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Meet Director Gracie Otto

By The Bonds Team

If the name 'Otto' rings any bells for you it's probably because the Otto family are one of a handful of acting dynasties amongst the Australia film industry who are still going strong. Daughter of the legendary Barry Otto (Strictly Ballroom, The Dressmaker) and half-sister of Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings, Homeland), Gracie Otto is an award-winning director in her own right. Her short films have been screened internationally and have won her a swag of awards over recent years. She has also worked with the likes of Elle Fanning, Emilia Clarke, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Lara Worthington, and now she is working with us! 

To help capture our new Bonds Originals range against the vivid landscape and unique beauty of a location like Coober Pedy, we enlisted Gracie's masterful directorial skills. From the beginning, she got the cinematic vision of a Mad Max-meets-modern-day-life concept and injected her own flavour in bringing this new range of redefined undie icons to life. We sat down to chat with Gracie about what attracted her to this project and what it was like to film in the unforgiving heat of the Australian desert. 

When did your love of film first begin?

My whole family were involved in the arts, so theatre and film and art were always part of my life. But the major turning point came as a Year 9 student at Burwood Girls High when an amazing teacher, Jenny Harding, offered a Screen Production elective and I learned how to use a video camera and edit from VHS to VHS. I sound old! At the time I had been going to dumb teenage movies with my friends, but suddenly I became interested in independent and foreign films – specifically Tom Twyker’s Run Lola Run and Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 changed my life and my love of cinema began.

How did growing up in one of Australia’s iconic acting families influence your love of film?

My family and their friends worked in the arts, so it was natural for me to have people like Judy Davis and George Miller and Hugo Weaving, and all their children, at my birthday parties. It seems cool now, but at the time I was a tomboy and my ambition was to be a sports star, not a film star! It’s interesting now to see that many of this next generation are also working in the arts and some of them are starting to break into Hollywood, as their parents did before them. I always wanted to travel and live overseas, and I became obsessed with international cinema. But now I really love being back in Australia, getting back to my roots. And when I am back overseas, I find myself talking about how proud I am to be part of the Australian filmmaking community – how extraordinary our landscapes are, how beautiful the light is to shoot in and how our actors and crews are the best in the world.

Gracie Otto portrait

How did your journey into directing start and was it something you always wanted to do?

I made a short film, Kill Blondes, for my HSC and, as an anonymous candidate, received a score of 100%. That gave me the confidence, at 17 years of age, to go to Sydney Film School instead of University. I wanted to be a director, but incredibly at SFS you also trained in every technical aspect, from producing to editing and cinematography, working on your own and other student’s films. At SFS I made a few short films that got into international festivals, and then made my first feature, The Last Impresario, which had great success as well, so now directing is my life.

What was it about the Bonds Originals campaign that first drew you to the project?

I remember the moment I read the brief. It was just before my stand-up comedy class – I was driving there and I had to turn around and go back to work on the treatment because I wanted this job so much! The brief, for a fashion film, was so edgy and cool and different and the location was amazing. It was everything I loved – beautiful young people and interesting older characters making a cool fashion statement in an extraordinary surreal location, fantastic music, and all wrapped up with iconic Australian humour.

What was your inspiration for the Bonds Originals film?

I was very inspired by the fact that this commercial was conceptualised by two young women Lucy Logan (art director) and Holly Burgess (copywriter). Small things I noted were how cool it was that the men were doing the chores, washing and mowing, and the women were out driving and riding bikes! My immediate inspiration came of course from Mad Max and also Bad Batch, a film with Suki Waterhouse shot in a Texan wasteland. I was also excited that one of my films was referenced in the original brief - a short film with Abbey Lee that I directed for RUSSH Magazine in the Salton Sea desert in California near the border of Mexico.

What was it like to shoot on location in Coober Pedy?

After the first recce I came home and said “why don’t we live underground?" I loved it! The locals were such individuals, friendly with their unique eccentricities, and very accustomed to having film crews around their town. Coober Pedy is indescribable – it’s a place you have to go and experience for yourself. I’m so glad I got this job because I probably would never have discovered this unique town in the middle of Australia. It was a shame we didn’t have more time as we were so busy filming, but I would have liked to have gone looking for opals.

Did you encounter any limitations or unexpected elements while shooting in a unique location like Coober Pedy?

When we arrived for the actual shoot it was very, very hot, 50 degrees in the shade – much hotter than our initial visit. The heat is intense! And there was always the worry that if something went wrong, the next camera rental place was thousands of kilometres away but fortunately, we were prepared for the heat and had back-up equipment. But they were long days.

What was it like to work with some of the local residents in the area?

I always make a point of meeting the locals, wherever I am working, and I think casting extras from this town gave the shoot authenticity. On the first recce with my producer Tom Slater, I met one of the locals, Prickles, at the hotel bar. He told me he was being treated for lung cancer and leukaemia and was driving to Brisbane to get very expensive medication. But, despite this, he had such tremendous spirit, and so we cast him as an extra. He was just so funny – when he was asked what size his underpants he wore he just laughed and said he’d never worn underpants! But he has some Bonds now!

What did you hope to achieve with the film?

I am so proud of this campaign. I’ve always wanted to make something that was iconically Australian, and nothing says that more than Bonds and a hot sun in the outback! It was an opportunity to cast some extraordinarily beautiful, sexy and edgy models, reflecting our broad cultural ethnicities, in situations that are memorable and relatable to all Australians. I realise now from living overseas that sometimes people don’t understand our sense of humour, but when I was talking with the agency about how my grandfather would put a wet tea towel on his head, and tie knots in it so it wouldn’t fall off, to cool himself down, they got it! Anyone who has ever spent a summer here understands that. And I’m sure my grandfather would have really liked it. It’s got really broad appeal and I think everyone will have a favourite character too.

We hear you’re a bit of a Bonds fan. What are some of your favourite Bonds gear all-time and why?

I love Bonds' hoodies and trackpants and the workout gear is great too. It’s true I have always been a Bonds girl. And it’s so funny – I didn’t bring many clothes back to Australia with me this trip, being summertime, and I’ve been delving into old cupboards and rediscovering old favourites. Bonds never dates!

Are there any pieces in the new Bonds Originals range that you’re loving?

I love the black Hi Top undies - Brit Odell rocks them so well. And I love the blue pieces, as it's such a strong colour – in fact, I love the whole range!

What’s next for you?

While I’m in Australia I’ve been making a feature documentary, Otto Meets Otto, on my father. Baz is such an eccentric and endearing character and he’s had an amazing career. I want it to be a personal story, not just a regular biopic. I’m also shooting another commercial, and then heading back to the States where I’ve been studying and performing stand-up comedy as a bit of fun.

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