‘SKIN’ dir. Tom Gould
Martyka ‘Skin Dog’ Brandt – gang member, champion racecar driver and devoted solo father.
Director: Tom Gould
Composer: Fire & Ice
C8: How did you come across Martyka Brandt and why did you decide to make a documentary about him?
TG: The film came about while I was living back in New Zealand and about to return to the States to live. A lot of things were changing in New Zealand at the time and I wanted to capture a historical part of New Zealand culture before I left.
I came across an article from a local newspaper in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand that was about the Mongrel Mob and the need for change in the gang. The article mentioned Martyka and how he was pushing for fellow gang members to embrace parenthood and to make sure the new prisons being built in New Zealand weren’t going to be homes their children.
The article described how Martyka was a solo father for over 20 years that had raised ten children, four of his own and another six through welfare and foster care. This really stuck with me and I wanted to see if Martyka would be willing to share his story with me and allow me to document his life. I wanted to make a film that opened people’s eyes around a subject matter and a gang that is often associated with negative things in the media and to show a different side to gang life in New Zealand.
C8: Did you face any obstacles in getting access to the gang and how did you overcome them?
TG: No, there were no obstacles. It took a while to get in touch with Martyka but after we began talking the process was very smooth. The Mongrel Mob have a reputation of being a very violent and criminal gang throughout New Zealand history but the chapter in Napier (where the film was made) were supportive of the film.
C8: If you could go back and do the whole process again what would you do differently?
TG: I don’t think I would do anything differently. Overall it was an amazing eye opening experience about a part of New Zealand that isn’t often shown on screen and I hope people feel the same way when they watch the film.
When you wrap shooting a project and the experience was so positive and meaningful, I often don’t want to look back and think how I could change it. It is what it is and is a moment in time that is now captured forever.
C8: Do you feel that emerging filmmakers need to have a strong grasp about the technical aspects of filmmaking?
TG: I feel technical aspects always help, but what’s important is the story and how a filmmaker tells this story on screen. You can have a beautiful looking film but if there is no substance and you are unable to engage the audience with the story you are telling then the point is lost.
I’m still learning this too, and I feel every filmmaker is constantly thinking about how they can tell their story differently.
C8: You’ve also shot music videos and commercials. How does your approach differ with something more narrative like a documentary or a short film?
TG: The process of a documentary is more natural. With a short film or music video everything is planned out from the script to the storyboard. With a documentary like Skin, the idea and approach was to just immerse myself in Martyka’s life and to capture as many aspects of his life that make him the person he is, from gang life to family life.
C8: How did you initially get into filmmaking and what advice would you give to those looking for their start in the industry?
TG: I first picked up a camera and starting documenting graffiti when I was about 16 years old. Being a young kid involved in the graffiti scene in New Zealand and being interested in art and visuals, photography then became a passion. Naturally I would document the work that we were producing and from there I started to focus on documenting my friends and life in society that was around me. I guess this is where my interest in other people lives and their stories started. Filmmaking was then a natural progression from this, as it gave me a way to capture movement and emotion, and most importantly a new way to tell a story.
My advice for young filmmakers would be simply to find strong stories that will resonate with an audience and to go out there and tell them.
C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?
TG: People that are on the same page who can bounce ideas back and forth, finding a common ground to create something great.