Stars come out to play in Aussie doco

Gracie Otto never dreamed that a chance encounter with an elderly man would eventuate into her making her first feature film documentary, The Last Impresario.

Otto was attending an after party at the Cannes Film Festival a few years back when she chanced upon Michael White, or, as she describes him, “the most famous man you’ve never heard of.”

White, the producer behind theatre and film hits such as Oh! Calcutta!, The Rocky Horror Show and Monte Python’s The Holy Grail took up Otto’s offer of a drink and asked her to fetch him a Bloody Mary. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I think [the documentary] developed organically,” Otto tells IF. “At first I just wanted to hang out with him because he was really cool and I would meet all these cool people, and then I was also fascinated by why I found him more interesting than all these amazing people I was meeting. I kind of was more interested in him than anyone else.

“He has such a range of people, careers, people that he knew. He touched on the dance scene, the arts, everything, so that was quite an organic thing in that I just wanted to hang out with him.”

The people that White knows ended up being central to the film, which charters White’s career and personal life, with Otto interviewing 65 people including Hollywood heavyweights Naomi Watts, Kate Moss and Anna Wintour.

Of getting such famous faces to appear in the debut doco of an unknown Aussie, Otto says: “Lots of the people in the film did it because of Michael, not me. I mean, my producer Nicole [O’Donohue], she called Yoko Ono’s office and she just said yes, and Anna Wintour is someone else from the film and we just emailed her and she was keen to do it.

“Other people like Kate Moss took a bit more time. You know, just working out people’s schedules, trying to plan when you’re going to have to pay for a ticket to travel to another country to interview someone. That was the main hassle – people’s schedules. I ended up doing a couple of crazy trips, like John Cleese in Monte Carlo to then catching an eight-hour train and then plan to interview Anna Wintour in New York a day later. Stuff like that.
“But everyone was quite responsive to it and once we got Naomi Watts, who was really helpful with the film, once she was the first big celebrity to come on board, once she said yes it was easier. Once you’ve got one person it’s easier and then people don’t want to miss out. They’re like ‘Oh I want to be in it!’”

O’Donohue and Otto then faced the challenge of having an immense amount of footage to edit, so they turned to crowd funding to assist them, raising $70,000 on Indiegogo.

“I think we wanted to really keep control of the project in the early stages, and in that sense we figured it was a really interesting idea to explore the crowd-funding avenue,” says O’Donohue. “That initially helped us get the editor we wanted on board, Karen Johnson, and we worked with her over a 12 month period to find the story.”

Adds Otto: “The crowd funding campaign raised $70,000 and that allowed us to edit and get into post and finish it for London but it still didn’t mean we had finished the film. We had to buy all the archival rights. So just recently Screen Australia and Screen NSW came on board and we got picked up by DogWoof in the UK, which is a great distribution company who are bringing it out later in the year, and then Umbrella here in Australia.”

The Last Impresario premiered at the London Film Festival and had its Australian premiere at The Sydney Film Festival this year.
Distributed by Umbrella films, it will be in limited Australian cinemas from June 26.