AACTA Spotlight Featuring: Heather Maltman on ASCENDANT

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Featured image credit: Simon Cardwell

After gaining the opportunity to intern as 3rd Assistant Director on Antaine Furlong's film ASCENDANT, we hear from Heather Maltman about her experience and 'Third Perspective'.

I hate filmmaking now. I do… No one tells you that the people you make a film with, will become your family and then you all say goodbye and some of them you may lose touch with. You get this huge come down from being on set every day, then it’s over.  

Like any good addict I can’t get enough, and I love the memories that were created. So here I am still working and enjoying the buzz. 

ASCENDANT for me was this amazing opportunity. Like so many of us, I have bled to get anywhere in this industry. Every now and then, though, we have those friends higher up than us who call and say, “guess what? I am GIVING you a chance”. That call happened to me in August 2019. Drew Bailey- Long-time friend and filmmaker/ karaoke buddy, called me and said that he knew I was stuck and that I could come intern for him as a 3rd AD. I immediately sent in my application, and Googled what a 3rd AD was.  

My first day on set, I wore jeans, a flannel and sneakers. Braided my long locks and just thought “Heather Maltman, you lucky bastard, just do as you're told!” Turns out that’s all a 3rd AD does. 

This role kicked my bum. I mean, we have so many different departments to report to. We need to be always onset, you gotta press the doo dad that makes the set close and open (get that wrong for a laugh and see what happens) and then also head off to collect cast and coffees. Then you need to make sure what the 1st AD needs is ready to go before it comes up.   

You need to know drink orders, what actors like and dislike, have their areas set up on set, and have the green rooms ready. Then be on top of call sheets, sides, schedules… Drive a car. Eat your lunch and know when it’s appropriate to make jokes about needing to poop.  

Answer: No appropriate time on set… Don’t do it. Not a good idea. 

BTS on ASCENDANT - Image Credit: Simon Cardwell

I got to see every department move from nothing to something. We were a family, and it was special, scary and nuts! 

Matriarch Art department, I mean Fiona and her team in the art department take a taped square in a warehouse and build 2 different elevators that matched perfectly. You don’t question them on it. You just smile and nod and try to remember what the hell HOT SET means.

Uncle Costume: Danielle in costume would have the most amazing conversations with Ant about Charlotte’s duds. He and Danielle wanted to make sure she reflected how a young women might dress on holiday. Not put her in a skimpy skirt and heels. Like, if it had been appropriate at fox to start a bra burning pile. Lot 8 would have been the place to be. 

Aunty Make Up team, Jen and the make-up team just made the most amazing hair piece for hours and would just listen to Charlotte and be always there for her. Like that aunt who gives you life advice when your mum won’t support your decisions.

Daaaaaad- My Direction team, I was so lucky to work with Drew, CT and Ant. CT taught me so many things “Don’t say ASAP on the radio, calm down, and 10.1… For love of god stop saying I’m taking a wee.” Which I stopped, ASAP! They also held my hand when I needed it, and trusted me to run like a gazelle, too. I wasn’t treated differently for being a woman on set. In fact, I was praised for my hard work almost every day. Ant would take time to regale stories about starting out exactly where I was. About meeting his idol Christopher Reeve, in his FIRST JOB as an assistant and forgetting his coffee order. Being the one to share the news of his riding accident with the team higher up. Like, imagine being that guy on your first job. Plus, it’s about the man you look up to. Trying to remain professional as you share the heart-breaking news that your idol is in serious trouble, to an EP? He would remind me that my role was integral to getting the film finished, because I am his contact with the outside world, and the powers that be. Like... Wow. I don’t want to say I am basically GOD, but if everyone else is going to say it. I may as well. 

Mummy, The Production room is where I found so much joy. With my people who love things organised. From the finance pay roll humans to the coordinators. The people who oversee making sure it all happens and then act like they didn’t do anything at all. They don’t get praise for making sure their child got off to a good day and had all their nutritious meals. They just get on with it. We had that kind of team. We had to do re shoots middle of Covid in 2020 and we just got it done. We were spread out working from home but became tighter and closer than ever. I was also promoted to production coordinator and sent an email to hire new crew… Yup. That’s right. I Googled: how to hire crew on a film set.

Nailed it. 

The SFX and VFX are the twin cousins you always get confused between. But then you remember them by that one thing that is slightly different… The fact their role is completely different!!!! That! In this film, we are in Shanghai during winter. But were middle of Summer at Fox in Sydney. So now was my day to shine. With my fave props master Natalie, we directed about 15-30 extras. Had the SFX team making the area look like it was snowing. Art department had built a city in the carpark, and then VFX had in their blue screens and silver ball and when I watched it back and saw that the whole place had transformed into a back ally in China… I just about fell off my seat.

Wait, who holds the silver ball, again? VFX, yeah?

ASCENDANT Crew - Image Credit: Simon Cardwell

The lighting team are clearly your older brother who just doesn’t listen to anything mum and dad say. But then end up doing it anyway. This is where I met Michael Fridge Adcock. I was pregnant while we were filming, and he would just check on me every now and then and slip me treats like a kid eating just before dinner was being served. Did I mention that? Yeah, I was early days pregnant, and everyone was cool about it. It was just. Ok, don’t barf on set, sit down when you need to, and stay away from the coffee machine if it makes you sick, dude.  

Camera and DOP are your Byron Bay cousins, and they just consonantly have these cool ideas. You know, YOU KNOW, you shouldn’t be mucking around. But they’re so funny and clever. They have all these cool gadgets and bits and bobs. Our team with Frank was always coming up with a new idea and a new shot option that would just appear because the lighting changed just a smidge. Or the angle Charlotte was on in this moment was so right on we had to move with her. 

Stunts team are your bad ass distant uncle that you’re told not to end up like. But you end up dating a guy who used to be in their crew. Then you find yourself telling them about how you flipped a peewee 50 with the crusty daemons last year, just to impress them. They top you by putting on a wire and jumping through a set build of the fake elevator shaft… Shuts that down quick. Then you just see Marlee being rigged up in the lift by cables and she’s not told when she will be reefed up to roof to look like the lift is plummeting, and then dropped like a hot chip. Then she giggles at how her face looked fake shocked… Sorry, fake? What? 

The Grips are your Granddad. “Back in my day” …  The guys on our set just worked their butts off. I mean we had to consider the fact that at some point our little studio build would become a 120-story high rise… So, every pin, pole and block out screen had to be EXACT!  

Continuity, writing, and post team are the friend who came over and they’re looking at you all like. Ohhhh this is not what we thought it would be. But I love it for some reason. Kieron was such a calm addition when he came to set. He would sit with me at lunch and share his process of rewrites and making the lead a female to show his kids that women can be superheros too. Then the patients of our editing and continuity team as we creatively changed things because it was a strike of genius.  

Catering, unit, and all facility companies are your other Aunt who is just ready with a hanky and a bit of spit to clean your face. Craig, Jimmy and Catering just always had your back with snacks and meals to avoid those hangry chats you may have, and then realise you do love the blue hint of lighting coming off the back of her head. Your blood sugar was just low.  

Music and Sound are your great aunt, who was a middle child and forgotten a lot. You don’t get to see them much, but when you do, they always have something funny to say. They pick up every little emotion and you can’t hide how you’re feeling from them. Like Scotty and Ben on set just didn’t mind EVER. You could ask them anything and they would just say, sure. Then David and Peter have made a score that opens your soul, guts out your heart and makes you feel like you ARE Charlotte in the lift. They just scored how you feel about your dad pretty much. I mean… Not a big task, huh? 

Heather Maltman on set of ASCENDANT - Image Credit: Simon Cardwell

Then your dialect coach… She’s the one person in the family you feel knows you inside and out. She can read you like a book. Gabby was there when anyone struggled. Completely selfless, and unassuming she breezed onto set. Charlotte spent most days on set like she really was captive in a lift. No other actors to support her. Acting off a screen of pre-recorded work from the gents the week before. Gabby just held her in a metaphorical embrace. We were lucky enough to meet her husband, Andrew Jack. He told stories and raved about his wife’s talent, which we already knew. Then as Covid hit! We had reshoots, and then an online memorial. Those who could band around her did. Because when we lose one member of the family no matter how distant. We all feel it.   

Then the talent is like your grand kids. You just want to protect them from everything. You want them to have the best day. When they do, you feel like you nailed it. When they have a tough day, you feel like a complete failure. Being there for our actors was the highlight of my job. As someone who’d studied acting first, I was in awe of their process and rehearsals. Seeing everything come into place. Their commitment and dedication to making sure their performances were gripping and reflected the reality of the situation that would eventuate on screen…   

Publicity, casting and the emergency/ nurse staff to me are your mate. The ones who didn’t want to go to their house for dinner and came to yours instead. They constantly help everyone out. Even though sometimes it’s not their responsibility. They don’t see their role ending just because they finished one thing on their list.  

When you watch our baby, be proud of her home-grown “family” that brought her to fruition. Knowing that our team has already moved onto other projects, but our baby, ASCENDANT, will always be the memory that brings us all back together.  

Follow Heather on Facebook and through the handle @heather_maltman on Instagram.  Simon Cardwell's photography is available at @cardwellphotographyau on Instagram. 

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