October 1, 2014

We’re four weeks into the edit, and it’s been a fun and creative and difficult time. I say difficult because part of the process of editing a film involves soliciting feedback from a variety of people — friends, collaborators, peers, and stakeholders who are familiar with the material and the story you’re trying to tell, and those who represent the virgin viewer: the festival selectors who will view and consider whether to accept the film, and the festival attendees who will view the film at festivals it’s accepted into.

For the director, editor and producer, this stage of the process is a precarious one. The edit is still in its infancy, but you don’t always know to what degree until you pull the trigger and screen the film for people. But that’s the whole point of gathering feedback; it’s to quickly remove emotion and subjectivity from the equation so that more objective and critical minds can take the wheel.

You don’t know what kind of feedback you’re going to get. But what you can always count on is feedback that varies, often wildly. The varying reactions and interpretations can be fascinating, and they can also be alarming, causing one to suddenly question creative decisions that were made as far back as the scripting stage. What you look for is consistency and balance in the feedback you’re receiving. For example, if four people misunderstood the intent of a scene, then you want four people who didn’t.

But you owe it to your film, and the people who you’ve chosen to view it, to listen to everything that’s being said, despite your opinion on what’s being said. Sifting through all the feedback can be daunting and even destructive; if you let it, some of the feedback you invariably receive can erode the enthusiasm carried into the post production phase from the shoot. But it can also be an enlightening and rewarding process; some notes give way to new ideas, and often these new ideas can take you down editorial roads you never thought you would be taking, all of which can lead to a better film. So you have to try and stay open and alert. Again, you have to remove emotion from the equation.

So this is where we’re at right now. In two or three weeks, we hope to have a finished film — one that has benefited from all the feedback that has been solicited, processed, and in some cases, applied.

September 9, 2014

It’s taken me longer than expected to get to this diary entry because, well, I’ve been feeling a little flat (pun intended) since we wrapped Flat Daddy last Wednesday, and this is entirely a good thing. Let me try and explain.

This project came about when my brother, Trevor, told me about this short story that a friend of his wife’s mother’s had written, which had taken out The Age short story award in 2009. I wasn’t looking for a short story to adapt (I’ve always originated my stories), nor was I thinking about making another short film. Trev and I had spent all our spare money making the proof-of-concept short film for our feature-in-development, Pinball, and there was nothing left in the kitty. But I read the short story anyway, and immediately after the first read, I knew we had to find a way to turn Flat Daddy into a film.

A few weeks later, the producer of our feature, Al Clark, called and asked me how I felt about making another short film. The reason he asked is that he was being asked by prospective distributors and sales agents where my multi-award-winning short film was. Of course, I didn’t have one; the Pinball short, while a strong piece, was not designed to exist as a stand-alone thing, and so wasn’t submitted to film festivals.

So I told Al about Flat Daddy; he went off and read the short story and, like me, felt it had all the ingredients of an exceptional short film. Before long, I found myself knee-deep in the process of adapting Louise D’Arcy’s short story into a screenplay. Several drafts and a move to Sydney later, I had a script I was pretty happy with, but still did not have any money to throw at the project.

The decision was made to find a willing producer and apply for funding through Screen NSW and their Emerging Filmmakers Fund (EFF), with Al serving as the project’s executive producer. Apart from Al, the only other producer I knew in Sydney was Annie Kinnane. An experienced producer of television commercials, Annie had done some work for the Melbourne-based production company that represented me. We exchanged some emails and had a few phone conversations in the lead up to my move to Sydney, and soon after arriving here, I told Annie about Flat Daddy. Her interest was piqued — enough to want to commit a large amount of her time to the funding application. It also helped that Annie had decided to return to freelance producing after long stints at various Sydney production companies.

The EFF application for Flat Daddy was submitted in late April this year, and we were ultimately notified of our success eleven weeks later. The starting pistol had just been fired; we were off and running. Following our good fortune with Screen NSW (only three projects a year are funded through the Emerging Filmmakers Fund from 50+ applications), fortune once again smiled upon us, with veteran director of photography, Geoffrey Hall (Chopper, Red DogDrift, and, hopefully soon, Pinball), attached to the project at the application stage, being available to shoot Flat Daddy during our preferred shoot dates (August 31 – September 3). It was the same situation with our lead actors, Kat Stewart (Underbelly and Offspring), and Kathryn Beck (Wentworth and These Final Hours).

Despite having a strong script, Screen NSW funding, Al Clark as executive producer, Annie Kinnane as producer, my brother as editor and Geoffrey Hall as director of photography, the fact that we were able to attract actors as talented as Kat Stewart and Kathryn Beck was remarkable. Apart from being exceptionally gifted, Kat Stewart has become one of the country’s most popular actors, and that kind of popularity most always means someone like Kat is very hard to get. There’s the issue of them having time to read the script and consider the project, plus the issue of availability; I was aware that Kat had recently joined the ensemble of a high-profile stage production after wrapping the fifth season of the hit television series, Offspring. I imagined Kat in the role while I was writing the script (she was the first — and only — actor who came to mind), but I never entertained the idea of approaching Kat until I was urged to by our casting director, Stevie Ray. I didn’t think Kat had the time or the interest in doing a short film. Luckily, I was wrong — on both counts, and the read-about-but-never-exeprienced experience of working with an actor as gifted as Kat is one of the reasons why I’m feeling flat.

Flat Daddy is one of those rare filmmaking experiences — an accumulation of serendipitous events: Louise D’Arcy’s short story falling into my lap, like a gift from the gods. My wife and I moving to Sydney not long after I read the story, making me automatically eligible for government funding through Screen NSW. Annie Kinnane returning to the world of freelance producing and being able to commit herself to the funding application. Geoff Hall wrapping the mini-series, Deadline Gallipoli, and Kat Stewart and Kathryn Beck becoming available after their respective engagements.

The experience of making Flat Daddy was unlike any other filmmaking experience I’ve had. On numerous occasions it felt as though I had wandered onto someone else’s set; I’d look up from the monitor and watch the incomparable Geoff Hall setting up a shot, then I’d look down at the split and see the very familiar face of Kat Stewart sort of materialise from the ether. And when action was called, magic always seemed to happen. It was a surreal, occasionally out-of-body experience; the set felt electrified; everyone was smiling, laughing and having a ball, as though all of us were meant to be working together on this project at this point in time.

The transition from highly energised and pleasant environment to my old, fairly lonesome routine has been acutely felt. Unlike a feature-film shoot, you don’t have the lows to balance out the highs. Flat Daddy was four days of pure filmmaking bliss, and now the real work awaits us: the process of assembling all the pieces into something that, at the very least, honours and memorialises the joyous and incredibly fulfilling experience of making all the pieces.

And in some ways, the process of analysing and absorbing the material  is an opportunity to get back onto the set and experience the magic again.

To not feel flat anymore.

September 1, 2014

Day 1 – 22 setups

Day 2 – 30 setups

I was wrong when I said that writing a shot list was “your one and only chance of making the film exactly the way you want to make it.”

At the halfway mark of the Flat Daddy shoot, I’m able — and thrilled — to say that the film we’re making is turning out better than the one I ‘made’ when working on the shot list; far better than what I imagined. And wrote.

This sometimes happens with filmmaking, and when it does, it’s a beautiful thing; a magical and joyous and intoxicating experience. The cast and crew feed off this positive energy, this awareness that something good — something special — is coming into being.

As with all shoots, there have been moments of stress and anxiety. Each day you’re fighting the clock; ambition and pragmatism are at loggerheads. There is friction. But, if you allow it, this ‘push and pull’ thing can give way to ideas that surpass those you thought weren’t going to be improved upon.

August 14, 2014

I don’t think there’s anything more confronting to me than having to sit in front of a video camera and ask people — friends, family and strangers — for money.

No, wait! There is something that’s just as confronting:

Writing a shot list.

That has been my world so far this week: Filming the pitch video for the crowd-funding campaign for Flat Daddy, and working on the shot list for the film, from which the storyboards can then be created.

According to playwright and filmmaker, David Mamet, “The work of the director is the work of constructing the shot list from the script. The work on the set is nothing … The film is directed in the making of the shot list.”

So yes, there is a lot riding on this shot list, just as there is a lot riding on my performance in the campaign video — there may not be a shot list to be filmed if we fail to reach our funding target.

But while writing a shot list and filming a crowd-funding campaign video may be confronting, it’s also a liberating and enlightening experience: with the former, it’s your one and only chance to make the film exactly how you want to make it. With the latter, it’s an opportunity to resolve in your mind exactly what kind of film it is you’re intending to make, and what its value is to potential campaign contributors, and, hopefully, future viewers.