03/06/2016 7:51 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Gracie Otto On Fashion, Film, And Shooting With The Stars

The Aussie director has worked with Elle Fanning, Emilia Clarke and Miranda Kerr... to name a few.

Photo by Olesya Romano
Photo by Olesya Romano.

Most Australians will be familiar with the Otto family name. After all, Barry Otto has been appearing on Aussie cinema and television screens since the 70s, while Miranda, following in Dad's footsteps, has appeared in numerous domestic and international productions, including 'Rake', 'Homeland' and, of course, 'Lord of the Rings'.

Then there's Gracie, the youngest of the Otto tribe, who, at 29 years of age, is starting to really hit her stride in both the entertainment and fashion industries.

A model and an actress, Gracie is no stranger to being in front of the camera. But if her recent work is anything to go by, it's her work behind the lens that is really making people sit up and take note.

Her feature-length directing debut, 2014 documentary 'The Last Impresario' received favourable reviews, made its world premiere at the 2013 BFI London Film Festival and was nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary at the 2015 AACTA Awards.

Following the life of British theatre impresario and film producer Michael 'Chalky' White (aka "the most famous person you've never heard of"), the documentary featured interviews with the likes of John Cleese, Naomi Watts, Kate Moss, Rachel Ward, Yoko Ono and Barry Humphries. Oh, and it also boasts an impressive 93 percent 'fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- no easy feat for any director, let alone a then-26-year-old making her first feature.

Though Otto hints to having more documentaries under her belt (more on that later), most recently she has turned her attention to shorter form projects, in particular, fashion films.

Working with the likes of Elle Fanning, Emilia Clarke, Miranda Kerr and Lara Worthington for clients including VOGUE Australia, BAZAAR and Westfield; as well as joining forces with Rose Byrne, Krew Boylan, Shannon Murphy and Jess Carerra to form The Dollhouse Pictures, one can assume the lesser-known Otto won't stay that way for long.

The Otto Empire: Gracie with her dad, Barry.

The filmmaker, actress, model and Aussie took some time to chat to The Huffington Post Australia about her career so far, what it's like working with Hollywood's elite and what we can expect to see from her in the future.

Your documentary feature 'The Last Impresario' received critical acclaim and have many people excited to see what you'll come up with next... what have you been up to in the past couple of years, and can we expect to see another feature from you any time soon?

GO: 'The Last Impresario' screened worldwide in release and festivals so I had a great year travelling to promote the film. Chalky is definitely a hard act to follow but I've gone back to two features I was having meetings about when I became side-tracked by Michael White at Cannes -- 'Rue De Tournon' about two feisty Aussie girls in Paris, and 'Girls In Hotels' a film of interconnected stories about beautiful young women in luxury hotels around the world. I'm also working on a few documentaries at the moment in different stages of development. Hopefully news I can share soon!

You've been directing some fashion videos of late. How do you approach a fashion film as opposed to a feature?

GO: I've directed a lot of short form films recently -- TVCs, music videos, web films and particularly fashion videos which I love for their combination of beauty, style and personalities. I am not interested in directing a traditional behind-the-scenes fashion film so the biggest challenge is to come up with an original idea that showcases the fashion within a 90-second storyline. On a magazine cover shoot, time is the biggest problem and I am often allocated only a few minutes between set-ups for the stills photography which has precedence. My documentary experience comes in handy as I am often shooting on the run.

Vogue Australia presents "Prank Calls with Elle Fanning" from gracie otto on Vimeo.

Do you come with a particular story in mind or does that come from the client?

GO: It can be my original idea, or something I develop from the client's brief. Sometimes I shoot then create more of a shaped story in the edit. It's a challenge but one that I enjoy.

What do you want to communicate with these films?

GO: A lot really depends on how much the star wants to get involved in the idea. Fashion films have changed from simple behind-the-scenes glimpses of hair and makeup and styling details, into stand-alone promotional films. It's become quite a challenge and competitive in the industry to come up with an original idea. It's possible to rely on innovative film making techniques, but I prefer to create a story line that gives the star an opportunity to have fun or show another aspect of their personality, while engaging the viewer.

You've worked with some pretty high profile stars and incredible women -- Elle Fanning, Emilia Clark -- can you tell me a bit about what it was like working with them?

GO: I love working with strong successful women but the time constraints on magazine shoots mean I often don't get a lot of opportunity to engage with them more than simply directing the scene. Elle Fanning reminded me of my niece – she was beautiful and playful and had so much fun improvising around the scripts I had written for the telephone pranks. Emilia Clarke is incredibly sensual and enjoyed creating her own wicked interpretation of the alphabet. I decided to shoot Miranda on Super 8 because of the LA location and she is so beautiful in an old Hollywood way. She is so relaxed in herself and completely professional and just switches on the moment you need her. She's just one of those people that the camera loves. I've done a few shoots with Lara Worthington now and she's incredibly easy to work with. I think it is an Australian thing.

I'm sure a lot of people think of fashion films as a glorified advertisement. What would you say to them about that?

GO: Today's stars are very aware of the importance of social media. Fashion films are another facet of marketing their name and image and not to be trivialised. That's why I like to create a story out of the footage, so the beauty of the marketing image is enhanced by their obvious talent.

What is your favourite thing about directing?

GO: I love the actual shoot, being on the floor and calling the shots. It's where I come into my own. Sometimes in the advertising world as a young female director I am not given the same respect as male directors, but once I am on the shoot I can completely take charge. I also love the collaborative nature of the shoot – working creatively with my cinematographer and crew.

Which do you prefer: being behind of or in front of the camera (and why)?

GO: Directing is my passion. I've really enjoyed the acting roles I've been given in feature films, but I mustn't be very good at auditions because I don't have much success with them and coming from a family of actors I know that it is a hard road waiting for someone to make you an offer. I'm what is known in the industry as a "slashie" and really I enjoy all aspects of film making.

Who are your fashion muses and why?

GO: I like Anja Rubik style. I am someone who really finds it easier to have my own uniform. I like to dress up for the right occasion but otherwise I am pretty laid-back but enjoy a few nice pieces here and there. I've always had a passion for Australian design and try to make it to Fashion Week every year to see the latest collections. I love Bianca Spender, Ellery, Camilla and Marc and so many more. And I love Woolmark and Australian wool fabrics and designs too.

Who are your directorial muses and why?

GO: I am inspired by great female directors - Gillian Armstrong has always been a supportive mentor, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Susanne Bier, Greta Gerwig and Julie Delpy. Despite lack of recognition and opportunity their work speaks for itself. I am in awe of their achievements and am really working hard to emulate their success.

What can we expect to see from you next?

GO: I am currently finishing another fashion film for Vogue Australia and just returned to LA from directing a fantastic 4-day shoot in the Australian outback. The landscape – pink salt lakes and red rocks and blue skies and desert – was inspiring. Now I am back in LA working for director Nick Broomfield on his new documentary.

Watch this space: Gracie Otto at Sydney's Belvoir Theatre.