Four weeks out from 'Broken Line North'

It’s a funny thing, how projects get under your skin.

We’re now just four weeks out from shooting BROKEN LINE NORTH, a project I’ve carried with me for the last three years.

Before I moved to Melbourne for film school, I was determined that I’d make it as soon as I returned. Yet when I moved back to Sydney a year later, I wasn’t so sure. I was broke—not just broke, but in considerable debt—I was trying to find a place to live, and I was working full-time. I also wasn’t sure I needed this project anymore.

I wrote another short as a proof of concept for a feature. I tried to get it up. It was shortlisted for funding. Twice. I took TOMORROW to festivals, travelling overseas for the first time in 10 years. I did my tax and won some prize money, I worked hard, and somehow I got back in the black.

And late last year I found myself searching—that age old question, the one I keep returning to reared its ugly head. But how do I make this career, this life, sustainable?

I turned 29 and thought about what I wanted my life to be. I thought about my parents, also ageing. I thought about the people we come in contact with on the way, how their lives intersect with ours, how they change us. And suddenly BROKEN LINE NORTH was back on my mind and in my heart. Truthfully, it never really left.

That was it: I would make this film in 2019. I’d save up $5,000 and make it on the cheap if I had to.

Then, in March, I was shortlisted for the Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship again. I pulled out this script which I hadn’t touched in over a year and wrote three new drafts. It was the best writing I’d ever done. It was nuanced and specific and spoke to the kind of features I want to make. The application came together with remarkable ease. The whole thing just felt right.

Getting the fellowship made me realise what I couldn’t see a year ago: the project wasn’t ready then; I wasn’t ready then. I’ve grown in the last year, and I know how to direct it now. I know what it is; I feel it deep inside me.

I’ve come to believe that things happen the way they’re supposed to, when they’re supposed to.

In four weeks, I’ll be back on set after more than two years of living and working and writing and growing and searching. It almost doesn’t feel real, but it does feel right.

Blue Moon (working title)

This week, I finished the first draft of my latest screenplay.

Funnily, I'd begun to doubt the playlist I'd made for it a month ago. I'd listen back to it and feel completely alien to particular songs. What's that even doing here? But then I'd be driving... or hiking up hills in the pouring rain... or sitting on the train... and a song would come on that was so perfect, so apt, and so totally specific to one aspect of the project. My faith in the power of the playlist was restored.

This rendition of 'Blue Moon' by The Chromatics was one such song. It was only after listening to it on repeat for a very long time, that I realised just how perfectly it spoke to my project. It became the working title of the film.

One of the most gratifying moments of the last few weeks, though, was realising just how much I've grown as a writer. The issues I was having, in trying to overcome writing blocks and story problems, were me asking myself necessary story questions and pushing myself to fix them. 

Some notes I wrote myself during the development:

— Why does she stay?
— Why does she feel like she's got nowhere else to go?
— What reception does she get on the island?
— Where does the weirdness start?
We need to see her make a choice.

On the page, these are pretty simple, straight-forward questions. But being able to take a step back from the work and be more objective, dig deeper at this early stage, really did help me produce a better first draft. And I think it's much more solid than first drafts have been on my previous projects.

Having said that, it does mean that the things to work on in draft two are less obvious. And the feedback I've received so far hasn't pointed to any gaping holes—in fact, the notes are mostly small and varied. 

So that's where I'm at. The excitement of bashing out a first draft aside, I really do feel pleased and proud to be able to track my own growth as a screenwriter. The work may not be getting easier, but it is getting better—and that's all you can really ask for, right?

Opportunity can be scary

Opportunity can be scary. It can be exciting, exhilarating, giddying (not a word)—but it can also be scary. What if my ideas aren't sexy enough, exciting enough, big enough, bold enough, trendy enough? And before you know it, you're drowning in these questions.

I'm not just speaking in hypotheticals.

The last six weeks have been a time of significant change for me. I interviewed for a job that started 12 days later. I packed up my life in Melbourne, said goodbye to my friends and was on a plane back to Sydney within 9 days. I started a new job without anywhere to live and have been staying with friends and housesitting for my first month back in Sydney. I've been anchorless.

While all this has been happening, I've also been presented with a significant creative opportunity. If I wanted to really put the pressure on myself, I could say that it's my biggest professional opportunity as a filmmaker, to date.

And truth be told, I feel ready for it. I want to take this opportunity and bite its freaking head off. But I've been living out of suitcases, and settling into a new job (which I love and want to excel at), and looking for a place to live... so life keeps getting in the way.

When I voice my fears, voice my uncertainties, those nearest and dearest to me have all said, 'Yes, but you're great with a deadline.' And generally this has been pretty true—I dig deep, I shut out the noise, and I don't let the other crap stand in the way. All of the recent upheaval has been clouding that, though, and fear is impacting on the work.

So what's the answer?

Well, it's actually the same it's always been: shut out the noise and focus on the work. I've made the move, I've started the job, I've found a place to live, and I have a team of some of my favourite people, my closest collaborators, waiting for a script that's still being written; so they can help me make it better, so that together we can bite the head off this opportunity.

So I need to finish the damn script.

A few days ago, I posted a keynote from Ava DuVernay about taking off the coat of desperation. In it, she talks about not putting your desperation for a mentor or a leg-up onto other people, and to just focus on the work—and that by doing that, you will get to where you want to be.

Well today I'm going to take off the coat of fear. Screw it. I don't need it. It doesn't own me.