DAVID BLACK CHATS TO FOUR HARD WORKING CREW MEMBERS
Hi everyone. Most articles on movies cover the actors or directors. The audience certainly notices them when the credits roll, but buried deep at the very end, when people are leaving, whizzing past in a blur, are a myriad of strange crew positions such as best boy, gaffer, grip, dop etc. The Unsung Heroes. The first thing that struck me when I entered my first big set with Cult Girls wasn’t the director or the actors. It was the crew! All were busy scurrying around like ants, in deep concentration, surrounded by strange items of equipment of all shapes and sizes. It was like having landed on Moon Base Alpha!
As I got onto set after set, the first thing I’d see was that anonymous legion, slaving away in silence, making everything run smoothly.
Most directors will only be making one feature film a year, with maybe a few short films in between. Actors tend to appear on a few more sets but extras can be on a different set every day. It was as an extra that I started to notice all these crew and often saw the same faces on shoot after shoot. Without this dedicated, silent horde, the Indie Industry in Melbourne would be non existent. Often, these people are on the set hours before the actors and then are packing up long after most have left.
Today, I am going to speak to four of the people that I’ve worked with many times now and greatly admire. Glen Cook – gaffer, Dia Taylor – director/ writer/ producer/ dop/ actress/ 1st AD/ production manager …. basically a high class hamburger with the lot, Alex Zemtsov – Camera and Emma Rose – sfx mua (aka The Queen of Gore!)
Hi Glen, Dia, Alex and Emma Rose. I have 5 questions to ask you all. I need you to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There shall be no evasion, equivocation or mental reservation. OK?
DB – What was it that got you into being involved with indie movies?
Glen – I don’t think I set out originally to make “Indie” movies as such, I just wanted to make films full stop. It started many years ago when I saw a film called Star Wars. It was one of those moments that changed my life and I knew that was what I wanted to do, without a doubt. Unfortunately life had other ideas for me, and so many years later when I came to having a career change, it was my first choice because the passion for it has never died. I did film school and then put myself out there as so many new film makers do. My past work experience had me doing producing and 1st AD often, and I wasn’t happy with that. Eventually I ended up on lighting which was fine. You get to work closely with camera and are creative in a way setting up lighting that plays a crucial role in the end result of a film, and while its all happening you can see how everyone else works on set as well. I started on some very grass roots level stuff before working on the largest indie film, and film generally to date, The Legend of Ben Hall, where I met up with veteran gaffer, Colin Williams, who has been in the game for the past 45 years. That accelerated my learning curve and path into this industry.
Dia – My Aunt I’d have to say. When I was a kid she used to get me on her indie sets as a runner or 2nd AD or even just to watch and I loved the atmosphere and the people so much I just knew that it was something I had to continue with and I did.
Alex – It’s pretty simple; I just wanted to make things. Doing things, making things, that’s the best way to learn and grow as a filmmaker, or any kind of artist, really. You also meet heaps of like-minded people, get involved in more projects, and everything snowballs from there.
Emma Rose – I’ve been a makeup artist for about five years always with the goal of working on films because I’m a geek. It was luck really, a friend who is also a big horror fan recommend me for a film and I’ve been working on indies since.
DB – What is your usual day like on set?
Glen – Every day is different, depending on the shoot and what the scene requires. Some of the smallest shoots, usually the grass roots ones where they use a DSLR, ask for, and make use of the smallest amount of lighting to get them by. I may be asked by a very inexperienced camera operator what could be done to make a scene look better. So in this situation maybe a little bit of bounce, or neg fill, or perhaps some rim lighting. This isn’t always the case though, sometimes a grass roots film may have someone with a great deal of experience, or it is a night shoot which can involve a lot of lighting work. The other extreme can be a much bigger film that requires only bounce and neg fill for their lighting, which adds a little bit but isn’t much work. So the variety is endless. Some days it is exceedingly busy and I will pull everything out to be used, strung from the ceiling, and other days I will use virtually nothing.
Dia – A- It pretty much depends on what my role is. Usually everything is already pre-planned – from shots to times and even where actors will stand. When I’m in charge of a set – usually as AD, Director, or Producer I like to have a little welcome to the crew – get them to know each other a little before fully jumping into it, because a crew is essentially a family during the shoot.
Alex – No way I can answer this one, because it’s different every day. Variety is one of the things I love most about this industry – one day, I could be filming parkour artists fighting in a forest, doing flips and shit, and the next, a pizza themed monster provocatively whispering “puh-puh-puh-pizza time” in someone’s ear.
Emma Rose – I usually wake up at some ungodly hour and travel to melbourne, I’m usually nervous and going over the script etc but once I get to set there are always some familiar faces I’ve worked with previously. I set up wherever I can (which is sometimes in a car or on the street or in the bush!) and then start working. There’s usually a lot of down time for me once I’ve done the makeup and just need to do touch ups or wait for makeup changes, I like to watch the filming usually if I can and attempt to help with anything else. A lot of the time I work through lunch and have mine after as the actors often need work in that time before starting again. It’s always a long day but so much fun and interesting watching how everyone works. I generally end the day with blood on my clothes honestly!
DB – What is your most amazing memory of working on a local indie movie?
Glen – There are so many, it’s hard to pick just one. The most recent shoot I was on we were in a 24th floor apartment with commanding views of the bay and the city of Melbourne. For the four days we were there, we had the most brilliant views as the sun set and all the colours of the city came out. It was just pure magic.
Another was when I was on the Legend of Ben Hall, and it was the first day of shooting and we were filming a few scenes that are actually at the end of the film. I have always known the story of Ben Hall, and I was on this shoot because I was excited to see his story told. So I was there and we were filming a scene with John Gillbert, and I looked up into the bush and there was Jack Martin, as the character Ben Hall. He was very much in character and he just came quietly down to see what was going on and parked himself under a tree. It seriously had the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, living history!
Another funny moment was when I shot a very small Indie film called “Dark Night of the Zomboogies. I had arrived at the venue busting for a pee, so it was my first point of call. Upon exiting to wash my hands, I was accosted by two women who looked and were dressed for a much better venue. One was an absolute stunner! Like who were these girls and why on earth were they there? I had a film screening there that night and that had its run, and while I was talking about the film, I noticed these girls still there. Clearly they were lost right? No they were there as extras for the small shoot that was going to happen.
Later I was asked by the Director to actually be in this little film. I have a face that was made for the other side of the camera, and so trying to get out of it, I said “sure no worries, find me someone to make out with!” I was dead certain I had gotten out of this. David the Director hurried off and a short time later, he returned with my kissing victim. Well needless to say, he not only found someone who was happy to kiss me, but turned out to be the hottest girl in the place that I had seen earlier as well. My bluff was called and thus it was captured on film. That certainly worked out well in my favour.
Dia – A- That’s a tough one honestly. I’ve met so many of my best friends on sets it’s hard to say. My fav memory of all time would have to be one in particular though.
Our lead actress had left a valuable prop at her home one day, a day that we needed it.
We didn’t realize we needed it until she was already here. Luckily another crew member lived very close to her and had not left yet so we asked him to break into her house (with her permission) to get it.
Anyway he broke into the wrong house hahahaha. No harm done though.
Alex– Once, we set off a smoke detector and accidentally evacuated a whole apartment building. We were running a haze machine the whole day, which the location owner had assured us would be fine. Turns out it was not. One of my favourite shots in the film was done with a member of the fire department standing JUST outside of frame having words with our producer.
At one point, before the firemen had shown up, we sent someone outside to fetch something at a nearby convenience store, unaware that the building was in lockdown. They did not return, so we sent someone else out to go find them. They did not return either. It was like something out of a horror film.
Emma Rose – Anything working with Black Forest Films, they’re my film family and we all just click. They are so welcoming and chill and just get shit done. Everyone helps with everything, everyone lugs gear around, everyone has input and ideas. Filming The Viper’s Hex in Japan was probably the best experience of my life.
DB – What is your assessment of the Australian indie movie industry today?
Glen – The Indie industry is pretty much the bulk of the industry in this country. Sure there are plenty of American productions that come over here, but there are countless films being made from the grass roots all the way up to small budget of 1 mil or so. I think this will always be the case in this country as there are very little funds going. We don’t have a big studio system like the US had or in India, so it is literally whatever you can do for yourself to make it happen and without that Studio system, its what makes it “Indie”
Dia – A- We have so much talent out there, so many new and great ideas just flowing. Sometimes I just feel like people need to focus more on story than production tricks and camera movements.
Alex– There certainly isn’t much money in film in Australia, but who ever decided they wanted to become a filmmaker just so they can make money?! Indie films, in not being dictated by an overarching need to make a profit, are some of the most creative around, and dozens are being made every week – from big, well publicized productions that everyone has heard about, to that one brilliant student film with 50 views on Vimeo that deserves a lot more. And sure, there’s a lot of bad stuff out there, but amongst that you can find some genuinely unique work that’s definitely worth seeing.
Emma Rose- Honestly, there’s so much talent but not enough of the films being made are actually seen or given the credit they deserve. It’s all passion and film makers putting their often very little money into their dreams. It’s so hard for these artists to break through. They don’t all want to make generically Australian films and shouldn’t have to to be recognised.
DB – where do you feel our indie industry is heading?
Glen– I think the industry is still going to be here and still doing what it does for the time being. Unless funding and support for the arts changes and there is a bigger focus on how films are made and we start trying to compete with the rest of the world, there is always going to be an Indie industry. Actually having said that, There will always be an Indie industry because it is where we all start from
Dia – A- Honestly I can’t really say. It’s constantly shifting. The people I work with today I didn’t work with five years ago. I guess now with Netflix and many internet streaming sites out there filmmakers have many more ways of being viewed. The possibilities are endless. I just think the indie scene will keep growing.
Alex– Don’t think I can say. The great thing about indie films is that anyone can make anything. This means that they can go in any direction just about instantly, if sparked by a good enough idea.
Emma Rose– I’m not sure, I’d like to be optimistic and there’s definitely talent in it but a lot of work needs to be done I think.
Thanks everyone for chatting to me today. Normally its me running around being told what to do by you guys, so I hope I didn’t come across as being too bossy. Really. If I offended, I really didn’t mean to. OK?
You can see Dia Taylors movies here – http://www.youtube.com/diataylorofficial/
And Emma Rose’s make up page is here – https://www.facebook.com/Emmarosemua
And the wacky shit Alex Zemtsov makes with his friends – https://www.youtube.com/c/kinosalad