‘Otto on Otto’: Gracie Otto turns the camera on her father Barry

Barry Otto (Photo credit: Jake Terrey).

When Gracie Otto told her friend Nick Broomfield that Hong Kong businessman, philanthropist and socialite David Tang had rejected her proposal to be profiled in a feature documentary, the filmmaker gave her some sage advice.

Instead of trying to make a film about Tang, who founded the Shanghai Tang fashion chain, Bloomfield suggested she look at a subject much closer to home: her father Barry Otto.

The venerable stage, film and TV actor agreed, so his daughter and producer Nicole O’Donohue, her collaborator on The Last Impresario, embarked on the doc entitled Otto on Otto.

“It’s a very personal film and a hard film to make,” says Gracie, who lived with her parents until she was 26 and later moved to the US.

“He is so engaged in his career, he is the essence of an actor, but when he is not in a play or a film it’s like having King Lear at home.”

Otto, who just turned 78 and has no plans to retire, last appeared in Network Ten’s Sisters in 2017. His extensive film credits include Ray Lawrence’s Bliss, which prompted both walkouts and applause at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, Australia and The Great Gatsby, Gillian Armstrong’s Oscar and Lucinda and Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker.

Gracie and her father both appeared in Matt Newton’s Three Blind Mice and she directed him in two shorts, Seamstress and La même nuit.

Otto on Otto will also revolve around the director’s relationship with her dad, perhaps in the context of other children of famous people such as Matilda Brown, daughter of Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, and Augusta Miller, daughter of George Miller and Sandy Gore. She has spent six weeks in the edit suite. Screen Australia and Canon provided development funding.

Gracie Otto in ‘Desert Dash’, the latest short film she directed, which premiered at Flickerfest (Photo credit: Jeremy Greive).

Tang, who turned down her pitch because he didn’t like her at their first and only meeting, died in 2017. She worked as associate producer on Whitney: Can I Be Me, Broomfield’s feature doc which chronicled the extraordinary life and tragic death of Whitney Houston.

After returning to Australia seven months ago after three years in LA, Gracie is set to direct Under the Volcano (working title), a feature documentary about the recording studio founded by The Beatles producer Sir George Martin, produced by Cody Greenwood and Richard Harris.

In the 1980s the AIR studio on the Caribbean island of Montserrat played host to countless pop and rock icons including The Police, The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.

The Martin estate is providing unprecedented access to archival footage shot at the studio, which the director is keen to present so creatively that “audiences will feel they are back in that era.”

In LA Gracie performed as a stand-up comedian in the persona of an Aussie in the US but she cheerfully admits: “I haven’t had the guts yet to do that here.”

As part of Dollhouse Pictures, the filmmaking collective alongside Rose Byrne, Krew Boylan, Shannon Murphy and Jessica Carrera, she is developing several features including Girls in Hotels.

Lee Tulloch wrote the screenplay, a drama set in a simultaneous time zone which follows give young women in hotels around the world. Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Brilliant Stories program provided initial funding. Otto aims to direct with Jess Carrera as the producer.