filmmaking

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.

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...

Buzzing brain... that's a thing, right?

With pre-production in full swing on my next film, my work days are very long at the moment (12–14 hours most days) and very full. My brain is packed to the brim and I've been meaning to write a proper post for weeks, but there's almost too much buzzing around in my head to make sense of.

Looking forward to sharing more information about the actual project soon... We shoot in five weeks!

Aussies making stuff happen

Last night I went along to ACMI for the Melbourne premiere of Joseph Sims-Dennett and Josh Zammit's psychological horror film, OBSERVANCE.

I met Joseph in late 2014 while I was finishing up on MEAT and handing in the final assignments for my Master of Media Arts and Production at the University of Technology, Sydney. One night, I emerged from the UTS Communications building in search of food and coffee, and ran into a bunch of friends sitting outside a pub across the road. They'd just done the first read-through of another friend's no-budget feature film. Joseph and I got chatting and he told me all about the no-budget feature film he'd just made on credit cards.

So I've been following OBSERVANCE's progress via social media since then. It's been fantastic to see this little Aussie feature, reportedly made for $11,000, go on to screen at the likes of Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal and BFI London Film Festival—and the reviews have been amazing, likening it to the work of Polanski.

Full disclosure: I'm not a horror film watcher—but I did enjoy OBSERVANCE and the tremendous achievement it represented.

Last week, too, I went along to the AACTA screening of Megan Riakos' low-budget, independently financed mystery thriller, CRUSHED. Shot almost entirely on location in the wine region of Mudgee, NSW, it was a huge undertaking for a crew mostly made up of people for whom it was their first feature. It went on to premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Megan and I had met over email a few months back, and this was another film I'd been tracking online for quite a while. I loved watching an Australian thriller written, directed and produced by a woman, with a female lead—and it was great to finally meet Megan in person!

And back in February, right after I arrived in Melbourne, I went to a screening at Palace Westgarth of Jonnie Leahy and Monica Zanetti's heartwarming drama, SKIN DEEP. Another super-low budget Aussie feature film, SKIN DEEP follows two women, one in treatment for skin cancer, over one night, set all around the streets of Newtown in Sydney. It was awarded an Honourable Mention at Austin Film Festival and went on to be nominated for an AWGIE Award up against THE WATER DIVINER—talk about punching above its weight!

I've written a bit, of late, about filmmakers who just go out and make things happen—people like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers. But as a filmmaker looking to transition to feature films in the coming years, I find it particularly inspiring to look to other Australian filmmakers finding success with their own super low-budget, independently financed feature films. It makes the whole thing seem more possible.

So please go out and support these films—Australians shouldn't need to take their work overseas to find success back home.