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Replica the fashion film exploring themes of isolation, through visual narrative and guided rhetoric

Watching Replica is like being in a dream. A beautifully shot, carefully considered dream. The project, produced and directed by Maximilian Bishop and Joseph Haddad is a wistful fashion film set against the backdrop of the Australian desert. 

Shot on location in Coober Pedy with the permission of the Antakirinja Aatu-Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal Corporation; the film follows a nameless protagonist played by Thabani Mpofu, as he goes through mitosis and is thereafter joined by a shadow of himself, played by his real-life twin brother, Makhosi. 

As instilled by the narration (richly written by poet Panda Wong) Replica is a film about symmetry and contrasts. This is evident in the casting of twins in the main roles, to the opposed colouring in their Vejas Kruszewski-designed leather outfits. The minimalist set-dressings against the rocky cavern surroundings, and the subdued but heady soundtrack by Adam Perreira. Duality is a constant through-line of the experience. 

Nowhere though, is this more apparent than in the cinematography and shooting choices made by the directing duo and their DOP, Joey Knox. The choice to switch between handheld camera work and steady tripod shots, creates a mix of intimacy and distance from the twins, giving the viewer an understanding of their moods without the need for dialogue. The sweeping wides for the outdoor desert-scapes paired with the closeups for those shot underground, hammer home the ever-present sense of isolation. 

Replica is a simple, gorgeous, and surreal experience brought painstakingly to life by a group of creatives at the top of their game. We interviewed Maximilian and Joseph for some insight.

Which part of Replica came first? Was it the concept? The theme? The poem? Etc. What was the foundation of the project that the rest was built upon?  

The part that came first for Replica was our fascination with the location. We were shown this insane underground town by a friend one day and became immediately obsessed. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie, and when we learned it was actually in Australia, we knew we had to do something there. At the time we were also really obsessed with the launch of Canadian designer Vejas Kruszewski’s latest brand “Pihakapi”, and it just felt natural to bring the two together and we decided on a fashion film.

The film addresses isolation, is this a concept you have any personal experience with? Did it make it into the film? 

The theme of isolation was kind of a by-product and reactionary to the environment itself when we got there to location scout.

How did you do the location scouting for the film? 

We visited the town two months prior to shooting. We had to take a regional flight to get there, and once we landed; we instantly fell in love. Whilst we were there, we not only visited each location that we wanted to shoot at but made friends with a lot of the locals and learned about the history of the town, which turned out to be the highlight.

Did you block out the scenes before or after you visited where you were going to shoot? 

We were pretty flexible, we did a little blocking for scenes when we were scouting, but most of it was done right before we shot, which felt really authentic. We worked with [cinematographer] Joey Knox’s input at the time also.

Why the choice to shoot in Coober Pedy and how was the experience in doing so? 

The location just seemed out of this world. Neither of us had seen anything like it before. Shooting in the outback was insane, we drove for two days in up to 50-degree heat in the middle of summer to get there (flights were not an option as we had so much equipment with us) and provided a great logistical challenge, that we didn’t anticipate when we were scouting. Dealing with unforeseen car problems, animals jumping onto the middle of a lone highway, the thunder and dust storms were crazy, but it was ultimately a beautiful experience that we’ll never forget. 

How much of the film was fleshed out in post-production? Was it a fully formed concept that needed minor additions? Or did it change a lot once you had all the footage and other pieces together? 

It was a constantly evolving project from start to finish. We always had the aesthetic and art direction established, along with the themes we wanted to explore. However, the way in which we pieced it together, as well as with the prose and score, came at the very end. Nothing was ever definite from the beginning and I think that’s what we found exciting about it.

How was it directing as a duo and how did you guys complement each other? What did each person bring to the table? 

M: I feel like we see eye to eye as we have the same interests and tastes and love all the same references, so it felt very natural. Joseph has a background in directing so his ability to command and put together a scene came naturally.

J: And Max comes from a fashion background, along with his work with art direction we were able to complement each other nicely on this.

How did you link with your DOP, Joey Knox, and what was it like working with them?

He was brought up to us by chance by one of our close friends, a day after Max and I decided to do something in Coober Pedy, so it was meant to be. Joey is a visionary; he was pretty much our third collaborator on this project and it wouldn’t have been the same experience without him.

What’s the most salient point or feeling you want viewers to walk away with after watching Replica?

As simple as it sounds, we just wanted to transport our viewers, even if it was just for ten minutes. We were inspired by all the other beautiful, out-of-this-world films, our friend-group would so often watch together. We really appreciated the moments in which we all felt transported and awestruck and wanted the same for people watching Replica. I guess we just want viewers to take some time to escape with beautiful hypnotic visuals, guided by rhetoric (written by our friend Panda Wong) and change the way in which people consume fashion content, which is usually incredibly formulaic and commercial.

Replica is shortlisted and will be screening at the Berlin Commercial Festival, September 7-11.

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