Victorian College of the Arts

Six months later

It's been a fair while since my last post. I've wanted to write before now but these last few months have been so full that it has been hard to wrangle the mess of thoughts into sentences.

Incredibly, this film that has been consuming every waking moment, is almost done. We head into the sound mix at VCA tomorrow, and will submit the "final" film for marking on Friday. Of course, it's not exactly the final version as we'll be completing an external grade and sound mix in October. But it's pretty close...

Quite simply, I've grown enormously making this film. Having MEAT as a point of reference this time around meant that I was able to gain significant insight into my own process, my own patterns, common threads.

Making a self-reflexive film about actors and their director also forced me to be critical about my own approach and examine my weaknesses and strengths. (And yes, a number of our cast and crew have suggested that Helmut, the fictional director in the film, is my alter-ego... what a scary thought!)

Most of all, I feel hugely grateful to have found such close and wonderful collaborators. Finding my people is something that's really important to me—and this film has driven home to me how lucky I am to be surrounded by such good people who have given me so much of their time, their talent and their trust. 

The film's not done yet, but we've come a long way since I first had the idea for the film, sitting in Hamer Hall at Sufjan Stevens' concert on Friday 26 February 2016. (Thanks for the ticket, Mum and Dad. I owe you one.)

Six months later, we're almost done.

Simon Annand & The Half

I first came across the work of British photographer, Simon Annand, back in 2010 due to the publication of his book, The Half. The book documents the 25+ years he has spent photographing theatre actors in the 30 minutes before they go onstage (a period of time known as "the half"). As a poor university student then, I leafed longingly through its pages in bookstores, admiring the insightful and intriguing view he gave us of the backstage world and actors' processes.

Years later, his black-and-white photos are a key reference when thinking about the visual style and approach of TOMORROW. I'm particularly intrigued by the way he talks about exploring the relationship actors have to themselves, rather than the camera; in TOMORROW, one of the things I'm keen to explore are those transitional moments as an actor moves between self and character.

Unfortunately, the book appears to now be out of print (oh how I wish I'd bought it when it first came out!) but I continue to be drawn to his work, a lot of which can be found scattered across the web.

I was also interested to watch him at work, and hear him talk about his approach in this video.

Four-and-a-half weeks out...

Last week we launched TOMORROW online with news of the project and our tax-deductible crowdfunding campaign, which is being run in conjunction with the Australian Cultural Fund (if you haven't yet had the chance to check it out, please do).

This week I'm diving into the masses of research I have to do in preparation for directing the film. While I am planning on re-drafting the script this week, I'm now thinking about the project much more as a director, than as the screenwriter.

With my last film, MEAT, it seemed more straightforward. I think this was, in part, because I didn't quite realise what I was getting myself into... But also because I knew the world of the film implicitly, having been inspired by my time at boarding school. And as the screenplay was adapted from a monologue I'd written at the Australian Theatre for Young People the previous year, the project had been in development for a considerable period of time. 

This time I'm far more aware of the challenges of directing a film of this scale and, in the case of this particular project, the challenges I've set for myself in terms of style and form and tone. It all fills me with great excitement (and a healthy degree of fear). I think this film is going to be something quite special, but there's still a lot of research to do first.

At the moment, my to-watch list is growing at an ever increasing rate with recommendations from various heads of department and collaborators... These are some of the films I'll be watching or re-watching over the coming weeks:

  • Opening Night (1977) directed by John Cassavetes
  • The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) directed by Olivier Assayas
  • Throne of Blood (1957) directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • The Dresser (2015) directed by Richard Eyre
  • My Brilliant Career (1979) directed by Gillian Armstrong
  • The Insider (1999) directed by Michael Mann
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000) directed by Darren Aronofsky
  • The Piano Teacher (2001) directed by Michael Haneke
  • Black Swan (2010) directed by Darren Aronofsky
  • Network (1976) directed by Sidney Lumet
  • Topsy Turvy (1999) directed by Mike Leigh

Plus a whole heap of other different productions of Macbeth in its various forms! Lots to do...

Standing on the precipice of Draft 4

The "final" draft of my screenplay is due tomorrow. I say "final" because it's really just the draft I'm being assessed on. With seven weeks to go until my shoot, I'll still be re-drafting for at least a few more weeks yet.

I churned out another draft last week—draft 3. Like the one before it, I mulled for several weeks and then wrote it quickly (in a day or two).

I finished draft 3 at 2am on Thursday morning then sat down with my supervisor at 10am to receive her feedback. She confirmed what I felt: that structurally the script is now sitting in a pretty strong place and I've (hopefully) passed the point of needing major re-writes. This was the draft in which I really found the protagonist's voice and her intentions, but that realisation came about half-way through.

So draft 4 will be about seeding earlier character moments and making sure that story progression is clear. It's hard, on a piece that's as character driven as this, to always hit those beats with exactly the right notes... but I feel like it's getting there.

Then I sent the script wider, to some of my usual feedback go-to's and some newer ones. I was keen to see how the script would read to people with far less exposure to it than those that have been reading it so far. Two friends hadn't read it, but I'd spoken to them extensively about the themes and ideas behind the film. One friend I'd barely talked to about it at all. And then some of my other usual people read it.

So I introduced a lot of new voices into my feedback pool over the weekend. And while the feedback was generally quite positive, it made me want to shrink and hide.

Because I like more time between drafts. Because the opinions are beginning to vary. Because it's getting to the pointy end of things.

Because I know it's a film that will divide people, and I'm starting to see that already. I think it's probably a good thing that the feedback I received was so varied—it means that there are no glaring issues, no gaping holes. But it also requires a much lighter, more nuanced touch. Because some things that are clear for one, are obscure for another. Because some things that are loved by one, are loathed by another.

So this is where I need to think very hard about what I'm trying to say, how I say it and who exactly I am saying it for.

My initial reaction, as I mentioned, was to shrink and hide—take a few days away from it and let my subconscious do the work for me. But tomorrow's deadline means that's not an option.

So, instead, I'm trying to take a different approach. I'm trying to see this tangled web of overlapping and contradictory feedback as a blessing, as an opportunity to go much deeper and examine every moment.

A series of hidden peaks

I had thought, when I wrote about my last moment of breakthrough, that that was it: I'd cracked the project. I'd found my way in.

It seems I was too hasty.

I'm coming to realise that this project (and I'm sure it's the case for most) is not one steady climb to completion. In fact, it's just when I experience a breakthrough on one problem, that I discover that there's another even greater challenge to overcome.

A series of hidden peaks.

I had thought that getting to draft one was going to be the hard part—once I had the broad brushstrokes on the page, it'd be easier from then on. In fact, getting from draft one to draft two has been incredibly challenging.

But it's not the actual writing that's been hard.

At VCA I've been fortunate enough to have had some very comprehensive one-on-one development sessions with terrific industry professionals over the last few weeks. They gave me a lot to think about. I felt like they broke my brain with all the big questions and issues raised—about the nature of the film, its intent, what I want it to be and how I'll achieve it. Really important questions but a lot to process.

So I spent the last few weeks stewing and knotted up, trying to get my head around and through these questions and issues.

I sat down with my supervisor on Wednesday for a chat about all the (sometimes very conflicting) feedback I'd received. It was the conversation I needed to have—she told me not to throw out all the work I'd been doing but to take it further, keeping in mind certain pieces of feedback that were more important than others.

Then I wrote my second draft in 36 hours. It seems to be the way for me: think, process, examine, question, stew, despair, walk around in circles for a while, then just do it and do it fast.

Obviously it's still very much a second draft and already I can see some of the work that needs to happen in the next draft, but it felt like another breakthrough. The project has become clearer to me, as it hopefully will with each draft to come.