SBD Writer-Director NIKKI SI ULEPA  and Producer RACHEL ANETA WILLS_2019

Fans of antipodean queer cinema are in for a treat with Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story, an engaging and uplifting romantic comedy

Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story, a romantic comedy from Writer/Director Nikki Si’ulepa and her wife, Producer Rachel Aneta Wills.

What makes Same But Different unique is that it is based on Nikki and Rachel’s real-life love story. This creative filmmaking couple spoke to us in the lead up to the film’s highly anticipated Australian premiere at the 7th Queer Screen Film Fest in Sydney.

Congratulations on Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story. Can you explain what the title ‘Same But Different’ means within the context of the film?

Nikki Si’ulepaSame But Different means same love, but different in the sense that for some people in the mainstream it looks different, but it’s still the same love. We’re the same, but also very different.

They say that the course of true love never runs smoothly and Same But Different humorously explores this. The film is based on your own real-life love story. How much of what is depicted in the film actually happened? Does a particular scene in your film stand out for you both as memorable? 

Rachel Aneta Wills: I would say that 80-85% happened. But we won’t tell exactly what’s included in that percentage. We’ll leave that to the audience!  The scene which stands out for me in Same But Different is when I first saw Nikki. It was the cinematic moment. It was all a bit slo-mo for me!

Nikki Si’ulepa:: The hongi fails happened to me! A hongi is a traditional Māori greeting where two people press their noses together. I was on a film set and an older Māori lady came to hongi me. I thought she was coming in for a kiss and I ended up kissing her beautiful brown nose, so we chucked that in! We hammed up a lot of what happens early in Same But Different because after all, it is a rom-com.

Same But Different was independently produced and funded. Can you discuss how you got the project off the ground? How long did the film take to complete?

RAW: Nikki and I have made five short films between us and we wanted to make a feature film. The idea we had and still have for our next feature is so big, we decided that we needed to make a feature first to cut our teeth on, and agreed on a rom-com to start off with. We pondered what our rom-com would be about and Nikki said ‘what about that time that you stalked me for seven weeks?’ At first, I thought that was a stupid idea, but Nikki said ‘That’s it! That’s what we’re going to do’. It took me some time, but once I let go of Rachel as me and created Rachel the character, Same But Different was born.

NS: It was a good feature to start with and something that we knew like the back of our hands because it happened to us. Same But Different took me three months to write, which is the shortest amount of time it’s taken me to write anything. Because the story came from so much truth, we feel that it unfolded organically. As I started to write it Rachel and I bounced ideas off each other.  We sensed that if we liked it, there would be other people out there like us that would enjoy the story as well.

RAW: Describing Same But Different as independently funded is not entirely accurate; we had an amazing and talented crew join us on set. They were over-qualified and generously gave us a very small rate for their services. Same But Different happened because we had all these amazing people jump on board and give their time and energy to make it work. This collaboration is something we’re incredibly proud of.

Can you tell us a little bit about the response Same But Different has had in New Zealand? 

NS: People love it! They absolutely love it, and if they don’t love it, they haven’t told us! At the premiere, we got over 1000 people into the Civic, a grand historical theatre in Auckland. We packed it out! Our grandmothers and kids loved the film and for us, that was really great.

The film’s leads, Robyn Paterson as Rachel and Hannah Martin as Nikki have an exciting and tangible on-screen chemistry. Is this something you noticed during Same But Different’s audition process? 

RAW: Strangely enough, not initially. Robyn is extremely well-versed in her craft and has been working on it for nearly 15 years. We were blessed to have her. Hannah is reasonably new to acting yet has this innate stillness that we really needed for that character of Nikki and the contrast between them works effectively. Their on-screen chemistry developed organically and beautifully and we are both hugely grateful for this.

NS: They look bloody hot too! That’s definitely tangible!

Did working together on Same But Different, as well as being real-life partners pose any challenges? If so, what were they?

NS: Of course it did! Whilst making Same But Different we lived together and raised kids. We also got married the week before auditions started!  We are pretty crazy in the things we do and don’t do things half-heartedly. Making a feature was a first for both of us. Rachel had to produce and look after everything and everyone, and I had to direct and make sure what we were getting was what we needed on-screen.

We didn’t lose it at each other, but we were losing it inside! So many things could have gone wrong and so many things got diverted, but I feel that Rachel did an amazing job at producing and her job was to rein me in.

RAW: It could have been disastrous, but it wasn’t. We worked really well together and Same But Different was a test-run to see if we could make films together. Moving forward, we know we certainly can. Nikki did incredibly well directing a small crew within a low budget. What we have put together collectively is something to be proud of.

Same But Different humorously explores the issue of cross-cultural relationships. Did either of you encounter any cultural resistance from your families in the early stages of your relationship?

RAW: I don’t know how honest I should be! I was Nikki’s first Palangi (European or white) girlfriend. This was a new experience for Nikki’s grandmother and cousins. I charmed the pants off them and everything turned out OK! I had never dated anyone of brown colour before either, which was interesting. But I am part Māori and my brothers are married to part-Maori women, so I guess I was following the family tradition by bringing home a beautiful brown woman.

NS: Rachel thinks my cousin and grandmother didn’t like her because she is Palangi. But actually, my cousin was all good; she was actually on pain medication the day after an operation! She was woozy and didn’t want to talk to anyone! My grandma was annoyed because she didn’t know Rachel was going to be at the house and got a bit upset because she thought I didn’t introduce Rachel to her properly. But I want to set the record straight, my grandma loves Rachel!

Queer films often feature raunchy elements or themes, but Same But Different is gentle in tone. Is this broad appeal something you were aiming for? 

NS: There was the option of making the film’s love scene more intimate but we didn’t do it because we both had memories of awkwardly watching love scenes with our parents back in the 80s. No one dies or gets killed traumatically in Same But Different. It is a feel-good film. We wanted our grandparents, mums and kids to see it and be proud of it.

RAW: We also made a conscious decision to depict the children of same-sex relationships in Same But Different, and there was no point in making that decision if children can’t see the film. This is happening more and more which is a wonderful thing. Dad who was once married to mum is now marrying a man, and mum who was once married to dad is now marrying a woman. There is not a huge voice in cinema for these children, so it was a deliberate decision to make a family-friendly film.

You will both be here for the screening which is exciting, so have you had a chance to check out the Queer Screen Film Festival programme? Are there any films included which you are looking forward to seeing? 

NS: We are both looking forward to seeing the French period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire. My wife loves a good period drama. I remember when she first tried to accost me and invited me to the movies to watch a stuffy costume drama. I politely declined her invite, but I’m really keen to see this one!

Can you give us a teaser of what to expect at the end of Same But Different’s end credits?

NS: If you stay until the end of the final credits, you will see the real people these characters are based on. That’s the only teaser I’ll give you. Your readers will have to come and see for themselves!

Same But Different: A True New Zealand Love Story screens on Friday 20 September, 7:00 PM at Event Cinemas George St as part of the Queer Screen Film Fest 2019. Rachel Aneta Wills and Nikki Si’ulepa will be guests of the festival and be present for a Q&A post-screening.