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Two Minutes on High

Two Minutes on High challenges the deeply ingrained concepts of normative sexuality and traditional gender roles via a metaphoric exploration of the four phases of the sexual response cycle: desire, arousal, climax, and resolution. Desire and arousal take a more commercialized approach, commenting on the heteronormative sexual programming that is heavily reinforced by the consumption of mainstream cinema and online pornography; the two predominant mediums via which we frequently observe sex. Climax and resolution explore the impact that power dynamics and gender roles have on the expression of sexuality and sexual practices within western culture. The introduction of sounds and images that bend and break these norms encourage the viewer to reconsider the effects that social conditioning and media consumption play in our perceptions and behavior surrounding sexuality and gender.

Amber Rose McNeill is an Australian film director and appropriated media artist based in Wisconsin. Her work focuses on societal attitudes towards violence, dark psychology and challenging normative concepts of sexuality. Amber Rose frequently examines the relationship that media and popular culture play in the consumption of violence within western society. Her current projects serve to rework traditional structures within the horror genre to further queer narratives in addition to creating more films made via the female, and gender queer, lens.

How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?

The first film I ever made was shot on an old VHS camcorder and edited on an analogue tape editor in my final year of high school. It was a terrible film that was a knock off exploitation film, but I look back fondly now because I can appreciate teaching myself how to use analogue editing equipment at 17 years of age.

The first proper film I made was a 48hr film challenge while I was at film school in LA. It was a neo-noir short that I produced and co-wrote. It was a nightmare to shoot but having grown up on film sets, the skills I had picked up there, all kind of kicked in under pressure and we ended up with a moody little short film that was actually pretty cool. That was four years ago, and I have been consistently making short films ever since.

What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?

I had started working in appropriated media, or sampling, during the first lockdown in the US. I couldn’t work with a crew or actors and I didn’t want to stop making films. I found out very quickly that I had an apt for this kind of filmmaking. Two Minutes on High was the third film I’ve made in this style of filmmaking. I wanted to make a film that hit hard and fast in a way that felt all consuming and highly stimulating.

Discussions that challenge concepts of normative sexuality and gender have always been important to me as an artist and this style of filmmaking lends itself perfectly to exploring all these themes. I decided early on to structure the film around the sexual response cycle, it was my first attempt at a structural film but I found having that intent and architecture really helped the film to take shape. Appropriated media is particularly impactful for social commentary and drawing social critiques.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent female filmmaker in the film industry?

Being taken seriously by men in the industry. Mostly I pick my crew based on who I am most confident and comfortable working with when it comes to my own films. But I have worked on other people’s films as a 1st or 2nd AD, or an Executive Producer, and have had many male crew members refuse to follow directions or just straight out fight my authority/ability to run a set. Pitching projects and seeking funding can also be an issue. Often if a man finds a woman attractive, he won’t take her seriously in these situations. Being dismissed, ignored, or fought when I’m just doing my job has been the most challenging part of being a woman in this industry.

How difficult is it to fund indie films?

It takes a lot of work, time, and effort. Thankfully there are tools like GoFundMe and IndieGoGo that make it a lot easier to get the word about your project out there, but that’s like a full-time job until you reach funding (which doesn’t always happen). There is a skill to it and you need to learn the tips and tricks. You’re still essentially relying on donations from friends and strangers to fund your project. It can be tough. Having an understanding of traditional film funding, pitching, and the studio system is really helpful when it comes to indie funding methods. It makes you appreciate the freedom you have as a filmmaker when you fund independently. Retaining creative control is well worth the effort involved in sourcing your own funding independent of studios.

Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?

I grew up watching a lot of David Lynch’s work from a very young age. I’ve always found his work to be exciting and fascinating. I enjoy films with deeper meanings that the audience may not be privy to. I like being confused and/or not being handed a neatly wrapped ending. The weirdness that Lynch harnesses on screen, and his aesthetic, is really something else.

Ari Aster is an incredible filmmaker. He and Jordan Peele have elevated horror to a prestige level. Aster is so involved with every aspect of the filmmaking process, particularly sound, which results in these intense, immersive pieces of film. I was taken under the wing of the sound department at my first film school and became really attached to film sound. I also focus a lot of my time as a filmmaker on the sound process. Aster also creates these strong, complex, and fully developed female characters. His films are disturbing and fascinating, but also exceptionally beautiful.

Claire Denis does amazing work that is very focused on the human body which I really respond to. She shoots on location a lot as opposed to shooting on sound stages which is something I’m moving more into myself. The cinematography in Denis’ films is so unique to her cinematic visions. She’s able to capture these wider shots that act as still photographs with characters moving within the still frames. She also makes the films she wants to make in the way she wants to make them, and that is incredibly inspirational as a female filmmaker.

How did your project go into production and how did you finalize the cast and the crew?

Two Minutes on High isn’t a traditionally made film. So, I didn’t have to deal with a lengthy preproduction process or deal with cast or crew. Making appropriated media pieces is a very different process. It relies heavily on concept, commentary, research, finding materials, editing, and post sound work. Creating a transformative piece of art from existing materials tends to lend itself more to social commentary and/or critique than a traditional narrative. It’s a different beast with an entirely different process from traditional or mainstream cinema.

How was the film received by your audience and film festivals and what is your plan for further distribution of the film?

It’s been received really well. We’ve had a solid festival run and received great feedback. Two Minutes on High has mostly been picked up by women’s film festivals and underground festivals, which is great. We just took the Festival Award for Experimental Short last night at the Topaz Festival by Women in Film Dallas, which was super exciting. Coming first in your category always feels really good, but it feels particularly good with this film.

What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent films?

Make the art you want to make. Make the films you want to make. Worry more about making the films you want to see than what’s going to sell tickets. You’ll end up with more interesting films that way. Believing in your work and knowing your craft does a lot to help you promote a film once it’s completed. Filmmaking is only one side of the equation. If you’re looking to get your film picked up for distribution you really need to learn the business side of filmmaking (i.e., distribution and sales) as well as the production side of filmmaking.

What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?

I’ve recently completed a film that’s just started its festival run, Andrew Ginger/Likes Dogs. It’s a queer horror film about the dangers and disillusionment of modern dating. I’m really proud of this film because it is written, produced, directed, and designed by a queer woman (me), and my two main actors are queer men playing queer characters. It’s a really special film and I’m so happy it’s finally meeting the world.

I’ve also started preproduction on a 16mm film that follows a female serial killer via the female lens. I’m really excited to shoot another film on 16mm. It involves a lot more time and care than shooting digital but I have a fantastic cinematographer that I met in film school. I’m very much looking forward to collaborating with her on this film.

Why do you make films?

I guess it’s in my blood and upbringing, but I sort of can’t stop now that I’ve started. When I couldn’t shoot with cast and crew during lockdown, I started making appropriated media pieces. I love creating cinema and will change or adapt in order to keep making films. I love that I’m not confided to one style of filmmaking. I make traditional narrative films, but also shoot experimental 16mm shorts, and cut together appropriated media pieces. I just love expanding my knowledge and skills because I love making films.


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