When I was on the streets, and hanged around there every day, some people thought I was part of the brick wall. They think we're low-lifes capable of nothing … they think we're finished people.
- 19-year-old street kid
So begins the striking story of three homeless youths in The Finished People. Made on an ultra-low budget by first-time director Khoa Do with an inexperienced cast, the film was nominated for two 2004 AFI Awards (Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay). It is an inspirational work and an example of how an independent feature can obtain both theatrical and DVD release.
After its world premiere at the 2003 Montreal World Film Festival, The Finished People has since screened in almost every capital city in Australia and was the recipient of the 2003 Independent Spirit IF Award. Its recent DVD release by Madman Entertainment includes a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary with interviews with key cast and crew members.
'The Finished People immediately struck us as a film of great immediacy and passion,' said Jonathan Alley, Marketing Executive at Madman Entertainment. 'In an age of "reality" TV, this story of Cabramatta youth that used documentary stylings to tell a fictional story seemed like a report direct from the street; despite the inexperience of the actors it seemed utterly uncontrived.'
When asked about how the film was picked up for DVD distribution, Alley replied, 'We knew it would have some potential as a DVD property because it did receive considerable word-of-mouth. With its universal themes we knew the title might have a longer DVD life on rental and retail - essentially, The Finished People is a film that should be seen. It deserved a wider release and DVD could afford it the opportunity.'
The AFC Marketing Unit spoke to first-time director Khoa Do to find out more about the remarkable story behind The Finished People. Khoa Do was recently announced as the recipient of the NSW - Young Australian of the Year for 2005.
How much planning was there at the beginning of the filmmaking process for the marketing of the film?
At the beginning, there was absolutely no planning for marketing other than to send the film to potential distributors once it was finished. When we started making the film, we didn't know how it was going to turn out, and what sort of audience it catered for exactly. We always knew that it was going to be a film that had the potential to speak to quite a wide audience, if we got the balance of the film right.
We took the 'let's just make the best film we can and she'll be right mate' kind of attitude. It was when we had a final product that we knew exactly who our market would be.
Did you take production photos during your shoot? What kind of marketing material did you collect during production?
We didn't take any production photos during the shoot, which we really should have. Apart from a few snapshots that some of our crew took during the filming, we had to go back into our tapes and 'collect' stills from the film itself once we began marketing. It just wasn't something, at the time, that I placed a lot of importance on (in comparison to everything else). But now looking back on it, I really wished that we had more than one good photo of our film!
With the benefit of hindsight, which marketing materials would you have liked to have funds for? What will you put in place for your next film?
We'd love to have a stills photographer and a publicist to come onboard early. We had a fantastic publicity company, Catherine Lavelle Public Relations, who are really the best. I only wished that if we'd had a proper budget, we could have worked with our publicists earlier on, and actually do media screenings.
The most important marketing material I wished we had earlier was the film itself. Our film print was ready three hours before our season premiere, and the print was still kind of drying from the lab when we screened it at Dendy.
Did you have a strategy for festivals? What made you choose Montréal?
We didn't particularly have a festival strategy other than me asking Anh (producer) and Cindy (line producer): 'What festival is coming up? Is it any good? Have you heard of it?' Montréal was the next festival coming up, and I'd heard of it being quite a prestigious festival so we sent our film to them.
What were your local options for festivals?
By the time we had a final version of our film, all the deadlines to submit to Australian festivals that we were aware of had passed, so we didn't have a lot of options for local festivals.
How did you find your experience at Montréal? How was your screening received? In your experience, how did the Montréal audience differ from the Australian?
Montréal was a wonderful experience, in that it was such a large festival with so many exceptional films. Our screening was received well from the audiences who went to see it, who kind of knew they were in for something different. When they left the screening, the general response was 'I swear it could've been downtown Toronto or over in the States'. That was great, the fact that our film was speaking on a universal level.
Our biggest disadvantage was that our film screened in predominantly French-speaking Montréal, and it was not subtitled. So, a lot of the English spoken in our film may not have been completely understood, especially because some of our cast have strong 'western Sydney' broken English accents too!
The film was finished on digital video. Was this an issue in getting a theatrical release for the film?
Finishing the film on digital video was not a major issue in getting a theatrical release because Dendy Cinemas, courtesy of Mark Sarfaty and Michael Eldred, were willing to screen it on DV if we had to. However, having seen DV being projected in Montréal, I knew that to have our film screen on 35mm would make all the difference in the world - it's what audiences are used to seeing and ultimately really affects the experience of the entire film. Thanks to the assistance of the New South Wales Film and Television Office, we were able to screen the film on 35mm.
How did you secure a distributor/exhibitor in Australia? What kind of discussions were involved at this stage? Was there a main message you were trying to pitch?
We secured an exhibitor in Australia through a number of things occurring simultaneously. At the same time that we'd sent the film to Dendy Cinemas for them to preview, hoping to attract a distribution deal, we'd found out that we were accepted into the Montréal Film Festival. News spread about our film, and so Dendy watched our tape the very next day. After seeing it, they decided to theatrically screen it.
You have released the film to a very small number of screens and yet attracted a strong following. The box-office figure was over $90K. Does the limited release help with attracting the core audience?
I think the limited release does help with attracting a core audience, because we had a film that spreads well through word-of-mouth. Also, we were very fortunate to have had some wonderful reviews (including Margaret and David) and so people from all over the state were travelling to Newtown to watch the film! I know of a number of people who have been to Newtown for the first time in their life, and that was to watch our film. People from around here [Cabramatta] were planning day trips to Newtown.
You have presented a Q&A session for your film in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. How important are these sessions to the life of the film? How much of your own personal time do you spend on promoting your film? What is involved?
I think Q&A sessions are great for the film, as it gives people the chance to ask all sorts of questions. With a film like ours, we've had questions ranging from the equipment we used to the title, to the availability of our actors for future projects. Overall, a lot of your own personal time is spent on promoting a film, especially because you're doing it for the first time, and there's just so much to do. We were also very fortunate that the AFC gave us a marketing loan, which gave us a lot of freedom to actually print posters and flyers instead of myself and Anh having to draw them (which we were actually contemplating).
You received endorsements from Jane Campion and Alan Finney (MD, BVI Australia), which you included in your press releases. How did you go about getting these?
We were very fortunate to have Jane Campion involved in our project. A friend of a friend of ours offered to ask a friend of hers if she could perhaps assist us in some way with the making of our film. When we found out it was Jane Campion she was referring to, we were absolutely thrilled that Jane (who was very busy editing In the Cut at the time) found the time to give us support and feedback.
We actually sent a tape of our film to Alan Finney when he couldn't make it to our cast and crew screening. Alan wrote to us, telling us what he thought of our film and gave us permission to quote him.
You have a new film project in the pipeline called Footy Legends. How have you approached this film in terms of marketing? Is there any key lesson you have learned with The Finished People?
I haven't discussed marketing Footy Legends in depth as yet with Megan McMurchy (our producer) and Anh Do, but I think that we've learnt so much from marketing The Finished People that I'm glad we went through it. In comparison, I think that Footy Legends will, hopefully, be a marketing dream…we'll just have to wait and see.
The Finished People is available on DVD from Madman Entertainment from 8 December 2004.