Interview with Filmmakers David Hodkinson, Alice Walker (MODUS OPERANDI: BRISBANE’S RIPPER SUSPECT)

Directed by David Hodkinson, Alice Walker
A student film that explores a myth of over 130 years. Did ‘Jack The Ripper’ flee to Australia and lay to rest in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery?

Get to know the filmmakers:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Alice: I think what motivated me to make this film was that I wasn’t always connected to this project – I joined it because I found myself getting invested in the story researching it in my spare time and I thought “oh, this is actually a very cool and unique story that I would love to help actually turn into reality and portray it on a screen.” I also knew I could do it in a really unique way with David, and I really wanted to be able to go in there with his whole crew that had already been established with the story and kind of show them my perspective on it, and introduce our audiences to new angles and nuances about the story and it’s origins.

David: I always feel that Brisbane gets left out of Australian stories compared to Sydney and Melbourne. I wanted to tell something unique to Brisbane and what could tie it to the rest of the world and this ‘myth’ pops up occasionally in our media as a joke. Well that was enough for me to say ‘Hey! Let’s explore it and see for ourselves’. Boy did we see for ourselves with endless rabbit holes and over a century of history to research. I was compelled from the very start and never looked back.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Alice: From the idea to the finished project, it took us probably six months – maybe a little more – to make this film. It was originally a student film that we had made to graduate, but decided to keep editing it after we had finished the process, because we could see that the production had so much potential. We had been working on this film for maybe eight months in total, but it’s but whilst we were at university, it took us around six months.

David: Prior to pitching the project to our lecturers, I had begun researching almost 6 months prior back in January 2021 as part of our Documentary Filmmaking assessment. It was too big a task for the short timeframe and so it was put in my back pocket. By June 2021, we need a Grad project and we were greenlit by our University to begin. By December 2021, we had extremely positive feedback and decided to give ourselves 6 more months after obtaining our degrees to polish off the project before submitting to festivals in mid 2022.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Alice: I would say ‘shockingly camp’ in my perspective. I just think the subject matter of Modus Operandi is so absurd, but also just so serious and so dark once you get into the nuances of it. Any time I tell someone the premise of the film they always laugh and go “what?” – I think that really brings a weird campiness to the documentary.

David: Similar to Alice in it being ‘Horribly Amazing’. You can’t help but feel amazed as well as horrified by the behavioural nature of our suspect.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Alice: I do think the biggest obstacle we faced in completing this film was the fact that it was a student film. We faced a lot of pushback and setback from not only our lecturers but also just wrangling the crew in general, because we are all students with busy lives- and I think that was definitely a challenge, but I am so glad how it came together in the end. It really showed everyone’s true colours as a person and as crew mates, and I think that was really important to learn about my friends that I worked with on this. With all of these pushbacks from our university and our supervisors, it has really allowed us to grow a tougher skin and even hold ourselves to a much higher standard for this documentary, which I think has really enabled us to just keep working on it and keep believing in ourselves filmmakers.

David: While we were certainly limited with everything that comes with a University film, for me it was finding the correct structure. There was a lot of external noise for what our doco should be rather than what we wanted it to be. We stuck with it, persisted and it was truly satisfying to see the reaction from our peers.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Alice: I think my initial reaction to seeing the feedback from audiences regarding Modus Operandi was so validating to me as a filmmaker. Now that we have left university, it’s really hard to seek advice and constructive criticism from people whose opinions you genuinely value, and I know a lot of the opinions we received on this piece when we were students was not all positive – it was really soul crushing sometimes to put so much work and so much mental energy into this production just do you have that ripped from you; and for someone to just break your heart with a few words. Honestly, hearing that feedback and those reactions made it so worth it and so validating, and it was so refreshing to hear that people genuinely were invested in our story and what we had to say and what the people we interviewed had to say, so I think that was just so important to me as a filmmaker.

David: It brought a tear to my eye. So much work and determination was put in for this project to make happen and to have completely new eyes and opinions watching our work was nerve wracking at first thought but the glowing feedback to go alongside a Festival win is truly special. We had our fair share of negative feedback while making this film and this has all made it worthwhile.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Alice: I realized I wanted to make films when I was in high school, I believe. I knew I always wanted to do something with art or something creative for my career, but it wasn’t until maybe late high school that I really started to appreciate films and actually started to develop my own taste and style with how I wanted to portray my ideas, stories and experiences on a screen. I think that was really important and really jumpstarted my drive to get into film school and just throwing myself into productions.

David: I wanted to make films at a young age. I always had a passion for movies and the magic they create. It was always an escape. Working in other jobs and careers in my 20s made me realise that filmmaking is my passion the desire was always there but enough was enough and it was time to pursue it.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Alice: I think the film I have seen most my life has definitely been Midsommar, directed by Ari Aster. That film just scratches an itch in my brain. I love the daylight horror aspect of it. I love the slow burn of it. I just love the uneasiness it makes you feel. I don’t know why, but it’s honestly my comfort movie. I can’t stop watching – it I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, it’s up to the 20s by now.

David: The original Jurassic Park. That is movie magic at it’s best and my first recollection of a movie ever. Movies make real dinosaurs?!

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Alice: I honestly think the aspect of this festival, and showing us as filmmakers, audience reactions and feedback has been such a wonderful experience and I really enjoyed it. Out of All the festivals we have submitted and been accepted into, Horrorgins has felt very personable. I have really loved how communicative everyone has been in this process I think that’s so important with film festivals, and connecting film makers and those who love to watch films.

David: The feedback by far was what drew me to the festival. It’s so insightful and provides brand new views and opinions that can only make us better filmmakers.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Alice: I really love dealing with FilmFreeway. I love that I can just fill out all these details about the film in the beginning and just never worry about it again – I can just submit it to places with the click of a button and get our film out there. I think that’s so important, we really need to make it less difficult for filmmakers to grow exposure for their work, and FilmFreeway has been a great enabler of that.

David: Easy. So simple and easy to use. Having one destination for thousands of festivals is perfect for the industry.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Alice: My favourite meal is honestly either just some good ol’ garlic pasta with parmesan and basil or avocado sushi with Kewpie mayonnaise. So good.

David: I love fried chicken in any form.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

Alice: I would love to make another documentary about capitalism and retail workers stuck in this cycle of late-stage capitalism, and how it brings everyone together. I would love to make a documentary about that, or even just about father daughter relationships. Those topics are just very important to me personally, but I would love to make more documentaries going forward that just make people feel.

David: I’m currently working with a sports entertainment company creating TVCs, Online and Radio advertising. I would love to continue documentary filmmaking for decades to come because it’s the genre that will never go away and will always be important in the industry. There are plenty of ideas I have and can’t wait to put them into motion soon!


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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