PALM SPRINGS SHORTFEST – RUSTLING DIRECTOR Tom Furniss “There’s always been a huge pressure in New Zealand to be a ‘bloke’ – strong, stoic and tough”

Director Tom Furniss’ RUSTLING shares a story of a domineering father who is pushing for his sons to be men before their time. This topical film introduces the young actors, Billy Cox and Eden Flynn, it also stars Seth Flynn (DC Comics Sweet Tooth). The film has been nominated for Best Live Action Under 15 Minutes at Palm Springs. We caught up with the talented director to talk about his topical film.

In a family of sheep rustlers, a 15-year-old boy must go up against his domineering father in order to help his younger brother keep the baby lamb left orphaned by their latest slaughter. 

Tom Furniss is a TV writer/director of TV, HIS recent credits include TASKMASTER, NEW ZEALAND TODAY, GOLDEN BOY, and CHRIS PARKER: BACK TO SCHOOL STAND UP SPECIAL. He was formerly a writer on the comedy shows 7DAYS and JONO AND BEN, as well as having written an episode of POWER RANGERS: BEAST MORPHERS. As a stand-up comedian, he has been twice nominated for the BILLY T AWARD, as well as performed at the Melbourne and Edinburgh Comedy Festivals. His screenplays have placed twice in the quarterfinals of the Nicholls Academy Fellowship, and once in the Bluecat screenplay contest. He was the writer-director of the 2011 48-Hour Film award-winning film THE CHILD JUMPERS. In 2022 production will begin on his first feature film, THE MOUNTAIN, “to be directed by Rachel House and produced through Taika Waititi’s Piki Films.”

This is quite an interesting story, what was the inspiration behind it? A few years ago I became fascinated in sheep rustling. In New Zealand there’s a very big organized crime side to animal rustling, which ultimately I steered away from and made it about just a family trying to put food on the table. The other theme running through my life at the time was masculinity. There’s always been this huge pressure in New Zealand to be a ‘bloke’ — strong, stoic, tough. And I am not that. I was raised by my mother and sister, with a mostly absent gay father. I’m sensitive, I’m flamboyant, I’m caring. And it was always my assertation with this film that all of those things can be just as masculine as anything else. To show love, protection, empathy — those are things that I think make me more male than anything else.

The other theme running through my life at the time was masculinity. There’s always been this huge pressure in New Zealand to be a ‘bloke’ — strong, stoic, tough.

Was there anything particularly uncomfortable to film? Yes. Because of the nature of this film, death was a part of our filming process. We had to work with a recently butchered animal, and that was incredibly hard for our young talent Billy and Eden. It is our opening scene, and we filmed it on our first day, and the boys were brilliant at using the trauma of that for their own character arcs in what followed.

We had to work with a recently butchered animal, and that was incredibly hard for our young talent Billy and Eden.

The casting for this film is spectacular, can you tell us a bit more about the process? The youngest brother, Blue, played by Eden Flynn, we found relatively early on as our casting director had him left over from another project he’d just missed out on. We took one look at his audition for that project and knew he was the one. The older brother, Hoss, played by Billy Cox, we held wide auditions for and Billy of course was one of the last ones we saw. He was the only kid who told me in his audition that he loved cinema, and it made all the difference. We wanted kids that could ‘do nothing’, and not over act. So both of them with limited experience on screen were perfect. The father we cast Eden’s father Seth for after a last minute drop out of an actor, and he turned out to be brilliant.

Can you tell us a bit more about the cast? Of course, the hardest part I forgot to mention was casting our lamb! The lamb was played by a 3 month old darling named Danger Mouse. Our animal wrangler Emily Welch was incredible. Because lambs are only born once a year, we had a very limited shoot window – we just missed it the previous year so had to wait another year to film. Honestly, I’ve done commercials with dogs and cats, and they’re nightmares to work with – but a lamb was a revealation. It was docile and easy to work with in 30 minute blocks. As long as it was hungry, we had its attention. I love that lamb, somewhere out in a New Zealand pasture I hope it’s grazing some beautiful grass with a family of its own.

Honestly, I’ve done commercials with dogs and cats, and they’re nightmares to work with – but a lamb was a revealation.

How long was the filming process? We shot for four days in rural Port Waikato, New Zealand. Post production was a lot longer because we went in just at the beginning of the pandemic. We couldn’t get into the suite for a long time because many productions backlogged. But it was good, because it allowed me to have plenty of time to think about shaping the story.

What are you working on next? My first feature film is shooting in November of this year. I am writer only on the project, but it will be directed by a brilliant New Zealand director Rachel House and produced by Taika Waititi and Carthew Neals’ Piki Films. The story is about four young teens who decide to go and climb the supposedly magic mountain that has always been on their doorstep. It’s a very special project for me, inspired by my teenage years, and I can’t wait to see it come to life.

My first feature film is shooting in November of this year

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