Last year Alison Procter put a call out for filmmakers interested in doing a short documentary featuring her sister Suzy. Nick responded, bringing me on board to direct.
We met with Alison and Suzy, and Alison outlined her idea. Suzy has cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability, and doesn’t communicate verbally. As a result, it can be tricky to know how best to interact with her, especially upon first meeting. Alison wanted to film a video that outlined some of Suzy’s quirks and idiosyncrasies so people know what to expect. It’s a great idea, and the video ended up being a mini-profile delving into Suzy’s likes, dislikes, eating habits, and other personal information.
Alison was very conscious this subject matter is often tip-toed around, or conversely, dealt with in an overly clinical manner. She didn’t want to create ‘inspiration porn’ (her term), or kid-glove some of Suzy’s more difficult behaviour. The video had to be irreverent and funny, while still being informative. She sent Nick and I the following for inspiration – she loved the tone, and the way it treats a light-hearted subject seriously (our mission was to do the opposite essentially).
Nick took all this away, along with some other information from Alison, and wrote a script – a ‘how-to’ guide on becoming friends with Suzy. Early on, Nick had the idea of having Suzy’s ‘voiceover’ performed by a deep-voiced man (I think we all had in mind Morgan Freeman). This would set the tone from the get-go, and let people know we were taking a less precious attitude than your typical film featuring the differently abled.
The script called for Suzy to interact with a variety of her friends. For the filming, Alison graciously hosted it at her house (fabulously situated in the Scullin Cultural Precinct), and invited several people to come along for Sunday lunch. Everyone was incredibly generous with their time, patient with the film crew (i.e. me) and magnanimous about being filmed.
The actual filming was chaotic – from kids (being kids) to changing light, to just figuring out how best to film so many people in such a small space (we filmed in a one room ‘chalet’ in Alison’s backyard). I had prepared a shot list, but barely got time to look at it as I ran from one thing to the next. The most reliable part of the whole day ended up being Suzy. She is a natural in front of the camera, and indefatigable. Directing is an endurance sport – you are typically the first to arrive, the last to leave, and the one with the least downtime during the day. But on this shoot, I had Suzy with me the whole time as well.
When I found out Suzy also regularly goes dancing, I felt that should be represented in the movie. The following Saturday I attended the Belconnen Arts Centre and filmed her class going through the motions (that’s a dad joke, but I’m allowed now).
The film was accepted for Belco Flicks and will have its debut – appropriately enough – at the Belconnen Arts Centre. I think this is a great place to debut the film as it is really imbued with a sense of community, those that gather round and support not only Suzy but her family too.
To complete the film in time, I ended up doing the voiceover myself. I don’t think my voice, lugubrious as it is, sufficiently conveys our comedic intent – it will be interesting to see and hear how an audience reacts to it. If it falls short, we’ll experiment with other voiceovers ahead of releasing the movie on the internet.
As part of the shoot, I filmed interviews with five of Suzy’s friends – there must be about 45 minutes of content, of which only thirty or forty seconds end up in the film. That’s often par for the course (and I’d much rather shoot more than I need than find myself in the opposite situation). A lot of the interviews dealt with peoples’ first impressions of Suzy, what kind of reaction they and Suzy get when out in public, and times when they’ve struggled to understand or deal with Suzy. Alison and I have talked about using the footage for some other project – the flipside to this essentially, something less about Suzy and more about the people around her. It’s a good idea, and would provide a nice contrast and balance to the existing film.