Interview: 10 questions
1. Tell us something about your life and education.
I was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia but grew up in the industrial city of Geelong. I attended Geelong East Technical School in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s then went to the Gordon Institute of Technology where I took a course in Vocational Writing. I was the first profoundly hearing impaired person in Geelong to enter the course. There were no film or screen media courses in Geelong at that time.
2. How, when and why did you start filming?
My interest in cinema was sparked in 1968 when, as a 13-year old, I was taken in a school group to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It blew me away. Never before, had I experienced such awe-struck silence from a cinema full of school kids. Kubrick’s vision of the future was single-handedly responsible for sparking my interest in cinema. I walked out of that cinema saying to myself: “I want to do that!”
But it wasn’t until my third year at the Gordon Institute of Technology in 1974 that I found a way to actually start making films.
Encouraged by a drama lecturer, I borrowed a 16mm Bolex and a handful of photoflood lights from the audio-visual department and press-ganged fellow students into working as cast and crew on my first short film, the bizarre black comedy Daffy. This was distributed to schools and universities via the now-defunct Vincent Film Library, and made back every cent of its AUS $2,000 cost.
I was the first university student in Geelong to make a narrative film and then the first profoundly hearing impaired person in Australia to receive Government funding to make a film (The Student, 1975).
I was unable to gain any further funding, so became a radio advertising copywriter, a radio and television scriptwriter, a freelance television writer-producer, and a freelance journalist with newspapers and magazines.
3. How do you develop your films? Do you follow certain styles, subjects etc?
Although originally inspired by Stanley Kubrick, I was more practically inspired by the likes of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. The surrealism of Felllini, the stark simplicity of Antonioni combined with the cinema verite style of Godard and Truffaut influenced Daffy and my second short film, The Student (1975).
When I returned to independent film/video-making in 1999, I used minimalist quasi-theatrical set design with highly stylised lighting and camera work to create a hyper-stylised look at relatively low cost.
This can be seen in the dark spaces of Enigma (2000), the brightly-lit but soulless interiors of The Job (2002) and in the cold, utilitarian world of my quasi-sci fi feature film PURGE (2010).
It is largely motivated by not having the money to build elaborate sets or to hire appropriate locations, of having to work in compromised spaces with a minimum of props and scenery. It is a style I’ve come to appropriate as my own because it forces interesting and unusual creative decisions.
Subject matter is largely dictated by what interests me at the time.
5. What technical equipment do you use?
I’ve used everything from a Bolex 16mm spring-wound film camera with parallax view-finder (1974) to Sony Betacam SP systems (1999) and most of Sony’s prosumer level DV cameras (2002 – 2007). For lighting, I try to keep costs down by using fluoros and lights up to 1000 watts with creative use of gels and filters. Where possible, I have a track and dolly and perhaps a jib arm. For sound, on my early films I used a Nagra tape recorder. Later, a microphone plugged directly into a DV camera with XLR input.
6. What are the chances of using digital video technology to create art using moving images, generally and for you personally?
When I started in the 1970’s, I loved film. Today, digital is the present and future. I would never have been able to create Dystopic Overload or its feature film parent, PURGE, without non-linear digital editing systems and the effects they offer. Capture of imagery is also so much easier and more efficient when you can see what you’re getting while shooting rather than having to wait until it comes back from a laboratory. It’s also cheaper, allowing you to do many takes to get something right. It opens all kinds of new possibilities. I particularly liked the way Mike Figgis used digital video in his experimental feature Hotel – using the medium as a means of expression in itself. I cannot see myself using film again unless for a very specific purpose. Digital is definitely the future.
7. How do you finance your films?
With enormous difficulty. Just about every project has been self-funded from meagre funds derived from freelance work or a pension, and none of these projects (apart from Daffy) have ever made any money back (although the feature film PURGE has gone into DVD distribution in the USA). In 1975, The Student received only AUS $700 in Government funding so the AUS $2,500 cost was mostly paid out of my own pocket.
I need help finding ways to fund future projects. Government funding for experimental cinema in Australia was shut down in the early 1980’s. Video art is now mostly only funded as part of a larger art process (i.e. painting, sculpture, public installations), not of or by itself.
Australian experimental film/video-makers can only look with longing to the USA where resident filmmakers can access up to US $250,000 for an experimental project. But one would not want to be an unemployed film/video-maker competing for highly sought-after funding in the USA.
8. Do you work individually as a video artist or as part of a team? Which do you prefer?
Dystopic Overload was made entirely on my own Avid non-linear digital editing system and I worked on all aspects of this alone. I also edited the feature film, PURGE (from which the footage of Dystopic Overload was taken) alone on the same system.
When making PURGE, I worked with a cinematographer, a sound recordist, between one and three makeup artists, and one or two production assistants. At one stage, we had a wardrobe mistress and costume designer. Because I was unable to pay anyone, I sometimes had to handle cinematography and sound myself with just a production assistant and makeup artist to help.
On my early student films, I worked mostly alone with my actors since there was no sound, costumes or makeup.
Personally, I find the smaller the team, the faster we work and the better the camaraderie. I’m happy to work alone where practical. Depends on the project.
9. Who or what has had a lasting influence on your film/video-making?
I mentioned several influences earlier. I was also influenced by the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, particularly the simple way he cuts between locations, keeping everything indoors without expensive exterior shots. This influence can be seen in PURGE. I was also influenced by the early George Lucas (THX 1138) whose white walled cells and cold, utilitarian sets can be seen echoed in PURGE and The Job, by Peter Greenaway for his ability to create amazing set pieces with minimal expenditure, and by David Cronenberg for his sense of the bizarre. But I do not copy any of these filmmakers. My style is uniquely my own.
10. What are your future plans and dreams?
I want to continue making experimental videos, and narrative feature films which push the boundaries of the medium. The short experimental videos will probably springboard from the feature films as Dystopic Overload did from PURGE. But without distributor interest and/or some means of funding, I cannot see how to do it. Everyone expects to be paid in a materialistic, consumer-oriented society so funding has to be found from somewhere. The Australian Government is not interested in funding ‘one-man bands’ such as I tend to be (writing, producing, directing, editing all my own work).
So any suggestions or help from any quarter would be most welcome.
Crowd source funding may be a possibility but I would need collaborators with social media skills for that.
END OF INTERVIEW.