Photos by: Jane Lunn
Celebrating the women in our community has always been important to us. Being an Australian brand, we truly champion the talents emerged from our home in Australia, in particular those with whom we have enjoyed the privilege of a long-standing relationship.
Supporting creatives and fierce women is at the heart of State of Escape. In particular the remarkable and intelligent minds in the film industry - you can read our story celebrating Australians in Film here. So, it was instinctual to continue to support our long-term partnership with Producers Emma Cooper and Bruna Papandrea in their latest film, Penguin Bloom, starring Oscar-nominated Australian actor Naomi Watts.
The story of Penguin Bloom has touched the hearts of many Australians, especially those from our hometown in Sydney as it unravels the true story of an incredible Northern beaches mother, Sam Bloom, and her journey of healing, growth and self-discovery after a tragic accident.
An empowering story with so much heart, warmth and inspiration, we could not miss the opportunity to delve deeper into this film and talk with the master minds responsible for bringing it to the screen.
Bruna Papandrea (Producer)
Your company Made Up Stories supports women in film both on and off screen – What are your greatest learnings that have inspired your story telling and informed your character developments?
With everything we make I learn more and more that informs the decisions we make going forward. When I first started working my priority was putting women in front of the camera and creating really complex female roles. A big focus now at Made up Stories is also creating opportunities for women behind the camera including female directors, production designers’, cinematographers, lighting technicians you name it. I’m really only interested with every project in trading into territory we haven’t explored before, so what excites me most is when I look at a piece of material, is looking at is this a female character that we haven’t seen represented on screen before? Our main focus is also making sure that what we’re making is reflective of the actual world we’re living in and that representation continues to be key across all platforms of what we’re making.
A number of your productions delve deeply into extraordinary events that effect otherwise ordinary people – murder, infidelity, domestic violence. What are the complexities of bringing these characteristics to the screen?
When looking at a piece of material I don’t tend to look at the issue so much as the character at the centre of the story and what their experience is in relation to those issues. With something like Big Little Lies for instance, it was important that the story was told over longform television so that you could fully explore the complexity of those relationships and marriages and of domestic violence specifically.
Many of your lead characters are perfectionists yet there is often a twist or a flaw to their existence. Is this a message important to you to share – that perfection is often an illusion?
Yes, interestingly enough it’s a theme that I am really interested in which is this idea of identity and can you ever escape who you really are, can you ever really escape your past and what is it that defines us? I don’t really think that anyone is ever in a position to judge someone’s marriage or relationship from the outside and in my experience both in real life and in our storytelling those issues and relationships are far more complex than we would ever realize.
What drew you to the story of Sam Bloom and what compelled you to have the story made into a film?
When Emma Cooper first sent me the Penguin Bloom book I was standing on the set of Big Little Lies and I was so overwhelmed with how busy I was that I immediately said I can’t do this. But the second I saw the trailer for the book and heard Cameron Bloom talking about the story of their family and the struggle they had endured I knew immediately that it was a story I wanted to tell. It was a story that was so distinctive and so unique and those are the ones that truly excite me. I love the idea of really looking at how difficult something is and the true drama of a situation but ultimately something that also captures such enormous hope and inspiration. To this day I continue to be completely inspired by Sam Bloom and the journey that she has been on as well as the whole family.
Emma Cooper (Producer)
Emma, you are effectively the thread that ties you three remarkable women together! Can you explain to us your work and your involvement in Made Up Stories and Penguin Bloom?
Bruna, Naomi and I have been friends for a very long time - Bruna for 30 years and Naomi for at least two decades. Even though this is our first time producing together, I have worked with both of them in the capacity of publicist across their films. There is already a built-in trust and deep respect for one another. When I heard about the book from the author Bradley Trevor Greive, I felt very strongly that this was Naomi's role. As soon as she jumped on board our next call was to Bruna - we both knew she would be the best person to get this partner with us and get this film off the ground and were all really excited at the prospect of collaborating on such a beautiful story and the journey ahead of us. It was a dream of all of ours to work together and to make a film back in Australia.
How did you find yourself working in film and working from LA – can you share with us some of your professional journey?
My entry into film was as unit publicist on the Phillip Noyce Australian movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence. It was a departure from what I was doing - running an event and PR company in Sydney, but once I got the taste for it I fell in love with the filmmaking process and didn't look back. That one film gave me the opportunity to work with some of the best directors and studios across the world. Working on a set, you are witness to the entire filmmaking process and it always felt like a true privilege to be a part of it. It wasn't long before I realised I wanted to produce - it was just a matter of finding the right project and a story that resonated with me. Penguin Bloom became that story.
How has the relationship with Sam Bloom evolved from the process of creating this film and being a part of her journey?
Sam has been a part of this journey since day one and it has been incredible getting to know her. She worked really closely with our writers, sharing her deepest and most personal thoughts even handing over her diary to them and later to Naomi. It's very hard to watch your life become part of a film and something you don't really have control over and she handled that beautifully. In that sense she has been an amazing partner - often coming up with ideas we hadn't thought of to help with the story or by working closely with Naomi to help her get into character and play the role with the authenticity that was required. Naomi connected with her right away and I believe that connection between them really helped Naomi and is what instilled so much passion in her to make this film. We always say that Sam is a very special woman - she has a true aura about her. She would be so embarrassed to hear me say that but it's true! I think we all feel we have made a life-long friend.
Naomi Watts (Actress)
How did you delve down into the emotional journey of Sam Bloom? Did you work closely with Sam, and if so – what was this like for you?
Sam was incredibly generous with me. It takes real courage to open yourself up to a stranger and on that will play your on screen counterpart no less. That’s who Sam is though, brave, kind and of course totally inspirational. I felt really lucky to have worked with her and relied on her guidance and support in bringing the character Sam to life.
It has been reported that you were instrumental in getting the production of Penguin Bloom off the ground – can you share with us your personal connection to Sam Bloom’s story and the broader story of Penguin Bloom?
When I first read Penguin Bloom (the book) it was an instant hook and I had read it with my kids and they were equally transfixed. It’s truly one of the most magical things I’d ever encountered, this little bird that comes into the Blooms’ lives, a gift from nature. My producing partners and I knew immediately that it was a story we wanted to be a part of sharing, bringing to the screen for audiences all over the world to see.
What it is like working with Bruna and her commitment to championing women in film? This is something that is obviously equally as important to you - is this a part of the reason you continue to work on projects with Bruna?
Bruna has become one of those women in the industry that you know by her first name alone. We’re lifelong friends and that’s such an opportunity in and of itself, to work with friends, but what Bruna stands for is why she is where she is. She identified a gap in the industry, this huge hole where women should be and instead of complaining about it, she put herself in that hole and brought whole entourages of women along with her. I’d work with her over and over again.
How involved have you been in the filmmaking process, and can you describe the experience of working with a team of women like Naomi, Bruna and Emma?
Both Cam and I have been involved from the very beginning - we spent days with screenwriter Shaun Grant who flew over from LA to interview our family and cast members. Our role as executive producers on the film was mostly to inform the director, writers and other creatives who all needed insight and perspective about our lives. It was an amazing experience to be involved and working alongside such talented and well-respected filmmakers. Their dedication and passion for making this an incredible film will be something we will always be thankful for.
What are your standout moments and memories during the making of the film?
I remember sitting with Cam watching one of the first scenes being shot in our house and both of us becoming completely overwhelmed with emotion. It all became real.
What do you hope your viewers will take away from this film and your personal journey?
I’m hoping the viewers will take away the fact that life is a fragile and precious thing, and that anything and everything can be taken away from you when you least expect it. I hope it will help others find strength and courage in their own dark and challenging times.
Also, to remember the incredible healing power of nature.
As your husband Cameron is a professional photographer did he have any input in the creation of this film?
Cameron’s images were the basis for our bestselling book written by close friend Bradley Trevor Greive. His pictures of our boys with Penguin and their relationship was documented over a two year period so the filmmakers had an enormous resource to work with. Many of the scenes were directly inspired by Cameron’s images. Like me, Cam was on set on numerous days, sometimes helping Andy or shooting stills.
You have always had a passion for travel and sense for discovery, how did you reconnect with your adventurous spirit?
I’ve always had an adventurous spirit but since my accident, one of the hardest things to accept has been the inability to live the adventurous life I had planned with my family. Kayaking and now surfing has provided me the opportunity to represent Australia and travel internationally - it’s not how I imagined my life would turn out but as long as you are alive your dreams are alive.
Penguin Bloom in cinemas 21st January.