Interview with Mairi Cameron

By Liza Dezfouli

“I was a bit scared of aspects of the story.” Director Mairi Cameron is talking about her feature film, The Second, her first feature and the first Australian made feature for national streaming platform STAN. We can’t reveal exactly which bits of The Second scare Cameron without giving things away, suffice it to say that the sexual politics in the film will get people talking.  Cameron says. “Rape, the representation of women and sexual abuse; it’s dangerous terrain, it treads a fine line. Women can be predators too, women can be cruel. I’m interested in stories that provoke conversation. I’m hoping people will ask me tough questions. I want the discussion!”

Set on a country property in Queensland, The Second is a psychological thriller starring Rachael Blake, Susie Porter and Vince Colosimo, as The Writer, The Muse and The Publisher, respectively. The Writer and The Muse share a deep connection going back to their adolescence. The Writer has prospered while The Muse has not, and these tensions along with secrets from the past and the erotic triangle forming around the The Publisher, threaten their uneasy truce during a long weekend at The Writer’s family home.

While staying true to traditional elements of gothic narratives, such as the femme fatale characters, the country mansion, the remote small town setting,The Second has a distinctively Australian look: lots of daylight, daytime exteriors and lots of landscape rather than night shots and shadowy outdoors. Budgeting considerations served a creative purpose here, explains Cameron. “We used the available light where we could. We used the horror of the landscape around the property, the dryness, the harsh sun … We didn’t try to match the interiors with the exteriors. Light and shade is so much a theme. The characters fall into shadow in the dark timbered house while it’s bright daylight outside. That’s the beauty of having a great DOP (Mark Wareham). He said he only wanted to do it if we made bold choices.”

The Second was made with the assistance of Screen Queensland’s low budget initiative for films that can be made for a million or less. “I didn’t want a crew of 40. It was really minimal. We had no grip and one gaffer who wasn’t even a professional gaffer, he just did it on the side.”

The screenplay was written by Stephen Lance in close collaboration with Cameron and producer Leanne Tonkes. It was very much a shared process, says Cameron. “I give a lot of rein to actors, especially strong actors like these. I cast Rachael because she’s an actor who’s going to surprise you. She’s such a strong storyteller herself (she’s writing a novel at the moment), so we were able to talk about the big picture, not just about her character.”

Cameron says influences on The Second are a mixture of hi-brow and low-brow. “European cinema, especially Bergman. There are obvious nods to Persona. And the 80s and 90s thriller genre, films like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. A modern one, Nocturnal Animals. I like the idea of a story within a story.”

Unlike many stories featuring femmes fatales, The Second keeps its focus on the relationship between the two women. “It’s not Single White Female”, adds Cameron. “The friendship is central. These two women are finding different ways to have a voice. I didn’t want them to become enemies and end up killing each other.”

Is Cameron interested in working on other platforms besides film? “I’m directing TV at the moment, for the first time and loving it, a good Australian show called Harrow. It’s good to have the opportunity to practice the craft of directing. It can be a long time between gigs and I continually feel like a beginner. I’d love to do more TV, yes, web series are great as well. I want to take on stories that engage me.”

Catch The Second at MWFF! Tickets here.

Whitney Monaghan