By Adam Ross

What is your first cinematic memory?

“It’s hard to pinpoint my very first, but I have these flashes of watching The Wizard of Oz as a child on our home TV in our lounge room. My mother tells me I was obsessed with that film and have apparently watched it over 500 times. There’s something about that film that just bewitches young children, and I think that’s where my long obsession began.”

Your first film Bodycrash was a documentary covering Melbourne’s underground club scene. What made you want to document that subculture?

“I went to film school in 2010/2011 and after I graduated and was thrust into the world, the first thing I wanted to do was make a film, but the only problem was I had no story to tell. Between 2011-2014 I was working as a nightclub videographer/editor at these very underground/niche Melbourne nightclubs and it was during that time that I found a story worth telling. It was the sheer naivety of the general public’s understanding of what went down at these places that convinced me to explore this topic, and the media and the public responded.”

Your next film, the documentary Modus Operandi, was a spiritual successor to Bodycrash, which covered the world of urban explorers. How did you discover those subjects?

“While I was making Bodycrash I stumbled upon some Instagram pages of urbex kids in Melbourne. Funnily enough, some of those very kids performing the stunts, exploring the underground tunnels, and breaking into buildings shared mutual friends with me. After the release of Bodycrash, and the viral response, I reached out to these kids to see if they would entrust me with their stories as well as their footage and thankfully, due to Bodycrash’s success, they agreed. I then spent many months with them, delving into their obsession and documenting their stories, eventually becoming my second documentary film.”

The two projects gathered mainstream news coverage. Was that validating?

“It was validating that I made the right choice to speak about these topics at the right time, right when they were gaining mainstream media traction. As a filmmaker, I’m always trying to fill the void, trying to find something fresh and new that people are wanting to watch, learn or experience. The validity came from taking the chance, being confident in my creative decisions and establishing an active audience.”

Your next project, They Call Me Spiderman, focused on crane-climbing urban explorer Bryce Wilson, and ran with the tagline of ‘photojournalist or public nuisance?’ – what was your personal assessment of that question?

“I met Bryce whilst filming Modus Operandi and I found him to be a very polarising figure, who was worth delving deeper into. While I make a documentary, I try to keep any bias out and keep it as open for the audience to make their decisions, which I felt this film achieved, especially with the reception at the St. Kilda Film Festival in 2016. Bryce and I are good friends now, and I deeply respect his work as a photojournalist. He has made some mistakes in his past, but they are mistakes that many of us have made, juvenile ones, but harmless.”

Your next film was a departure from the documentary form, the MIFF-selected drama Cerulean Blue. What challenges and benefits do you find with changing to narrative filmmaking?

“I always wanted to be a narrative filmmaker, but again, for many years I felt I had nothing too personal to say or express… until I finally did. I had spent years crewing on narrative projects, so the workflow and process weren’t exactly foreign to me, and I was finally ready to take the leap. I feel that I have a very documentary-like approach to narrative filmmaking. I’m very open to dialogue changes, narrative changes, and basically anything anyone is willing to bring to the table. Cerulean Blue was a very structured film in terms of photography, but everything else was very flexible. The main challenge was the focus on writing and having to find the structure in pre-production, as opposed to documentary filmmaking where I find the narrative in the edit. The benefit of having a documentary background was the ability to be flexible with collaboration and to have a strong focus on character.”

How have you found the film’s reception?

“The film has had a mostly mixed reception, which was always going to be the case in my opinion. The fact that it sold out three screenings at MIFF and landed on Stan (with only a small selection of other Aussie indie films) is, I feel, a testament to its boldness and distinctiveness. The film has a very slow pace and is a meditative piece, which not everyone is going to love. The focus on long takes, stretches of silence, and its ‘grey’ characters with questionable motives were always things that regular cinemagoers were going to struggle with. During MIFF, I had people tell me it was their highlight of the festival and others tell me it was their least favourite. But my motivation as an artist is always to create strong emotional responses from my audiences, to challenge them, and my biggest fear would be for someone to tell me that my film was ‘fine’ or ‘okay’.”

Your next feature film Westgate is being produced by your production company Proud Wing Films (that also produced Cerulean Blue). How important is it for you to retain producing power on your work?

“It’s definitely important for me to hold on to creative power for my projects – like having final cut – but in terms of producing power, I’m much more open. I am actually seeking to attach producers for Westgate and am currently reaching out to some personally. Producing Cerulean Blue essentially on my own was an almost impossible feat, and I am now looking for someone who can advise, collaborate with and assist me, whilst also trusting my creative vision.”

Westgate is pitched as a social realist drama heavily influenced by the work of Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road). What is it about Arnold’s work that resonates with you?

“With my documentary background, I wanted to take a very different stylistic approach for Westgate. Andrea Arnold, and her collaboration with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, is something that I have been immensely fascinated by recently. Westgate is also inspired by the cinéma vérité movement, with a focus on handheld camerawork and a ‘fly on the wall’ style. It’s a character piece at its heart, and I want to explore the rawness of what it is like to be in this kind of environment, thrusting the audience into their world, almost voyeuristically. I want my audience to feel like they’re watching a catastrophe, but one that they can’t look away from.”

Westgate is the tale of a single mother and her son. What was it about that relationship dynamic that you wanted to explore?

“I was raised by a single mum in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne, and Westgate is a window into what it was like during those foundation years of my life, and my relationship with her. I had a wonderful childhood, but there was always drama and turmoil lingering in the background, something I was naïve to and mum hid very well. As I have gotten older though, and almost at the age my mum was when she had me, I’ve started to retrospectively see things differently, and have sympathised with her struggles. There are very specific elements of the film that are very true and close to home, and there are other parts where I took creative license, but all in all, it’s a film about trauma, cultural identity, independence, and the strong bond between mothers and sons.”

The West Gate Bridge is an iconic – and infamous – part of the Melbourne landscape. What symbolism and themes does it bring up for you and your work?

“I don’t want to spoil too much about the exact symbolism of the West Gate Bridge in relation to this story, but the bridge to me has always been this daunting yet beautiful piece of engineering, looming over me all throughout my life. The West Gate Bridge has a very significant meaning to many children of European migrants in the ’60s and ’70s, the generation of my mother, and its reputation and history have always been something that has fascinated me and is something I wanted to delve into deeper. Let’s just say that the bridge in the film represents something very deep and personal for our main character, but just like in Cerulean Blue, there might be double or even triple meanings for this symbolism.”

Photo Credit Adrian Ortega

Your other upcoming feature project (as a co-writer and co-producer), Heckler, continues your themes of women’s experiences, but is an absurdist black comedy. How does the genre change affect your approach?

“To some extent, Cerulean Blue is an absurdist black comedy, albeit just a much drier one. Heckler was a story I first conjured up during the first Melbourne lockdown, which I have now collaborated on with writer Michael F. J. McCallum. Originally, I had a much more drama-based story, but through this collaboration, Michael really pushed for the more absurdist/black comedy elements, which I felt suited the type of story we are telling. This approach felt natural, as I am always trying to find the bizarre and unpredictable moments we have in everyday life, the humour in the darkness, and Heckler tackles these moments head-on.”

Westgate is about to commence principal photography, and is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to aid with production costs. Click here to find out more.