Four Successful Women Discuss Gender Bias

David Black chats to four successful women in the indie movie industry about the subject of gender bias.

Have you ever been happily trundling along, lost in a daze and feeling all is well in your own little world when suddenly ….. SPLODGE!!! You’ve stepped in it!  A sickly warm stench wafts up, assaults your nostrils and chokes you half to death while a swarm of angry blowflies appear out of the blue and circle around your head!

Well, ok, I haven’t had that quite happen to me on that scale.  It’s just the way I visualised a nasty situation that I recently found myself in.  It seems that one of the red hot issues in the Australian indie movie industry today is gender bias.

To put that into straight English, instead of the politically correct term of “gender bias” — some women feel that they are treated unfairly and not taken seriously due to being female.  They feel that they have lost out on opportunities they would have won otherwise if they were male.  It can even go further in that some feel that there is a casting couch, a glass ceiling in organisations and wage disparity.  Others feel that the roles that they are offered pander to stereotypes that are degrading to women.

So… how in hell did I manage to step into the stinky hot centre of such a distasteful issue?  Well, I had complaints that I haven’t given equal time to female film makers in my interviews, articles and movie reviews.  Also, on my recent Victorian Indie Movie Night, only one of the 11 film makers whose films were shown was female.  There is no refuting the numbers here, so I thought that to best explore the issue, I should just talk to some women in the industry and let them tell it in their own words.

Tonight, I will be chatting with Jackie Kerin, , Dia Taylor, Jessica Pearce and Raven Christina Corvus.

Jackie’s first IMDB entry has her appearing in Skyways back in 1979, but she started even earlier in 1976.  By comparison, Dia is pretty much the newcomer to the industry with 4 or 5 years industry experience.  Jessica is a producer and has worked on some large indie productions, such as Ben Hall. Between them, they can give us a good overview of the Aussie scene and how it has changed.

By comparison, Raven is from the USA.  She runs Fizzy TV and produces, directs and films White Noise Paranormal, Locked Into Darkness and Small Planet.  Raven’s answers should give us an idea if Australia really is just baby USA or if things are different here.

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Jackie Kerin

DB – Hi everyone.  I appreciate you all being willing to talk about this subject. Can you each tell me a bit about your background?

Jackie – After growing up in Melbourne, I went straight from school to NIDA. It was 1973 and I graduated in 1975. I was young to be accepted. The focus at the Institute was theatre with a little radio and television training thrown in. In three years, we studied no Australian plays. I was aware that at least one Australian play had been written since ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ – ‘Don’s Party’. I didn’t imagine working in film, as there didn’t seem to be an Australian film industry.

Then in 1975,‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ was made. Suddenly acting in films seemed like a possibility. I Worked for 7 years in theatre, and television and short films and then in 1982 I played the lead in a horror feature, ‘Next of Kin’ directed by Tony Williams.

Around this time, I was feeling hungry for more education. The NIDA diploma was a practical course, my life had been sheltered and I was tired of my naivety. I traveled around Europe for a year, and on returning, lived in Central Australia on a remote community. I moved to Adelaide and studied for a Bachelor of Education and briefly experimented with teaching but soon drifted back into TV, making training films (John Cleese had turned corporate training films into a comedic art form), children’s shows and a mini series – ‘River Kings’. I moved to Fremantle and worked in theatre and eventually returned to Melbourne. I was away for 20 years.

For a while I worked on ‘Blue Heelers’ (when required) as the principal of Mt Thomas and had a guest spot on ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Dirt Game’. But these days I do the occasional ad and my focus is on storytelling in its traditional form and writing for children. I’m the current president of Storytelling Australia Victoria.

Dia – I’m a freelance Filmmaker and Videographer based in Melbourne.  I’ve been making films for the past 10 or so years but have only started in the industry in the last four.  To date I have Directed a feature film and 14 shorts and videos.

Jessica – I came from a Sales background. Originally from Brisbane, I moved to Melbourne five years ago and loved it. Still in Sales at the time, I had lost my passion for it and was looking for something different. I began to explore the idea of moving into the arts. I had never really thought of myself as a creative person even though I spent my child hood doing plays and in a house filled with music. After only one month of exploring options I found myself working as a Production Manager on music videos and short films. The phrase that I have used before, which can sound cliche but is accurate, I dipped my toe in the water and the river took me. 

I have since gone on to work as a Producer with an amazing group of incredibly talented people and launched a production company Running Panda Films with my first feature film The Legend of Ben Hall, web-series Waiting on Sound as well as six short films which have gained recognition internationally at a range of festivals. We have also launched in to the commercial space with our Running Panda Productions team. It is by far one of the most terrifying, exciting and rewarding things I have ever done.

Raven – I started filming and directing a reality show for my paranormal team White Noise. Then a few years later me and two friends started Fizzy TV to help people like us in the independant film industry get more exposure. Fizzy is now a Video On Demand site that is also on Roku, Amazon Fire and Google Play. I have been also filming and directing for Small Planet, Locked Into Darkness and a new project that will be submitted to a major netwok in the U.S. For now they all can be seen on Fizzy TV.

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Dia Taylor

DB – have you experienced gender bias in the film industry, and if so, how did you deal with it

Jackie – – I entered the industry shortly after the bar was lifted on married women working full time in the public service. Equality was a subject of conversation and debate. There was a shift in thought on what women could and couldn’t do. After graduation, I moved back to Melbourne and I worked a lot in TV. My memory is that women were thin on the ground. You’d find women working as make-up artists, wardrobe and on continuity. Men wrote, directed, produced and camera, sound, lighting etc. were all operated by men.

The roIes I was given and the narratives were revealing of the male imagination: I was asked to ride a stallion, bare back and topless, be stripped naked and tossed into a pool and I was rescued by police minutes before my jealous boyfriend tried to throw me over a balcony. I was rejected from a job because my breasts were too small I was dressed in jeans so tight I had to lie down to pull up the zip, and when I asked if I could wear something more comfortable, the director reminded me, ‘You are paid to wear what I tell you to wear’. And then there was the director who assured me that if he gave me a lift to the location he wouldn’t fuck me.

I was young and went with the flow. It had not yet occurred to me that things could be different and people, no matter what their gender, had a place in the story making industry, in front of and behind the camera. When I saw ‘Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!’ and watched the actresses talking light-heartedly about these films, I wondered for a moment, why I hadn’t been able to be so enthusiastic.

In Fair Game, the woman may get her revenge but I found it very hard to watch this all the same. In Next of Kin , I too, defeat my stalker, I blew off his head.  Still, sometimes when I’m watching film and TV, I mutter to myself ‘PBA’ (‘Poor Bloody Actress) when I see them being raped and murdered for the forensic teams to dig up and dissect. I remember walking on a kid’s show in the 70s and talking to a Chinese Australian journalist who was cast to play a role. Musing about the work on offer, she remarked dryly that I was still in front of the game, anyone of Asian appearance had little chance of being cast. In fact anyone that wasn’t white was maginalised. So how did I deal with it? I distanced myself, went away and did some growing up.

Dia – I have to admit I have experienced both sides actually.  I was once hired on a film simply for the fact that I was female because the director and Producer were male, they wanted a female AD to balance things.  I did once lose out on a producing job because they wanted a male producer – no explanation why.  The way I see it is if someone hires or fires you simply because of your gender and not because of your skill level or experience then they’re really not someone you want to work with again.

Saying that though, I was once hired on a film with a rather raunchy scene with an actress.  She requested an all female crew to make her feel more comfortable which I do understand, so there are of course some exceptions to the rule.

One thing that I have noticed though, more so with actors is a sort of gender bias or stereotyping of actresses.  There are so many films out there with weak female characters who honestly could be replaced by a sexy lamp.

And so many films out there fail to even pass the bachdale test.

Not only this, But I have been witness to actresses being over sexualised on set.  We have so many amazingly talented actresses in this city and in the world that can do so much more than just play the girlfriend or love interest.

I see films that have stunning female love interests next to average joe leading men.

Jessica – As a Producer, I have both experienced and witnessed Gender Bias in the industry. There have been some instances early on where I was told ‘ you are a young girl, you don’t have what it takes’ etc. At the time, they were upsetting and made me incredibly angry. I since have realised something that has made the management of these interactions a lot easier. I wish to be treated as a person like anybody else. I choose to not make these interactions about my sex or my gender. Even if someone seems to make a direct attack at my ability to redo my role due to my gender, I do not carry this.

Once I worked with a male production member who I was conflicting with. He was argumentative and dismissive from which I immediately assumed that it was due to my being a woman and his superior. After many weeks of working together, I stopped one day and gave him positive feedback for what he had done well. The facade crumbled and he slumped and said thank you. He explained that the low budget shoot had been incredibly grueling and he was feeling way over his head with the schedule. In this moment, I realised I had been interpreting his remarks and attitude as an offence to me as a woman but the reality was he was just struggling in his own world and as his boss he was feeling a lot of pressure within the role. This still did not excuse his behaviour but allowed me a light-bulb moment to how I can choose how I receive what people throw at me in the industry.

With all of that said – some people are just unhappy, male and female, and there is nothing you can do to change their world. The best thing you can do is not let them change your world perspective.

Raven – I have experienced the gender bias in the film industry more than I would like to admit. When I tell anyone, be it in person or online, you get pretty much ignored. I have noticed in forums when you mention you direct or film it seems like they always gravitate the questions to the men.

I even have to remind my friends and family that I direct and film shows.

I went to film locations and have been totally looked over and they will start asking the men on the crew questions and then they will have to tell them that I am the one in charge. You get the “sorry I just assumed” I don’t get mad, all you can do is laugh, and let your work speak for itself.

What is even funnier is when you tell someone you are working on a horror series that you are going to write and film and they just look at your dumbfounded. It is even more rare to have a woman in the horror genre filming and directing. We are just thought of making “chick flicks”

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Jessica Pearce

DB – how has it affected the way you do things today?

Jackie – It affects what I choose to watch which means there is still a lot I avoid. In 1992 my daughter was born and as she grew, I started to really notice – like it was no longer a peripheral awareness it was now really in in my face – the lack of representation of women, their stories and stories of all genders, sexualities and cultures! We moved into the western suburbs of Melbourne and the people around us were from all over the world.

Nothing in film and television resembled Footscray or the lives of the people travelling the Werribee line! When we discovered ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, I remember my daughter was hooked. Here at last was a hint of something different. And in her later teenage years we stumbled across stories with Queer themes and characters that explored women and sexuality in a deep way, like ‘The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister’. And later NITV came along and now there is so much more to choose from on TV and in the cinema.

I attended a workshop some time ago, delivered by a young person who explained what it was like not to fit the gender binary we impose and strengthen with our storytelling and myth making. They described so articulately how it feels to be invisible in story. Like having no reflection, no artistic explorations or commentaries on how to be and live. This made a huge impact on me as I realised, it was not only women and people of colour and different sexualities but also people of non-binary gender who were missing from the narratives. It’s exciting to see changes, small though they may be happening in our story telling. I guess the 70s and 80s primed my brain to think about these things.

Dia – It has and it hasn’t.  I like working with a mix of people.  I have a tight little circle of people I like to work with often who are both male and female.  I don’t think either gender is better suited to a particular role.  It’s the person and not the gender that you should look for.  Though I have noticed a lot more male sound recordists and female make up artists, I think this as well just comes down to personal preference with what roles people want to go into though.

Raven – It doesn’t affect how I do things. It should never change how you conduct yourself or treat others in the industry. We have to remember for so long woman were though of being in front of the camera and not behind it. It wasn’t that long ago woman in America didn’t even have the right to vote.

Jessica – I find my role to be an important one for setting the tone of the interpersonal relationships and environment of a production. There have been other examples of what I would deem gender bias but I have often found that people respect what I am doing and the role I bring to the table. I make it clear from the outset how I like to work and the expectations I have of those I work with, not as a woman, as a film maker and professional. I find that this sets a tone and clear bench mark for what is expected and how the production will operate. It is not always easy but I have found that this helps me determine very quickly how well we will work together and if it is the right fit as well as weeding out anybody who is holding any gender bias.

Raven – It doesn’t affect how I do things. It should never change how you conduct yourself or treat others in the industry. We have to remember for so long woman were though of being in front of the camera and not behind it. It wasn’t that long ago woman in America didn’t even have the right to vote.

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Raven Christina Corvus

DB – have you benefited from any of the women’s organisations or the media outlets created purely for women?

Jackie – – Not that I can remember, or perhaps not directly. Now on the rare occasion when I walk onto a film or TV set (I still make ads), I see women taking on all kinds of roles. Men still dominate behind the camera but I’ve worked with female camera directors, sound, directors, writers etc. and they are no doubt finding places in the industry because of the work that has been done for them by schools, individuals, organisations and women etc.  The sets I walk onto these days are more respectful of all crew and cast, children are better protected (I was involved in some TV when I was about 13 and looking older than my age.  There was no supervision of young people and the only advice I was given was to steer clear of ‘men with octopus arms’!) Respect on set is a nice thing, after all every job is needed to create each piece of the puzzle that is slowly gathered, take by take. Recently I was asked if my shoes were confortable. Seems like a small thing but it made me pause for a moment and I remembered those tight jeans. The last time I saw anyone humiliated and bullied (and it was a woman) on a set was 1991.

Dia – Not as of yet but that’s simply for the fact that I haven’t personally looked into them.  I think as well there should be male versions of such things too so as we can have true equality.

Jessica – I have been incredibly grateful and supported by both the female film making community and the women’s organisations. It is definitely worth noting though that the same obstacles apply in terms of funding and applications due to credits and connections. Personally, the idea that I would receive funding or an upper hand because I am a woman actually makes me very uncomfortable. I would like my project or team to be rewarded because of their hard work and merit of the project, not because of gender. HOWEVER, I understand how important the initiatives and organisations are in creating a social change on the perspective of female led stories and content. I hope that one day it no longer matters. I am completely aware how idealistic that sounds.

Raven – No but there are good programs out there. It helps even the field that is saturated with one gender. It is nothing to be ashamed of or thought of as biased. These programs help encourage woman to get into the field. It can be hard enough in the indy scene.

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Dia Taylor

DB – Do you have any advice for women entering into the film industry?

Jackie  – I feel, as I am distanced from the industry these days, there is not much I can say. Acting requires resilience and most of us have to work on that every day. Stick with it; we need to hear stories made by and about all kinds of humans and all genders. Call out sexism and bullying when it happens – don’t be afraid. I was and so regret being silent. Young people, I believe are vulnerable and the work can muck with the head; a mentor is a good thing. Think about your boundaries. You don’t have to accept the job if what you will be asked to do is uncomfortable for you or gratuitous. I’m sounding like a Nana. Making film and TV is fun. Where else would you get to go to work alongside, artists, writers, electricians, sound experts, camera experts, designers, carpenters, business people, pilots, inventors, animal wranglers, historians, old people, young people … and they all on ACTION do their thing! Magic

Dia – Yes I do actually.  We are a rare breed; don’t let the world tell you that you can’t do what you love.  There are some absolutely amazing female filmmakers out there… Sofia Coppola, Julie Taymor, Catherine Bigalow, Catherine Hardwicke, and Floria Sigismondi are just some examples to look up to.

Less than 10% of directors in Hollywood are female and even less are producers and DOPs.  Be the change.  Don’t let the industry sexualise you or change you in any way

Jessica – A common mistake, and one I have made is trying to define myself to others and personally based on my gender. The more you define yourself as what type of person, film maker and artist you want to be regardless of gender it will help frame your relationships in the industry. Make content. Keep making stories that you find interesting. Hire that female crew.

Raven – Just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let yourself grow a chip on your shoulder. Woman should be seen no differently than men in a perfect world, which it is not. It should be all about the finished product and not about your gender.

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DB – Thanks everyone for chatting to me today.

Any links you have can go here:

Jackie

Fair Game https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQuHBbUz6Cc

Next of Kin trailor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFcdd3VCIaM

Storytelling Australia Victoria:  http://www.storytellingvic.org.au/

http://www.jackiekerin.com.au/

 

Diayoutube.com/diataylorofficial/

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6595521/?ref_=tt_ov_dr

http://diartaylor.wixsite.com/portfolio

 

Jessicahttp://runningpanda.com.au

 

Ravenwww.fizzy.tv

www.whitenoiseparanormal.com

 

 

 

The Horrors of Pre-Production!

A look behind the scenes of an indie production, by David Black

Hi everyone. Once again, I haven’t found the time to get a few pieces in reserve to keep the Oz Indie Cinema stories, reviews and interviews running to deadline.  I feel a bit embarrassed but I do have an excuse. I was so amazed at all the activity and fantastic shoots happening within the local indie movie industry that I got involved in everything that I could. Some of this included creating my own projects. And that brings us to my blog update today.

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One of the things I’ve been working on is called Horror House. It’s a hosted horror show that is reminiscent of the old ones with all the bad taste jokes and props. Australia used to have these in most states. Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane all had one called Deadly Earnest.  It was a different actor in each state and the characters they played varied quite a bit, despite all using the same name. The shows ran from around 1961 – 1978 and were very popular. I chose to have two hosts for my show. Count Funghoula and Mistress Boobiyana.

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The reason why I decided to create a horror show was due to seeing so many local short horror movies that were amazing. Most only had youtube as an outlet and were unlikely to get onto tv or be released on dvd due to being too short. I thought that if there was an old style hosted horror show, then these could be grouped together and put into a half hour or one hour episode. I mentioned this on my facebook as a status update and the idea just took off.  Before I knew it, I had all the talent needed for the show to go ahead.

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The amount of work that goes into creating something like this is substantial.  It was just mind blowing as to how much time goes into pre-production, in order to create a few short minutes of footage.  This project deepened my appreciation for all of those local films that I’ve seen.  I’m hoping that by going over some of this, that it will help deepen your appreciation too.

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The first thing that I did was to commission an animated intro and outro for the series.  I felt that to get local film makers to give me their best work that I would need something spectacular to show them.  I went with Lorne Colt as the animator, and we worked remotely via email and facebook. This process took around a couple of weeks. The music in the intro was taken from an instrumental section from one of my Darkness Visible songs.

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The next step was to look for short movies.  I put messages up on a number of the facebook groups that are dedicated to the local indie movie industry.  To select the films for just the pilot show was another 3 weeks.  It was fun to chat to so many film makers and watch their movies, but, it wasn’t all beer and skittles.  I did get the odd film maker that was not happy that they didn’t make selection.  So I made a few friends and gained a few enemies.  I was advised by so many colleagues that have been working at the higher levels of this industry for years that you have to develop a thick skin if you want to be a director/ producer, and I’m working on that.

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Whilst I was selecting the movies and writing the script, I was putting together the cast and crew.  Most that work in this industry at the indie level do so on a volunteer basis. That doesn’t mean that the project was going to have zero cost as the animation was already a few hundred dollars.  I recruited the cast and crew over a few nights.  I’d end up in long discussions with this one or that one, until late in the night over the next few weeks to get all the workflows and deadlines together, as well as getting people working with each other.

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There’s a long line of tasks that need doing on a project like this and each person does their bit and passes it onto the next.  It only takes one person not coming through and one work flow can get jammed up, causing delays in many other areas. Yep, I had this problem too, and ended up having to replace my original co host. This resulted in another person upset, more fights, false accusations and the loss of friends that I’d introduced to her, who just couldn’t accept that I was now a director and had a job to do.

By this stage, I was really starting to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears of local film makers and understand some of their war stories of difficulty with cast and crew.   I didn’t quite get to the nervous break down stage, like some, but this was just a one day shoot and not a full feature film.

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It was a learning curve for me to realise that I should have had auditions and then made short lists. With anyone selected, I should have followed up with the directors they’d worked with before to make sure that they were professional in their behaviour.  I realised that you can’t just do a movie and give friends parts if you want to have a decent chance of having a smoothly run project that will be produced to a professional level.

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Once the previously cast hostess had been replaced, things moved into high gear. The new Mistress Boobiyana was Tritia DeViSha.  She is an award winning actress, seasoned presenter, producer, as well as a writer/director/filmmaker.   Tritia immediately got us rehearsing, filming the practice runs, re scripting and discussing props.  We were able to share the footage to the work group where the crew were able to decide what equipment they would need and their methods of shooting it. I was now getting a better understanding of how much more needs to be done and the way to do it.

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Discussions of make up and costume now got underway and it was probably a week or two of the make up artist discussing in chat the ideas with Trish and I.  Sketches and pics were exchanged, discussed and altered.  By the time we went to shoot, we knew what we were doing there but were ready to make whatever alterations would be needed on the day.  And as usual, things do change. There is a helluva lot of thinking on your feet that goes on as you have to accommodate things that just didn’t quite go to plan.

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For a week before the big day, I was moving stuff out of my lounge room, getting props together, keeping contact with everyone and even arranging extra helpers for the day.  Even then, on shoot day, there was heaps to do, but we transformed a lounge room into a movie set and got our footage done.  All up, I would say the amount of hours I put in alone would equate to two weeks full time, jammed into after hours.  Costs involved would have been around $600 – $700 . And that is just pre-production and the one day shoot.  There is still post production to go.

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*Update – Horror House has been accepted by Foxtel Aurora to run in early 2018!  More updates will be available on their facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/HorrorHouseShow/

 

Justin Dix — Star Wars, Hunters, Charlotte’s Web and The Bank Job!

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DB – Hi again everyone.  Today, I’m talking to Justin Dix, the founder of Wicked of Oz studios.  Justin has created award winning prosthetic makeup effects, props, miniatures, animatronic characters and set pieces for feature films and television.  Some of the big name movies he’s worked on are Star Wars Episodes 2 & 3 (Attack of the Clones and Revenge of Sith), Charlotte’s Web and The Bank Job.  He is also one of the hardest working people in the industry that I’ve seen.  The sheer amount of projects that he’s been on and the quality of work has totally blown my mind! Hi Justin.

JD- Hi David, thanks for the introduction, it does feel like I have done a lot in a lot of different fields, possibly due to having a lot of experience in multiple areas of film making.  Before wanting to write, produce and direct I always wanted to be a special effects makeup artist.  Pre internet I collected every movie magazine and book I could, Starlog, Fangoria, you name it.  I absorbed as much as I could and taught myself FX and Miniatures, but I always felt that films and the US film industry was a universe away, on a pedestal I could never reach.

Like many effects people of my time, Rick Baker and Rob Bottin whom I idolised, I helped out friends who were making films, and I did this for years.  It was a great proving ground and no risk way of learning, and as information was scarce, you had to make up a lot of what you were doing yourself, come up with your own methods and techniques.

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DB – Justin, most of the really amazing special effects that I’ve seen come out of Australia in recent times have come from your studio.  There is such a wide variety too.  Can you tell us a bit about the different things that you create?

JD – The goal with my studio Wicked of Oz has to remain malleable, to not just be exclusively a special effects makeup studio, I’m happy to try anything, regardless if we had never done it before.  In fact, it is still evolving, today we are primarily a film production studio, developing projects of mine or others to produce, all the effects and miniature experience only adds to our skill set and manages to produce bang for our buck.

I primarily like to do as much in the camera effects as possible, from creature suits, to miniature set and vehicles and prosthetic makeup, it helps with everything from the actor’s performance to getting a gritty and tangible realism that can’t be achieved without a fifty million dollar VFX budget.

I think it was when the second pirates of the Caribbean came out and I saw those CGI make-up of Davey Jones and his crew, I was looking at the screen and was trying to work out which bits were real and which bits were digital as it was some of the best silicone makeup I’d ever seen, then, when I found out the entire thing was digital, my first thought was, practical effects are dead.  I really did, I know a lot of other people did too.  That’s when I thought that you need to evolve to survive and I focused my attention on scripts and production to produce my own projects, ones that embraced old school techniques including miniatures and fx makeup.

But old school techniques didn’t die out, in fact there has been a resurgence of late, with big films like the Force Awakens which have actively promoted and called attention that they are back to old school methods.  This is what I want to do with my own films but also to anything I work on for anyone else.  In fact, I had the great fortune to show (Super Producer) Gale Ann Hurd a mood piece I’d done for one of my films called Declassified that was made in a day, with no VFX and utilizing miniatures and practical effects she was blown away saying ‘Now that’s film making’.

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DB – Most here are dying to hear about your involvement in Star Wars.  You were a Droid Technician in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of Sith.

JD – I do consider myself one of the luckiest people when it comes to joining the film industry ‘Officially’, when I say officially, I mean getting paid to work in film.  Prior to that I was doing lots of stuff on lots of other people’s films for free, including Dan Armstrong whom you interviewed recently. Dan and I go way back, like twenty-five years, and are good friends.

Star Wars was my introduction into the film industry, and it was huge.  Not only was I lucky enough to work on the film, I feel I got the perfect job, in the perfect department, which was the droid unit.  Mainly because it was a very small unit, only five of us, and I was pretty much responsible for the aesthetics and manufacturing of the robots and parts in that unit.   There are far too many stories to go into but I lived out a Star Wars fans fantasy almost every day. Including becoming friends with Anthony Daniels and have memories that my twelve-year-old self would never have believed possible.

One story that remains an incredible memory is actually not when we were filming but when we used to meet and greet kids and their families for make a wish foundations or other charities. I would bring the families into a studio where we had set up R2-D2 and C3-PO resting near a couple of full sized space ships, I’d do the usual shtick ‘Who know who these robots are’ the kids and parents would all scream out, but then I would go to the back of 3-PO and flick a switch, his lights would go on and he’d greet them all, then bang R2’s head waking him up.  To see the expression of not only the kids but their parents was unforgettable and it projected me back to when I was a ten-year-old looking at the Star Wars poster at the movie theatre, and to this day those parents still probably did not realize that it was actually Anthony Daniels inside the suit (the actual C3-PO), he was a very giving that way and it made us all feel incredible.

As I was fortunate enough to have Star Wars episode 2 as the first professional feature film I ever worked on, I thought I would walk away with all the secrets that had been locked away behind studio gates of how to make films, I thought I would walk away with an inextinguishable euphoria that could never be extinguished, but, it was different to what I thought it was going to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, it was my childhood dream come true, but it also made me understand how inefficient and wasteful the film industry was, in my mind I thought, no wonder these things cost 150 million dollars, there must be a better way.

It’s actually back then, in 2001 that I started writing my very first feature film, and since then I’ve written a dozen more, some with writing partners and some without, some of those scripts I’ve sold, one I’ve made and some I’m still developing.  Ironically, while I sit here in LA writing this interview and churning up memories of my ride so far, the film I started writing on Star Wars back in 2001 will be my next production, in fact when I return to Australia we are jumping straight into it.  It’s the film that will take everything I’ve learned and the relationships I’ve forged over the years, to do.

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DB – After Star Wars, between 2008 – 2012, you did quite a few spots as a special fx make-up artist on shorts, such as Forged, Storm Warning, Dying Breed, The Loved Ones, Lake Mungo, Long Weekend, Gates of Hell, Beautiful, Damned by Dawn, Red Hill, 100 Bloody Acres, FH2: Faghag2000, and more.  That is one helluva pace!  We won’t be able to cover all of those in just this one article, but can you tell me the highlights and how some of them might have challenged you, and others helped hone your skills for your own later projects.

JD – In between those projects listed I worked on developing my own projects, obviously writing the scripts but also creating artwork, makeup test, production design, and I started traveling back and forth to LA to learn the next part of film making, how to get a project made, that is the hardest part of film making, ask anyone!

As far as some of the previous projects that have come through Wicked of Oz’s door I’d say the Loved Ones and 100 Bloody Acres were my favourite, and it’s not to do with the effects we did for them, although we are very proud of the work, it’s the people and ultimately the directors you work with which can make a film an enjoyable experience.

The Loved Ones director Sean Byrne and I hit it off straight away, I could tell he had a vision for the film and that vision was going to be crazy and unique, and it was, I loved the finished product, I really loved it and was so proud of it.  Even if a film is not your own, when you have an experience like that you take some sort of ownership, you feel like you’ve contributed and without you it would not have been what it was.  Every crew member on any film wants to feel like that, that’s why we do it, sure, it’s a job, but it can be more than that, and those are the memories and moments that make you continue in an industry that is super competitive and possibly one of the hardest jobs there is.  I know some people will think it’s glamorous, and sometimes it is, but if you’re not super passionate about it and willing to work harder than you have worked before, it’s not for you.

The other project that is one of my favourites is 100 Bloody Acres, for the Cairnes brothers, it was the first film I did with them, Scare Campaign being the second. Those lads are like looking in a mirror, we’ve seen, loved and learned from all the same films in the 80’s golden era.  To work with them is a pure joy, I not only want to give them everything they want on a smaller budget, but they allow me to go that extra mile.  I know they will feel that I am doing them a huge favour but it’s reciprocal, by letting me off the leash, they are allowing me to experiment and to run around in the playground that I love dearly.

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DB – In 2012, you directed and was a producer on the award winning feature, Crawlspace — a horror/ mystery/ sci-fi. 

JD – My first feature film Crawlspace came from a film making frame of mind, ‘What can I make with the recourse’s at my disposal for a small budget’ But, I ended up making a film that was punching way above its weight.  I have a lot of other scripts but they are kind of all epics.  I know a lot of people when faced with budget restrictions will write a film set in one room, that’s kind of what I did with Crawlspace, although that room happens to be the underground tunnels of a top secret facility in the middle of the Australian desert.  Funny thing is, in the end, we had 16 sets in the largest sound stage at the Dockland studios in Melbourne, I used to say we were the smallest show in the biggest shed.

I’ve mentioned it before but I’m a huge fan of all films 80’s, it was my era and it influences everything I love to do. Crawlspace was very much my love letter to this period, influenced by Alien, Scanners and The Thing just to name a few.  As my directorial debut I’m uber proud of it and I still love to watch it, part of this is because I fell in love with my cast, prior to the project I did not know them, but afterwards and to this day I call them friends.  That’s what the film industry does, it created mini families that are bound together by an intense shared experience, and if that experience was a joyful one, those friendships last a lifetime.

It’s been five years since Crawlspace and I do get asked why I have not made another film since then, the easy way to answer is that I have been, multiple one, they just that they never went got up to production.  I’ve been in 3 yearlong contracts with various production of mine that I’ve written.  Declassified was the first, literally after finishing Crawlspace I came to LA with the finished product under my arm, screened it and sold it to distributors, from there got an agent and manager pretty quickly and from then a meeting a Fox whom loved and contracted me to make Declassified, my head was spinning I thought I was living the Hollywood dream, but after a year of rewrites, we still had not made it, unfortunately when in a contract with someone like Fox your kind of stuck in limbo bound to that project and unable to do anything else.

I’ve done this several times, chasing the Hollywood dream, and also since making Crawlspace I’ve worked on other people’s film like 100 Bloody acres and NBC’s series, Hunters, and last year and going into this one I was working on a huge Chinese production for 9 months and so on which has absorbed another few years. So when you add it all up, five years just flew by.

But, with all that behind me and understanding the perils and pitfalls and putting it all down to a learning experience, I see the road ahead and it looks ‘Indie’ and it looks bright.

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DB -I still consider myself a newcomer to the local film industry and the first I saw of your work was some amazing pics from the recent series, Hunters.  Hunters was a pretty big one that aired on the  Syfy channel.  This one had slimy things with veins, cadavers and all sorts of stuff that you just don’t tend to see much of in local movies — at least not in this quantity and quality.  Can you tell me a bit about the various things you created for Hunters?

JD – Hunters was an unexpected experience, I happen to be in LA when I got a call from Australia asking if Wicked of Oz would be interested in doing the effects for the show, they briefed me about it and I was super excited by the possibility but ultimately I said I’m not really interested in doing effects on other people’s shows any more and more interested in developing my own projects.

They then asked if I wouldn’t mind meeting the producer who was also in LA, Gale Ann Hurd. Well, now they really had my interest. ‘ Absolutely I’ll meet Gale!’ So I met her the next day at Valhalla Pictures which alone in an intimidating experience.  The walls are lined with movies that shaped who I am, from Terminator, Aliens and the Abyss, this was a woman I’ve always admired and never thought I’d get to meet, let alone work with.

As nervous as I was, Gale and I got along great, in fact we talked more about my own projects I even showed her a mood piece I made for one of my underwater project which she loved. We finally got around to talking about Hunters and I walked away from the meeting elated, I was on cloud nine, but still not really wanting to jump on a show that would suck up another year of my life not working on something of my own.  But that’s when I got the call, ‘Gale was very impressed and what’s to know if you’d like to Co-produce on Hunters as well as have Wicked of Oz do the effects.  Well, that was a different story, so of course I excepted and it was back to Australia to work on one of the most intense productions I’ve ever worked on, basically TV is a different animal to film, don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but it was like making four feature films all that the same time.

What I loved about Hunters which was similar to previous films I’d done, we’d been given a lot of latitude to do and come up with whatever we wanted, obviously within the parameters of the scripts, but we came up with new gags and went practical where possible and did not default to digital.  I even ended up directing some 2nd unit for an alien planet battle sequence which was ultimately trimmed down to fit within the running time, but it was a thrill to do regardless. I was very proud of my whole Wicked of Oz team.

DB – You have quite a few projects in development at the moment. Amongst them is Aries, Declassified, High Moon, The Colony, Blood Vessel and Riding Hood. Can you tell us anything about them?

JD – Wicked of Oz has a lot of productions in development, all of them genre as that is my love, and all of them utilizing what I have in my bag of tricks from practical effects to minatures.  Again, the hardest part of film making is finding the finance.  I heard a saying that the longest distance in the world is the between a person’s mouth and their wallet, it is so true.  Getting a film up can be the most disheartening thing to do when you have that burning desire to tell your stories and bring them to fruition.

It is very easy to be seduced by shiny new things, opportunities that present themselves but ultimately end up absorbing your very precious time.  The one piece of advice that I give often is ‘Take what is in front of you’ the problem is in the past I have not taken this advice myself.

As far as the projects that I do have in what I active development, there are a few that I have spent a lot of time on, getting virtually up to the stage of ‘ready to go’ from concept and production design, effects makeup tests, budgeted and scheduled, to fully storyboarded. That is the main goal for any independent filmmaker, just do as much as you can now without the burden of a production schedule looming over you, not only is there no pressure but everything you do now will serve you later.  It’s all in the planning, planning, planning.

I can say that I’ll be going into production soon on my next film, in fact this year, you’ll have to watch this space.

My future goals are to make Wicked of Oz the premiere genre production studio in Australia, at this moment I can’t think of anyone else doing it in our country, and with my background, not only bring the projects I already have in development to audiences, but I hope to help facilitate a new generation of genre film makers in the future, I know it sounds like a big goal, but I’ve always dreamed big, funny thing is my reality always seems to exceed my dreams, so I’m very optimistic.

DB – Thanks for taking the time to chat to me Justin.  Any links you would like to share can go in here:

https://www.facebook.com/wickedofoz/

Mad Monsters and Magic!

David Black interviews the master of genre movies, Stuart Simpson

DB – Hi everyone.  Tonight, I am going to be chatting with Stuart Simpson, who is known for some very stylised, off the wall films, such as The Demons Amongst Us, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla and El Monstro Del Mar.  But Stewart’s history goes back way further.   In fact, way back to 1999 to working on tv shows such as Recovery, The Micallef Program, Welcher & Welcher, Spicks and Specks, and others.

Hi Stuart.  Your film work, since at least 2006, has been crazy, genre films.  Often with bucket loads of blood and slimy monsters.   Some of it looks very guerrilla in the locations that you shot at too.  Yet your start seems to have been in very secure, conservative tv studios.  I gotta ask, what prompted you to go from a fairly safe, regularly paid existence to dive right into the crazy world of b grade, shlock movies?

SS – Well,  I’ve been a freelancer at ABC for 20 years now! I began as a camera assistant on Recovery which was far from conservative. It was an amazing experience and was surrounded by inspiring young people of the same age all doing really cool stuff.   Around that time I started making short films and video clips which naturally lead to my first feature Demons Among Us.   Being a freelancer allowed me to still have the time to pursue my passion for film but I still had to make stuff within my means which was basically no budget productions! And look I love all cinema from Trash to High Art, it’s all relevant to me but in saying that, most of my dvd/vhs collection is b-grade genre stuff. It’s fun.

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DB – You wrote, directed, filmed and edited The Demons Amongst Us in 2006.  I take it that this was a side project while you were still working for the tv studios?

SS – Yeah Demons was a tough one.   It was my first attempt at something long form and since we could only shoot on weekends it ended up taking 2 years to shoot.  Too many characters and locations!

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DB – I noticed that it came out on Troma.  That has to be the dream of many a local indie horror movie maker.  Can you tell me a bit about how that came about?

SS – Yeah being massive fans of Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die, etc, we were all pretty happy about that.  Llyod Kaufman had seen the film at Perth’s Rev Film Festival in person but I had flown over there the week after so just missed meeting him.  It was actually one of the festivals volunteers that told me he saw it and loved it.  She even gave me his contact email! So yeah I contacted Lloyd and he was awesome and it ended up on Troma. 

 

DB – The Demons Amongst Us (2006) is highly stylised.  The opening scenes have a Sergio Leone style but in a more Aussie suburban setting.  There is also a bit of a Hitchcock feel in the mounting tension and some of the framing of shots.  I can even pick elements straight out of Will Eisner’s book, “Comics and Sequential Art.”  After that, there are just so many different types happening in the movie that I lost count.  I felt that they all worked and helped keep the viewer off balance as it was impossible to find a comfort zone amongst it all.  I am curious as to how that all came about.  What are your influences, and were you experimenting here to see what directions you would take in the future?

SS – Thank you.  My main reason for the different styles was to help get the audience into the chaotic mindset of the protagonist and his decent into madness.  The last time I watched it years ago, I thought, “man I went a bit overboard with this”,  haha,  but yeah I was definitely experimenting and trying out different approaches to mood and atmosphere.  My influences change from project to project.  Depending on the themes explored I usually research the hell out of it in both film and art/books etc. I think it’s important not to just take influences from cinema otherwise you run the risk of repeating someone else’s style or vision.

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DB – El Monstro Del Mar (2010) seems to be more settled in style.  It still has the Sergio Leone feel with the B&W and washed out colours, but this time brings in a bit of Tarantino.  The first thing that stood out to me was that you had Norman Yemm in this.  Usually, indie movie makers have lots of new or unknown names, but Norman was a well-established actor and his performance in the movie is just amazing.  How did you meet him and how did he come to be in El Monstro.

SS – Norman was fantastic to work with. Even though it was again a very low budget film, he treated everyone and the film like a complete professional. I was having a lot of trouble trying to find someone to play the role of Joseph.  It was harder than I thought casting an older role like that and spoke about it to Richard Wolstencroft  (MUFF director and film maker)  who had a small acting role in the film. He had only just finished up shooting with Norman on his own film, “The Beautiful and Damned” and suggested him.  In this context I thought yeah ok, if he is up for working on low budget genre films like Richards’ then he might be up for being in a giant sea monster film!  I called him and he was really approachable with a great sense of humour and was totally up for it.  After all he had made a low budget horror film back in the 70s, “Night Of Fear”, so he knew what he was in for.

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DB – The biggest thing that struck me in El Monstro is the monster itself.  From the earlier scenes with lots of tentacles to the mega huge thing at the end with a vagina détente type mouth that wreaks destruction and leaves goo everywhere.  How did you manage to make such an amazing creature in a low budget movie?

SS – Well that was due to the inventiveness of Nick Kocsis, my long-time collaborator and FX maestro of NK FX, having to create something from nothing basically. There were many different parts to creating the overall impression of the monster.   We had the tentacle ends with gnashing mouths which were basically long ladies evening gloves Nick got from an op shop an covered in liquid latex and painted and added teeth and then puppeteered (both in and out of the water).  We had longer ones that did open and close on those cheap foam pool noodles for more action shots where we needed a bunch of them in the final scene.   And then we had the Monster itself which Nick made from Latex as well so it could be submerged in a pool and shot under water.  The model itself is only about 40cm long but under water looked massive.   We stuck it onto the end of a mob handle and pulled it away from camera and then reversed the footage so the action of the tentacles looked like the creature was leading with them.  The hand puppets in the ocean were puppeteered by our producer, Fabian Pasani, in a diving outfit weighted just right so he was buoyed just under the surface of the water.  So yeah I had some good guys working on it to help pull it all together.

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DB – I’ve discussed Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla a couple of weeks back with the writer Addison Heath, so I will skip that and go straight to another one of your amazing monster films.  In your segment for ABC’s of Death 2.5, M is for Mutant/ Baby did a bat thing – again we see amazing creatures.  Instead of one giant one, we see a horde of winged beasties ripping the crap out of people.  Can you tell me a bit about how you made these creatures and managed to bring them to life?

SS – Again Nick Kocsis created a single bat based on some rough designs I gave him out of silicon with a wire skeleton that could be posed and articulated into different positions.  I then mounted it against a green screen and animated it from several different angles with different movements to give the appearance that it could be a different bat.   And then I composited them into the footage, often having to cut out the actors as a separate layer so the bats could pas behind them. It was a very time consuming practice and the first time I’d really done stop animation to that extent but I’m very happy with the way it turned out.

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DB – It’s going to be impossible to cover all of the amazing things you have been involved with film wise here from the shorts, to music videos, to promo videos for Monster Pictures to the features, so I am going to throw this one out to you to discuss the highlights of your movie career, any interesting stories.

SS – Ah that’s a tough one, every project has its stories both up and down.  I’ll never forget when shooting El Monstro out in the bay with two boats, one that I was shooting from and the other that featured the actors. The actor navigating the boat saw that we were veering closer for the shot and decided to slow down but not being an experienced boater speed up instead and ended up mounted their boat on top of ours momentarily. That was pretty hairy, no was hurt thank god. And I have to say it was a highlight getting Glenn Maynard to walk butt-naked, shaved head to to toe, in public for Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla. We really just sort of blocked off the street ourselves with walkie talkies and pretending to be council workers with hi-viz vests and all that. Most of my shoots have an element of guerrilla film making so often I’m just hoping the cops don’t rock up and shut it down.

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DB – With your future plans.  I did notice that Dragon Force is one of the current projects and the ten minute short at Trasharama totally blew me away with the Asian cinema stylisations.  There seems to be a current trend locally to explore the Asian genre with Nathan Hill’s “Revenge of the Gweilo”  and Addison Heath’s “Mondo Yakuza”.  Can you tell me a bit about Dragon Force and why you chose this genre?

SS – Dragon Force X as you say started as a short film.   Its played really well at Monsterfest last year and won audience award in the short film category.  I’m currently in pre-production for a 12 ep webseries in that 80s action/supernatural/horror/adventure genre.  My reason for the genre came out of travelling around Vietnam last year.  I was there for a holiday with my partner, Raphaelle, and I was shooting footage with the new iPhone 7.  I was amazed at the quality and inspired by the awesome locations I just had to shoot something that I could edit with when I got home. I thought what can I shoot here without sound and with bad acting i.e. me.  I instantly thought of the great supernatural/psychedelic/martial arts films shot in South East Asia like the Boxer’s Omen, Mystics in Bal, Raw Force, etc. So I wrote and shot and sort of making it up as we went along but after awhile it all came together and then when we got home I shot a bunch of green screen fx and overdubbed the whole film (including American actor Walker Hare for my voice over) with an awesome and very authentic sounding 80s sound design by Dan Macdonald and original synth score by Jesse Breckon-Thomas.  It was a heap of fun for everyone involved so I’m looking forward to expanding this story and characters.  Only this time its been amped up to 11 with multiple countries and crazy story lines. Keep an eye out for Dragon Force X!

Thanks for chatting to me today Stuart.  Any links you need added go here …..

DRAGON FORCE X: www.facebook.com/DragonForceX

FILMS: http://www.lostartfilms.com/films

STUART: www.facebook.com/simpson666

 

 

Tomboys – a blood stained tale of vigilante justice and pathos

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Hi everyone.  This week features my first ever review for Oz Indie Cinema.  I’m covering Nathan Hill’s “Tomboys” from 2009.  For those that haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to give away any spoilers.  I will say straight up that Tomboys was difficult to watch, but not for bad reasons.  It’s a relentless story that explores revenge, vigilante justice and peer pressure.  As hard as it is to sit through such a harrowing film, it was even harder to tear myself away.  Just as you think you know where it is going, Nathan throws a curve and you are just forced to keep going to see what happens next.

Before going into the movie further, I want to give a bit of background on Nathan Hill first.  So far, the film makers I’ve interviewed could both be said to be part of the “digital explosion.”  One of the reasons why so many films are coming out nowadays is due editing software and cameras becoming cheaper and therefore more accessible to creative people.  But Nathan’s history with film making goes back way before this, from when it was far more difficult to make a film.  The very first movie listed on his IMDB is “The Hidden” from 1993.

For a backgrounder on Nathan, I’ve decided to borrow his bio from his IMDB listing.

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Nathan Hill is an Australian actor, writer, producer and director who specializes in making multi-genre pictures for a global audience. His debut to the stage was playing Peter Pan as a youngster. Nathan pioneered the 4-year Advanced Diploma of the Screen at Footscray Film Dept., Victoria, Australia. During film school he landed a lead role in the feature film Radio Samurai (2002) and also played a vampire in Queen of the Damned (2002). His graduation piece The Strange Game of Hyde and Seek (2004), a 30 minute film that screened at Shriekfest in Los Angeles, was a finalist the following year for the full-length version of the movie for the Shriekfest screenplay competition.

Returning home he shot his first feature Tomboys (2009) and further acted in the mockumentary How to Be a SexStar (2010) that opened the Australian Film Festival in year one. Gloom with a View (2008) in which he played the lead, won Best Pilot at Comedy Gold Channel 2009. Model Behaviour (2013), in which he acted, produced & directed won the California Film Awards in 2013, the DV Awards and was a finalist at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Nathan has continued to act in all mediums of the entertainment world. He has won awards for his filmmaking across the globe. His interest lies mainly in directing horror and thriller style genre movies.

And now, back to the review.   Despite Tomboys being from 2009, the themes explored are very timely.  The media is constantly covering stories where the general public is screaming out about law and order, and how the courts are letting us down by letting convicted rapists off on bail, only to see them reoffend.  Social media is rife with people calling out for vigilante justice.  And this is exactly the topic that Nathan has explored in Tomboys.  And what really gets me is that he explores it from so many more angles than I have seen touched in the myriad of op eds and current affairs stories that have been coming out.  The movie goes well beyond a cheap revenge flick though due to the excellent writing.  You can see that the writer has delved deeply into the emotions of each character and how the group will interact.

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The opening of this film is nicely stylised and it builds the tension so that you have no doubt whatsoever of what you will be getting into.   Asher Pope is credited with the music and it works in perfect synchronicity with the editing.  Imagine your heart beating.  How slow is it when you are relaxed and how fast when you are tense, and how ballistic it goes when you are ready to jump out of your skin! Well, Nathan’s editing of shots and Asher’s choice in music work together to control the next hour and 20 mins of your life …. And it’s an experience that you will never forget.

The choice of camera angles and composition are pure art.  In one shot, Kat is simply looking into a mirror.  We are drawn into the moment by Candice Day’s brilliant acting and probably would have just sat there, drinking in this reflective moment, when we see Naomi behind her, in the reflection.  While Kat is looking straight into the mirror, Naomi is standing sideways and looking toward the victim, who is off camera.  It’s a beautifully set up to draw us into the next shot.

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But a brooding moment can often be the technique to relax you and have you off guard before you are assaulted and knocked off your seat by the most emasculating and painful scenes imaginable.  Yes, this film has something for the gore hounds, but it isn’t simply a shock and splatter movie.

We have 5 female characters, portrayed by Candice Day, Naomi Davis, Sash Milne, Allie Hall and Sarah Hill.  Each is very different and quite believable.  Throughout this entire nightmare ride, we journey through seething tension to blood stained action, then back again.  This is carried by realistic interactions between the girls.  All do a spectacular job of acting and bringing this story to life.

The dialogue they deliver forces you to think about issues such taking the law into your own hands when you have been wronged and you just know that the justice system will fail you.  If you did take things into your own hands, then what is the right balance and how far is too far?  Can one person pay the price for another person’s actions, if that person is also guilty of the same crimes?  Whatever the answer is, I found a perverse delight in seeing the ordeal that Daniel Rankin was put through as Kyle.  Sorry, but Daniel did a superb job of playing an arrogant bogan and I have always wanted to see this type get their comeuppance.

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At many times during this movie, I thought I knew where it was going, but this is no clichéd piece.  It always twists a tiny bit away from where you expect.  Even right up to the end.  Obviously I can’t give that away, but I know what I would have done in that situation.  What does happen however, is still very believable.  But, if you really want to know what I am talking about, then you are just going to have to watch the movie, aren’t you?

You can get Tomboys at – https://www.ozflix.tv/#!/browse/film/2633/tomboys

It is also obtainable at – http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Tomboys-Blu-ray/14123/

And if you would like to see more movies by Nathan Hill – http://www.nhp.net.au/content/shop.html

A Kaleidoscope of Krazy Films

David Black chats with Addison Heath

I’m chatting today with Addison Heath, who has been involved in some really crazy movies such as Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, The Perfect Nonsense and Mondo Yakuza.  Hi Addison.  I was looking at your IMDB and saw that back in 2011, you did a short called Brethren.  Although I haven’t seen it yet, I noticed that the people involved are very much the same people as in many of your movies.  Can you tell me a bit about Brethren and how you all came together?

Brethren was actually the first time that I worked with Glenn and Stuart. It was a fun little short we threw together in a day.  It’s basically a domestic comedy about two brothers reuniting after some time apart. It was a raw little film and was a bunch of fun to make. It was a huge learning curve.

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There is a big gap between Brethren (2011) and Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla (2014), and then things seem to be happening, one movie after another.  Was there something that happened in that interval that is particularly interesting?  Like a time of development or self-reflection?

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During those couple of years we were trying to get a few projects happening but to no avail. We had been trying to get producers involved and trying to get some financing but it never came together. It was during that time that we decided to make Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla as it was something we could do without financing or assistance.

Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla was the first of your movies that I saw and that’s what got me addicted to your projects.  The idea of having an ice cream man as the main character is pretty much out there and the movie plot of his obsession isn’t exactly normal.  What I can’t understand is why so many, including myself, can identify with him and got so drawn into the story? Can you shed any light on the thought process that goes into creating such an offbeat movie?

CSV was a fantastic experience, very collaborative.  We knew we wanted to make a film with Glenn as he is an amazing character actor. So the film was written with him in mind from the get go. The character was based a little on people I knew and a little on my own past feelings of loneliness. We wanted the movie to be darkly funny but also deal with genuine human emotions, so I put a lot of my own personal feelings in to that character and I think that’s why maybe some people can relate to him. It comes from a deep, personal place.

Under a Kaleidoscope(2014) was next on the imdb list. The poster artwork looks very 60’s psychedelic.  I’ve heard a bit about it but haven’t seen it, so I will have to just throw to you on this one.  Please tell us all about it.

 underakaliedoscope

Under A Kaleidoscope was my feature film debut as a director and it was a great experience. 90% of the film is set in one apartment so we gathered a bunch of creative people around us and just started shooting. Overall it took about 8 months to wrap and it was an intense shoot but it got us prepared for bigger productions. The film is about an agoraphobic named Caleb Loomis, played by Kenji Shimada. He makes friends with an abused neighbour Beatrice (Kristen Condon) . She tells him about her partner Rog “The Hatchet Man” Smith (Aston Elliot), a heavy-hitter in the underworld. Together they plan to help her escape.

This was another very personal piece and also the first time I worked with Kenji. The bromance blossomed on this film and he has since become not only one of my best friends but one of my main collaborators. We wouldn’t have been able to make our subsequent films if it wasn’t for this one. I am very proud of UAK.

Also, the 60’s psychedelic poster was designed by an amazing Japanese artist named Tokio Aoyama. I absolutely love his work and recommend anyone going and checking it out!

Driveby was an interesting short.  Each time I watched it, I picked up different things that I missed the first time.  Especially as it has a twist at the end, so re watching it has new meaning.  Being a short movie, I’m not sure what I can say without revealing the plot or spoiling it, so once again, I will throw to you just to chat about it.

Drive-By was a fun collaboration between Black Forest Films and Icorgan. Dan MacDonald previously did the sound work for Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla and we had become friends after the project so I was honoured when he asked us to create a short to go with his soundscape. Dan is extremely talented and gave us such a beautiful, haunting piece of music. As soon as I heard it the ideas started coming. It was also great to be able to work with Tim Jason Wicks, Tamara Donnellan and Chris Cochrane. I had previously worked with Tim and Chris and had been wanting to work with Tamara for a long time as I’d been a fan. It was shot in a day with a skeleton crew and it was a total blast to make. The basic story was something I had wanted to make for a while, a revenge film in disguise. Plus we owe a big nod to Shane Meadows film “Dead Man’s Shoes” which I believe is a modern masterpiece.

driveby

Mondo Yakuza and The Perfect Nonsense seem to have come out almost back to back.  I saw both at the cinema in the same year.  I think I saw The Perfect Nonsense at MUFF and Mondo Yakuza at Monsterfest.  Both are again over the top, genre movies that are fast paced.  The Perfect Nonsense seems is a bit trippy.  It’s like a spiritual journey into the absurd.  Again, I am curious about your thought process on this one.

We actually shot those films almost back to back and that’s why they share a similar cast/crew. The Perfect Nonsense was a very experimental film. I wrote a 15 page treatment/story arc which allowed for a bunch of improvisation. We were using actors that we love working with and we really trust so it turned out to be a really fun shoot. It was also shot over 5 days which was a challenge we set ourselves. We loved Warp Films “Five Day Features” concept and wanted to see if we could try it. I had a lot of fun making that film.. it’s an absurd little comedy and I’m super proud of it. It started as “Gummo” meets “Alice In Wonderland” and we just ran with it.

perfectnonsense

Mondo Yakuza is a bit more straight up for me.  A fast paced, gang related crime movie but still a bit out there.   Seeing as this one has just been released, tell us about it and why the readers should rush out and buy it.  If you don’t, I will, because I just loved it.

Mondo was our most  ambitious film that we had made before making The Viper’s Hex. It’s a love letter to Seijun Suzuki and Takashi Miike. While making UAK, Kenji and I would discuss a yakuza character and always wanted to try and make a bullet ballet. Kenji is also an accomplished stuntman so he was game for every crazy idea we had. The story was written by Glenn, Kenji and Myself. It was a very collaborative effort. My partner Jasmine Jakupi and I shot the movie which was a first for us. We were going for an old grindhouse vibe.. gory, ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek. It was an epic effort from our producer Dylan Heath too.. He worked tirelessly to get the film made.

mondoyakuza

Why the readers should buy it?.. If you enjoy gory, silly 80’s action films.. Mondo is for you!

And finally, you have a few movies announced to come out, but I am guessing that first on the list is Vipers Hex, which you just wrapped up filming in Japan a few weeks ago.  Aside from this being a monster movie, I know nothing about it and want to hear more.  

We wrapped The Viper’s Hex on January 31st, 2017. It’s co-directed by Jasmine Jakupi and I believe it’s the best project I’ve ever been involved with.  It was shot entirely in Tokyo , Hakuba and Nagano in Japan with a full Japanese cast. It’s a horror/revenge about a haunted hostess named Kiyo (Saya Minami). She falls pregnant to a foreigner named Anchin (Kenji Shimada). After learning of Kiyo’s pregnancy, Anchin promptly runs away leaving Kiyo heartbroken.  Kiyo turns to her only support, a spirit known only as The Viper.

I don’t want to say much more about it at this stage as we are playing this one pretty close to our chests. It was a wild shoot.. We went from shooting guerrilla on the streets of Tokyo to the top of a snowy mountain in Nagano throwing blood everywhere. It was equal parts the most fun I’ve ever had and the most stressed I’ve ever been. Fortunately we were working with the greatest people on Earth!.. We owe a lot to two Japanese based companies that helped us greatly – Team LittleBIG and Silk Purse Enterprises. We had curve balls thrown at us from the get go and they supported us through everything. It’s truly an honour being able to work with them.

TVH is a decidedly darker film than we have ever made.. This is a bleak and often brutal film. It’s truly our dream project and we couldn’t be happier with the cast and crew we had. It was the  best experience of my career so far.

So, what are your future plans?  What sort of movies can we expect to see from you and your team over the next few years?

We will be embarking on a webseries this year. I can’t say too much about it quite yet but it will be a genre anthology.. Think The Twilight Zone meets Tales From The Crypt.

We are also planning another feature to shoot in Japan in 2018, another horror/revenge film. The idea is that The Viper’s Hex will be part one in a trilogy of revenge themed films that by the end of 2019 will make up our “Tokyo Vengeance Trilogy”.. You heard it here first!

Thanks for supporting us and being a true cinema warrior!

teamwithguns

Thanks for your time Addison.  Any links you want to share can go here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5oKMgPE2jU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUzUko6lrac&t=2s

https://www.facebook.com/blackforestfilmsAU/

Girls, Massacres, Murder and Tarnation

An interview with the diabolical Daniel Armstrong by David Blacksheborg-massacre-dvd-ctc-packshot-web

Daniel Armstrong you are the leader in producing Ozploitation movies today.  You’re best known for Fight Like A Girl and Murderdrome, and more recently the Sheborg Massacre.   In post production, you also have Tarnation.  Can I ask you what possess someone to make such insane movies?  Afterall, many of the earlier Ozploitation movies of the 1980’s, such as Turkey Shoot and Dead End Drive in, had budgets of a few million and barely scraped in 50k at the box office.  It isn’t for the money, is it?

Hahaha thanks for that introduction! DIY film making is definitely not about making money, there is none to be had at this end of the gene pool. Back in the day low budget/guerrilla films had legs on VHS and then DVD. You could reasonably expect to make money back on the right kind of guerrilla flick in the 80s. I can’t tell you how many distributors have told me that 20-30 years ago the films I’ve made could make some money. Actually I can, it’s just one, but the point resonated with me. I’m stuck in the 80s.

Guerrilla film is what people used to call “indie” films by the way, although I prefer the term DIY film myself.

So what motivates me? I guess there are two main things, one is a love and passion for cinematic story telling, and the other is a desire to get better at it. Experience is the best teacher, so to get better at anything I usually just do it, end to end, as many times as possible.

Why “crazy”, “quirky”, or “ozploitation” style subject matter? There are a couple of simple reasons. I’m stuck in the 80s, in particular I’m stuck in the “10 movies for 10 dollars” aisle of the video library. I have a real love for the schlock sci-fi and horror flicks of the 80s. Another reason is market related. Most films are sold on cast. The first question a distributor will ask about your film is “who’s in it?” – that’s the reality. Without celebrities attached you need a sharp angle to get any interest. So I decided that working in a niche telling quirky/crazy/call-it-what-you-will stories in horror and schlock sci-fi genres could help with that.

fightlikeagirl

I’d like to cover each of your features in order.  Can you tell us about Fight Like a Girl? 

This was the first feature I attempted. It’s actually called FROM PARTS UNKNOWN and the tagline is FIGHT LIKE A GIRL, but the UK changed the name to FIGHT LIKE A GIRL, in the US and Canada they named it FROM PARTS UNKNOWN FIGHT LIKE A GIRL. So it’s the movie with two titles rolled into one, and no tag line.

This was a really ambitious film, I was attempting to write a character arc for a feature for the first time, I failed to achieve what I envisioned on that count. The positive of the experience however is what I learned about how to approach writing the protagonist’s character arc. That aside I love this film more than any of the others. It was an amazingly positive shoot, and I learnt so much from it, and the end result has plenty to be proud of. It’s certainly imbued with passion and a positive spirit that I think comes through. I also shot way too much coverage, and absolutely fracked up the post production process in so many ways I can’t even contemplate listing them here. We do, and we learn, and we progress from our experience.

murderdrome

And now for Murderdrome.  I can see a bit of a theme here in that you go for a lot of female heroines.  Is that why you chose female roller derby?

When I wrote MURDERDROME I wasn’t writing a feature. It was a series of 5 minute episodes I was planning to launch online. I wrote this after FROM PARTS UNKNOWN and didn’t feel ready to attempt another feature. I wanted to write something short and focus on characterisation. So I aimed for an ensemble cast of big, cartoony characters to work with. The objective was to write something brash, feisty, and fast paced with these characters carrying everything.

Putting roller derby in a film had been an idea kicking about in my head for a while. Initially I envisaged them as a gang, like the gangs from THE WARRIORS, roaming around a neon future city with some other themed gangs after them. When I started to focus on actually writing something someone suggested making a slasher. I immediately slammed the two ideas together and came up with MURDERDROME.

Re female protagonists, obviously that comes with roller derby. As an aside I always default to “she” instead of “he” when creating a character, unless there’s a reason for a character to be male.

Oh, on a final note, I shot the film in the episodic format mentioned above. It would have had a total run time of about 45 minutes. It only became a feature after I met with a distributor who assumed I had a feature. I nodded, then went home and added a heap of montages to see if I could get the thing to resemble a feature film. Did it and got away with it, just like OJ.

whitneydaisy

And now my favourite Ozploitation movie of all time – Sheborg Massacre.  It’s way over the top, blood drenched and has my favourite actress, Whitney Duff in it.  Give us all the inside gossip on this one.

To stick with my theme of learning from experience, in writing SHEBORG MASSACRE I wanted to create the sort of protagonist character arc I envisioned for FROM PARTS UNKNOWN and include the brash, feisty and fun characterisations from MURDERDROME in the script. I also wanted to make a schlocko sci-fi with a cyborg.

The first draft was called SHEBORG PRISON MASSACRE. After some effort I failed to find a suitable location to use as a prison. I redrafted and renamed the script SHEBORG PUPPY FARM MASSACRE and set it almost entirely at a puppy farm, because we had access to a suitable location. The “PUPPY FARM MASSACRE” got dropped at some point because it freaked too many people out and it became SHEBORG MASSACRE. In the rest of the world it will be known as SHEBORG, because our sales agent felt that made it, and I quote, “more cool”.

We shot on weekends from July through to October in 2015. From memory we rolled out about 30ish days shooting.  The shoot went pretty smoothly overall, although it was a huge grind and we were all getting burned out towards the end. DIY is hard on the mind, body and emotions – it’s definitely not a game for the feint of heart. We got through all of that and held a premiere at the Lido Cinema in Hawthorn sometime in July 2016, and the film releases on DVD and Bluray across Australia this April through MONSTER PICTURES.

You note that SHEBORG MASSACRE is  “blood drenched” so I will make special mention of our Art Director/Set Builder/Special Effects Engineer/All Rounder Anthony Hatfield who is the man responsible for the blood and the drenching. Knowing I wanted blood spraying I asked Anthony to prepare some means to easily splash blood around that was portable, easy to reset, and had some velocity. He built a device we came to call the “blood flecker”. Essentially a wooden bucket with a power drill driven paddle that blood could be poured into at one end and propelled out the other. Sheer genius.

If I had to point to one thing I did absolutely right in SHEBORG MASSACRE it was casting Whitney Duff and Daisy Masterman in the dual lead roles of Dylan and Eddie. I wrote Eddie with Daisy in mind, she played a small role in MURDERDROME and I felt she was underutilised in that film. We auditioned for Dylan by having applicants read with Daisy. Whitney was the final actor to audition, and she and Daisy seemed to fall in love at first sight. Their chemistry on camera was immediate. No one else who auditioned for us had that immediate repartee, and totally believable sense of comradeship, comfort and fun that Whitney and Daisy had. It’s their performance and relationship on screen that makes the film.

tarnation

Daniel, I am going to save Tarnation for last.  I first want to know about two earlier movies that you have on your imdb.  Both are shorts and I haven’t seen them, but after seeing a few of your movies, I am curious.  What can you tell me about Z3d52 and Snake Eyes.

From memory Z3D5 was a photo shoot concept we had planned and for some reason we decided to do it on video instead. It’s a silent zombie apocalypse flick, made probably back in 2006? I was really into zombie movies back then. It also features a beautiful car I owned at that time, a 1975 Triumph Stag, long since written off sad to say.

SNAKE EYES was a short I wrote in order to work with Brendan O’Shea as DOP for the first time – Brendan has since shot MURDERDROME, SHEBORG MASSACRE, TARNATION and a shirt load of music videos with me. It also features Jenna Dwyer (FROM PARTS UNKNOWN), Josh Futcher (also in FROM PARTS UNKNOWN) and TOMMY HELLFIRE (MURDERDROME, SHEBORG MASSACRE). I think it may also have been the first time we shot with a Cannon 5D, back when they first appeared and DIY film makers went all nuts over them.

Is there anywhere we can see these two shorts?

I’m pretty sure they are both on my Youtube page, along with other short films I’ve made or been involved with.

And now for the upcoming movie – Tarnation.  It’s got Satan, demonic unicorns and goo.  At least, so far, that is all I’ve been able to glean from it, aside from the zombie kangaroo and facehugger thingy.  This one has me curious as it looks to be more over the top and crazy than the rest.  Tell us about it.  Now!!!

It was about this time last year we shot TARNATION. So we dove into this one while SHEBORG MASSACRE was still in post production. I had a few objectives in writing it. One was to focus the story on a sole protagonist and move at a slower, more reflective pace than my previous films. SHEBORG MASSACRE hits you like a manic Gorilla throwing neon paint at your face for 90 minutes  – I wanted to have a crack at slowing that down and give the audience more opportunity to get inside the head of the protagonist.

The central conceit is about battling the good and evil within yourself, it’s both literally a figuratively a battle between Heaven and Hell within the psyche of the protagonist. To this end we have included a demon unicorn, zombie kangaroo, a flying, unicorn headed, demon, Satan, a rap battle in Hell, and a bunch of other pretty weird concepts. The conceit is that these beasts and incidents spring from the unconscious mind of someone trapped in Hell, and they are inspired by a fairy tale that’s fallen into a horror movie.

I wrote the part of Oscar (the protagonist) with Daisy in mind. She’s one of the most expressive, and versatile actors I’ve had the pleasure of working with and I was keen to give her the responsibility of carrying a story on her shoulders. I also asked Emma Louise Wilson (who was The Sheborg) to come back in a supporting role and flex her comedic muscles – she didn’t have a great opportunity to do that in SHEBORG MASSACRE so again, I wanted to get the benefit of her doing her thing on screen for TARNATION.

I can’t give much more away about the film at this stage, except to say we’re still in post production and hope to host a premiere in Melbourne around the middle of the year.

And final question Daniel,  what are your plans for future movies?  Are you still going to be making Ozploitation movies or are you going to try something different.

We’ll see what comes. More sci fi I would hope but it will depend on the opportunities (mainly financial) that life offers over the coming year.

And here is the part where I chuck in all the relevant links to your sites.

Me Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/StrongManStudio/