I was a 14 years old when I first saw Pink Floyd’sLive at Pompei. It blew me away then and it still does now.
The clip below has been such a strong influence on me as a filmmaker over the years. I like the pureness of it all. It’s more about capturing the energy that is there, rather than trying to fabricate what isn’t. It’s about tapping into the essence and documenting it in the most unaffected way.
It’s funny how random things inform and inspire what we do. It’s usually (and hopefully) such a random mix of things that the culmination of them all manifests to become something new and not derivative of the sources.
One week into shooting Puberty Blues 2, I’m drawn back to have another look at Echoes. This clip is like a compass to me. If you want to cut to the chase, jump to 6:30… Magic happens.
Do yourself a favour and watch the whole film here… (Directors Cut!)
Wrapped shooting on my last two episodes of Puberty Blues during the week.
I found directing this block (Eps 5 and 6) different to my first (Eps 1 and 3). The first eps were all about finding what the series was. What it looked liked, how it sounded, how the scripts translated, how the drama worked, where the performances should sit and how to work with each actor. It was such an exploratory process yet at the same time we were making the series as we went along. Which I love.
But by the second block a lot of the things I didn’t know the first time, which kept my eyes open wide, I now knew. This made it a little less exciting, or because it was more familiar it didn’t feel as ‘special’ maybe and perhaps even trickier than usual to remain aware and in the ever elusive moment. But on the other hand, because we had edited and finished the first two eps, we could refine what was working and push harder on the elements that we wanted to see more of.
In some ways this was a little like my dream model for making a feature film. Where you shoot the film, cut for a period and then go back out and shoot more. The idea being, that the first shooting period is all about finding the film, the second is about refining and adding to what you have already discovered. Building on what the story has become rather than what you thought it might be.
The downside here is that everything that was once exciting, new and fresh, isn’t so much the second time round. There is a tendency to become complacent or just used to whats going on around you. I had to remain focused and often remind myself just how beautiful it is what we are doing and within the tight schedules and budget there are wonderful opportunities still there ready and waiting and well worth exploring!
I can’t show too much from the shooting of Puberty Blues just yet… but here are some photos taken on set over the past few weeks. They kind of remind me of postcards.
I’ve just finished directing Episodes 1 and 3, I’ll edit them for few weeks and then head back out to shoot episodes 5 and 6. The wonderful Emma Freeman is currently out on the front line directing Episodes 2 and 4.
If there was a hand scribbled note on the back of each these ‘postcards’ it would read…
“I’m having an absolute ball! Wish you were here! x”
Mid way through my first block of Puberty Blues. Long days and nights battling schedules, budget, time, the sun and the surf and the rain. Not that I’m battling against those things, it’s just the reality of production. I guess the trick is (and I’m constantly reminding myself this) is to try and remain flexible and work with it and around it as you go. Push as much as you can, but allow yourself to be pulled when you have to.
‘Time’ even on the most luxurious and well organised of shoots is rarely on your side and I’m reminded each day of the reality ‘it’s not how good a director you are, it’s how good a director you are while under the pump and having to make things work, with very little time’.
Some days I feel like I get it right, others times I spend the drive back home to Newtown from Cronulla wondering how I could have made it work better, more efficiently, given better direction, revealed the drama and/or the onscreen relationships better. Each day on set brings it’s own unique set of challenges, you win some and enivitably you lose some. But hopefully it balances out.
Luckily for me I have an incredible cast (and scripts!) I can rely on to make the job a whole lot little easier! I am constantly amazed and full of gratitude when actors bring out their best in pressured situations. It does more than make it easier, it makes it a privilege!
We have had more than a few ‘ambitious’ shoot days. A mass of extras, large interior and exterior locations, all period dressed and set for 1977. Throw in some horses (girls riding bareback), shooting day for night and night for day, stunts, low loaders, fireworks and all the safety and restrictions that brings, so they are full on days to say the least.
In my limited experience, it seems most TV drama is designed around and works most efficiently when you have one, two, maybe three people talking in a room together. If you have the right script and cast and you are prepared, you can work through those kind of scenes pretty quickly. Making the drama work and make it look good as well. But the moment you involve anything else, it takes more time than you have. And by ‘anything’ I mean an extra person, an effect, or a stunt. Or the moment you go outside (or underground) or rely on weather or natural light, a fight, surfing(!!!) involve a car, water, freaking horses or anything other than two people in a room talking. It slows down really fast.
Which is why I guess a lot of TV consists of a couple of ‘people talking in a room’, then it cuts to more people talking in rooms etc. After all it is an almost limitless set up for story and drama.
Regardless, I do love finding myself amongst the organised chaos of shooting. Surrounded by talented artists and technicians, I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. Stealing shots, racing against the clock and making every second count. In fact somehow using the sense of urgency to create an atmosphere on set that despite all the push and the nessecity to be ‘moving on’ will feel alive and very much in the moment when on screen.
Our final week took me back again to Beaconsfield, Tasmania. This was my 4th trip, but this time I had some cast and (a reduced) crew in tow. As well as shooting some key sequences in the streets of Beaconsfield, we were most importantly able to shoot 400 meters below ground in the real Beaconsfield mine as well as some other scenes on the ‘brace’, the area underneath the now iconic triangular poppet head of the mine, including a recreation of the famous footage of the boys coming out after fourteen days trapped below ground.
I think overall we have done very well. From the start we approached the script like a feature film, even though we only had a ‘TV’ budget and schedule. In most parts I think we have succeeded and if we haven’t it wasn’t from not trying as hard as we could.
I’m so impressed with the crew that I have had around me. I’m looking forward to the time I can work with each and everyone of them again. On all levels they have delivered above and beyond what was expected. It’s been a gruelling schedule to say the least and I know I could not have made it through the shoot without a bunch of guys and gals around me who worked as hard and as fast as they did while still maintain a high level of creativity and craft. Thanks to everyone on the crew, from the production office, to the unit boys, right through and up to the heads of department!
We have spent the last week shooting on sets built in a huge warehouse in Yarraville. The main set is ‘the 925′, which is the name of the drive (925 meters underground) that collapsed on Todd and Brant in the Beaconsfield mine in 2006. Even though we shot in a real mine, we could never create a ‘collapsed mine’ in a mine, so we had to build it.
I’ve never really shot on sets, in fact I’ve made a point of not shooting on them, but I’ve learnt so much watching The 925 develop from inital recces and research, to rough sketches, to drafted plans and ultimately construction.
Production designer Jon Rhode has done an incredible job not only designing but also stretching our very small budget a very long way (over 50 meters end to end!) on this set and all the other smaller ones. Standing on the set of the 925 when it was lit and dripping with water felt alot like being in a real mine, I kept feeling like I needed to put my hard hat on.
Returned on Saturday from a week shooting deep down underground. Filmmaking takes you to some pretty cool places, but I’m still trying to comprehend not only where we have been, but how on earth we got there. To even step foot in an underground mine is difficult enough, but to gain access and take fifty cast and crew for a week of filming under ground is a thought almost to crazy to consider, particularly on a schedule and budget as tight as ours.
Mines are dark, wet, small and full of safety, technical, geological and physical considerations. A crew member with over 25 years in the industry said to me during the week that what we were doing was the most logistically and physically tough shoot he had ever been on. Which on one hand excited me, and on the other made me realise just how hard everyone was working to make this happen as smoothly and efficiently as it could.
The underground environment goes against everything a film crew needs to work; flexibility, accessibility and time. But what the mine took away from us in logistics, it gave back ten fold in providing a location that visually and structurally we could never have recreated in a studio. Speaking of which this week sees us back in Melbourne filming in the relative comfort and convenience of a set built in a huge warehouse in Footscray.
A huge thanks to A1 Consolidated gold mine, tucked high up in the hills about 4 hours drive from Melbourne (just near Woods Point, which is dying for a Deliveranceremake to be filmed there!). A1 essentially shut down for the week to facilitate the shoot and give us mostly free reign on their very cool place. And also a huge thanks to location manager Chris Stanton and the rest of the production team who help seal the deal!
And a massive thanks to the cast and crew who endured the cold, the mud, the dark and the insanity of it all.
We are half way through the shoot. This week we shot all the scenes of the boys in ‘the cage’, all 62 of them! We built a set that was the exact dimensions to what the real cage was, it’s such a small space that Todd and Brant had to endured for over two weeks. All the news reports at the time, depicted the cage more like a prison cell size, or a least a space they could sit up and casually sit back in. But it was more like a coffin sized space that two big guys could just fit in, when lying down. They could not straighten out, nor sit up, and had the constant threat of thousands of tons of rocks hanging just centimetres above. I think it was Brant who described the situation as similar to having someone point a loaded gun at you for two weeks. Never knowing when or if they might pull the trigger.
I had my mind set to build our cage exactly how the real one was, or as close to as possible. And even though we could remove walls and the roof etc to assist us with shooting it was still a really tight fit. It was built on quite a complex rig that could be shaken, jacked up and dropped. It was like this living thing, a bit like a theme park ride. The real Todd Russell dropped onto set and gave us the thumbs up, which is good enough for me. He joked earlier that we was going to get into the cage, but after he had a good look around it, I suspect that he didnt need to re-live the experience even if in the realms of make-believe.
Above: The Cage
We have been shooting between 10-13 scenes a day and I think we got up to up to 13 minutes of screen time on one day. I thought shooting in such a restricted space would reduce time, but because it was so small and there were so many special physical effects (rock falls, dust, water, ‘seismic’ activity, blasting etc) everything took much more time than I expected. But we got most of what we needed in the end. I hope we have captured some of the true horror of what it would be like to be trapped and buried alive a kilometre under ground.
Despite the long hours and the pressures of the schedule, I’m really enjoying myself. Fingers crossed the good experience continues for the next 2 weeks!
Lachy and Shane Jacobson (below, who plays Brant) are doing a great job as Todd and Brant. I’ve been so impressed with their approach to the characters and their performances. It was hard to shoot the scenes when they actually left ‘the cage’ I wish I could have spent another day or two with them on that set!
We are heading to shoot in a working gold mine this week for five days. A very cool but remote location about four hours drive from Melbourne.
I had a great time at the Vladivostok International Film Festival. The film was received really well. I always thought it had a bit of a russian thing going on in it. It’s always nice to get feedback directly from an audience and I had a really lovely man come up to me after one of the screenings and say via an interpreter that he very much enjoyed the simplicity of the story, the more he watched, the more he realised there was more to the story than he first thought, and then in broken english he told me “In the final scene, my brain said ‘yes’, but my heart was saying ‘no’…” I think that was what I was always looking for.
I also had an interesting question in the press conference about the violence towards 10 year old ‘Chook’ (played by Tom Russell). The journalist asked “In Russia there is a saying where children tell their parents ‘You did not beat me enough’, meaning they have grown up to ‘soft’ and it is their parents fault. Do you think children should be beaten?” Needless to say there was an ‘awkward’ pause, before I went on to say that I could never condone any kind of violence towards a children. Not my own, and not to anyone elses. But then again, perhaps I’m one of the soft ones. It was an interesting cultural take on the film though.
I haven’t travelled to as many festivals as I have been invited to this year for various reasons, but I was really glad to head back to Vladivostok. I hadn’t watched Last Ride for nearly a year and although it was one of those screenings where I sat through and cringed at all the mistakes, the could have beens and I should haves and what ifs, it was really nice to be sitting in the dark and watching the film we made so far away from where we made it.
The photos I mentioned I was going to take have worked out well. I won’t post any here just yet. But I wanted to say a special thanks to Dimitry who assisted me in finding a few a people and locations, as well translating and driving. It was really good getting to see another side of Vladivostok with him. Here he is posing with his cool russian made Zenit 35mm complete with a sinister looking 300mm lens and sniper like add ons. Thanks Dimity!
I’ve finished my time with Offspring. I locked off the edits for my two episodes last week and I’m quite happy with the way they have come together (Eps 108 and 109 go to air in October on TEN). I have had an absolute ball with the cast and crew. I have learnt alot and the experience both personally and professionally, has been invaluable. My fingers are firmly crossed that the show is the success it deserves to be.
Below from top to bottom. Sacha Horler, an absolute acting force, who I was lucky enough to cast for the guest role of ‘Stacey’. Kat Stewart, this still was taken as part of a visual effect sequence, but here is something I really like about it. Kat is one special actor, who I can’t wait to work more with. Asher Keddie, in character in the delivery suite. I have so much admiration for Asher. As the ‘star’ of the show she has had such an intense and tiring workload, but she continually strived to make each and every take the best she could make it, with impressive results. And Don Hany, who is one of the most down to earth and lovely guys I’ve ever met. It was a pleasure to watch these guys (and all the cast) at work each day.
I’m very proud of this short documentary I made earlier this year. This film is one of three Exit Films and Publicis Mojo produced for an energy drink called ‘Burn’, and it will be streamed on websites throughout Europe. Playground is a portrait of 21 year old rapper, poet and ‘beater’ named Julius Wright a.k.a Lyrical God who lives in Philadelphia. Enjoy…
The brief for Playground was simple. Perhaps a little to simple, make a film about ‘…an unconventional urban musician, somewhere in the world…” kind of narrows it down a little huh? After a couple of frantic weeks research here in Melbourne, London and New York we eventually stumbled upon this clip on YouTube of a guy called Lyrical God.
I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was something that just grabbed me about Julius. I had a feeling in my gut there was something more going on than just ‘tapping pens’ on a table. I found Julius on Facebook, took a punt and sent him a message. I can only imagine what he must of thought when he recieved it. “Hi I’m from Australia and I’d like to make a film about you… next weekend!”. So within a day or two I was chatting to Julius on the phone and he seemed like a really cool guy with a great approach to his music and his life in general.
We got go ahead from Mojo (the agency we were working with in Sydney) on a Wednesday, my assistant Ryley and I were on a flight to Philadelphia on Thursday and we were shooting with Julius on Friday.
I had been waiting for an opportunity like this for nearly ten years. The idea of taking the bare essentials and being jettisoned into the unknown to make a film for me the ultimate way to create, where you rely not on a script, but more on instinct and intuition. Responding to what you see and hear, hour by hour, day by day. That’s pretty much how I shot Playground over the five days we were in Philly.
Ryely and I found ourselves in an all black neighbourhood in South Philly, totally out of place for a couple of pastey Australians, but we were welcomed by Julius and his friends immediately and were made to feel most welcome. I was totally drawn in by the city and the people we met and I hope that comes through in the film a little.
Above: The last image I took of Julius just after we finished recording in the studio at 3am.
I guess the coolest thing about the experience was meeting and getting to know Julius and really liking him. The risk for me with a project like this was turning up in Philadelphia and Julius being keen on having a film made about him, but showing no interest in actually getting it made. I mean, all I had seen was some YouTube clips and a phone call. He could have easily lost interest in the idea of making a film when it became apparent that he was going to have get up early, do different things, hang out with us etc. I’ve seen the novelty of filmmaking wear off on people before, once the novelty wears off, it’s just hard work. However, I think Julius really got into it, he loves performing more than anything else, but over all I think he loved sharing the experience in making a film with us. He really wanted to make it work. And was very generous with his time.
One thing became very apparent while we were there though. It’s really hard for a black kid like Julius to make the leap from living with his Grandma in a row house in South Philly to being a successful musician. Everyone around Julius knows he has talent, and this is in an environment where everyone can rap and freestyle (all the guys you see rapping with Julius in the film live on his block) in fact everybody you see in the film is incredibly talented. Everyone expects Julius to ‘make it’. But by the end of our short week with him, I was all to aware of the great divide between who and where he was and what he dreamed he could be and how freaking hard it is going to be for him to make that leap. Simply by the fact that he is a young, black and poor. He has to busk to eat. And while everyone around him is saying how amazing he is and how he is going to be rich and famous one day, most days there is nothing in the fridge to eat, and he’s out hustling for change. The pressure to make it and fulfill his and his friends and families dreams must be huge.
I wish Julius all the best. I know he has a really great support network and his managers Aaron and Nathan, who look out for him in so many ways other than just financially are two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I hope this film is one stepping stone closer for him to his dream.
(On the geeky side, this short project was my first real attempt at shooting on the 5DmkII which I have beendiscussing here for a while now. Again, I was so impressed with the quality and the usability of the camera in the real world. I used no focus rig or extra bits and pieces. Pretty much the camera and a monopod was all I used. We had a sound recordist with us most days which made a huge difference, but some of what made the cut is the 5D with a microphone mounted on top. Simple, discreet and beautiful ‘film like’ quality.)