Australian Actor/Filmmaker Alicia Pavlis on Mental Health Awareness

Alicia Pavlis is a Melbourne born artist, actor and filmmaker who grew up in the Northern Territory, Australia. Her childhood was comprised of camping trips and exploring hidden waterfalls, near misses with crocodiles, and learning about the majesty of indigenous culture. Her youth could easily be described as wild and adventurous. But given her family’s low socioeconomic status while living in government housing, Alicia also faced many difficult circumstances and tragic events that she learned to use as inspiration for her creativity.

As a way to express herself, Alicia developed a zealous flare for painting, illustrating, writing poetry and making music. She began volunteering for arts organizations, whilst studying acting and business management in Brisbane, and also worked as a cinema projectionist.

After returning to Melbourne to further develop her career, Alicia spent several years performing as a musician and writing jingles. She studied acting in Melbourne and Los Angeles and began developing short scripts.

Throughout her career, Alicia has appeared in several TV series, commercials, and films as an actor. Including a small role alongside Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook in the sci-fi cult mind bender Predestination in 2014. This experience further encouraged Alicia’s passion for science fiction.

In 2015 Alicia established a photography and film production business, Reel Photographs, while also freelancing as a writer. Inspired by her own experiences and motivated by her advocacy for mental health awareness, Alicia wrote, directed and starred in her first short film Apparition in late 2018, and completed post production of the film in early 2021.

Apparition tells a story of two sisters who are trying to understand their tangled grief. The film is currently in consideration for film festival selection and will be released in 2022. In 2020 Alicia wrote and filmed a proof of concept for a sci-fi series titled AWAKENING. She shot the proof entirely in her own home during lockdown, and is currently undertaking masterclasses with Australians In Film while developing this sci-fi series, along with a coming-of-age Australian indie feature.

Exclusive interview with the talented Australian Indie Filmmaker Alicia Pavlis 

NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?

Alicia Pavlis: Like most creatives, I have a few projects going at any given time. While wrapping up post production for my short film Apparition I started writing AWAKENING, a science fiction series. I’m also chipping away at some paintings and art projects.

NY Elite: What is your short film Apparition about?

Alicia Pavlis: Apparition is about two sisters processing grief in different ways. The story explores mental health and the phenomenon of ghosts. The two women are living in the family farmhouse that they’ve inherited from their late parents. Strange occurrences take place which causes them to face their grief, and process the tragic events that preceded the story. There’s also a twist, but I won’t give away any spoilers.

NY Elite: Apparition has a focus on mental health, why is mental health awareness important to you?

Alicia Pavlis:
I experienced some very difficult circumstances in my early life, such as losing loved ones to drug addiction and suicide, and being exposed to abuse. Due to this, I developed an anxiety disorder that has impacted my life and mental health over the years. It’s something that took me a very long time to properly understand and manage. I was embarrassed by it and didn’t want anyone to know that I deeply struggled with some things. But I started being more vocal about it, and discovered that there are so many people, not only in the entertainment industry, but across all industries, who have similar struggles. Especially now with the upheaval and collective trauma we’re experiencing in this strange post-pandemic world.

You can stop any person in the street, we all have a story of struggle in our past to some degree. I think as productivity-focused creatures living in a busy world, we forget that we’re still human.

There’s still a stigma around mental health, but I like to think of it as being no different to physical health. If you have a sports injury, you see a Doctor, get scans, and rest for the appropriate amount of time so as not to cause further damage. Then you do sessions with an exercise physiologist, and train certain muscles to build up strength and support the healing of that injury.

Similarly, with mental health, you can see a Doctor, get your bloods checked, maintain a healthy diet, engage in sessions with a therapist, or look at alternative avenues for healing such as relaxation therapies, mindfulness, and life coaching. Or you can take medication to help balance the chemicals in your brain. Or try it all. There are options for all lifestyles. Our brains aren’t flawless, and react to the confusing and busy world we live in. There’s no shame in needing help with managing the intricacies of the most complex and mysterious human organ.

I envision a future where everyone knows this and mental health options and solutions are as common place, and as accessible, as physical fitness options. It’s important for me to make creative projects that highlight this and create discussions about it.

NY Elite: You started out as an actor, what was it like being in the director’s chair with this project?

Alicia Pavlis: It was a really great experience to write and develop this story, and bring it to fruition. I love being able to conceptualize something and then strategically and creatively find a way to make it happen and feel real. To me directing is similar to composing music or painting a canvas. When it comes to art, I have this clear vision in my head of how it’s going to look and feel, and then I use all of the colours, sounds, and resources around me to create that vision so others can experience it the way I visualized it. It’s very satisfying to watch that unfold. Throw in some actors, a crew, a location, and a story. A film is really just a big canvas with lots of moving parts.

Apparition Still of Phoebe Wilson-Lee and Alicia Pavlis

NY Elite: Who else stars in the film with you?

Alicia Pavlis: There were only 3 of us in the film. The all-female cast includes myself and Phoebe Wilson-Lee as the lead characters, and Vivienne Perry also lends her voice for a phone conversation that takes place towards the end of the film. Phoebe and Vivienne are gorgeous human beings, it’s really wonderful to create work with friends. I wrote the script knowing that the three of us would play these characters, so I named all of the characters after us. It’s not something you can do very often as a writer, because actors have busy schedules and casting can change. They were on board from the get-go, and they were committed to making this project with me, so I wanted to honour that.

NY Elite: This is your first film, did you learn any valuable lessons?

Alicia Pavlis: I’ve definitely come to respect that mistakes are glorious teachers, and it’s really important to work with solutions-focused people who are just as passionate about story telling as you are. Caroline Grunewald was my First AD on set and she was an absolute gun. And Leo Evershed, our cinematographer, was so easy to work with. I had a real dream team. But I also wore a lot of hats to make this film.

From writer, producer, director, actor, to editor, sound design, music supervisor, costumes, and catering. I even designed the posters. Most of these roles are jobs I’ve done before, but I taught myself how to colour grade on this film, and that was a big learning experience. I’m the kind of person who likes to know how things work. I’ll have a go at learning anything if I feel like I can do it. We had a very small budget, and I pride myself on being thrifty and resourceful.

My indie filmmaking motto is; If you can do it yourself, do it yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, pay someone else to do it. If you can’t pay someone else to do it. Learn how to do it yourself.

Once I got half way though the editing process I started to feel a bit overwhelmed, then Covid-19 happened and I had to put completing the film on hold. I think there was a bit of stubborn determination on my part to finish what I had started myself, rather than calling in others to help with editing and completing the film.

The lesson there is that I can definitely do it all myself if necessary, and I can check that off my list. But the wisdom gained is that I don’t actually have to do it all myself. I’m looking forward to future projects with bigger budgets so I can hire more people, and I don’t have to take on so many roles, but I’m grateful to have learned how much work goes into every aspect of creating a film.

NY Elite: How do you feel about acting in your own film?

Alicia Pavlis: Acting in my own projects is inevitable. I wanted to be an actor from a very young age. I never planned on being a filmmaker. But being an actor was a part of my career plan early on. Seeing as I’m also a visual artist, writer, and photographer, and I have an insatiable passion to tell stories and multitask, it seems that becoming a filmmaker was also inevitable.

It’s definitely a challenge to act in a project you’ve written and directed. I think I’d prefer to act in someone else’s film and let them do the directing, or direct my own film and have someone else do the acting. Both roles are demanding and require a lot of preparation. I clearly like to throw myself in the deep end to challenge myself and see if I can do something tricky. It makes everything else seem like a piece of cake later on. But I might just stick to cameos in my future projects. Haha

NY Elite: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

Alicia Pavlis: The films that impact me the most are the films that have valuable moral, ethical or spiritual messages and lessons. I enjoy watching films that offer anecdotes on enriching the human experience or highlighting ways to process difficulties in life. Stories that hit the feels, or get me pondering the big questions, are my go to. I love it when a seemingly simple film with minimal locations and a brilliant story is able to impact audiences and shed light on something important. The film The Father directed by Florian Zeller does this beautifully. It was originally a play, plays are generally more minimalist than film, but it translates wonderfully on screen. From the cinematography, to the acting, to the story, to the performances and direction. All of these elements coming together to deeply move the audience. It’s powerful.

I’m also a sucker for big production value. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is an all-time favourite film of mine that I can watch over and over, and I’m still wowed and cry every time. It’s visually powerful but also has beautiful emotional performances that enhance the story in my opinion. I love so many types of films. From sci fi, psychological thrillers, and documentaries through to rom com, adventures and animation. I have a favourite film for every genre and mood.

NY Elite: Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

Alicia Pavlis: The barometer for what inspires me is always changing. But in terms of filmmakers, I’d easily say that J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Christopher & Jonathan Nolan, M. Night Shyamalan, and The Wachowskis have definitely made an impact on me over the years. These are the filmmakers who got me excited about intellectual, unusual, and adventurous storytelling. Aside from the Wachowskis, there weren’t many female identifying filmmakers that I resonated with. When I was young, I was confused as to why there weren’t more women making sci-fi and adventure themed films, it was usually men making these layered, deep, moody, intellectual stories, but I knew plenty of women who loved watching these stories. The fact that I couldn’t see many women creating these types of projects made me want to do it even more.

Alicia Pavlis (Photo by Reel Photographs)

NY Elite: What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?

Alicia Pavlis: As an actor, it’s a job that encourages you to dive deep into the human psyche to understand a character in order to portray them. That process is pretty powerful and fascinating. You learn a lot about personality types, and you also learn to be less judgmental towards people. Part of being an actor is having a really broad understanding of psychology and human behaviour. It’s impossible to authentically play a character if you’re judging their personality and choices. Acting is also a job that allows you to connect with like-minded people. Every actor I know is a highly sensitive person who feels things deeply.

The most rewarding thing for me when it comes to filmmaking is how enriching it is to feel myself grow with each project while I’m discovering my voice, and to watch something I’ve visualized come to life. I like figuring out puzzles and problem solving. Directing feels like finding pieces of a puzzle and inventing creative ways to put them all together. It’s very satisfying.

NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?

Alicia Pavlis: I struggle to do things that aren’t creative. My head is always buzzing with ideas. For fun I write songs and poetry. I also love to cook, and upcycle second hand furniture and clothes. Painting feels like therapy for me, and I’m always taking photos of things I find beautiful and interesting everywhere I go. I channel my anxious energy into creativity. It’s never ending.

NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking?

Alicia Pavlis: The practical advice I would give to anyone who wants to become a filmmaker is this; It’s not an easy path, and you have to be hardwired to tolerate a lot of rejection. Write a list of all the things you’re good at outside of filmmaking. Pick the one thing that might generate the best income. That will be your day job. You’ll probably use the money from that day job to fund your early filmmaking career. Apply to recognized universities/colleges/academies. It’s a great way to create an instant community and network. If formally studying film isn’t an option, join online groups and find like-minded people to create with. Watch YouTube tutorials. Build a creative network. Find emerging writers, cinematographers, editors, directors, actors, and sound recordists. Collaborate and make content together. It will probably be terrible quality at first, but you have to start somewhere, so don’t be hard on yourself.

You don’t need expensive gear. If you have a phone camera, or a basic DSLR, you can do it yourself. If you have money then you can hire gear, or you can crowdfund, or acquire private funding to pay a crew who have their own gear. If you can do any of those things, then you can easily make something. Make music videos for a friend’s band. Offer to film creative videos for a local business. Film anything that interests you. But follow through. Aim to complete whatever it is you start. Be sensible about your expectations. Be honest and reliable. Help others if you can, but watch out for con artists. Avoid the people who complain or gossip about others. Ask for advice from anyone you know in the industry. Get different perspectives. Take classes that your peers recommend. If you’re a woman, don’t fall for the trap of competing with other women. You are comrades, and woman need to help each other in this industry. Read autobiographies of your filmmaking heroes, and make sure to have friends outside of the industry so you can come back down to earth sometimes.

Most importantly, protect your dreams. Don’t let anyone make you feel small or unworthy for having a dream. No matter where you come from, what you look like, or what your social status is.

NY Elite: What has been your personal key to success?

Alicia Pavlis: I’m always in a state of growth, reaching for the next creative thing. To me, success is a mindset where I’m feeling optimistic, maintaining creative flow, and completing projects while enabling myself to move forward and grow.

Successfully completing a film requires determination and self-discipline. Especially if you’re the one running the show and you don’t have a boss to answer to.

Being resilient, and believing in my vision while giving it all I’ve got is when I feel most successful.

NY Elite: Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more? …social media…website

Alicia Pavlis:
My website is www.aliciapavlis.com and I’m on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter @aliciapavlis, You can also find @apparitionfilm on Facebook and Instagram.

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