In an eye-opening exposé of the film industry from the perspective of a female director, Charis Orchard shares her experiences from a 20-year career that’s spanned the globe.
“This is a story of passion, determination and hope against all odds – the odds of a filmmaker earning the respect of her peers and the public, finding her resilience and keeping her dignity intact.”
We sat down with Charis and discussed her love affair with a determinedly private A-lister (a decade-long relationship that ends in abuse and denial), how the industry has changed over the last two decades, and what she hopes Swimming Naked achieves.
When did you realise you had a passion for filmmaking?
As a child I loved watching old Hollywood classics on repeat. I also did theatre – either as part of the choir in a musical or in my own drama group as the producer and director of the plays. When I left school I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, but it was not until I moved to Paris at the age of 23 that I realised I could turn that dream into a reality.
What was your reason for writing Naked? And in short, what is the book about?
After 15 years living overseas – most of it working to establish myself as a film director and producer (13 years in Paris, two years in London, and a little in LA) – I returned to Sydney in 2016 burnt out and disillusioned at not being able to break through and yet after having so many encounters with big celebrities and Hollywood icons. I decided to write the book to be able to process what I had experienced, look at my life objectively and heal the feeling of failure. Through writing the book I have been able to let go and begin a new chapter of my life with a greater sense of clarity about my journey and future goals.
What is a personal highlight or favourite part/story/chapter of the book you recently wrote?
Definitely one of my favourite memories that is in the book is when I unexpectedly found myself at a party of the British crème de la crème, dancing with Prince Harry and not realising it was him until the end of the night when all the lights came on and I saw both Prince Harry and William seated side by side smiling at me and suddenly it all made sense. That was truly hilarious and it still makes me laugh to this day.
You mention your relationship with an A-lister – a relationship that turned abusive. Can you tell us a bit more about that and why it's important for other women (in or outside of the industry) to speak up?
He’s one of the biggest A-list stars in Hollywood who I’ve purposely given a moniker as my experiences with him were both extraordinarily positive and negative to the point where the police tried to convince me to charge him with assault but I decided against that.
I’m using my platform so that other women can be heard and valued in the future. When systems keep failing women, it’s important that we speak up about it so that we can improve the system and make better experiences and opportunities for women in the future.
What do you hope Naked achieves?
The book is a real-life, insider perspective of breaking into the movie business where Hollywood stars are revealed as ordinary, emotional people who work in an industry where fame is the oil of the machine. I hope the book will show what it means to be a talented, ambitious young woman that gives everything she has to make a name for herself in a male-dominated, cut-throat system of complex, hidden power structures that are rarely seen by the public because of the nature of the industry.
How, would you say, has the film industry changed over the last two decades?
It’s changed significantly due to the digital world and online streaming that’s made world cinema more accessible and the Hollywood industry more open to independent cinema and talent. Hollywood has also changed thanks to the #MeToo movement which gave women their voices and the respect they should have always had but the current level of respect has only really existed in the movie business because of the movement. The industry has also massively changed since the pandemic. It’s become more open to outside forces and globalisation.
When did the book launch? And how's it been going since the launch?
It launched in early May on Amazon, Google books and Kobo and has already sold several thousand copies thanks to it being picked up by some online fan forums in the United States. I’ve received many messages from people who read the book expressing their admiration, shock and surprise at my story, particularly about the A-lister who abused me. This gave me a lot of validation and encouragement to keep going despite what I have been through.
What are your plans for this year?
I have a new indie film project called Son that is based on the life of an indigenous school friend who got mixed up in drugs at an early age that I hope will shine a spotlight on the illicit drug trade in Australia and its effect on good people’s lives.
Finally, any advice for those who want to get into the film/TV industry?
Don’t let the bright lights make you go blind to your own self worth and take up all the space you can in order to create and share the stories you feel will make a difference to society.
If you were a ____ you would be a _____:
A flower: A beautiful red rose – the smell makes you smile at life’s simple pleasures and lingers in your heart for the rest of the day.
A TV show: A stand up comedy show where the jokes are about the embarrassing stuff that humans experience as part of everyday life.
An iconic woman: Mary Magdalene – she was never really understood by the status quo. I actually have a creative project that is based on her story being told in today’s modern world.
A colour: Dark blue, like a clear night sky.
A dessert: Mango and raspberry sorbet because it’s fresh, healthy(ish) and ultimately makes you feel good.
A song: Your Song by Elton John, because it expresses a real, authentic love for another person.
A cocktail: A Cosmopolitan because it symbolises feeling feminine, free and having fun.