Tristan Barr and Damien E. Lipp are the two halves of BarrLipp, a bespoke production house whose first feature venture, Watch the Sunset, boasts an ambition that belies its modest production resources. Using a small cast, including Barr, Michael Gosden, Chelsea Zellar, and Aaron Walton, and shooting in Lipp’s home town, they’ve crafted a terse, volatile crime drama whose chief stylistic conceit is that it has the appearance of being captured in one long, continuous take. Barr, who co-directed with Gosden, fills us in.
Give us some background on BarrLipp.
I met Damien when he cast me in his found footage horror film years ago. The next week he took me out to an abandoned house in the country and we shot a film together. At the time I thought it could have been a ploy to murder a young unassuming actor in the middle of nowhere, luckily it wasn’t and we survived the experience together. In some weird way that seed of our experience together encapsulates the essence of our beliefs when it comes to filmmaking, choosing not to be constricted to the “classic” conventions of the process, and just getting out and shooting. Anyway, not long after that film we teamed up and have been making stuff together since. I come from an acting/directing background, whereas Damien is a cinematographer and producer so we think we compliment each other well, and thus we have Barrlipp.
What was the genesis of this project? What was the initial seed that grew into the film?
In 2014 I wrote a scene based on two underprivileged young adults who had found hard times in a remote country town. Those characters were originally named Danny and Sally, which were in essence based on real people whom I have personal experience with. Those names of the characters have actually been kept all the way through until the final film, which is a nice little memento. Damien and I had started doing more commercial and corporate work to pay the bills, and during some monotonous jobs we kept fantasising about shooting a film in the country town of Kerang, Victoria, where Damien is from. Anyway, I went deeper into the writing of these two characters and out emerged this real story, which I felt needed to be told. The next day I pitched it to Damo, Mick, Chelsea, and Aaron, and within a month we had a first draft of a script and had started rehearsing.
What prompted the decision to shoot in one (seemingly) continuous take? What was it about the narrative that made this seem like the best stylistic choice?
I knew I wanted to have long takes in the film to keep the audience submerged in the scenes. Damien and I discussed the idea of it possibly all being in one continuous take, and after a lot of workshopping in a random carpark in Melbourne we figured how we would move a camera in and out of a car to follow the characters, and the decision was made that we would do it in one. We knew it was a huge call, but once the decision was made we didn’t look back.
Were you confident in your abilities to overcome the technical challenges? Were there any scenes or instances that were particularly tough?
We were confident, however we didn’t actually know if we would walk away with a film with all the variables involved. It was a gamble. It wasn’t until the third day of shooting that we achieved a usable take. We had to lead the cast and crew on saying it was all very achievable when in reality we didn’t actually know. Morale and synergy of the team were integral, so I’m very grateful to work with the people we had.
How did you find handling acting and directing simultaneously?
Tough. It was hard to keep focused on the task at hand but throughout the process I had to teach myself to do it. On the shoot days it was more just about telling the story as the actor and trusting the team behind me. Most of the directing happened when we would watch the rushes at the end of the day.
Tell us about your rehearsal and pre-production work.
We rehearsed like a theatre play for a few months. Coming from the Victorian College of the Arts along with Aaron, Chelsea, and Mick, we had a pretty in depth training into creating theatre and how to structure performance. That came in to play every day in rehearsal and I prefer when all the cast and crew are collaborative in that sense. Sometimes people come to the table with significantly better ideas than mine and I’d be an idiot not to incorporate them. Also I’ve found if you’re able to promote creative license, people are generally happier to be on set. This was integral when asking people of take the risks that they did.
What’s up next for you and the team?
At the moment Damien and I are up in Queensland shooting a sci-fi called 1 starring Dan Ewing for a local director called Robert Braiden up there. After that we will have the international premiere for Watch the Sunset, having been selected into Montreal and in some talks with Sundance, as well as some local festivals like the Brisbane International Film Festival. Our next baby is a film called EVO which we have some pretty adventurous plans for. We are trying to document our journey making these films come to life so feel free to follow us on Facebook.
Watch the Sunset screens at the Brisbane International Film Festival on Wednesday, August 30, the Sydney Underground Film Festival on Saturday, September 16, and the Montreal International Film Festival from October 4 – 15.