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Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Real is becoming, well, real. The Real 01

Over the last few weeks, things have started to take shape.  Lou and I locked in our two main locations (the office where 90% of the action takes place, and the house where the penultimate scene occurs).  Our sound recordist has visited the site, and our second camera operator has confirmed her availability.  Discussions have taken place with kick-ass design company New Best Friend regarding the logos and signage we need for our fictitious companies.

But the largest task so far has been arranging and coordinating the casting call.  I put notices out on OffPrompt, Starnow and various Facebook actor pages.  The response was overwhelming – over 70 applicants within 12 days (and I am still receiving the odd application).  I sent each actor a copy of the script.  Nick, theatre director/confidante Cameron Thomas, and I then went through each CV, and selected 27 to audition.  I booked a studio space for the following week.

On the day, 22 people auditioned.  It was a nerve-wracking experience (for them and us), and we learnt so much about the process and how to improve it for next time.  I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with all of the actors that attended – everyone was amazingly talented and prompted me to start thinking on the spot of where or how I could write them into something.

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There are six main roles in The Real.  The day after the audition, we offered three roles to actors.  Of the remaining three, there were 2-3 actors that we thought could do an equally good job – we asked these actors to come back in a week later and we looked at combinations of actors in different groups.  I’m happy to say that after that, we found our cast!  This morning we had everyone over for a table read over fruit and coffee, and it was awesome.

The admin side has been crazy – keeping track of all the applicants (Lou helpfully did up a spreadsheet for me), arranging auditions, disseminating scripts, fielding queries, and then responding to everyone regarding their applications, has chewed up most of the last couple of weeks.  That said, I’ve now met a bunch of cool people and am thrilled about working with the cast we have.  Everyone that has come into contact with The Real has been supportive and excited that something like this is being made in Canberra.  I hadn’t properly considered that when starting out, but now I see it as one of our strengths.

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Things have been quiet for One Pot Punk Rock lately– the break we took to prepare for YAH has stretched for several extra months.  Still, El Lukio has been making the odd public appearance, as these two videos attest.

He’ll next appear at BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! on October 17th – he and poet Amelia Filmer-Sankey are plotting a diabolical mash-up designed to whip the literati into a frenzy.

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Given my passion for both music and film (and how much fun Shine Tarts was), it’d be crazy not to try to integrate video into gigs.  To that end,  multimedia artist Paul Heslin and I are developing a video projection concept to complement Faux Faux Amis shows.

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Our intention is to create kaleidoscopic pop-art sensory overload – a constantly changing mash-up of videos pulled from across the cultural landscape – vacation footage of 60s Paris, 20s burlesque, cartoons, drive-in ads,  and other ephemera.  Like the zine, I am purposefully not tying the content to an overarching theme – juxtaposition and a space conducive to ‘happy accidents’ is paramount (the only guide in choosing content is my own personal taste and interests – curation as self-portrait).

We also want it to somehow sync to the performance, so that changes occur in real-time, rather than on a pre-recorded loop.  Using Jitter within Max MSP, Paul is exploring ways to make this happen.  His initial idea is a button attached to the bass drum pedal, so that each kick can trigger an edit.  We’ll have several videos loaded in, and input will begin rolling video starting from a random frame each time.  Last night we got close to programming just that – there’s still a few buggy things around latency and sizing to work through (as well as testing the best controller to use with the drum pedal), but with a month to go, we’re looking good.

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This is extremely different to anything I’ve done with film before – live-editing, non-narrative, and found footage.  Part of my inspiration is The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the multimedia performances Andy Warhol conceived around The Velvet Underground (I love the story that VU started wearing sunglasses on stage because the light show was so blinding).  I was also taken with a recent Central West gig (of which Paul is a member) where several projectors were running random Super 8mm footage.  The combination of music and visuals is a powerful one; how the brain processes the information – the confluences generated and their interpretation, partly on a subconscious level – is fascinating.

Jitter is an amazingly versatile program (especially in Paul’s hands), and while we’ll keep it simple for the debut, there is potential to push further with the concept, and incorporate live video, multiple inputs and a variety of effects.

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So I sometimes write plays. I’ve been in the Street Theatre’s writer’s program, which is called The Hive, for the last 3-and-a-half years. I’ve had one play actually produced and staged, which was called RIG. I’ve written a couple of other scripts since then, both unproduced (one of them, a rural Australian crime drama called Police Boys, will probably be Luke and my first full length indie feature).

Playwriting is humbling as shit. Unlike songs, films and comics, theater isn’t a form that I’ve lived and breathed growing up. The Hive has a few dozen writers from a variety of backgrounds but they all share a commonality of reference and a feel for the medium that I don’t have. Again and again I go through the frustrating process of presenting something as a script or a read-through and being told ‘what you’ve actually written here is a film’. I claw my way toward a more theatrical conception of structure, of symbolism, of character, of pacing, only to fall into an Uncanny Valley of ‘plilm’-iness that makes the script unusable in any arena other than as an exercise to get me to the next thing.

You see, there was only one small theater in Broken Hill and I went there like 4 times. I’m not a theater guy. So why am I doing it, when I have so many other ridiculous projects on the go?

Firstly, the ACT is a theater town. Of lot of the close friends I made when I moved here were total theater brats, and they roped me in to do the odd short script for their anthology shows. I got a taste for the instant gratification (at least relative to film) of seeing my stuff exist as a performance, and couldn’t help but be taken with the reverence (at least relative to film!) with which the writer is treated. Then some of my friends started to have full-length plays put on, and my competitive side woke up. I could do that.

RIG was written in a weird angst-y fever, as if it was the only play I would ever write. It was about a bitter political activist with a magic face who gets involved in a spoilt heiress’ plan to save the world. It was an overplotted, undercharacterised mess. The Hive matched me up with an incredible dramaturg who helped me whip it into a shape that could actually be staged. The ANU theater society put it on and I was actually pretty proud of it, warts and all.

‘Duh’ statement of the week: you can do things on the stage that you can’t do anywhere else. I think the thing I like best is the idea that you have a captive audience. People can get up and leave but it’s a bigger deal than at the movies. For the most part people are going to sit there for the whole thing, even it you’re putting across unpalatable or confronting stuff. I don’t think of myself as a sensationalist artist but the opportunity to push a live audience and see if they push back is very cool.

My next script is going to be a theater piece and nothing else (shakes fist, stamps foot!). It’ll incorporate original songs and act as something of an heir to The Last Prom. It’ll be a one man show, and I’m planning it as a vehicle for myself to act in. ‘Cause you know, it’s not enough of a challenge just to write a decent play.

Man.

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Nick here! It was my idea for Babyfreeze to join up with our pals Coolio Desgracias (Old-School Hip Hop Illegal Sample King of Queanbeyan) and Trendoid & Alphabet (Sexually Explicit Sci-Fi Rap Swag-units) to form a massive posse show. I got the notion right after Coolio got a bunch of us in to do verses on his track ‘You Got Papped’ from his record ‘My Private Jet’. That sense of a burgeoning alt-hip-hop scene, however small (and however loosely Babyfreeze could ever qualify as Hip Hop) was the perfect excuse to live out my Wu-Tang fantasy.

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We almost fell at the first hurdle: choosing a posse name. Tiger Uppercut and #canadianspacepregnancy were among the contenders but the night came without us having settled on anything. Luckily Coolio, true to form, had a new record ready: a collaboration with the inimitable Housemouse called Six Joints
And so the gig became primarily an EP launch with the Gang Show aspect somewhat backgrounded. Irregardless, we jumped all over each others business, myself performing my guest verses on T&A’s Intergalactic Glory Hole and Alien Rectum and the whole gang jamming on Babyfreeze track Water Is No Liar, among other chaotic collabs.
It was a great night and a great start. Special shout out to Coolio Degracias for his endless hustle and tireless creative output, which now includes his unilateral naming of our posse: Northside Swag Unit. Photos of said Unit in action by Adam Thomas.

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It’s been over a year since I posted about Kithara – at the time, I intended it to be my debut film.  A silent black & white two-reeler, I imagined it as a stepping stone into larger, more complicated projects (it wouldn’t require location sound or sophisticated colour grading, for instance).

The project stalled after a couple of meetings with the actors/brains trust I corralled to be involved.  I got hung up on trying to incorporate all the (valid and insightful) suggestions they provided on character motivation, story structure, film theory and more.  Naturally, I wanted Kithara to be perfect, but trying to retrofit all these ideas onto the story proved impossible for me.  The clay refused its mold.

In the end, it got pushed to one side.  Like Raymond Chandler said, “the more you reason, the less you create”.

It took me a stupidly long time to realise the movie didn’t need to be perfect.  Some of my favourite movies are riddled with baffling logic and lapses in judgement.  What movie, however canonical, is truly perfect?  There is too much chance involved in achieving even near-perfection (as anyone that knows the history of Casablanca can tell you).  Conversely, aren’t flawed films often the most intriguing?

Kithara will be an imperfect film, and I am happy about that.  That simple conclusion is freeing.

My driving creative philosophy is best put in the The Cult of Done manifesto, “done is the engine of more”.  Getting Kithara done will lead me to the next thing.  The experience gained is as important as the end result.  I’ve reworked and improved the script, I’m storyboarding at present, and looking to shoot by the end of the year.

Ironically, what started as a ‘stepping stone’ is now relatively ambitious – recently I’ve been reaching out to actors, make-up artists and costume designers.  The end result will be lush, beautiful and dreamlike – a perfumed handkerchief in a field of shit – to borrow a phrase from The Extremist.

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Part of my attraction to shooting a silent black & white movie is my love for films of the 20s (particularly those of Buster Keaton, who I’ll write about another time).  I’m no scholar, but like anyone exploring a new medium, I find it helps to start at the beginning.  I’m fascinated with the process, the nuts and bolts, by which early films became such an idiosyncratic artform – while I am not interested in strict pastiche, I want to use Kithara to explore some of the constraints (static camera shots, blue-sensitive film stock, variances in speed on account of being hand-cranked) and innovations (make-up) of the time.  Filmmaking as film school.

Prom’s very stylish video has been out for a couple of months.

Nick and I collaborated again, with him writing the script and producing. Shot in four and a half hours over two nights, the pace was a return to our running-and-gunning Heartbroken Assassin days.

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With seven performers(!) and two camera operators(!), it was the largest production I have been involved in. Alongside the band, we had the fearless Davey Fuzzsucker and Eloise Menzies playing our beleaguered couple (thanks so much guys!). We brought on board theatre director Cameron Thomas to help corral the talent – he was instrumental in keeping the energy up and making sure people had something to do in each frame. This was also my first time with a second camera op – You Are Here acolyte Shane Parsons – who came up with several great ideas I am happy to take credit for. He’s more experienced than I, and it meant we got scores of material very quickly.

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The blue light in the Street Theatre’s hallway was an unexpected bonus – I slowed down the shot to evoke the chase at the start of Chungking Express (but stopped short of undercranked “step printing”).

HALF IN SHADOW 001Because if there is a choice where you can pretend to be Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle, that’s the right choice.

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When I showed Nick the first edit, he said the dinner scene felt like an eternity. This was great news to me – the victims were tied to the chairs and being fed something they didn’t want; if the audience felt the same, I’d done my job (we did add extra band performance shots to keep it from being overbearing). The dinner scene (and in particular Shane’s sterling close ups) evoke Terry Gilliam for me.

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I’d bargained on the height of the Street Theatre allowing some great bird’s eye shots, of which we took copious advantage – in particular, it sold the bed scene.

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