Australia’s own Ché Baker is leading a revolution in our own backyard; Canberra to be precise. The film production all-rounder, author, filmmaker (and martial arts maestro – just stay til the end credits) made his ambitious feature film debut with the sci-fi belter Blue World Order, which enjoyed a successful theatrical run, particularly in its hometown and is now available on all digital TVOD platforms.
“Blue World Order was designed as a vehicle for a whole bunch of outcomes,” Ché tells us. “One thing I realised early is that new opportunities arise once a project is rolling; opportunities that weren’t there at the beginning. For that reason, we had a plan to make the film in one way, but we had the flexibility to take the opportunities that I was confident would arise once we started.
“The chance to ʻcast upʼ in a couple of the roles arose because of the enthusiasm of the actors and the response to the script,” he says about the casting of international superstar Billy Zane and Australian veteran Jack Thompson. “We had some great Australian actors as leads, but I knew that if we could get a couple of more established ʻnamesʼ in the film, our great leads would have more exposure. Jake Ryan is a great leading man, and Stephen Hunter really shines – but having a recognisable name like Billy Zane gives the project some visibility that it might not otherwise have had.
“I see Jack and Billy as valuable investments in not only this project, but also in the Full Point Films team, it gives our crews and actors the chance to work with established names and learn from them.”
Another revolutionary aspect of the production is that it was entirely shot in Canberra, not the usual place that you think of with regards to Australian film production.
“Immediately before shooting Blue World, I was living in New Zealand working on the Hobbit trilogy,” Ché recounts. “While there, I had the chance to chat to Peter Jackson about how he’d built such an amazing film ecosystem in Wellington. Wellington is a beautiful place, but it does suffer from challenges to filmmaking… it’s not called ʻwindy Wellingtonʼ for nothing. But in spite of the environmental challenges of tempestuous skies, they’ve built a world class, thriving industry there.
“I looked at Canberra and realised we had all the natural advantages you could hope for; year-round sunshine, lots of space, great undiscovered locations, and a supportive community. Blue World Order was designed to show off Canberra as a location. We wanted to show that you could make more than just political thrillers here, that you could make any kind of film in the region. I really see Canberra as an untapped gold-mine for production. It could be Australia’s Wellington.”
You’ve written books, worked in post-production, why make a film? Was it something that you were always working towards?
Everything I’ve done in my professional life has been a deliberate decision to bring me closer to making my own films. I’ve always been a storyteller, right from the time my mother would ask why I hadn’t cleaned my room and I would make up some elaborate story as to why my only chore hadn’t been done. (She thought I was very creative).
There’s no ʻone pathʼ to becoming a film director – everyone seems to take a different road. For me, growing up in the remote Blue Mountains, there was no one handing you anything on a silver platter. There was no clear pathway, no mentors, no courses, so I really had to forge my own path with the knowledge that filmmaking was where my heart was.
Everything I’ve done, from writing novels, to working in the technical side of film as an editor, colourist or consultant – allowed me to really understand the whole process. This preparation meant that when the opportunity came up to make my own films, I’d be ready.
The thing is, the opportunity to direct your own films doesn’t just ʻcome upʼ (in Australia anyway), so you have to create your own opportunities.
A friend recently asked me ʻhow can you spend so much time trying to make films?ʼ I answered, ʻI can’t live and NOT make films, it’s what I’m here to do.ʼ
I want to have a positive impact on the way people treat each other, and I believe films and books are the best way I can do that.
Do you find that access to technology makes it achievable to do the things that in the past indie filmmakers could only dream of?
Technology is a tool, and today’s technology certainly lowers the barrier to entry for filmmaking. But as it gets easier in certain respects, the standard required also gets higher. The quality we’ve come to expect on screen is always increasing, so you have to keep raising the bar.
I equate it to when the desktop publishing revolution happened. Everyone got access to Microsoft Word, but that doesn’t mean everyone can write a novel. It’s actually really hard! It certainly means more people will try, and the sum total of all that is the overall standard gets higher, but making a film is still an incredibly difficult endeavour even with access to the best technology in the world. Technology will continue to evolve, and the volume of product created will continue to increase, so if anything, it increases the challenge of rising above the noise!
All that being said, the beauty of having access to cheap technology is that people can go out and practice. By practicing shooting and editing on their iPhones and laptops people can now learn some of the skills of cinematic storytelling. We’ve all grown up ʻreadingʼ cinematic language, but few of us have learned how to ʻwriteʼ it. That’s happening more and more now. The end result should be that by the time the opportunity to be involved in feature film production comes up, filmmakers should have had a lot more practice at screen storytelling.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to it when it comes to actually getting a film made. If you want to act for example, people say ʻgo write your own contentʼ. If you want to direct, you often have to produce your own projects. In Australia, we often end up doing the job (or jobs) that facilitate the one we really want to do. The byproduct of that for me is that I’ve had to learn a lot about the entire process, and it’s really helped.
Did you find resistance in Australia to the sci-fi genre?
Blue World Order, at its heart, is a story about what lengths a father will go to in order to save his daughter. It’s set in a universe which could be called sci-fi, but good sci-fi should still be plausible in the universe within which it is based.
I found that Australian audiences are super keen for sci-fi. They love stories of imagination and fantasy, but it seems some of the gate keepers in local industry aren’t as keen. Sci-fi is a great genre internationally. You can sell a sci-fi even if it doesn’t have big name stars in it, because there’s such a huge appetite for it. But the other side of the equation is that as soon as you mention science fiction, people start thinking it has to be a huge budget thing with special effects and space ships. I don’t agree – I think you can have great science fiction with a clever story, and like all good films, an audience should care about the characters. No amount of special effects can replace that.
Sci-fi is the most profitable genre in cinema, on streaming and on VOD, yet there seems to be real resistance traditionally in Australia to support it through some of the screen agencies. In spite of this, there are some great independent sci-fi films being funded outside the system, which is a testament to how well the genre does, so I hope the agency support comes.
The challenge of making sci-fi, is that the expectations are so high. The core audience are the same people who go along to a Marvel film and they expect that level of polish. You have to be able to compete in the areas that you can. You have to make the films smarter, make people care more. I recently saw Leigh Whannel’s Upgrade and it’s an example of a superbly executed low-budget Australian sci-fi.
Did you try to go the usual route of screen bodies support, and if so how, or did you always know that it had to be an independent effort?
I certainly investigated the screen agency route, as is normal in Australia. The screen agencies provide a great service to the Australian industry, but I think there’s too much reliance placed on them. When you have everyone competing for a dwindling pot of agency money, it can create a real tall-poppy syndrome amongst our filmmakers, when we should be trying to support each other. For an audience, it’s not a case of seeing one film or seeing the other … if you make two good films, they’ll see both!
If you manage to get some agency funding, that’s great, but I think you need to have a solid business plan which doesn’t rely entirely on agency funding. Building ʻgetting a grant’ into your business plan is like building ʻwinning the lottoʼ into your business plan. It might happen once, or twice, but it’s not a sustainable model.
We have fantastic tax breaks here in Australia, and we have a great ability to produce high quality content cheaply, so we should be able to leverage these things to continue to make good film and TV without needing to always get a grant… quite simply, there’s not enough money to support everyone who wants it.
I made this film independently because it allowed us to move quickly and be reactive to changing opportunities. We still had government support from the producer offset, which is an amazing asset for the Australian film industry.
I will say though, that we do need quotas for Australian content on our screens to ensure that these films have a place to go. Many of our incentives are tied to the market, and if Aussie made films don’t get an opportunity to secure an onscreen audience, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when people say there’s no market for them. It’s a domino effect.
Your film features American accents, was this a deliberate choice because you want the film to work globally?
In the story world of Blue World Order, the protagonists are American – migrating south after a nuclear war, so first and foremost the use of American accents is part of the story.
We also wanted the film to be globally appealing. There are many fine films that highlight the Australian culture and Australian historical stories. Blue World isn’t one of them. This is a universal story that’s designed to take place in a non-defined ʻSouthʼ, as our character comes across a camp which is a bit of a ʻunited nationsʼ of refugees. In the camp there are all kinds of accents, but we weren’t setting out to be ʻAustralianaʼ like say, The Legend of Ben Hall – where Australian accents are appropriate.
Part of the purpose of Blue World Order was to demonstrate that Canberra could play host to any kind of film – something that could have been shot anywhere, like say, Shane Abbessʼ Osiris Child.
Can you speak about your influences as a filmmaker, both in terms of things that you have seen and things that you have worked on?
Back when I was a kid growing up in the country, my $5 pocket money (which was the reward for keeping my bedroom clean…an aforementioned task I rarely succeeded with) was spent almost universally on a new release video each Friday. Therefore, I grew up on classics like the Star Wars trilogy, Back to the Future, and Indiana Jones… Then I went through a phase of every bad martial-arts movie ever made, during which time my brother and I would make our own ninja movies where he would basically beat me up on screen. ‘You’re doing so well!’ Whack!
Soon I started taking films seriously and gorged on each genre for a dedicated period, analysing what worked and what didn’t.
At the end of high school, I was interested in everything from Astrophysics, to sports-science… and it was my TaeKwonDo instructor who asked me – ʻWhat would you do if you didn’t have to work for money?ʼ
I thought about it and said that I’d make movies… he said ʻWell then do that, because if you love something you’ll be good at it, and if you’re good enough at ANYTHING you’ll make a living.ʼ
I decided to study at University doing TV production at Wagga. I used the opportunity to do an exchange to North Carolina for a year and work on TV series like Dawsonʼs Creek and films like Morganʼs Ferry (Henry Rollins, Kelly McGilis, Billy Zane), and Black Dog (Patrick Swayze, Meatloaf). I learned A LOT about the true nature of film production while
over there, including the insane hours and the fact it was far more hard work than fun. Yet I shot my own short on 16mm film as part of my graduation project.
I came back and decided I wouldn’t do anything under-resourced again.
Little did I know, that you’re ALWAYS under-resourced!
During the last 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to work in close proximity to some great filmmakers and believe you can learn something from everyone. I was lucky to work closely with the late, great Andrew Lesnie – one of the world’s true masters of light, and get great insight into how to get the vision on screen.
Recently I was on set in Prague with our own Aussie power couple, Claire McCarthy and Denson Baker as they were making Ophelia, and got great insight into how well Claire works with actors.
I watch a lot of movies – and consider it an ongoing education. I love the quirkiness of Sam Raimi, the polish of J.J. Abrams and the intelligence of Christopher Nolan.
I’d love to direct the next Star Wars! But in the meantime, I’ll keep putting important, entertaining and inspiring stories on screen.
What does the future hold for you in terms of all your creative pursuits?
I love telling stories, and am really excited about the chance to continue do so. I’ve got the novel version of Blue World Order finished now, and another two books on the way, following up from my novel The Rule of Knowledge (under my pen name Scott Baker). There’s a slate of films at various stages of development, but next on the agenda is a film that people have been waiting twenty years to see, Matthew Reillyʼs CONTEST! It’s seven aliens trapped in the New York State library, competing to the death. I’m super excited to explode this classic on to the screen and give Matthew’s millions of fans a film they can really sink their teeth into!
I’m actively looking for the right team to execute this with, so stand by!