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Rosie Lourde: the road to directing

From acting and producing in web series Starting From Now to directing feature film Romance on the Menu, Rosie Lourde talks through what she’s learning in her varied career.

Director Rosie Lourde on the set of Romance on the MenuRosie Lourde directing Romance on the Menu (Photo credit: David Fell)

It all started seven years ago.

Rosie Lourde had a background in performance, but 2013 marked two major turning points in her pathway to becoming a feature film director with Romance on the Menu, which premiered on Netflix ANZ in September 2020.

First, was being cast for the web series Starting From Now, which was written, produced, directed and self-funded by Julie Kalceff. At that point, it was just a standalone six episodes – no one could have predicted it would turn into a five-season web series and amass upwards of 140 million views (Lourde would produce on seasons 3-5, which you can read more about here).

But before shooting began for that first season of Starting From Now, Lourde got her first producing credit with the feature film Skin Deep. It was executive produced by Steve Jaggi, who would become both a mentor and champion.

In an industry built on relationships, these two projects – and people – would prove pivotal.

“So Romance on the Menu happened because of Skin Deep,” Lourde says.

The pair stayed in touch over the years - Jaggi wrote and directed the 2018 feature Chocolate Oyster that Lourde starred in – and would often ask, ‘have you ever thought about directing for the screen?’

Then in 2018, Jaggi called Lourde to see what she had planned for the following year. He had a script from US writers Alison Spuck McNeeley and Casie Tabanou for a romcom called Romance on the Menu, and wanted to pitch her as director.

By the time pre-production rolled around in November 2019, Lourde had directed the VR short Breach, written and directed an episode of Enzo Tedeschi’s six-part horror anthology Deadhouse Dark (which recently premiered at Canneseries) and had also worked for a time as an Online Production Investment Manager at Screen Australia. Each had their challenges, but Romance on the Menu was an entirely different beast.

Director Rosie Lourde talks to the actors on the set of BreachRosie Lourde directing Breach VR (Photo credit: Julie Kalceff)

With just two weeks’ pre-production, a 15-day shoot, four weeks in the edit and a “sub $2 million budget”, it was the steepest of learning curves for Lourde in her feature debut. Just to get the film in the can, she pulled from everything in her handbook, including what she had learned working as an actor and producer with Julie Kalceff on Starting from Now.

“Web series was like my film school,” she says. “Julie was so smart, because obviously she was writing, directing, producing and was the creator of the show, [and she knew] the limitations of the schedule and the budget, but also the responsibility of the emotional arcs for the characters and found that tiny bit of overlap where they make sense together.”

It was an approach she took with Romance on the Menu.

She says the feature was mostly shot in one or two takes with a maximum of three setups. With a schedule that required shooting seven pages a day, she says the cast and crew just pushed up their sleeves up and ran with it, even when the weather pushed their limitations.

“[One day] we shot nine and a half pages, with a tropical storm [hitting]... It was so insane.”

For Deadhouse Dark they were also shooting seven and a half pages a day, but it was across two days for the 15-minute episode. The difference was also that Lourde’s episode utilised found-footage from a car dashcam to tell the horror story.

Rosie Lourde on the set of Deadhouse DarkRosie Lourde directing Deadhouse Dark (Photo credit: Lauren Orrell)

“So we are playing off camera sound and what happens with the dead space in front of the car,” she says.

“[We looked at] how we could push things. Like how to play within the genre. Camera was a bit trickier because it was so locked off [but] DOP Chris Bland made some really great choices” and she says those limitations also meant they could experiment.

“The great thing was because everything was essentially single takes, we prioritised the rehearsal to then just shoot it. I learnt a lot on that shoot in particular around art and working with Scott Bird, the art director, who was incredibly supportive and elevated everything.”

While Deadhouse Dark had constraints by the nature of the dashcam storytelling, Romance on the Menu had the opposite issue. The 90-minute feature was originally set across multiple locations, and knowing the 15-day shoot would be tight, Lourde worked with the writers before pre-production to narrow that number down.

“We did not move physical locations on a shoot day. We might move interior to exterior, or we might go up the hill, or down the street, but we never lost time in traffic; we never actually had to pack up a full unit because we just had no time to.”

Additionally, she did a director’s pass of the script once the schedule was forming.

“We adjusted the scenes so that the page count for the scenes in each location would meet what we needed to shoot on that day. So if we needed to do six minutes of coverage here, I'd actually adjust the scenes for that.

“If some scenes were too long, I had to take sections out and think, realistically, where could those bits go in other scenes (and locations) where we might have more time to shoot. It was such a jigsaw puzzle. But I think from producing on Starting from Now in particular and watching Julie - I don't know if that was actually her process - but watching her do something along those lines and… making it all work while prioritising emotional journey was a huge lesson.”

Rosie Lourde stands outside amongst the crew, directing Romance on the MenuRosie Lourde directing Romance on the Menu (Photo credit: David Fell)

The resulting feature was picked up by Netflix ANZ, premiered in September where it quickly climbed into the trending titles.

“It blows my mind that we hit number three next to Enola Holmes and Ratched,” Lourde says.

A US premiere is next, where it’s sold to a major international streamer that’s yet to be announced. And from here on out, despite years of juggling different hats, Lourde hopes to focus on directing.

“I'm reading projects as a working director, [although] I have a slate that I've been developing and producing,” she says.

“The projects that I am developing up, I'm finding ways to not just be a producer on it, but to be a part of the directing team as well. And then I'm talking with different people and production companies about scripts.”

It’s hard for Lourde to believe the evolution from Skin Deep to now – from having zero framework for what it meant to be a producer, to discussing her next directing projects.

“To go from that to here in seven years is just kind of mind blowing.”

Romance on the Menu is on Netflix now, Deadhouse Dark is coming soon but watch the trailer here, Starting From Now is available on YouTube.