She may not have claimed the top prize at Tropfest NZ, but Tess Novak certainly turned a few heads with her entry A Kiwi Legend.
The 22-year-old Oakura director found out last week her short film entry won the Viewers' Choice Award at the inaugural New Zealand event last month.
"I was so surprised to win the award, especially because my whole family missed the memo about voting," she joked.
But her family she did not need, as her mockumentary featuring a star-studded cast won the hearts of many.
Novak's film centred around the nation being divided by the adaptation of its iconic gumboot.
It featured supporters of the innovation such as World designer Denise L'Estrange- Corbet, actress Melanie Lynskey, and rugby star Beauden Barrett, while others including former All Black great Sir Colin Meads, saw it as a threat to their national identity.
The film also featured comedians Dai Henwood and Steve Wrigley, as well as athletes Kane Barrett and Valerie Adams.
Novak said she was initially advised to get professional actors on board, but soon realised she could go one better.
"I had really strong stereotypes in my head right from the start about who I wanted to use - a farmer, an actress.
"I eventually thought well, why not just get the real deal? It was quite ambitious but I thought there's no harm in trying."
After the script had been given the thumbs up by Matt Dravitzki, general manager of Peter Jackson's production company Wingnut Films, Novak contacted potential cast members.
She either emailed them directly or went through their managers and, in some cases, family connections helped.
"Millie Lynskey was the producer so she was able to get Melanie, her sister, which was just amazing because she is such a busy lady."
With Sir Colin, a simple phone call was enough for the rugby legend to agree.
"He said 'yes' straight away, he was great. When we arrived, he had all his lines down pat, him and his wife had been practising."
Novak said she did receive a few "nos", but took it with a grain of salt.
"Some were busy and others weren't comfortable about being on camera, which was fine."
Although the film had a $15,000 budget, Novak said none of the cast members was paid, which made their involvement extra special.
"I'm so thankful that so many people believed in the script and came on board without receiving anything in return. It meant a lot to see them embrace it and have fun."
They were also able to secure sponsorship from the Devon Hotel, ITL, BTW and Stars Travel, which Novak said had been a huge help.
To make it to the top 16 was a complete shock for Novak, who said she had no idea what to expect.
"I felt very proud of my film, but it was all a bit unknown. You hear about people entering who have a lot of experience so the fact some of them were already established was quite daunting.
"When I got the email - that was the best email of my life."
With one successful attempt under her belt, Novak said she would love to enter Tropfest NZ for a second year.
"I've got a few ideas churning round and I would love to enter Tropfest again.
"It definitely surpassed any expectations I had when I started thinking about entering," she said.
And, although next year's Tropfest Signature Item is a pair of glasses, Novak may need to find a way to incorporate a few gumboots.
"After this year my garage is full of boxes of gumboots," she said.
To watch A Kiwi Legend go to taranakidailynews.co.nz
- © Fairfax NZ News
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