As part of the preparation for the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival it was necessary for us to produce a poster for the film, so here it is.
We’re proud to say that our film Melbourne: A Guide to Living will be screening as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. As we get close to the date of the festival we answered some questions for Documentary Drive about our film and what inspired us.
Why the spoof route over a more traditional format?
Sam: Chloe and I really hit it off through our shared love of comedy. I hadn’t met anyone else with such a pure love of comedy; the need to workshop every little joke in daily life until the punch line is just right, even over the simplest pun. The Melbourne film is actually a sequel to a guide to London we made a few years ago and it was essentially a format which allowed us to string together a number of different sketches, comedy bits and erroneous facts about the city. We actually both have a real interest in serious documentary film making, but I guess the instinct to make something funny is there in both of us and it would probably always derail any attempt we made to be serious.
Chloe: Yeah, I guess it’s just simply that our main interest lies in making comedy films, and the mockumentary style is just one way of doing that. I’d love to make a serious documentary some time, but I think that even then it would be focused on a niche topic or something which had some inherent humour to it.
When people think documentaries, they don’t usually think “Yes, comedy gold!” How do you see the two genres fitting together and why do you think it works so well in your films?
Sam: I don’t think it’s a surprise that there’s been a huge surge of fly-on-the-wall style mockumentary comedy since “The Office.” But I think our style of comedic documentary developed out of a different tradition led by people likeArmando Iannucci andChris Morris with shows like “Brass Eye,” “The Day Today” and “Time Spiral.” Whereas in “The Office” the joke lies between where David Brent sees himself and where the audience sees him, with shows like “Brass Eye” the joke lies between the ridiculous assertions being made and the absolute authority with which they’re told. The joke is almost on the audience, you’re either in on the joke, or the joke is on you.
You want to see who will get it and who won’t even question it. It’s also a way of highlighting irony and hypocrisy or sending up authority and pomposity in real life, and so grows out of that satirical tradition as well.
I think it works well because as others have said before, you’re looking for the ‘right’ audience. You don’t want everyone to get it, so that those who do can enjoy it even more. There’s a satisfaction in that light bulb moment when you realize it’s a joke. You’d be surprised by how many people still take the films as absolute fact and don’t even question what they’re being told, even the most blatant ridiculous lies.
At the bottom, through the arched doorway, the first person in line steps out into three inches of piss, lifts up the end of his trouser legs, and wades over to a urinal. Reams of sodden toilet paper decorate the floor, pulping under the onslaught of feet where no one will pick it up, swimming its way around and sticking to the bottom of shoes.
The way these things normally work is you wait for your turn until an empty receptacle becomes available, then you sidle up to it standing shoulder to shoulder with two other men, and try to remove yourself from the reality by staring blankly at the wall ahead, willing yourself to perform the deed which had seemed so urgent only moments before. The more you wish to speed things along, the less able your body feels. A queue of the willing stand behind, staring at the back of your head, waiting for their chance for relief. And then slowly the panic creeps in. Why am I not going? I needed to go so badly a minute ago. Why not now? Have they noticed? They must have noticed. I’ve been standing here for ages. Alright just relax. What, with a wall of other men waiting behind me? Just piss. I can’t. Well try. I am. Well you better do something. Like what? Here we go. No. Right just do your flies up and walk away. And don’t forget to wash your hands.
The assembled crowd do their best to ignore each other while they dance around between the urinals, the sink and the hand dryer; and once finished, make their way back up the stairs, avoiding eye contact with the waiting line of hopefuls. As each one exits he eyes his hands with suspicion holding them out in front, not convinced by the credibility of the soap.
It’s only a matter of time before the Pleasance turn this into another venue.
In contrast the ladies toilets are upstairs and exist in the imagination as a powdered and fragrant spa, with pristine floors, shining taps and, above all, breathable air. The unheard of luxury of going to the toilet without the acrid bite of urine stinging your taste buds and sitting in the back of the throat remains a mystery.
It’s with these thoughts that I join the back of this queue, descending into that foggy hell, with heavy air, flickering lights and gorillas in the mist. The man stood in front looks nervous. Like the first signs of madness he’s scratching and biting his wrist. Someone ought to be looking over these people.
I look across trying to think of my options before someone joins behind me and I’m hemmed in. And then I notice the disabled toilet sitting quietly across the hall and an inner part of me rejoices at its salvation. I am on holiday, why not indulge.
Joining a queue behind another woman I try to look casual so as not to alert anyone else of my discovery, and patiently await my turn. That is the rule after all; women and children first. Patience.
The woman in front of me takes her turn and leaves me stood looking very laid back against a wall outside the disabled door. After a minute or two a man in an electric wheelchair positions himself behind me in the queue. An awkward moment ensues. But hang on a minute, I have my place in the queue. Just because it’s a facility designed for the ease of less able-bodied patrons, why shouldn’t he wait his turn. That’s the rule after all, women and children, then me, then the person behind me in the queue.
Another well-dressed woman walks up to me from in front and says something barely intelligible above the din of the public place. She looks as if she’s trying to muscle her way into the queue so I make clear my intentions. “The queue to the gents is massive. I’ve been here for ages. The women’s is upstairs.” She replies with something again I can’t quite hear and so I repeat and reiterate that this is the queue she sees in front of her now so to perhaps take up her place at the back. This time through the noise and heat I hear her more clearly. “It’s my spine, I can’t make it upstairs. It really annoys me when people use this toilet.”
That’s it. I’m outnumbered and have to concede. Overruled by guilt I join the back of a queue that leads down some steps into a damp underground toilet, and hold up the bottom of my trousers so that they don’t drag along the flooded floor.
It’s been a long and slow road, but its now a year since we filmed ‘Melbourne: A Guide to Living’, the sequel to ‘London: A Guide for the Naive‘, and hopefully only part two in a trilogy. The film is finished and will soon be submitted to different festivals.
Creative control is a beautiful thing. It’s been said that a film is written 3 times. Once by the writer, once by the director and finally by the editor. To be in control of each of those stages is fantastic and allows me to carry a project through from conception to completion in exactly the way I want it. It’s always still the case that the product you finish with is different to how you intended it, complete with added flourishes and unexpected shortcomings, but overall you’re left with an appreciation of the whole process and leave with lessons of how you’d do things next time. In a multi-collaborative project artists often complain that creative control was wrestled away from them and what’s left is a disheartening imitation of what they had first set out for.
However, it still has to be said that film is essentially a collaborative medium, and while maintaining such control of the whole process is great if you want things done exactly how you envisage them, it’s just too much work for one person to take on board and denies the possibility of something magical and entirely unimagined taking your film in a new direction.
Learning how to direct and produce films has been a great lesson and given expression to different aspects of my creativity, but one thing I’ve come to realise is that I’m essentially driven by the writing and ideas, and no sooner have I finished filming than my interest turns to getting on with the next script and pursuing the next idea. To get mired down in editing and promotion divides my attention and stunts the development of the craft I’m actually interested in focusing on.
I learnt not too long ago about the idea of the 80/20 or Pareto principle, a theory originally developed in relation to economics but soon taken on in many different fields and expanded into a general, if slightly rough, principle. The idea is that roughly speaking 80% of something’s effects, comes from just 20% of it’s causes. More can be read about it here on Wikipedia but it’s enough to say that for my purposes 80% of the time I spend, or it might be more fitting to say waste, in relation to a project comes from just 20% of the things I do for that project. Or to put it another way, editing and promoting a film takes 80% of my effort and time when it might take someone who actually knows how to do those things a fraction of that.
If you’re able to collaborate with the right people and combine your skills you’re able to increase your productivity exponentially. Just stick to the 80% of tasks you excel at and outsource the rest to someone else.
Besides, as Woody Allen says, if 80% of success is showing up, you just need to find someone else to do that other 20% and the job is done.
Melbourne: A Guide to Living will hopefully be going to a few festivals later in the year. If you’re interested in seeing a preview enter your email address in the bar at the top of the page.
Well one week has gone by since the end of this years London Screenwriter’s Festival and I’m trying to cling tight to the elated feeling of possibility. I left Regent’s College last Sunday feeling like everyone was moving in the same direction together, with the same purpose and open-mindedness. The biggest thing you get from the festival is not a potential development deal, or a myriad of business cards, or even inspiration – but a feeling that you could walk up and start a conversation with anyone and that they’d be open and interested to hear about everything you’ve been working on. I got the impression that the people on the tube as I made my way home didn’t quite share the same optimistic feeling.
Anyway, I left the festival with so much, and while I steadfastly try to avoid the pull into mundanity of daily life, I’m also doing quite a good job of keeping the ball in the air as with regards to projects and motivation.
But here are the top things I took away from the festival this year:
1) Keep in mind a clear idea of where YOU actually want to go
I found it very easy during the festival, and indeed even before it, to get wrapped up in other people’s goals and paths to progress. I know what I’m working on, but all too often I would get distracted by people talking about distributors, sales agents or even Hollywood. I would start to try to understand my own projects in terms of how they could be developed towards one of these ends. However by the end of the festival I had been given a clear reminder of my chosen route to market – namely through online content – and that the best way to guarantee an audience for my work, is by building that audience myself and taking them from one project to another. I left the festival with a much clearer and realistic idea of my own goals, and I’ve been able to dive straight into reaching them.
2) Don’t be afraid of success
I think this was something I realised half-way through the festival – that much of the time it’s really easy to subsume yourself in whatever script you’re writing, and further give yourself excuses as to why you shouldn’t currently be pushing all your projects to the maximum potential. Because I am a film-maker it is very easy for me to just concentrate on ‘writing for myself’, thereby giving myself an excuse why it isn’t necessary for me to be pitching my ideas to big producers etc. Other common excuses I heard (and made myself) were “I didn’t feel I had anything to pitch” or “I’ll get back in touch with people when I feel the project is ready”. Now there’s a lot of sense in those comments, but as Leonardo Da Vinci said, “A work of art is never completed, only abandoned”, and sooner or later you need to give yourself the push to present your work to people who have the ability and resources to take you further. My resolution from the festival is to get savvy about approaching producers, pitching and making sure my projects have the best opportunity of being a success.
3) There is no big secret to success
Besides the need for some kind of talent, success only comes through lots of hard work. I’ve always been spurred on by Woody Allen’s quote “80% of success is just turning up” – meaning you’ve got to get ahead of the crowd and make it to the finish line. By following through and finishing a script/film/project you’ve already done most of the hard work, beating the majority of people who only sit and talk about it. But more importantly, there is no great barrier to the people who can make things happen for you. The secret is to simply take the initiative of getting in touch with them, pitch your project and see whether they say yes or no. If it’s a no, then you move on to the next person, or pitch the next project. But there is no secret language, or secret way of presenting or expressing an idea – it’s just about passion and enthusiasm.
These are the things which I have left with in the forefront of my mind. 2013 is going to be a year of driving projects forward and expanding audiences – being big and bold and loud. Not doing things on a small scale, but taking them to the maximum of their potential.