Roseanne Liang on Shadow In The Cloud

Posted Wednesday 03 Feb 2021

Shadow In The Cloud

After her acclaimed short horror Do No Harm was selected for the Sundance International Film Festival in 2017, Auckland writer and director Roseanne Liang signed with Hollywood representation; from that came Shadow In The Cloud, her recently released 'elevated genre' film starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a British flight officer in World War 2.

Shadow debuted in September at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival, winning the People's Choice Award for its section, joining the festival's other big winners, all directed by women - the first time that's happened at Toronto.

Roseanne cut her directing and writing teeth on the 2011 autobiographical feature film My Wedding And Other Secrets.

Read our interview with Roseanne below.

Congratulations on the release and success of your first international action feature film! How does it feel?

Yes, it's amazing. I'm nervous and excited - feeling all the feelings at once!

From My Wedding in 2011 to your first international feature film - what were you doing in between those two projects?

I had my second child not long after we finished shooting My Wedding, and so I went into mum/parenting world for a while. I emerged for a bit around 2013-14 when I started making (comedy webseries) Flat3, which ended up being five series. I knew that my time was going to be limited after kids and that I had to prioritise. Children make you realign your priorities and I knew I couldn't take (however wonderful) detours in my work anymore, there was no time.

I'd always been in love with genre and action. I told the New Zealand Film Commission this and they really supported me by helping me get internships and roles in Hong Kong and in New Zealand shadowing directors of action and genre films. Also, I was writing an action feature film and Do No Harm was the proof of concept for that.

Will you be moving to Hollywood now?

I was able to make this movie in New Zealand, with a New Zealand crew and, ideally, I'll keep going down that path. I genuinely think we can be making New Zealand movies with Hollywood-level appeal here. Hollywood is already making movies here, the question is whether New Zealand can…and the answer is yes!

I'm biased, but we have the best crews. I find that from the Art Department to the runner everyone is invested in the work they're making. There's such passion. Every crew member is a storyteller and I don't know if you get that in other places.

A lot of the film takes place in the tiny cockpit of an old B-17 bomber, and it also features a gremlin. How did you make all that work, given you couldn't use a real B-17, gremlins don't exist, and apparently Chloe is claustrophobic?

Editor's note: WETA Digital provided the digital effects necessary to make the gremlin, and Roseanne and her special effects team built a fake fuselage on a boat-like hull that could rock while the cockpit was crafted as part of a rolling, 360-degree barrel rig.

Yes, we were an independently budgeted action feature so there was some ingenuity! The art department worked with the special effects team to make the cockpit hydraulically moveable - we wanted that visceral sense of the turbulence and for the audience to feel they could drop at any moment.

We got two burly men from the art department to rock it while Chloe was doing her takes. It took a long time to move the camera around, which multiplied the difficulty factor exponentially, and meant that Chloe had really long takes.

So we had Chloe, who is claustrophobic, inside this tiny bubble, a camera poking in one side and two burly men shaking it from the other side!

We also went up into a helicopter seven times which is a dream come true, but I get airsick. And before you go up you have to sign what's called a dismemberment waiver. (Yes, it's for what you're thinking!)

Tell us about some of the other technical challenges.

The shoot was five weeks, which is 25 shooting days, which is very challenging! Do I wish I had more days? Yes. It was a much more technically challenging movie than we thought it was going to be.

Because it mostly takes place inside this clear 'bubble', you can see outside all around Chloe, and we were shooting in a former office block in an old warehouse in Albany. We tried to fix this using rear projection and with a green screen, but then you need to decide what you put outside the plane's windows.

It became so scientific. We had 300+ SFX shots and these giant sheets full of numbers about the camera angles, the time of day, the state the clouds were in...

What would you have done differently if you'd had more time?

I'd have done way more prep. We were pushed into a tight schedule because Chloe had another movie to shoot. A mantra I stole from a DOP was 'fix it in prep' and I will take that mantra into every movie.

A 25-day shoot must have been exhausting - how did you get through it?

You prepare for a shoot a bit like you would train for a marathon. I practice meditation. I like to eat well and exercise a little bit and all those things help in the marathon a bit.

When you're crazy enough to be a director, being onset is energising. You find wells of strengths and energy you didn't know you had. You hurtle headlong into this unknown chasm but somehow it's liberating. The energy is indescribable. When directing is your jam, it's life-giving. And I tend to get the blues after because I'm not experiencing that energy anymore. It's like you use up a bunch of endorphins.

What was it like working with the US studio, Endeavor Content?

It was one of most positive and empowering experiences I've had with a studio. This is a new studio. We had our robust discussions, but what you see on screen is the movie we intended to make. That doesn't always happen, I'm so grateful and delighted to have done that.

What's next for you?

Elevated genre is where I want to be. Action, but still a movie that means something. I'm just finishing up a cool post-apocalyptic TV show called Creamerie that will be on TVNZ, SBS and further afield, and after that I'm in development on a couple more Hollywood movies, including the feature adaptation of Do No Harm.

IMAGE (right) Roseanne Liang. Photo credit: Dean O'Gorman

IMAGE (left) a supplied still shot from Shadow In The Cloud