of people that said, “there’s no way you can do that”, were proved wrong. So I think the positive thing out of that, was that we could do this and it definitely gave me that taste of, “Yes, I need to keep doing this!” Even though the end result had it’s problems, the whole experience was great and it just cemented what I love doing and it wasn’t long after that where I just decided, “you know what? I need to quit my job.”
I never thought at thirty, I would go back to school but the opportunity presented itself when I was accepted into AFTRS (Australian Film, Television and Radio School) which wasn’t easy to get into. I took advantage of that, quit FilmInk and ever since I’ve met some amazing people, that are colleagues and friends that I still work with today.
"I wasn’t being true to myself, I was no longer creative writing, I wasn’t writing scripts anymore, I wasn’t kind of visualising stories, I was becoming too much of a fanboy and less the filmmaker I intended to be or I wanted to be."
Yep, so-- well actually before getting into that— towards my end working at FilmInk I met-- Lauren (Simpson). She was the Sales Account Manager at FilmInk and we instantly bonded over Joss Whedon and his work. (MARVEL’s The) Avengers came out at that time which we were both excited about and then we discovered that not only we had the same kind of love for movies, but we were really like minded. And so this really rare and genuine friendship evolved out of FilmInk.
It was always my intention to start my own company, since high school really. Something always rung true in me, that I needed a small team of people to really make something great. It was just this intuition, this feeling. Maybe it was growing up and always wanting to be one of The Goonies [laughs] I just felt like I needed my own kind of Goonies. I looked at-- companies I admired, like PIXAR and Wingnut Films, Peter Jackson’s company. And how that all started, you know? A small group of friends, you know? Like minded and everything, and how they started small and humble and are as big and successful as they are today. That’s what I’ve always kind of admired and it inspired me to pursue a similar path. So, upon meeting someone like Lauren, who prior to working at FilmInk, studied film to be a producer -- everything from that point on happened naturally.
When it comes to this kind of career in film, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. It’s very Murphy’s Law. No matter how precisely you plan things, no matter how you have things scheduled, you’ve got to be prepared, yes, but be prepared to throw all that out the window and think on your two feet. The right people came into our life and the most amazing thing, including the support that I have from Carol, my wife, is that no matter how tough things can get, each of us hold each other up. And we get excited about the endgame, we get excited about the work that we’re doing. So, while we may not have the budget or the money to achieve things, we have the passion and the knowhow. The biggest challenge is always money but we are quite resourceful together. You can’t make a film on your own, if you do, it’s more of an ‘art instalment’ [laughs]. To do a film where you sit in a cinema and escape for one to two hours — You can’t do that on your own, that’s why the credits list at the end of a movie is usually so long, they’re large teams of people that really, you know, love to kind of suffer and bleed for your entertainment [laughs].
And I think that’s the thing, we love doing what we do to tell the stories that we want to tell but there's a challenge in everything. The biggest factor is always going to be money but if you have the right people around you, you’ll find a way around these things.
"No matter how precisely you plan things, no matter how you have things scheduled, you’ve got to be prepared, yes, but be prepared to throw all that out the window and think on your two feet."
Okay… so, when The Dolby Sound Challenge, was going around, it was actually at a very hectic, busy point in that year end for me and while there’s no shortage of ideas at Lunacraft it was all about time and money. Lauren and Carol, were like “we need to do something for Dolby” and we had to think about it. We had about three weeks until the deadline and I was like, “we’ve got nothing” you know what I mean? “I can’t really think of anything at the moment. I’m not too sure if we can actually do it?” They were adamant to at least have a crack at it and so I was just like, “okay, well I’ll think of something” But it was Carol who came to me with the idea, she had this concept about following a character and her journey but then only realising at the end that she was deaf and that concept intrigued me because it’s a sound competition, you know? It got me really thinking.
I have a big love affair with the old, golden age of Hollywood, you know? The romanticism of that period, musicals and movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So that kind of inspired me to make a short where we follow a girl, new to the city and in love with all the sights and sounds around her and everything. When the girl gets to where she’s meant to be, to meet -- her boyfriend, she realises for a minute that she got there too late, and that’s when he surprises her and she turns, he says ‘Sorry I’m late’ and then, staying true to Carol’s idea, she responds in sign language. I wanted it to be this whole thing of “oh, she’s deaf” so everything that we were hearing before, wasn’t literally what she was hearing but what she was feeling, you know? And that’s why some of the sounds that you hear are slightly exaggerated or even metaphorical.
In some ways it was also inspired by an Alice In Wonderland, where a girl innocently and ignorantly walks through another world because she’s following her curiosity. But I wanted to be a bit romantic with it all and everything. The funny thing was that none of that was actually scripted [laughs]. We had an idea, Sydney permits to film and fabulous actors that loved the idea. We met prior to the shoot and went over their motivations and direction. We shot it in two nights and while driving hectically to the city locations, I was in the backseat of the car storyboarding every scene because it was all in my head and it easier and quicker than anything else. There were things that happened on that short film, that was an opportunity we just ran with. We agreed on the bridge at the end of the film where the two lovers meet but what we didn’t realise is that very night there were going to be fireworks and it was like, “oh my god, we’re not going to have that bridge” and the council was like “yeah, no, it’s fine you just can’t obstruct any of the walkway but you can shoot there and it’s fine.” Talk about production value! Being at the right place at the right time. At the location the actors were ready to go as soon as the fireworks went up, it was just a million bucks! It really was. And that couldn’t have been planned any better.
It was as skeleton crew-- as bare bones as you could think, and I needed to shoot and direct. And then, yeah, just working closely with a really good soundie, Liam Moses, who just knew exactly what we were going for. And I just trusted him as well as our composer Nick Harriott to create this really sweet, ninety second short film that then ended up winning the competition and sending us to LA!.
It was an amazing experience! I’ve never won anything before in my life, like never! Even when I’ve gone to like, you know, the Easter Show - I’ve never won anything [laughs] So to win? For one of my earliest short films to win anything was already kind of humbling and mind blowing. But then, not only that, but for it to send us to LA and to have the film mixed in not only Dolby Atmos but also Dolby Vision? That was amazing! And to met these lovely guys that work at Dolby that really embraced the film, sitting there and asking “what did you shoot this on?” and I was like, “Canon 5D Mark III” and they’re “Oh, it looks great!” and was just like “Jesus!” You know? As long as you’ve got a clear vision. You follow your heart. Your gut instincts. You don’t need millions of dollars to make a film. Even if it’s not perfect it’s still able to you know to really grab someone’s attention emotionally.
Learning from the Dolby guys and how they work-- also hearing that Jon Favreau just finished mixing The Jungle Book the day before and Steven Spielberg had been mixing his film in the same seats that we were sitting in. Talk about humbling! That was all kind of-- that was like, I just can’t-- it was seriously one of the best experiences of my life. When we got back from LA, we found out Dolby were planning to play our short on Dolby Atmos screens-- so for a time, it was played at George Street Cinema, which is the number one cinema site in Australia, in front of Batman v Superman! So, again, you win a competition, you're sent to LA, have an amazing experience and when you get back, you're welcomed with the news that your film is going to be screened in front of Batman v Superman! [laughs]
"Even if it’s not perfect it’s still able to really grab someone’s attention emotionally."
That’s a good question-- I think-- okay, I still feel like it’s still quite a challenge and hard to break into the industry and that’s because just the way the industry is and how it’s always been. However, it is easier now to make a movie yourself given the tech. I’ve met filmmakers that are so desperate to seek funding, you know what I mean? And one rule of filmmaking is definitely not to put all of your own money into your own production, you’ll find that you’ll go broke very quickly. You’ll need accountants, you need financiers, you need investors, you need support and backing. And you need that person to actually, really tell you, “you're movie’s not marketable. It’s not going to make any money, what else have you got?” [laughs]
It’s a business at the end of the day. You're in the entertainment business. If you don’t want to actually play that game, then you're in the wrong field you know what I mean? That’s not to say that you can’t be an artist and have a voice. With a web series and these streaming services, it gives filmmakers that haven’t had that silver spoon or that leg up in the industry and allows them the opportunity to show what they can actually make. That’s half the battle. Make something, then push it as much as you can out there to find its own audience. You can’t sit around and expect someone to knock on your door. You can’t sit around and expect things will just happen. You’ve got to make it happen.
I think the brilliant thing about working with Erík Magnússon, is that he’s trying to do that with The Witness Articles, you know? There’s no funding at all in that series. It all comes from a passion and a fuel to tell stories — he didn’t even have a title for the show initially, just an idea. He wanted to make a series-- ‘cause he was upset with the way horror films were being churned out today and he felt they lost some appeal-- they lost the atmosphere that makes them so great and that’s what he wanted to try and do. Make a series that was a love letter to those horror movies from the seventies and eighties. That really resonated with me and being a massive fan of anthology series like (The) Twilight Zone — these self contained short stories — that’s what the series represents as well and that’s what we don’t see much. Out of everything that’s being made these days, you don’t see much of that and that’s what kind of appealed to me and I’ve worked and supported on his series since. Erík then asked me to not only direct the fourth episode but also make it a co-production with Lunacraft and that become the biggest production of his series.
Prior to filming Where The Jackal Sleeps, I watched the classic Universal Picture Monster Movies as well as Raider’s of The Lost Ark and Lawrence of Arabia for inspiration, especially Lawrence of Arabia because I think that movie is one of the best films ever made. We went for the great characters, the big action and the big spectacle even though we didn't have the money and couldn’t fuckin’ shoot in Egypt [laughs] It was about thinking on our feet and going, “Right, so we can’t afford a jib, how can we get a big sweeping wide shot?” And even though we had no money and we were in the middle of the Cronulla beach sand dunes, I was like, “I can’t make Lawrence of Arabia but I’m going to fucking try!” [laughs] So, in pre-production I carefully planned each shot knowing that I’ll need to do some matte paintings to really try and sell epic landscapes on a shoestring budget.
Now the one thing that is important; is having a finger on the pulse. Knowing what the audience wants before they actually know it themselves. Because once they know it, it can become oversaturated and they may not want it anymore. I love The Walking Dead but because of The Walking Dead it’s really hard to do a zombie film or even play in that genre. If you do something in that genre, you’ve got to pull out something like a 28 Days Later concept, something that is innovative, utterly fresh and different, and by fresh I don’t mean, go all World War Z and just make them run, I mean it has to be completely beyond anyone’s expectations. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, it definitely can, but you are talking to an audience that’s becoming really tired (of that) at the moment.
I have a love for graphic novels and comics books and the whole superhero genre, I love what MARVEL are doing and I get really excited with each movie they bring out because they have a genre that is their own - each film feels fresh and different and they keep trying to do something different in the genre while at the same time connecting it within their universe. You need to respect that because they’ve got a formula down pat and it’s working. How long for? I have no idea but coming from a fan like myself, believe it when I say, when there is one bad comic book movie, it kind of spoils the rest of it, you know? And that’s the troubling thing.
So, yeah. You have to be a filmmaker that, first and foremost, has a story to tell-- you have a movie in your head that you want to see, so therefore you make it, but also, you need to know who you’re basically telling that story to-- where your audience is. If you make something you think audiences want, you’ll fail. That’s what the big studios do and that’s why when you watch a movie, walk out and go, “that movie was an utter mess” that’s because there’s a board of suits sitting there catering to ‘kids aged fifteen and eighteen’ - ‘we need to cater to the female demographic’ and ‘oh, we can’t neglect people aged fifty and sixty.” You’re going to get an inconsistent film and you’re losing what the story and characters are about -- That’s when business takes over art and I think in this industry they both need to go hand in hand and balance out.
Oh my god what’s next! A lot of things, there’s a lot of things on the slate at the moment. I think I mentioned earlier, that there is no shortage of ideas, so we’ve got a few things being developed at the moment, ranging from short films to feature films and the idea behind some of the short films is, they work as a proof of concept-- a prequel or even a chapter to a much bigger kind of story ,’cause ultimately we are heading to feature films, making feature length films. But you’ve got to learn how to crawl before you walk and you’ve got to walk before you know how to run and so that’s what we are doing. We are moving at an incredible pace at the moment, which is exciting and great but we are still slowly building you know?
Obviously, we need to earn the bread and butter, so there are the corporate gigs that come around and so far with Lunacraft they’ve all been really fun and really good at the moment. But we are storytellers, where we’re heading and what we want to achieve is making the kind of features films that we love and play within the medium. We are gathering a great team of creatives; beautiful, hungry, passionate people and most importantly they’re also become our friends. Because I think the one thing that is really important for us, is not only finding the right person for the right job but we’re building a family. Making a film is very much that experience, you spend a lot of hours together and you go through a lot of turmoil at times, but you go through a lot of fun times as well. So, you need to have a relationship with that person that is beyond just the superficial nine to five job. You’ll never work nine to five [laughs], you just won’t. I think that’s the important thing, getting along well as people, as creatives and yeah, like I’ve said, you can’t do this on your own. So, it’s surrounding yourself in the right environment, with the right kind of people and then you can accomplish great things.
Find Richard at Lunacraft Productions
Proofreading by Luke Yates. Behind-the-scenes photography by Erík Magnússon.