Monthly Archives: May 2013

Nick and I attended the short:seasons festival tonight, which included the world premiere of Lights. ARC cinema is the preeminent film venue in Australia – I had been taken in by a lot of ‘chat’ on the internet regarding the comparative quality of DSLR footage when blown up, but our footage looked amazing. I was also concerned with the quality of our audio – again, I found the cinema more forgiving than I had been led to believe.

Lights - DAY 02 - Cara

Lights was really well received, and it was thrilling to hear a crowd laughing in its lighter moments. I’m still blown away by seeing a film of mine on “the big screen” (as my Mum calls it), in front of a near capacity audience.


There were a couple of discrepancies in the programme which I need to highlight – in particular, the programme stated “Nick Delatovic and Luke McGrath have been on the fringes of the film community for many years”. This is false – I haven’t even been back in Canberra that long, and I didn’t pick up a video camera until June of last year – that’s 11 months at most, not “many years”.

Lights - DAY 02 - blog 2(1)

It downplays the achievements we have made – in less than a year, our debut short film has been funded by ScreenACT and screened at the National Film & Sound Archive, I have edited and live-scored a 1920s film that also separately played to a full house at the National Film & Sound Archive, completed a ten part webseries for the You Are Here festival, shot 15 videos (here and overseas) for a cooking show, and filmed 11 bands for 2XX’s Local’N’Live channel. All without any training or guidance – we’re learning quickly, and for it to be stated we’ve spent “many years” on the “fringes of the film community” is straight-up wrong.  They also credited Nick as the director – again, wrong and easily correctable.

Lights - DAY 02 - blog 2

Aside from those frustrations, it was a great evening. The other films were by and large fantastic – I’d have to single out The Book Of Memories for its amazing cinematography, and New Friend for its simple but clever storytelling.

Lights - DAY 02 - blog 2(3)Finally, a shout-out to Ben Drysdale’s impressive characterisation – the script called for Vic to do a “too-loud laugh”.  WIth only that to go on, Ben truly made it his own, and provided not only an audience highlight but an anchor for the character.

Lights will be screened at the National Film & Sound Archive today, as part of the ScreenACT short:seasons festival.

Lights still

Originally I wanted to film Lights in a series of direct, static shots, in emulation of Ozu, who’s Tokyo Story I saw and loved recently.  Nothing clever, tricky or extraneous.  After five minutes on set, that already felt constricting, and I was back to framing shots through mirrors or from extreme angles.  What’s more, after my first cut, the producer (Nick) requested more shots establishing character and setting, to “open it up”.  He was right.

Lights still

Mamet reckons all establishing shots are unnecessary and insulting to an audience, but that’s too harsh and restrictive.   Done right, they can be artistic and satisfying on their own.  Once something is established though, it’s insulting to establish it over and over.  Or just silly – Alias used to sub in the same exact shots of building exteriors in each episode.  Watching the show week to week, you might have brushed over it – watching several in a row on DVD, it becomes comical (do as Lou and I did, and turn it into a drinking game).

Lights - DAY 02 - Ben Lane

I wanted something different between scenes – fading to black felt like a wasted opportunity.  Fading to a colour was something that stuck with me from watching the right-up-my-alley Submarine (and I think I read that Ayodade took it from Rohmer).  I wanted to go one better than Submarine though, where the colours seem arbitrary, and to tie them to our theme.  Lights takes place over the months of autumn – as the scenes progress, the coloured fades change from a mustard yellow to maroon to corduroy brown, in concert with the leaves of the season.  It’s not a huge detail, but I like the thematic unity it gives.

Lights stillI want to thank everyone involved – our actors Ben Drysdale, Cara Irvine and Julia Johnson, our walk-on cameo/scene dressing car provider/technical expert Ben Lane, sound recorder Paul Heslin, and production assistants Karell Duchesne and Louise McGrath.  Nick and I are gradually building up a steady, reliable crew, and it’s the most rewarding aspect of putting in as much time as we are.

Chris Gleeson (drummer extraordinaire for The Missing Lincolns) and I have started a band with Davey Fuzzsucker.

We’re working up an initial set of 9 songs – all but two I wrote in the last month.  With songs, I generally write in clumps – a lot very quickly and then not much at all.  This time, I can pinpoint what opened the floodgates.

I dig the song, but it was something about the effortless, tossed-off nature of the performance that got my juices flowing.  Babyfreeze and Shine Tarts had shied away from a guitar-centric sound – seeing this made me want to play loud and fast again.  I grabbed my guitar and sketched out a couple of songs that morning.  I’ve returned to the video several times and its lost none of its power.

I also recently watched Sid And Nancy, and it rekindled my love of The Sex Pistols – their energy and insouciance is something we definitely want to capture.

These days,  I mostly write music and lyrics separately.  In this case, I imagined a meeting between two versions of myself – the snot that banged out the obnoxious punk of Lulu & The Tantrums (the free-est and quickest I’ve ever written songs), and the big-hearted classicist that co-wrote The Bluffhearts discography.  What if they wrote songs together?  I’m excited about sharing the results.

This’ll be the fifth incarnation Chris and I have played in together – we started together when we were 17.  After that band (Littlefoot), we played in The Missing Lincolns (the only ongoing concern), Antman Vs. Keffletron (a home recording project including Chris’ sister Kerri), and The Michael Jackson Pollock Experience (a one-off gig and still my favourite band name).

Continuing my recent Francophilia, the band name is Faux Faux Amis (we also have a song in French).  I’ve got some ideas about making performances more of a happening as well (a “punk mass” as Suicide called their shows) – aesthetically, I want to pitch us somewhere between Godard and Blank Generation.  Once the rest of the line-up falls into place, we’ll get to gigging.

I recently won a comic competition. Held by artist Katie Houghton-Ward (2000 AD, Heavy Metal), the challenge was to take 50 unrelated panels and write a script incorporating all of them. Out of 40+ entries, I won. Like Nick, I found winning something artistic was inordinately exciting.



I tried to imbue the panels with history and personality – I constructed a backstory for each and all characters that featured. I modelled my dialogue on the nonchalant tone Brian K. Vaughan has perfected in his space-fantasy SAGA (a favourite of Nick and mine) – no matter how outlandish his creatures or situation, they all speak like people we know, which I adore.



The title came early, well before the story – like in songwriting, I find a strong title helps. The Absolute was a result of scanning my bookcase and fixing on Absolute Identity Crisis (similarly, my main character names, Drupada and Sataya, came from a book of Indian Mythology kept close to my desk).

Katie and I are now discussing working on something similar – more as it comes to hand.

ICT is a splendid new thing happening every third Thursday at The Polish Club. It’s basically a live version of a seventies TV variety show dedicated to showcasing the fruity wealth of talent in the ACT. It’s my new favourite thing in Canberra.

Me being me, my first instinct was to worm my way in to the show as soon as possible, no matter the humiliating lengths I had to go to. On that basis, here I am performing my rendition of the new Daft Punk single ‘Get Lucky’ while dressed as a giant four leaf clover. Adding a touch of class to the proceedings are Catherine James and Gemma Wheildon in their amazing Dice costumes.

Anyone within a days drive really owe it to themselves to come and check out the next one.

Presented for your edification, intrepid director Luke McGrath proves that wet weather is no impediment to outdoor shooting when one has the proper equipment.

So I won the ScreenACT Short Seasons competition. It’s the first time I’ve won a competition with a creative work and I’m embarrassed to say that it was a very exciting feeling. I feel like it was probably a triumph of reading the brief- my script is simple (both narratively and logistically) and engages earnestly with the theme of ‘Autumn in Canberra’.

I think the film will be a good showcase for Luke’s developing methods as a film maker. Hopefully the characters will resonate and be recognisable to other Canberrans. As a producer, I had to step up some of my skills a little, particularly location scouting. Quite frankly, the fact that I wasn’t acting in this one made my on-set experience a relative breeze. I tried to provide a writers perspective when I thought it would be helpful, but on the whole I was happy to stay out of Luke’s way.

Much more difficult was the Cracked Actor music video shoot, that with one thing or another we were forced to cram into two days in the middle of our larger shooting schedule. The video is for our forthcoming single Lemon On Your Lover, and my ambition was to create a three-minute, micro-budget, science fiction love scene.

It wouldn’t have been possible without the imagination and skill set of our production designer Julia Johnson, and the stunning performances of Marc Robertson and Ali MacGregor as the lovers in question. I ended up filling various roles on set, including Plastimake-Baker, Food-Dyer and Disposer-Of-Tongues.

Luke will be hooking into the edit after he hands in Lights, but the view from the viewfinder is very promising. I’m quite excited that we’ll have two pieces coming out that are so different from each other.

Shooting over the month of May created an interesting parallel with the story of Lights, in which the encroaching Winter becomes the organising principle in the characters lives. Suffice to say that I’ll be writing the next couple of projects for an indoor location!

Nick’s screenplay Lights recently won the short:seasons competition.  The competition called for short film scripts themed around Canberra and autumn.  The winner is given a month to shoot the film so it can be screened at the NFSA as part of the inaugural short:seasons film festival.  We filmed the bulk of Lights over the weekend.

Lights Test Footage - Nick and Luke

Our intention was to use the project to trial new equipment and gather experience on aspects of filmmaking we hadn’t encountered yet (such as running a casting call and auditions).  Sound recording (the weakest aspect of Heartbroken Assassin) was one area I wanted to improve – to that end, we recorded the actors using wireless lavalier mics into a digital recorder (manned by sound artist Paul Heslin).  This significantly upped our production values, and gives me greater control when mixing in post-production.  I’ve already tested how compression and EQ’ing can enhance and augment the raw recordings and I’m loving the difference.

While we had some access to additional film equipment via ScreenACT, we chose to film with my DSLR (if it’s good enough for Ed Burns…).  I was underwhelmed with the test footage we shot with a Sony EX1r – my DSLR appeared to outperform it in the dusk/night shots that comprise a large portion of the film.  While a dedicated video camera has a lot to recommend it, I think that at our level, they are of greater benefit to documentarians than narrative filmmakers – autofocus, zoom, balanced mic inputs (we recorded sound separately), and stabilisation (we mostly use a tripod) are all redundant or inessential.  My one concern is that DSLR footage, once blown-up to appear on a cinema screen, will be grainier and less detailed than if it was shot on the EX1r.  That’s something we’ll have to discover on the night – if it turns out to be the case, it will be unfortunate, but a good lesson to have learned on this project.  My motto, after Samuel Beckett, is to fail a little bit better each time.      

The time constraints meant we were unable to do a casting call and run auditions (something we’ll do for The Real).  As a development opportunity, this was a shame – as it pertains to Lights specifically, it didn’t affect the film.  In fact, we lucked out with the actors – Nick knew our lead Cara Irvine through a couple of confluences (Broken Hill, housemates) and we sat down and discussed our intentions with her early.  Ben Drysdale and Julia Johnson, both actor friends we’ve known for years, joined shortly afterwards. 

Lights - trailer

Working with actors is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.  Prior to this year, my experience was dated – assessment pieces (as a director) and productions (as an actor) while obtaining my Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies.  Returning to it, I’m still trying to discover what works best.  I admire directors like Wong Kar-Wai and Mike Leigh, who begin a project with only actors and ideas, and then build the story together.  This approach requires more lead time than I have had for anything to date, nor do I believe it is suited to every project, but it’s certainly appealing.  I like to give actors a lot of freedom, for a couple of reasons.  Being Director doesn’t mean I magically have all the best ideas – making films is a collaboration, and actors will have thought about the character and the role in different ways to myself.  Before imposing my views, I want to see what they’ll bring to it – being overbearing doesn’t produce better work. Secondly, I’m still building a vocabulary to engage with actors – at the moment, when something’s not working, I find it hard to articulate it in a way that makes the next take better (and sometimes I think I’ve made it worse).  It’s a bit like the chestnut about art – I don’t know what it is, but I know what I like.

I don’t know how to coax a good performance from a bad actor (and by “bad” actor, I don’t mean those that make choices that would be different to mine or what I feel the scene is about, but those that no matter their choice are still too far on either end of the spectrum – too stilted or too hammy).  The main issue, as above, is time.  It’s too late once you are on set – the work needs to be done earlier – either in casting, or in rehearsals.  I’m sure there are directors that can (and have) worked miracles, but I find I can only influence performance by a few degrees.  Experience and exposure will help in this regard, but the better solution is just to work with good actors. 

Most actors I’ve encountered are serious about their craft and are brilliant collaborators.  I then have the reverse problem – I fall for everything they do.  They make dialogue I think will be a tough sell sound completely convincing.  I want to keep every inflection of every line reading.  This was the case with the actors on Lights – rather than settling on a delivery, I was amazed how often they were reacting in the moment, and how nuanced each exchange could be – the pitfall then is wanting to do take after take, not because we haven’t got a workable one, but because I want to see what else is possible.  When working with good actors, I try to get out of the way, and allow them to find the scene.  My direction is limited to blocking and pacing – I read recently that Damon Lindelof said directing is mostly about telling actors “faster, faster!”, and I found myself doing this a couple of times over the weekend. 

There are no hard and fast rules for any of this, and everyone has their own way they like to work (like penguins, when directors and actors find their styles compatible, they often partner for life, or at least several films)  – what I want to do is skill up to be able to deal with the widest range of acting styles and temperaments.    

By increments, our shoots are getting more elaborate.  On Heartbroken Assassin, I could operate and keep track of everything myself.  Going forward, with a view to increased production values, this is not possible.  It’s not even a case of having enough hands, it’s not having enough headspace.  It becomes hard to give appropriate and equal consideration to every aspect – when you’re focusing on the framing and panning, you’re not evaluating the acting.  When you focus on the acting, you’re not critically considering the lighting.  You concentrate on the lighting, and you drop the ball on continuity.  And so on.  Nicholas Winding Refn recently said a director has to be a jack of trades, that he/she needs to know a little – but not everything – about all aspects of film-making, from cinematography, to sound, working with actors, pitching to producers, budgets, writing, editing, and everything in between.  There are areas I am more confident with than others, but there is so much to learn and put into practice.  It also means finding the right collaborators to share the load. 

I’m still not sure what kind of director I want to be, but it’s taking shape without my realising it.  Winding Refn said in the same interview he films his movies in chronological order – that sounds absurdly extravagant to me.   However, during a table read Nick made it known to our actors that when filming any camera angle, I like to run the entire scene, even if only a small percentage of that angle will make it onscreen.  I hadn’t realised I was doing this, or rather, I hadn’t realised this might set me apart in any way.  I have my reasons for working like this – the two largest being I think it helps the actors be as natural as possible each time, and that it provides me with the most options when editing (being my own editor is perhaps the greatest influence on my directorial style so far).  I’d love to say it was a throwback to my theatre days or in emulation of Ozu or something, but I’d be lying.  I think your style evolves between what you consciously do, and what subconsciously feels right.

Apologies for rambling – more of a ‘process’ post than usual – I’ll have more to say about the actual film once we have a first cut.