Here’s something you should know about me right off the bat. I hate waiting. Traffic, check-in counters, long lines at the cafe or those god-awful commercials before a movie. Through the course of making movies, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world in bringing them to life, a fact that has brought certain realities into focus. And while I’ll be the first one to defend our little industry, I can’t help wringing my hands at its stubborn refusal to acknowledge the seismic shifts of the twenty-first century.
I love watching Australian cinema, seeking out the comfort of a dark theater to enjoy them in all their glory. We consistently deliver some of the most hard-hitting stories. Films with a conscience; movies that shine a light on those in need. Yet I can’t help asking an uncomfortable question. When did we get so serious? What happened to the popcorn flicks I grew up loving? Global sensations like Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee or The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert stealing hearts and filling audiences with irreverent joy and wonder. Who else could have inspired the world to the subtle delicacy of a Vegemite sandwich?
Our lucky country is a melting pot of races, a fascinating collective of religions and languages that have endowed our culture with so much texture and beauty (we only need to open our Uber Eats app to make that reality crystal clear). Never before have there been so many unique voices living and working together, so many incredible stories just waiting to be told. So, where are the films and tee-vee shows that reflect this unprecedented moment? Where are our genre stories? Urban rom-coms and clever capers? Where is our response to zeitgeist-hits like Killing Eve, Catastrophe, Broad City or Tiger King? It reminded me of this statement by Ronny Chieng, the Malaysian comic, who recently remarked that Australia is a place “where everything’s very old-people-focused: old people making content for old people, old people making content for young people.”
When I moved back to my hometown of Sydney a few years ago, fresh from the release of my debut feature Far From Here, I made it my mission to ingratiate myself into the Australian film industry, to throw myself into any available opportunity. I joined the Australian Writers’ Guild, invited myself along to as many industry events as would have me and put myself in front of anyone that would listen. While these screenings were wholesome events, the message often felt out of touch. Like a carton of milk abandoned at the back of the fridge, the rhetoric seemed to have gone out of date a long time ago.
Yet the more I kept at it, attending one event after another, the more I came to meet Young Turks like myself. Australian filmmakers who persevered in overcoming the odds to bring their voice to the screen, storytellers stubborn enough to never take no for an answer. I’m talking about people like Claudia Pickering, whose no-budget Frisky is a rollicking tale of young adulthood, and Alena Lodkina, whose Strange Colours is a hauntingly mesmeric portrait of the outback. Watching these films on the silver screen gave me courage, imbuing me with the strength to put my pain and frustration on the page. As I dove headfirst into a rewrite of Fire Island, a psychological teen thriller set along the shores of Western Australia, I sought out creative inspiration to fuel the fire. While there was so much great Aussie fare to stream, I always seemed to come up short in the podcast arena. As I searched in vain for Australian content creators, voices that reflected the inescapable interconnectedness of the twenty-first century, something began to dawn on me. Why not start my own?
Which is where my impatience comes full circle. Pitching the idea to my good friend and fellow filmmaker Kane Senes, Popcorn Therapy was conceived. A podcast devoted to the healing powers of cinema. We didn’t have the faintest idea how to produce a podcast much less record one. After investing many hours in front of YouTube, we purchased some second-hand equipment and got to work recording out of Kane’s living room. The result led to a series that offers cinema enthusiasts a front-row seat into the lives of two Aussie filmmakers reflecting on the therapeutic nature of their favourite medium.
It’s easy to come up with ideas. To daydream on end until a migraine sets in. It’s another thing entirely to walk the talk, to chisel away until your dream becomes reality. Never before has the creative process — making movies, music or your own podcast — been so affordable and accessible. Never before have we had so many opportunities to cultivate and publish our creative dreams without ever leaving the hacienda. If you have a burning desire to bring something special into the world, don’t wait for that government funding to light a fire under your derrière. Dust off that screenplay, rally your mates and go shoot it on your smartphone. Mix and master that collection of demos sitting on your hard drive and upload them to your favourite streaming app. Break open the piggy bank, hunt down some Gumtree specials and start publishing your own podcast from the comfort of your bedroom. Every single time you put something meaningful into the world, it brings you one step closer to the dreams you hold inside you. So, get out there and make a ruckus.
Popcorn Therapy, hosted by James Pillion and Kane Senes, is a podcast series devoted to the therapeutic value of cinema and its ability to empower and heal. Be sure to check out their upcoming conversation with Destin Daniel Cretton, the critically-acclaimed director of Just Mercy and Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Born and raised in Sydney, James Pillion studied in America and went on to live in Europe directing and producing his debut feature film Far From Here. He works across a variety of mediums, from music videos to fashion films and is currently writing his first book. You can read James’s four-part series How To Make A Movie In A Foreign Country here.