Meet Adelaide Helena
After a stint overseas working in various creative roles in the USA and Canada, Adelaide found herself drawn to film, and ultimately directing. With a style mash-up consisting of everything from Disney to erotic thriller, she brings a refreshingly wide-eyed approach to her work, never taking herself too seriously.
“...we made a film - a slasher film, actually. People cutting off other people’s heads with chainsaws and things like that. That’s my first film ever...It’s so bad, but it’s just so good.”
Tell us how you started out.
It was actually when I moved to New York - I just followed my friend there because I didn’t really know what I was going to do - but I decided to stay, I think I must have been 20, and I was doing five jobs... Actually, one of them was a horrible job at a club being a bottle girl, it’s like carrying bottles with fireworks to tables. I only did it for two nights because it was just so depressing. Anyway, I found an internship at a post-production company and it was just such a cool environment and studio. I’d never really seen anything like that before. It kind of just clicked at that moment. I was like, why had I not thought about this before?
I think now in hindsight, looking back, I always wanted to do it. I just didn’t know that it was an option because if you don’t know anyone in the film industry… well, I just didn’t think it was possible or that people actually did it in New Zealand.
At school I did media studies in year 12 and we studied Sin City, Bruce Willis, and I loved it. I discovered in that class that there are metaphors and layers to movies and reasons for everything.
I think I was shocked by the fact that they had purposely put in all these little hints and things and I just thought that was incredible. Then just really got it at that moment. I loved it and we made a film - a slasher film, actually. People cutting off other people’s heads with chainsaws and things like that. That’s my first film ever.
I was quite impressed with myself actually. It’s probably my favourite film I’ve done. It’s so bad, but it’s just so good. We got a prize for that. I think now looking back, that was kind of the thing that set it off for me. Then I think if I go all the way back to when I was young, I was obsessed with Disney movies. I figured it all out in New York and then I ended up coming back here and getting a job on Ghost in the Shell, which I thought was just so cool because I was finally on set doing a movie, which I wanted to do. It was actually horrible in hindsight, but that’s the reason I went back to New York.
So growing up on Disney films, then turning to do a chainsaw massacre film in year 12, then moving to New York... How would you describe your style now? Kind of a ‘Disney-meets-Slasher’ film?
Yeah, exactly. Something in between there. I actually didn’t decide that I wanted to direct until a bit later. It took me a while to get the courage to say that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to direct.
I didn’t think I was confident enough to put myself forward like that, I don’t even know when I finally said it, but yeah, I ended up directing. Probably the main reason I wanted to be a director was that I really love working with actors. I think that’s my thing. I’m not very technical. I don’t really get equipment and lighting that well, and I know what I want it to look like, but I’m not very good at the nitty gritty bits of it. I can’t really say exactly what my style would be, because I think it’s just quite different. It’s probably a mixture of genres. I mean, the movies and shows I’ve liked recently are drama, comedy, thriller, thriller-comedy. All of it.
Being born in 93 you’ve been around for some very iconic ads.
That’s true actually. I have one favourite ad that I always say, but I didn’t see it on TV. I actually just discovered it because it’s a director that I worked with at Robber’s Dog. It’s a Steinlager ad called Born To Defy. It’s a diver diving into a black hole and there’s like a wide and a few closeups and this cool kind of radio, staticy sound. I can’t even remember what it’s saying. It’s about the black hole and it’s just really emotive and simple. I don’t even know, to be honest, what it has to do with Steinlager, but I think that’s the kind of ads I love - ads that actually have nothing to do with the thing.
They’re more subconscious than in your face. I think people are so smart these days about the machine trying to sell them stuff, but you have to do it subconsciously I think to be effective. When we think about iconic ads that I grew up with, the first one that comes to my head is that one by Mitre 10 with the kids saying all the dad things. They’re doing what the dads would do, ’she’ll be right mate’. So good.
Was there a film or a soundtrack or an actor or anyone that had huge influences? I know you talked about Disney.
Yeah, Disney’s a funny one because it’s a different category in my mind. I have a vision of the things I’d like to do. Then Disney is over here… I really do love dance and music. I love the theatre. I just think the whole symbiosis of an orchestra, dancing, acting and singing is just so powerful. I really do love that. That’s in my dreams far away and quite different from the normal films I think I like. And then the ones that have really influenced me are quite dark. It’s like two sides of the coin.
Fight Club was definitely one. It’s a bit weird, a bit off kilter, a bit crazy and a bit psychological. I love psychological thriller films. A little bit slasher and just really raw actually.
How do you keep your cup full creatively when you go? Who do you spend time with?
I do love spending time on my own. I like going to the beach and I love meditation, spirituality and things like that. I think that’s what I would like to bring more into my work... and this is what I’d like a director is just to work really instinctively and intuitively, which is quite hard when you’re on set with so many people around you, you kind of just need to really channel a lot of energies and get out into something good.
I’m also trying to write a feature film - it’s a psychosexual thriller actually - and what influenced that was watching Euphoria the TV series, which I also thought was quite ingenious for its time.
Anyway, my psychosexual thriller. It’s set in Italy, and I have a director - Scott Winer. I was his assistant in Vancouver and he’s done really great stuff like the Fargo series - some of the first season. I think he did the Billy Bob Thornton season. And he did Breaking Bad, one of the biggest episodes where Walt is under his house and he goes crazy and he’s like, he’s just laughing uncontrollably. So he’s done great stuff like that. He’s quite an older guy maybe in his seventies and he’s coming to the end of his career and just wants to help other people. Anyway, he wants to help me with the film. So I’m just trying to get it done.
Fingers crossed that it actually happens, but it takes a while to write a film.
Is there a composer or actor, in general that you’d like to work with?
There’s a lot of people I’d love to work with, but the first person that comes to mind is Adam Driver. There’s just something about him, the energy he has is just, he’s just so weird. There’s something so weird about him. I would love to work with him.
Oh, there’s the top actors that I’d watch anything they work on. Like Cate Blanchett, but I think I’d be absolutely terrified to work with her.
Obviously I would love to work with Hans Zimmer, but I think everyone would. I heard a really cool story about him and Inception. Christopher Nolan just sent him the script. He said, “this is the kind of story. Make a soundtrack and we’ll go from there and I’ll create this story from there.” So he created a soundtrack which actually informed the whole film, which I would love to do. I think music does that. I think it really does do that.
I’d love to work with composers closely from beginning to end on an ad or a film. It just makes such a difference.