The IndiVision experience was filmmaking at its purest - a commitment to the script and to the craft of filmmaking. The Lab's commitment to low-budget filmmaking is truly visionary - not only by inspiring directors, producers and writers, but giving them tools they need to become true voices in a global marketplace.
- Joshua Zeman, co-producer, The Station Agent.
The first IndiVision Project Lab was held in February 2005 over seven days in Sydney. Designed to inspire innovative approaches to low-budget feature filmmaking in Australia, the Lab is a high-level professional development hothouse with international and Australian advisors. It focuses on script and performance, and emphasises the importance of developing the script, the team's vision, and the production methodology simultaneously. As well as intense script sessions, directors workshop their scripts with actors, producers have intensive sessions on their budgets and financing plans, and the filmmakers meet with distributors, financiers and successful filmmakers who have succeeded in the low-budget realm.
Nine teams and their projects were selected for the inaugural Lab. Below, two participants and three advisors from IndiVision 2005 talk about the experience.
Joshua Zeman was a script and producing advisor at the 2005 IndiVision Project Lab. He co-produced the highly acclaimed The Station Agent, which won the 2003 Sundance Audience Award and Screenwriting Award, grossing $15million worldwide, and Mysterious Skin, which was selected for the Venice, Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals in 2004.
Rumle Hammerich was a script and directing advisor at IndiVision 2005. One of Denmark's most experienced directors and producers, he was involved in commissioning the first four Dogme films, and also set up the highly successful Director's Cut low-budget feature scheme in Denmark, whose first film, Reconstruction, won the Camera D'Or at Cannes.
David Field was a performance advisor at IndiVision 2005. He has recently worked with Judy Davis, who directed him in the STC production of Victory. He received a Helpmann Award for this role and will soon be seen in the Arthur Miller play A View from the Bridge at the Ensemble Theatre. David received the Best Actor AFI Award for the telefilm My Husband My Killer He has also co-produced and starred in Silent Partner which defied conventional constraints by being filmed in one week.
Daniel Krige graduated from AFTRS in 1994. His TV writing credits include a BAFTA-nominated episode of Corelli, an AFI-nominated episode of Police Rescue, and two episodes (one which he directed) of Twisted Tales. He was script consultant on the thriller Nemesis Game and he has written a feature film Babel for director Alex Proyas. West, selected for the 2005 Lab, will be his first feature as director.
Kate Whitbread is a graduate of the National Theatre Drama School and AFTRS extension producer courses. She has produced a number of TV pilots and series, the telemovie Deeper than Blue and from 1994-97 worked as associate producer for Rosenbaum Whitbread productions. The Caterpillar Wish, selected for the 2005 Lab, will be her first theatrical feature.
THE LOW DOWN
What were your expectations going into IndiVision? How did the final experience differ from this?
DK: I was hoping to get insight into the ways other filmmakers thought, what kind of budgets are considered to be 'low' and different ways to approach having no money. In this regard IndiVision was an inspiring and rewarding experience for me.
KW: I hoped we could take the script to the next level, which we did. We have just finished the post-IndiVision script and I am very pleased and glad we had the opportunity to explore the script in such detail with fresh eyes.
RH: IndiVision was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet this group of talented Australian directors, writers and producers. And it was rewarding to experience the fact that the Australian film industry is facing the same problems as the others 'smaller' film countries:
- how to ignite and maintain talent?
- how to build up a company structure?
- how to accept that the audiences are the real experts
- that it's not US that ruins local production, but our ability to tell our stories better.
All this and much more was on debate during classes and breaks. The core of IndiVision - to develop low-budget production - was extremely well carried out by the AFC. The mix of script sessions, acting/character studies and actual shooting was most rewarding for the projects. I hope the AFC will repeat this event.
DF: The IndiVision event was a great success, approaching the filmmakers with the aim of truly assisting and supporting each project, with a view to making the film. This involved a very well-structured process that attempted to cover each potential area of need with expert advice from professionals that understood the low-budget area.
For me the biggest positive was the approach of the AFC, which enveloped the Lab with a culture of filmmaking rather than product. This gave the filmmakers a sense of inclusion, rather than being judged like a TV contest. IndiVision did not avoid the passion of filmmaking but realised it as intrinsic to our growth and survival. Along with this was a sense of generosity, and the understanding that in giving to a fellow worker one has not been robbed. I would like to congratulate all at the AFC for a creative and vibrant Lab. And hope that this is just the beginning.
What was the most tangible benefit(s) you got from this program?
KW: A confidence in my approach to how I was going to make the film a reality. I had a chance to try out verbally a lot of ideas about my approach to the shoot, and to think them through thoroughly.
DK: The opportunity to spend 7 days straight with my two producers Matt Reeder and Anne Robinson where we could focus our attention wholly and solely on the project. In 'real life' with day jobs and other commitments it is rarely possible to afford this amount of time together in one slab. I feel this experience not only strengthened us as a working team, but also gave us a much clearer shared goal of what we want for the film.
The other tangible benefit that stands out for me was the experience to work with David Field. I have always admired his work and it was fantastic to watch him work with actors and to pick his brains on the performance process. And the script session we had with Joshua Zeman possibly yielded the greatest script breakthrough the project has had.
Josh's fresh eye and different cultural perspective prompted him to ask questions which forced me to look at the film in a completely different light, and as a result we have given the script a new opening sequence which, I feel, has improved the script immeasurably.
How did you work with the advisors? What was the methodology and process employed at IndiVision?
DK: The most interesting thing about working with the different advisors was to see their different approaches. In our script sessions with Joan Sauers, she asked some very insightful and pertinent questions regarding the script's structure and, within that, the characters' respective journeys. Like Josh, Joan forced me out of my comfort zone and helped me to understand my screenplay far better than I had previously. When you write something, and when it has been with you as long as West has been with me, you begin to feel that you know the project better than anyone. The experience of working with Josh and Joan taught me there is always more to know about something that might seem so familiar.
Do you believe a program focused on low-budget features can impact our industry as a whole?
DK: Yes. But only if we all 'get with the program'. And that means all of us, not just those who want to direct or produce. I think those of us interested in breathing longevity into the industry need to take a leaf from Rolf de Heer's book and treat all of those involved in the making of our projects fairly and equitably in the deals we make, so that if and when the film makes some money everyone shares in the success. This kind of attitude from those at the top of the financial food chain will help instil confidence and gain the trust of those who currently steer clear of the 'love' jobs.
KW: I truly believe that the industry and audiences want these sorts of films to be made. I have gained unanimous support for my film across all departments. People in the industry are drawn to its concept of being a low-budget feature with minimal waste. I would like to see agents, post-production houses, actors and film labs drawn into the discussions so they can really help to make some of these films a reality.
As a filmmaker, will you work differently after the IndiVision experience?
DK: IndiVision has helped me to clearly identify the kind of budgets that my various ideas demand. Many of the screenplays I am working on have been deliberately low-budget; however some of them are beginning to present themselves as wanting more money to be made.
IndiVision has forced me to rethink my approach from the screenplay stage onwards, and has forced me to ask hard questions of myself: Is a given idea too expensive for the kind of audience the film is likely to attract? And if so, is there another (more cost effective) way to tell the same story? And if not, then is that story worth focussing on in an Australian context, or is it something to put in the bottom drawer until I have the good fortune to get a call from Nicole or Russell? (Said with unrealistic hopefulness!)
JZ: What I've realised, from making a number of low-budget features, is that low-budget filmmaking really allows you to understand the process of filmmaking, the whole experience, from start to finish. And while that experience might not always be glamorous or exciting, it is your participation and the sheer amount by which you bleed, sweat, and cry that ultimately forms the heart and soul of your film.
Dogme was about turning obstacles into gifts, getting help from reality in every part of the process. We trusted the audience, the characters, and the strength of a truthful expression, more than the classical, controlled aestheticism we came from. Whenever the stories suited the frame of the Dogme 'vow of chastity', the work was more joyful than any of us had ever experienced, and the films became a lot better that they would have without Dogme.
Lone Sherfig, director, Italian For Beginners
Could we now start an Australian equivalent to Dogme?
DK: Yes, but as I said in an earlier answer, I think we all need to get on board. I have worked with certain producers in the past who seemed to only be interested in making money and because of this are constantly trying to second-guess the marketplace. I believe the best films are made with passion and honesty (and sufficient script development!) but, more importantly, with a team that is dedicated to making the film that is on the page, and not to try to mould it into an inferior version of something that has been successful in its own right.
With everything we make, we should be asking the hard and sometimes troubling (and ego-crushing) questions - 'why should this particular film be made?' and 'is this script ready to be made?' - and then be prepared to listen to the answers from those we trust and value.
As for creating an Australian equivalent to Dogme, as filmmakers we need to foster the same kind of pack mentality that exists in Denmark. As Rumle Hammerich pointed out during the Lab: united we stand; divided we fall. As filmmakers we need to become more passionate about our storytelling. More brutal and honest in our criticisms with view to bettering our stories. And more dedicated as a filmmaking community (from our screenwriters right through to our distributors) to making and showing films that have a realistic expectation of a return (meaning low-budget - under one million!); that reflect our experiential diversities as a country, a culture and a people. Films that reflect our pains and our joys, our humour and our humanity. Films that do not insult the audience by trying to second-guess them. Only then will we make films that people want to see. Only then will we make films that are truly universal.
Other guest speakers and advisors at the 2005 IndiVision Project Lab included the ABC's Head of Drama Scott Meek, acquisitions expert Ashley Luke from Fortissimo Films, Bridget Ikin and Tait Brady from the FFC, Hopscotch's Sandie Don, actors David Field and Steve Vidler, script editor Joan Sauers, directors Rob Marchand, Nick Parsons and Jim Sharman, esteemed filmmaker Rolf de Heer, Somersault cinematographer Robert Humphries, and producers John Maynard, Robert Connolly and Vincent Sheehan.
The first of the IndiVision Lab projects has now completed its financing. Pre-production will begin in May for the $1.4 million feature film Caterpillar Wish (written and directed by Sandra Sciberras and produced by Kate Whitbread), with a four-week shoot in Robe scheduled to start in June. Developed with the support of the Australian Film Commission, and funded for production by the AFC, the South Australian Film Corporation, Palace Films and private investors, Caterpillar Wish is an evocative, moving drama set in a small seaside township. It explores the themes of belonging, loss and the need to connect - all through the eyes of 15-year-old Emily. Wendy Hughes has been cast in the role of Emily's mother, Elizabeth. Other leading roles are still to be announced.
The next IndiVision Project Lab will be held in February 2006. Applications close on 1 September 2005. See IndiVision on the AFC website for more details.