Matthew talks about the joys and challenges of making a short feature.
Why did you choose to make a short feature?
The screenplay for Roy Höllsdotter Live has a long, tangential history. The first draft is dated July 1994. Since that time it has had many incarnations, but since being optioned to Retro Active Films and producer, Trevor Blainey, the initial development of the script was as a feature-length film, ostensibly for the 'Million Dollar Movie' initiative of the late 90s. The script, however, was not one of the five projects granted production funding under the auspices of that scheme.
When the AFC announced revisions to its funding guidelines, introducing a concept of funding 'strands', we realised we were then ineligible to apply for feature film production financing at the AFC, as neither myself, as writer and nominated director, nor Trevor, as producer and option holder, had previous feature film credit(s). Rather than rescind Trevor's option (ending his long involvement with the project) and try to attract a producer with the necessary accreditation, and/or step aside myself (in favour of an adequately experienced director), we decided to truncate the script and apply for funds for the 'short feature' strand, for which we discovered we were (as a team) eligible.
What interested you about that length? What can a short feature offer that shorts and features can't?
As indicated above, the decision Trevor Blainey and myself made to develop and produce Roy Höllsdotter Live as a short feature was in response to the only financing opportunity that seemed tenable at the time, rather than any creative imperative.
Having said that, a 50-minute film is considered 'long form' by some (though few in the distribution community), and Trevor and I were keen to test our capabilities with the more intricate problems and opportunities (both in production and storytelling) inherent in a longer running time.
Since completion of the film, however, I've been given pause for thought as to what, exactly, a short feature is. The term seems difficult to define.
Despite being a short feature, Roy Höllsdotter Live has been fortunate to win a Dendy Award as a short film, has been nominated for two AFI's in non feature categories, and won an AWGIE Award for an original television script. Despite extensive research, I am yet to find a short feature category in any local or international festival.
To many, Roy Höllsdotter Live seems most comfortably described as 'a television hour'. Interestingly, the state film body, Film Victoria, has this year revised its guidelines, requiring a feature and/or two hours of television drama credits for at least one of the principles attached to feature productions seeking their support, rendering Trevor and myself (and several other Melbourne based filmmaker teams) ineligible for their support in a feature project despite recent short feature credits.
How did you settle on the narrative of the film?
I wouldn't describe the narrative as something that was 'settled upon'. The shooting script was borne out of the seven years the story and its sundry characters were developed, in concert with its cast, producer, AFC project development managers and several script editors (all with the kind support of the AFC). It is my strong belief that the project was greatly informed by the contributions made by the above, and by the talented, experienced and like-minded artists who shaped the film with their delicate empathy for its characters, and deep understanding of their universe. They also contributed with a seemingly inexhaustible passion for the medium, and extraordinary expertise in performance, cinematography, art direction, music, editing, sound recording and design.
What's your film about?
On one level, Roy Höllsdotter Live is a fairly routine narrative about a depressed stand up comedian who has taken to stalking his recently estranged girlfriend in a misguided attempt to cope with their relationship's demise. On another, it describes a fractured love triangle and examines the inherent fragility of even the most stalwart of friendships. It concerns, on some levels, the complexities of the transactions people make with one another every day; trust, love, anger, doubt, fear, blame, forgiveness...
How important was casting?
For me, the most definitive element of the film is its cast. We could so vividly imagine the cast in their roles - and were so ardent in that belief - that auditions were held to cast only one character.
The script was written for Luke Elliot to play the role of Simmo. Darren Casey's involvement in the film was critical. He was associated with the project three years before principle photography began and, in that time, made large and distinctive contributions to both the script, and my understanding of his character and the minutae of the stand up world. Maude Davey, John Clarke and Cliff Ellen were first choices for their respective roles. Such was the project's good fortune that they all were available and all agreed to be involved.
How has making a short feature given you the confidence to continue working in film?
The opportunity to work on a project of any length is a blessing, and I am indebted to the AFC for the opportunity to realise this film. It should be noted that the AFC was the sole development agency and first body to grant the project production monies. I am also grateful for the Commission's support during the long, sometimes difficult months it took to secure the remainder of the budget.
While I never approached it as a 'calling card' film, I do hope that Roy Höllsdotter Live goes some way towards increasing my profile as a filmmaker. Equally, it is my sincerest hope that everyone involved in the project has been given an opportunity not only to hone their skills, but have also been provided a forum for their work to be seen. I hope that Geoff Hitchins' AFI nomination for editing, for example, draws industry attention to his remarkable, though largely unrecognised talents. I hope it does the same for Luke Elliot who, bizarrely, has not played a lead role in a major film or television production since his debut in Holidays On the River Yarra. I believe Darren Casey's debut in this film is an equally powerful one, and I was very pleased when Laszlo Baranyai's work was awarded a Golden Tripod at the 2002 ACS Awards.
Future plans? Festivals?
Roy Höllsdotter Live has so far enjoyed a successful run on the Australian circuit, playing to strong numbers at the Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Sydney Festivals. Its inclusion in the 50 Minutes From Home tour will, it is hoped, gather audiences in Perth, Hobart, Darwin and Alice Springs. I look forward to its screening on SBS in October, which, with luck, will further broaden its local audience.
Internationally, the film has screened at the Locarno and Montreal film festivals, and has recently been invited to Cork. Trevor and I are committed to seeking out further screening opportunities at festivals overseas, in order to increase the project's profile. In this regard, I have found the new AFC website, its regular updates, and its links to other databases, an invaluable resource.