Interview – Director Luisa Martiri on her award winning short film, The Moths Will Eat Them Up

Dynamic female filmmaking duo Tanya Modini (Writer, Co-director) and Luisa Martiri (Co-Director/Producer) are on the ride of their careers with their short film The Moths Will Eat Them Up continuing to garner international praise via film festivals around the world.

Like moths to a flame, the award nominations keep racking up with the most recent accolades including a nomination for Short Film for outstanding writing achievements for the 55th Annual AWGIE Awards plus Best Sound for a Live Action Short ASSG Awards 2022 which accompanies their recent nomination for an AACTA Award for Best Short Film 2022. Also, a recent winner of the Dendy Award for Best Live Action Australian Short Film and the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director at Sydney Film Festival 2022 . The Moths Will Eat Them Up also screened at the St Kilda Film Festival.

To talk all about the film and the recognition and resonation it has acclaimed, I sat down with co-director and producer on the film, Luisa Martiri.

Nick: Before we talk about the film itself, the list of accolades that this short has won is impressive! What has your reaction to this reception of The Moths Will Eat Them Up been like so far?

Luisa Martiri: It’s so funny, because going into it, you don’t make it in the hope of just winning awards. I mean, I’m sure some people do, but that’s not what we did. Every step of the way, it was a new surprise. Getting into the St. Kilda Film Festival was so exciting. Then getting nominated was so exciting. It was so unexpected.

We were automatically nominated by being at the Sydney Film Festival, then to win was amazing. We were backstage after winning ‘Best Short’, then they called our names for ‘Best Director’, it was really incredible.

But the overall reception to the film from audiences, particularly middle-aged women who come up to us at the end of screenings, saying we fully encapsulated how we feel every day. So, we feel overwhelmed, but we are incredibly grateful for that.

Nick: You bring up an interesting point there of not focusing on the awards, but I can only assume that when you are making a movie, you are making the best version of it possible. But, did you have any idea when you were shooting this that it would resonate with audiences so powerfully?

Luisa Martiri: I guess you always go into it hoping that it will. The film is inspired by an event that happened to Tanya [Modini, writer and co-director]. The script was informed by her experience, and also her work and advocacy in the ‘prevention against violence’ sector.

So, when she wrote the script, she really had something to say, and we were very conscious of that all the way through. We definitely hoped that the message would come across very strongly and it would elicit some kind of reaction, but to achieve it is a different story!

Nick: This script was funded by the RIDE initiative (Respect, Inclusion, Diversity and Equality). Can you talk me through the process of getting that funding, and how you and Tanya then collaborated once you got that funding?

Luisa Martiri: Tanya and I actually didn’t know each other before we began this process! I had applied with a separate project that wasn’t accepted, but I had also applied with an interest to help produce someone else’s script. And then Tanya’s was selected, but she didn’t have a whole team yet.

So, the executive producers from Unless Pictures called me and told me they have a great screenwriter who needs a producer, and they’d love me too co-direct with her. I read the script and loved it, and we had one phone call and hit it off immediately. We kind of just clicked!

Nick: I really want to geek out a bit about the technical aspects of this film – because it looks and sounds amazing! When the main character, Rayne, enters the train, the aspect ratio changes from wide to flat – can you talk me through your reasoning for this and what you were hoping to portray by doing it?

Luisa Martiri: There were a couple of reasons behind that! That was Julian Panetta, our DP’s, idea. First, it was a purely practical reason because trains are very box-y. Julian thought it was going to be way more interesting if we aren’t having to fight with the edges of the frame a lot. So, if we make the frame narrower, it’ll be visually more interesting. She’s stuck on this train. She’s claustrophobic. She feels like it’s all closing in on her and she needs to get out. The train is representative of getting free and overcoming this situation.

Nick: I want to come back to the technical stuff, especially the soundscape of the film. But, since we’re kind of on the topic, we need to talk about how amazing Ling Cooper Tang is in the film as Rayne, the protagonist. How did casting Ling come about and what was it about her that made her right for the role?

Luisa Martiri: She’s so amazing, and every day I thank my lucky stars that she’s so awesome. Unless Pictures organised casting directors for us who basically cast all the lead roles for the shorts in this initiative. They came to us with a list of, I think, 30 Queensland based women.

It’s not an easy role to cast, because there isn’t a lot of dialogue, so we just got her to do self-tapes of the dialogue scenes. But, what made Ling stand out on the tapes was the energy she had in between the dialogue. She just came alive, and her energy, and her expressions – you could see 100 emotions crossing through her face at once! We knew that she would be able to carry this film, and that’s how we decided on her!

Nick: She is incredible in this! Jumping back to the sounds of the film – I saw in a previous interview, Tanya mentions being very aware of the sounds she heard on the night of the incident that inspired this story. How did you both collaborate on taking those sounds from Tanya’s experience and creating such an eerie soundscape for this short?

Luisa Martiri: That’s a good question. We have an incredible sound designer in Jennifer Leonforte, who is an absolute legend, and she created a beautiful soundscape. And the interesting part about this is that we had the score and sounds kind of working beautifully together. So, Madeline [Cocolas, composer] manipulated train sounds to enhance the score. It was just a great use of an aural soundscape. It really helped build that atmosphere and tension and mood.

Nick: I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s powerful and done in a very visually interesting way. Plus, it calls back to the bible verse at the beginning of the short! How did you convey the idea for that shot to your actors, your crew, and more importantly, those who were funding the film? Because it’s an ambitious visual you pulled off!

Luisa Martiri: Using our storyboard artist was incredibly useful for this because this was the first time that I had worked with VFX. I truly had no idea what I was doing! So, we storyboarded the entire film and presented that to Screen Queensland and it got them really excited.

And because we were so into the filming while on set, it never really occurred to us until post-production that if the effects weren’t good, this is going to crumble. But thankfully, Tim Bahrij (VFX Artist) was a one man show and did an absolutely incredible job of visual effects. When we got the first lots od 3D mock-ups, we were like: ‘holy shit!’ It was incredible.

Everything in this film, the sound, score, editing and visual effects, really brought this film together and I’m so thankful for our team!

Thank you very much to Luisa for her time to talk about The Moths Will Eat Them Up. Be on the look out for the short playing a various film festivals around the world.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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