The work of prolific on-set stills photographer Matt Nettheim features prominently in the Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits exhibition. The exhibition is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery, and draws significantly from the NFSA collection.
In an interview with Portrait Gallery Curator Penny Grist, Nettheim said of his work, ‘It’s about being sensitive to an environment - knowing when to stop, when to back off. My role is to document what everyone else is doing, capturing the performance, when the actors are really going for it… As far as I’m concerned, if an actor is on set and dressed they are fair game.’
The value of hacky sack
While working as a photographer at an arts festival, Nettheim met Rolf de Heer. He credits de Heer’s invitation to work on his low-budget film Dance Me to My Song (1998) as marking a crucial turning point in his photography career.
Nettheim’s first big-budget film was Rabbit-Proof Fence, which opened the door to many other opportunities in Australia and abroad. His international projects include The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002) and Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007).
He’s worked on the sets of a number of films with young cast members including The Boys are Back (Scott Hicks, 2009) and Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009). When it comes to developing rapport with young actors, he says ‘I can’t underestimate the value of hacky sack’. It encourages a relaxed atmosphere and allows actors to be more comfortable with him and his camera’s presence on set.