UPROAR: Q&A with producers Emma Slade, Angela Cudd, Sandra Kailahi

Posted Tuesday 26 Sep 2023

UPROAR: Q&A with producers Emma Slade, Angela Cudd, Sandra Kailahi

Fresh from its screening at the revered Toronto International Film Festival, the local feature film Uproar is about to hit New Zealand cinemas! There are sneak previews taking place throughout the country this weekend at select cinemas, and the film opens nationwide on October 5, 2023.

Uproar is produced by Firefly Films (Emma Slade, Roxi Bull and Victoria Dabbs), Caravan Carpark Films (Angela Cudd) and Kingston Productions (Sandra Kailahi), with WIFT NZ member Maria Ines Manchego as DOP. (There were numerous WIFT NZ members involved in this film but we couldn't fit you all in here!). It's directed by the award-winning Paul Middleditch (Terra Nova, A Cold Summer) and Hamish Bennett (Bellbird), and co-written by Hamish Bennett and Sonia Whiteman. 

Watch the trailer

We talked to Emma Slade, Angela Cudd and Sandra Kailahi about their experiences working together on Uproar.

WIFT NZ: How and why did you get involved in producing Uproar?

Emma Slade: Paul Middleditch asked me to produce the film in 2015. The script was funny and distinct, but it needed work to bring all the threads together. Sonia Whiteman did a great job with this and the characters. Once Julian Dennison came on board as the lead, we asked Hamish to join our team as co-writer and co-director.

Sandra Kailahi: I met Emma at the Berlinale Film Festival in 2019 and some months later she asked me if I’d be interested in being a co-producer.  The script was interesting and had some great emotional beats and I really liked that the main character's best friend was Samoan. That really interested me as a Tongan/Pacific producer and I was keen to see this explored more. I knew this film was special from the first time I read the script.

Angela Cudd: I came on board at a time when the script was being re-written to centre around a Māori lead. In many ways, centering the story around Josh Waaka altered the DNA of the story so it wasn't as simple as changing the characters skin-colour. The story had to be picked apart and put back together. Writer Hamish Bennet did an incredible job of this, delving deep into Kai Tahu history and building the story’s world around that history, then building Josh's whakapapa within that framework. He managed to honour the strong foundation that was laid by writer Sonia Whiteman while adding intricacy and depth that elevated the story even more. After this, we had to start again in many ways in terms of packaging the film for financing.

WIFT NZ: There are three production companies involved, Firefly, Caravan Park and Kingston Productions. How did you make it work? How did each get a say in decisions? How was the work divided up? 

Angela Cudd: Uproar was a true collaboration and often times quite democratic. We made a real effort to ensure everyone had a voice and felt heard in using that voice. And that being heard translated into outcome and action. This was made easier by the fact that at the centre of our decision-making was the film and what was best for it. That shared driver gave us a strong centre-point to work from that really drove our decision-making. 

Sandra Kailahi: We all took the lead in the different areas but it was also important that we all were given the opportunity to have our say throughout the whole process.

Emma Slade: Caravan Carpark Films took the lead on the shoot and all Māori aspects of the project and Kingston Productions took the lead on post-production and all Pacific Island aspects of the project. Firefly Films took the lead on development, financing, casting, delivery, sales and distribution.

Angela Cudd: But overall, Uproar was a communal effort and we were all very much involved in all parts of the process. A special shout-out to Associate Producer, Roxi Bull who was also with us the entire way.

As a team we felt a strong sense of wanting to tell this story well and in a way that showed we really value the people we work with. Also our investors were always in our mind and wanting to make a commercially viable film. Sometimes there were competing priorities and at times that was tricky but during those tricky times the relationships we built with each other and having the well-being of film at the centre of our decisions got us through it. 

Sandra Kailahi: It was amazing having the opportunity to hear each other's views which paved the way for deep and meaningful discussions and discourse but about race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand. The film is set in 1981 but the issues are still relevant today.  

WIFT NZ: Tell us about some of the interesting challenges that you/your co specifically faced in producing this film?

Angela Cudd: The amount of time required working with a team of our size was challenging but also par for the course on a project like this. Each person in the creative team played a vital role so the extra time and effort was worth it.

Sandra Kailahi: We had our work cut out for ourselves with two directors and three producers but much like the issues in the film, we were able to work through them because of what everyone brought to the production.

Emma Slade: The film is as good as it is because of what Paul and Hamish both bought to the project. Keeping the focus on the film and a singular vision was a regular discussion for us all. 

Angela Cudd: Our key challenge was merging our unique world-views and cultural backgrounds. It's easy to work together when we're all in agreeance and feeling great but inevitably, the moments where we don't agree or aren't feeling the best arise. So working through that together was, at times, challenging. Especially with the weight of our country's history ever-present. That said, the concept of multiculturalism and co-existing is so key to the story of Uproar that it feels fitting that we experienced some of those same challenges off-screen. Ultimately, we were lucky that we had a team who put the kaupapa ahead of ego, and who were always well-intentioned throughout this journey. A key takeaway for me that I think is important to say "out loud" that it's okay to challenge each other - and in the end through those challenges beautiful things can be created. 

Emma Slade: We had a lot of friends and family of crew and cast members fall ill or pass away, so that was difficult for everyone. 

Sandra Kailahi: Covid was a challenge especially when Emma got it on the first day of filming, that's never easy but having a wonderful cast and crew definitely helped. We are so grateful to those who helped to make this great film.

WIFT NZ: What did you bring to this production? What’s your ‘producer vibe’?  

Angela Cudd: Through this process, I've certainly grown as a producer. Coming into it I would have said I'm a people's producer who wants to protect and elevate my team and the story. I like to build relationships rather than treat my working relationships like transactions. Coming out of it, I'd still say that people and story are key but I also now have a better understanding of the realities of film-making as a business.

Sandra Kailahi: Empathy, compassion, and a willingness to listen and learn and during filming I also brought the chocolate and lollies, that always goes a long way.

Emma Slade: To lead with kindness, respect and fairness, even with the difficult conversations. To know when to lean in and when to lean out.  To appreciate hard work and to value all the team members, whatever their contribution is. To create a whānau vibe – it’s important that people are enjoying what they are doing and the best way to ensure that, is for people to feel like they belong to a community.  

Image: supplied
From Left to Right: Emma Slade, Angela Cudd, Sandra Kailahi