Family journey for director

21:10, Jan 12 2014
Shepherd 2154
POSTCARD-APOCALYPSE: Julia Reynolds is the writer/director/producer of Shepherd 2154, a science fiction film being shot entirely in the Waikato – and her daughter, Olivia, is the lead actress.

The future is a family affair for Julia Reynolds and her daughter Olivia.

Reynolds is the writer and director of a science fiction feature film called Shepherd 2154 - in which Olivia, 16, plays a central role.

The movie is being shot entirely in locations throughout the Waikato, including the Waitomo Caves, west coast beaches and in bush near Te Aroha.

A complex film set has been built inside the old dairy factory in Matangi, transforming it into a run-down, dystopian environment populated by some strange and sinister characters.

Shepherd 2154 is set in a world where the northern hemisphere is no longer habitable.

Olivia plays Eden, a 16-year-old struggling to survive in a society which has outlawed diversity and religion, who comes across an old tourist map that has an image she has been dreaming about.


However, when she is faced with leaving the only life she knows to follow the map, she must accept her dreams and memories, as a way to uncover who she really is.

"It's essentially the story of a girl completely lost in this terrible world," Reynolds says. "The science fiction element is really just background . . . It's a coming-of-age tale."

The project began life as a short film script penned in 2007 by Reynolds and her sister Wendy Cook, but had evolved to become a four-year production.

When the Waikato Times visited the set yesterday Reynolds and the crew were preparing for the rigours of an overnight shoot.

"We want to get three scenes in the can, if we can," she said. "It will take us around seven hours. I think we will be going until at least 3am.

"If you are shooting on a budget, the easiest way to control the light is to do your filming after dark. It's the easiest way, although it can be quite hard on the crew and the cast."

Around 300 "very talented" people, mostly from the Waikato, had so far been involved in making Shepherd 2154, including extras. Many more will become involved once the filming process shifts to its post-production phase.

The film was inspired, partly, by a short story she read about a pilot flying from Germany to England for his Christmas break in the 1950s.

The plane's navigation instruments malfunctioned, leaving him trapped and disoriented above a layer of thick cloud.

By sheer luck another aircraft chanced upon him, and guided him to safety through the clouds to his home airfield.

Once back in the hangar, the pilot asked the ground staff about the plane and pilot who had helped him out - only to be told that aircraft had been shot down during World War II.

"It got me thinking about what guides us, about what journeys we take in life - that whole thing about life being a journey, not a destination.

"It helped inform the short film script I wrote with Wendy Cook . . . and we later decided there was much more to it than just a short story."

Filming began in 2010 with the shooting of some flashback scenes featuring Olivia.

Reynolds never envisaged such a long time would be spent on the production, although it would give the film authenticity to have its central character age as the story progressed.

Using Olivia as the lead actress was also never part of the plan.

"However, she gave such a strong performance in the flashback we decided to keep her on to play the older Eden."

Olivia said Eden was a "sad and kind of lonely character . . . who has lost her parents and is living by herself.

"At times she can be a difficult character to play, especially in the scenes where she has to be sad."

Although she was not entirely sure whether she wanted to become a career actress, she said being involved with Shepherd 2154 was proving a great experience.

Reynolds said she had tried to use crowd-sourcing as a means to fund the film, which had not proved entirely successful.

Creative New Zealand had contributed to the cost of production and other benefactors had chipped in here and there - and Reynolds had also dug deep into her own pockets.

At one point she had all but pulled the plug on the project, out of fear that a science fiction film made on a shoestring budget would end up looking cheesy.

"But I thought about the strengths and weaknesses. We reworked the script and I think what we will have will be really good . . . fingers crossed, all going well, it will be coming out in cinemas around the end of 2015."

Waikato Times