bastard – even a short film needs shape

I wrote my short film bastard for fun.

After a few difficult years working on TV and feature projects that fell at the final fence, I wanted to make something just for me. Something to remind me why I did this crazy thing. Something small, something manageable. Something I not only wrote, but directed and produced; making all the decisions, from start to finish.

If there was a change, it would happen because it was necessary, not on a whim.

If the film didn’t work, I only had myself to blame. If it did, then of course it was down to the incredibly talented team around me.

The story has its origins in my time as a teacher in the regional industrial city of Whyalla and in particular, a year 10 student named Shiralee. Shiralee was engaging, bright and always in trouble. She repeatedly found herself outside the deputy principal’s office. When I asked her, ‘What is it this time, Shiralee?’ she’d answer, ‘I was talking.’ She couldn’t resist, she had to share whatever was on her mind and blurt it out. Sadly, she just didn’t fit in the school system and left before the year was out.

Several months later she came back to school to see me. ‘I’m pregnant,’ she told me. The fact that she was able to confide in me made me proud, but I felt for her. Fifteen years old, working part-time in a newsagent and expecting her first child. The vast array of options we have in our teens seemed to be closing down for her.

I left Whyalla and, a couple of years later returned as a performer. Between shows I heard the story of a teenage girl with a young child whose boyfriend had left her and taken off for a job on the fishing trawlers in Ceduna, some 450 kilometres away. The girl wasn’t taking that lying down and, walked all the way.

It was Shiralee.

I wouldn’t want to be in the boyfriend’s shoes when she caught up with him.

That was the genesis of this script; simply someone who wants things to happen on her terms, and is determined to have the last word.

I have kept the name, but for practical, film making, reasons the child is gone from this story. The long walk remains as a tribute to the real Shiralee. But the shape of this film is not the journey, as it might seem.

Shiralee undertakes the journey solely to fulfil a task; to give her ex a piece of her mind. As soon as she’s done that, her task is complete and the film is over.

When Jordan Cowan auditioned for the role I knew straight away she was perfect. Not just superbly talented, but an ideal fit. What I didn’t know at the time was that her family is from Whyalla. Maybe there’s something in the water. It’s given her an innate understanding of Shiralee, and the character its edge. Her extraordinary on-screen presence was a huge bonus.

I am truly grateful to the actors and crew who gave their time to make this tiny film a reality.

bastard will soon be available on vimeo and have its premiere at the Barossa Film Festival late in 2015 with other festivals to follow.


52 Tuesdays – a great example of shape

This low budget Australian film uses the idea of weekly meetings between a teenage daughter and her divorced mother to tell a touching and compassionate story. Billy’s mother announces her determination to become a man and that she needs some space to achieve that. She arranges for Billy to live with her father. However, they promise to meet every Tuesday for the next year, no matter what. That will be their special time.

This simple concept helps tell a touching and delicate story of change; for the teenage girl it’s the complicated passage to womanhood, for the mother it’s the transition from woman to manhood, and all that that means.

The story covers only what happens on each of the 52 Tuesdays, nothing else. We never see the rest of the week, we never move to Thursday or the weekend. If it’s not Tuesday it doesn’t make it into the story. This discipline gives the story power and focus.

Without those limits the story wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t have a frame, something to stop the film drifting. Frankly it wouldn’t have a reason to exist. The shape keeps us concentrated on the two central characters and their journeys. And it does this while allowing the freedom and room to move the story from place to place as needed.

To add to that, the producers decided to shoot the film on every Tuesday for an entire year. This created a punishing weekly shooting schedule as well as an unusually long commitment for actors and crew. But what it also gave to the film was an unexpected layer of journey for the writer, actors and director in approaching their characters with fresh eyes each and every week; subtle nuances that only time can create give added definition and depth to the characters as the weeks pass.

Even though they’ve probably never heard of the concept of shape, 52 Tuesdays is a wonderful expression of it.