When writer and director Aaron Schuppan first met actor Hanna Galbraith she was in her underpants and covered in fake blood. His first words were, “Hi I’m Aaron, I’m going to kill you now.” It was a fitting start to a relationship full of drama, film and killer scripts.
The encounter happened on set at an Adelaide beach. Mexican-born, Canadian-raised Galbraith was new to Adelaide and desperate to forge creative networks. She’d signed up as an extra in a music video made by internationally based director Nima Nabili Rad. “The concept was based on a low-budget, super cheesy, ’90s slasher film,” Schuppan says. “A beach-party massacre of a bunch of bikini girls down the beach.” It wasn’t really Galbraith’s style but she needed the contacts. “I was from a method [acting] background. I was like ‘please forgive me god of theatre for being in a bikini’.”
It wasn’t all bad. After filming, they shared garlic bread, conversation, and a mutual love of film. “She talked about David Fincher and Easy Rider and I thought ‘I’ve got to get on this!’” Schuppan recounts.
Three years later they’re sharing their story from the comfort of their two-storey rental pad in Stepney. Their balcony looks out over Linde Reserve, a green oasis on the outskirts of the CBD and they share the open-plan space with two other people. It’s a world away from the hovels they endured in pursuit of careers in the arts. “The first night I took Hanna home I’d just moved into the worst place in the world. It was this god-awful punk warehouse place. All my belongings were in garbage bags and I was sleeping on a mattress,” says Schuppan, smiling. “She didn’t seem to mind. She knew I was living this life where I’d dedicated everything towards this one particular project. Anyone else would have recoiled but she thought that was cool.”
Schuppan was born in the rural town of Whyalla. “My dad is a Lutheran minister so we moved around a lot. Queensland, Renmark … towns where nothing happened so you’d end up watching movies all the time.” He decided to make his own when he saw a poster for Back To The Future II in a cinema window. He was eight. “That’s all I’ve wanted to do since.”
Schuppan made his first film at 14, moved to Adelaide after high school, dropped out of uni and returned six years later. He went on to study directing at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney. “After that I was at a bit of a loss,” he says. “In Sydney you’re just working to pay the rent. I thought ‘this is fucking hard’ – I tried to engage with the film community there but it was really difficult.”
A $15,000 grant led him back to Adelaide. He’s since made a swathe of music videos, short films and docos. “I moved back because I missed the creativity that exists here,” he says. “At the time [SBS One action comedy series] Danger 5 and [web series] Wastelander Panda were happening. All this weird, wacky stuff that felt cool. Sydney seemed to be all the same, boring stuff. I missed the way people made movies here – the renegade sort of style.” Schuppan turned his back on a full-time job to throw himself into the project. “I was like ‘holy shit, I’m going to be the first person ever to move back to Adelaide for a film career’.”
That’s when he met Galbraith.
“I was born in Mexico and my real father is Mexican,” she says. “My mum is Canadian but left him when I was quite young. She moved us back to Canada … kidnapped and smuggled me over the border.”
When Galbraith was four, her mother met an Australian backpacker and followed him to the Sunshine Coast. She studied journalism for a year before studying acting in Brisbane and eventually moved to Adelaide to save money ahead of attending the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. “Mum was here for business and said ‘you need to come to Adelaide to save money and live with us rent-free’.”
Galbraith met Schuppan, they dated, and when she moved to New York they kept a long-distance relationship afloat. She eventually returned to give the relationship and creative collaboration its best chance. It was tough. “The place we were living in together originally was a flat off Rundle Street,” Schuppan says. “It was super loud and a bit of a dungeon. A bachelor pad, at best. We were both going out of our minds at this stage. Work had dried up for me a bit and I was on the skin of my arse. Hanna was particularly frustrated because she’d come back from New York and it was not the experience she’d hoped for. To come back to Adelaide meant tumbleweeds blowing down the street.
“Finding roles for Hanna is really hard in this country – especially with the accent. Anybody who isn’t white and blond and played volleyball in high school is going to really struggle to get roles in this country. It makes me really angry.”
The pair’s latest project Runaway Moon gave them the creative outlet they craved. The dark, five-part, fast-paced web series was originally a semi-autobiographical piece written by Galbraith. Schuppan was impressed and took the seven-page short and adapted it into 80 pages. “A big part of me latching on to Runaway Moon as a concept was because it was so colour blind,” he says.
It tells the story of three misfits who collide over a box of stolen cash and have one night to get out of town. It was crowdfunded, filmed in Adelaide, and screens on August 14. “It’s all ours,” says Schuppan. “We raised the money independently, we wrote it, I directed, Hanna is in it. We went out and did it exactly how we wanted to.” Donors feel a sense of pride, too. “I get to tell people who gave us two bucks that it’s literally because of them.”
The series stars locals Dee Easton, Rashidi Edward (Rabbit, Fking Adelaide), Matthew Crook (One Eyed Girl, Danger 5), and Charles Mayer (ANZAC Girls, Deadline Gallipoli, Wastelander Panda). Producer Ashleigh Knott and Capital Waste filmmaker Liam Somerville also joined the team. “It couldn’t have been made anywhere else,” Schuppan says. “We couldn’t have rallied that crew. It was all based on knowing each other, working together and loving each other a great deal.”
He sighs. “There’s this weird perception of Adelaide being this small country town … dude, there’s only [eight] cities in the US that have a bigger population than Adelaide. Detroit doesn’t have a million people – you know what I mean? We’re a fine-sized city, it’s just that Australia has these two mega cities and we take that as the standard and see everything else as really small. It’s just not true. It’s a great place. You can live off nothing and dedicate yourself to a project without being on the dole.”
After a busy production period the pair is looking forward to some serious couch time. “We’re total workaholics,” Galbraith says. “You do have to remind yourself to switch off, go see something silly and just relax and be calm.”
“Separating the relationship from the working together side of things is such a delicate balance,” adds Schuppan. The abode they share now provides headspace. Schuppan works on corporate projects in a CBD office. “I’ve tried working from home and it drives me nuts. You end up not leaving the house. I can’t switch off.” The glue holding them together is respect. “When I barely knew him Aaron said ‘you put your life into your work.’ That’s the calibre of person I want to be around.”
Runaway Moon is released on August 14.