true to form, final post

In my first ever Media lecture back in 2015, someone said, “Don’t wait for the light bulb moments to come to you… but if they do, great.” I forget who said this (though I have a strong feeling it was Paul) but it’s been weighing on my mind a lot during the process of creating Mary In The ‘Burbs. I came up with the idea whilst I was driving home from a mediocre day of selling suits. Stopped at a red light, I spotted a telephone booth and thought to myself, “Far out, I didn’t even know they existed anymore.” As if some God above was listening to my thoughts, I was sent a vision of a girl in costume using the booth on a deserted street – only, instead of having a ‘normal’ conversation, we hear something else entirely on the other end.

From the get go, my piece has always aimed to explore the possibilities of an Australian suburb at night time with the addition of something that is odd/out of place to the location. Having this solid contention to refer to made it easy for me to never steer off track because I knew exactly what I wanted to make and how I wanted to make it – I guess you would call that, staying true to form. I wasn’t always able to do this. In past studios I was often shy about my ideas and changed them a million times to compromise with the people in my group. Funny that word: compromise. Art should never be compromised.

I owe James Thompson a great deal for making me realise that every film needs one simple aim – much like David Lynch and his direction in Blue Velvet (1986). He had no idea what his story would be about, except for the fact that a boy finds a severed ear in a field. Pure magic because it’s so simple. I admire directors like Ana Lily Amirpour because she thinks of a bunch of things that she likes and throws them into a film, forcing them to work with each other – and that’s precisely what I did. I like the Virgin Mary and Australian suburbs and neon and sequins and synth-pop (all of which I wrote down in our writing session) so I put them together in a script that I wrote in one evening and made them all work. People I speak to about this project have asked:

“What is this about?”

“What is the relationship between Mary and the guy in the wig?”

“Why is she carrying a suitcase?”

“Who picks her up at the end?”

I reply with, “I don’t know” – because I bloody well don’t. I didn’t set out to make something coherent with answers. It is what it is. I refuse to believe that a lot of creatives sit down and think of the hidden meanings in their work as they make it. Sure, I can manufacture my own version of what I think Mary In The ‘Burbs means, and others are free to think what they will too.

Collaboration —

This is the most involved I’ve ever been in a project, mentally speaking. The few weeks leading up to it and the actual shoot weekend was by far the most stressed and excited I’ve felt all year. Organising equipment is HARD. Organising actors is EVEN HARDER. Organising the weather conditions is obviously impossible. But it all worked out. It’s been really good collaborating with Brendan and having someone to share this mini creative journey with. I’m incompetent with a camera and he knows exactly what he’s doing so there is a lot of trust in our relationship, especially since we learnt a huge deal from our failed project last year (we’re never to bring that up again.)

Projects that crash and burn such as that spawn of Satan film, helped shaped Mary into the film that it is. We made a huge point to create something that is simple in terms of story and visuals – something that we could tackle and perfect in the time that we were given. I feel that a lot of student filmmakers ‘fail’ because their projects are too grandiose for the resources or skill-sets that they have. Where Brendan worried about the technicalities, I worried about the aesthetic – scouring Savers for props and hand-sewing hundreds of sequins onto the Sacred Heart of Mary’s dress.

I’m stoked that Brendan brought Harry (the sound guy) on board because we both hate sound to its very core. With a project of our nature, we couldn’t do it justice with only the two of us anyway. It was Brendan’s aim to treat this film as a ‘professional’ set so we thought it best that someone else assume that role. This also enabled us to fully immerse ourselves in the positions of Director and Cinematographer, which is all we wanted to do this semester.

true to form, reflection #7

Test Shoots 

On Monday night, Brendan and I headed over to our two most important locations (the backyard and the telephone booth) to suss out the space and practice possible framing. I call these locations our most important because they belong to the scenes that will take the most time to shoot AND they’re the most integral to the overall piece.

Seeing the locations in person opened up a Pandora’s Box of new ideas and has morphed the Dinner Scene into something that is quite different and special… Basically, we found an old stereo in the Gazebo of the backyard and added a dance scene – what is a visual film without a dance scene anyway? The Gazebo itself is pretty rundown and ugly, but hopefully with a few fairy lights and the addition of a new table, it turns up well on screen.

As for the telephone box, we realised that it looks most striking when the lights from the Milk Bar behind it are switched on (Photo 4) – unluckily enough for us, they close at 8:30pm so we’ll have to see if we can either have our scene finished in time or ask them to leave them on a little while longer… I also love the way that the light from inside the booth creates a reflection on the surrounding glass. This will work well with the implementation of our purple-covered LED lights.

true to form, reflection #6

Overwhelmed: A Tale of Pre-Production Woes 

Filming at night is proving to be the most challenging idea I’ve ever had. When writing the script for Mary In The ‘Burbs, I was under the assumption that Melbourne council’s had plotted streetlights all over the skate ramps, parks and bus shelters… apparently not. Upon driving around town at night in an effort to scout locations, I noticed that all the places that I had wanted to feature were completely shielded in darkness, providing no light with which to shoot a scene. This has forced me to rearrange a few scenes slightly and consult with Brendan on ways to possibly illuminate the various spaces.

The Park/Dinner Scene will now be shot in the backyard of an extremely suburban house. I didn’t want to lose the randomness of this scene and so I thought that it would be quaint if Mary was strolling along a street, whereupon she stops as she hears classical background music in some distance. She peeps in the hole of a metal gate and opens it to find Mr. Mime enjoying a lavish soiree by himself, under the shelter of a lemon tree. Having a space such as this for a scene which requires a lot of props and different lighting is furthermore a bonus for us because we can fully control the set without having to worry about being out in public.

The telephone booth that I found is so far my favourite location. The booth itself provides an eery fluorescent light that casts shadows against the Milk Bar behind it. Brendan is confident in using this space and we’ve discussed various possibilities that the haze of purple cellophane can cast upon it. There’s also much space around the booth to conceal our LED lights and an aesthetically pleasing house to the left of it, which has fuchsia flowers growing out the front. Since Mary In The ‘Burbs is not so much a film but a collection of four scenarios, Brendan also thought that it would be a good idea to begin and end every scene in a wide-shot of the surroundings as a way to glue them altogether and create some consistency.

Now I just have to find a Skate Park, or a substitute for one since none of them are lit up at night – WHAT IF THE KIDS WANT TO SKATE PAST 6PM!? (Side note: Also seriously stressed about the weather conditions because it has been raining every night.)

true to form, reflection #5

Pitch Session Feedback 

I’ve learnt numerous times in this course that the pitch of a film is crucial – your idea may not be ‘great’ but if you present it well and sell yourself, there’s a good chance that the powers that be may buy into you. Luckily, our studio pitch session was casual… two hours of really wonderful ideas.

Robin Plunkett, who taught me last year in the ‘Translating Observation’ studio, had some helpful pointers for my project – Mary In The ‘Burbs. He began by stating, “If weird things happen to weird people, are those things truly weird or are they normal?” This of course was in relation to my protagonist’s costume: an ode to the Virgin Madonna. I’ve always been fascinated by the holy figure and through out every film I’ve made, I’ve tried to piece her into the story somehow. It wasn’t until this semester that my vision was able to become a reality because the circumstances of my project finally allowed it. I understand where Robin is coming from though – as an audience, we’re not likely to be taken on a wild ride if the character in question is already wild herself. Robin confirmed what I already knew. The explicit Virgin Mary costume had to go. This being said, I’m still a firm believer in having the protagonist dress up in a strange attire of some sort. She will wear a contemporary Virgin Mary costume – a modern reincarnation of the traditional white robe and blue veil. This will assist in ensuring that the film contains a unique aesthetic… one in which nothing has to properly make sense.

Robin also raised a point that I hadn’t thought of before – the fact that my film isn’t totally free of narrative constraints. Each of my four scenes do follow a story but it is only free of a concrete ‘narrative’ because I have invited the audience to view only a fragment of it. For example, the Telephone Booth Scene has no beginning, only a middle and a supposed end. The audience don’t know what they’re witnessing or why and that’s what makes it exciting – only offering them a few minutes of each scenario without any context.

true to form, reflection #4

The Initiative Post 

I have been thinking a great deal about Jean Epstein’s concept of Photogenie. This idea is of course used to outline any subject (things, beings, souls) whose moral character is enhanced by filmic reproduction. Moreover, photogenie describes a transformation of the ordinary into something dramatic, provoking, and ultimately ‘cinematic.’

My favourite film is Peter Weir’s classic Australian gothic tale, Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and it is here that Epstein’s theory can be employed. The film, which offers a poetic telling of the ‘nature versus nurture’ dichotomy, is pregnant with shots of the harsh Australian bushland, namely, that of Hanging Rock itself. Torn between the confines of their despotic, middle-class education and the enticing freedom of Hanging Rock’s many crevices, the students of Ms. Appleyard’s College slowly begin to surrender to the latter in a telling piece about releasing one’s inhibitions.

Through Weir’s gaze, the audience sees the Rock – this large and obstructive thing – as a symbol of power. Its secret passageways are morphed into the hands of a seductive man, who compels the little students to strip themselves of their Victorian stockings and boots, running wild and free as though reverted back to a primitive state. This is a result of Weir’s agency, his will to bring this Rock to life and provide it with human characteristics. It has been transformed in such a way that is both creative and revelatory. The rock is no longer just a rock, it is the Rock. It has temperaments, habits and most significantly a soul.

I suppose that I am intrigued by this film theory because I wish to implement it into my own film-making. Perhaps this empty telephone booth at night is not just a telephone booth but something more? I’m excited by the notion of inanimate objects having a purpose beyond their physical usefulness.

true to form, reflection #3

Final Project Concept 

For my final project, I want to focus on art direction. In previous studios, I’ve always felt constrained by narrative structure and so through art directing, I will be free enough to compose shots that are visually stimulating and enticing to watch without having to worry about certain restrictions.

To execute this, I will be exploring the possibilities of an Australian landscape – settings such as a Telstra telephone booth, Milk Bar, suburban park and bus station, which I listed in class during the writing exercise – with the addition of something odd or out of place. This could be a character or a prop that does not belong amidst the scenery. This moves to reiterate the notion that only the aesthetics in my piece are important. Coherence is not my prime concern but nonetheless, the placement of the shots will provide various degrees of meaning.

My first scene will be filmed at a telephone booth in an empty suburban street. Through a quick-succession of close-ups, a girl will open the Yellow Pages, sift through them, find a page, wipe her finger down the paper in search for a number, point to the number, rip the page out and stab the buttons on the dial. On the other end, we hear an audience applaud and game-show music ensue. A booming voice on the other end speaks –

Host: And welcome back! For the grand prize, what is your answer?

Girl: *answers*

Host: You win! Thanks for playing! Until next time!

She answers with something out of context that I haven’t thought of yet but the point is that the sound design here has lifted an otherwise simple setting into something more. As well as this, she will be dressed up in an unexplained costume (a Virgin Mary?) that may be because she just attended a costume party or perhaps it’s part of her part-time job.

Brendan and I have worked in a team before and he’s fantastic at implementing my ideas. We’re both intrigued by the work of David Lynch and so Brendan would like to play around with dramatic lighting to further elevate this scene into something extraordinary. We’ve discussed theatrical coloured lighting and spotlights that could be made using LEDs and cellophane.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me dir. David Lynch (1992)

I’ve also found this fantastic article that embodies the beauty that emanates from Australian culture. I love the 1980s (despite not having been alive then, thanks mum) and it upsets me to think that I feel nostalgic for a time that I never got to personally experience even though it feels like I did… This is probably due to having grown up in a quintessential wog household in Yarraville where much of the buildings haven’t changed since the early 70s – namely, my grandmother’s house which is in the hub of the district.

The images in this article will also be used for inspiration material.

Photographing the Last of the Milk Bars

true to form, reflection #2

In-Class Exercise – The ‘Expertise’ Video 

The creation for this 30 second video firstly began with recording the audio. I’m not a fan of operating sound equipment (most likely due to the fact that I don’t know how to properly use it) so I wanted to see just how clear ‘unnoticeable’ sounds could be documented. These were things such as lighting a cigarette and hearing the burn of the paper as it was inhaled, the sound of the butt dropping to the floor and then being stamped on/extinguished as well as fingernails tapping rhythmically on a metal bannister… Yes, all extremely wanky tones but in my defence, I’ve been in a deep hole of French new-wave discoveries and was blinded by Rohmer, Chabrol and Truffaut.

In the next class, Brendan and I framed a few close-up shots and a nice silhouette composition to pair with the previously recorded audio. On this little shoot, we did try to sync our audio with the visuals so that we’d have perfect harmony between them but it was a hideously windy day and the courtyard was way too busy for any sense of clarity to be achieved through sound recording. The executive decision was made to just use the previously recorded audio, even though it wouldn’t coincide. This obviously proved to be true as is witnessed below, but Brendan and I tried to cut it in a way that made it seem intentional and experimental.

On a last note – I hate the camera we used. What is it again? The Sony EX3? Whenever I’ve used it for outside shoots the images always come out ultra grainy even if I’ve checked the diopter multiple times to ensure that I’m receiving the images clearly in the first place. And then of course the exposure etc. is corrected to the best of mine and my crew’s ability. This graininess has mostly occurred for me when the sunlight is extra harsh or when grey light permeates the sky. This can also be lamented upon below – specifically with the shot of the girl’s hand tapping on the pole. Her hand appears out-of-focus and ‘fuzzy’ and overall, it isn’t an enticing watch.

true to form, reflection #1

1B Exercise – ‘Abstract’ Image

I wasn’t in class to complete this exercise so instead, I chose to film it in my own time and on my iPhone for the sake of convenience. I feel like this worked to my advantage since there are certain limitations to filming whilst in class – the predominate issue being that all of the visuals end up looking the same… shots of surrounding buildings, pedestrians, RMIT hallways etc. Personally, I like the aesthetics and creative possibilities that a rough suburban landscape can provide, so I captured various images from Footscray.

As I filmed the shots featured in the video below, I was consciously thinking about the way that I would string them together, which is when I remembered the voice memo that I secretly recorded of this boy named Patrick. Basically, I was in Footscray at a deserted park when this boy asked to borrow my lighter. What ensued was an hour conversation (i.e. him talking non-stop and me just “yeah-ing” out of uncomfortable awkwardness) about his troubles. I’ve never seen him again and nor do I even know his surname.

The visuals in this piece seem to blend into the dismalness of Patrick’s words, which I’ve chosen to overlap in an audio-montage to replicate the way that I was hearing them when he first approached me – choosing to tune into the ‘saucy’ sections only. The images haven’t been retouched, ensuring that the finished product thus far appears to be a work in progress… much like Patrick himself.

I’m not sure why, perhaps it was the glare from my phone case, but in the shot of the neon-green crossing light, the symbol of the man has been replicated downwards, creating an interestingly unintended effect. It then abruptly cuts off, obviously changing from ‘Walk’ to ‘Stop,’ which appealed to me because it reiterates how quickly things can begin and end, especially in the life of someone like Patrick who has a lot of concerns to sift through and deal with.

semester reflection

The reason that I chose the ‘Translating Observation’ studio was the fact that Robin’s presentation didn’t seemed forced as the others were – he wasn’t trying to be funny or touching. He was just passionate about his topic and that itself was enough to convince me of signing up. Can I just add though that all of the studios were either concerned with documentary or comedy… not very appealing for people wanting to explore drama, such as myself.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the premise behind this studio: transforming what we notice in reality into stories for the screen. It has grown to become a habit of mine now whenever I am on the train or sitting at the State Library eating my lunch – I constantly muse at how certain people or scenarios can be evolved into film.

I’ve never been technically capable with cameras, having always allotted someone else with those certain tasks. I would say now that I have a slightly larger understanding of camera mechanics but I’ll always prefer writing and directing a project in comparison to actually making it happen. I also wish that the camera tutorial classes hadn’t taken up most of the semester because I would’ve much preferred to spend the time discussing films and creating our own.

Moreover, I’ve definitely been more engaged this semester than I was with the last and that is greatly due to actually enjoying the final semester project that I was involved in. If it hadn’t been for Alex’s enthusiasm with my observation, I wouldn’t have considered even making it and therefore, taken a back-seat in someone else’s concept. Making a film, however long or shot it may be, is such a team effort and it’s proved to be a lot of give-and-take. It hasn’t just been my film per se, but a collaborative effort in which everyone has had their specific input. I think we did the best that we could given the time frame we were allotted to making the film and given the hiccups we encountered along the way. If anything, I now know what to change next time.

Lastly, he will feel uncomfortable about me saying this, but Robin has been one of my favourite tutors at RMIT thus far. Through out the semester, I have written down some of his greatest one-liners, which I’m sure will be of need in the years to come:

  • “Don’t limit something to filmic merit, just see. Don’t go out looking.”
  • “No thing is too small to write about.”
  • “Don’t fall a victim to your camera, own it.” (In hindsight, this is the advice I should have listened to the most)
  • “You need to understand cinema to make a film.”
  • “This most perfect moment of innocence is actually a contrived thing.”

And, my personal favourite –

  • “You’re never not a filmmaker and if you name it, you can start to work with it somehow.”

film reflection

It is somewhat difficult for me to reflect upon what is now known as ‘Girl, Outside,’ since it all seems like a long, arduous blur. Needless to say, let us begin at the beginning…


After deciding to create my observation, we (Isobel, Alex and Jamie) spent the two following weeks finalising the shots, actors, location etc. and soon enough, the film started to develop into something far from its conception. I intended for the piece to focus on a young girl’s actions – allowing the camera to follow her daily morning routine, which would hopefully result in an absorbing study of human gesture/behaviour. I wanted to re-create my initial observation and keep with the concept of voyeurism. As the film progressed however, the older male character transformed into a young boy and the story essentially became about him and not her. It slowly took a more innocent turn, whereupon a young boy would be shot playing outside as a girl – his supposed babysitter – sets up a banana lounge and relaxes. Here, he would come to realise how ‘cool’ grown-ups seem to be and how much he wishes to be a part of that world. I think this became the case because we needed to be realistic about the project within the short amount of time we had – how were we going to find an adult male for such a small role? What location was available for this story to take place?

The Shoot

The day of the shoot actually went quite smoothly in my eyes. We were only faced with a few minor difficulties – the wind (which at times was tremendously extreme) and some camera issues that Jamie hadn’t foreseen. The highlight of the day for me, as the director, quickly became working with Joshua, the nine-year old boy that we discovered on Star Now. I had previously had traumatic experiences working with children in past projects but Joshua completely salvaged my view on child actors. He was so mature and his improvisation abilities really helped us to further shape the film. This became apparent when he donned his baby-sitter’s glasses and sat on the banana lounge himself, flipping through the magazine props as though he actually was the girl he wished to emulate.

Towards the end of the shoot, the sun grew to be very harsh, making it difficult for Jamie to focus on the subjects outside and it became frustrating for all of us since we’d been outside all day and not handling the heat too well.


This is where all of our problems started to materialise. Upon returning the equipment (which was an ordeal in itself as we definitely over-booked) and reviewing it, I noticed that many shots were out of focus but not in the traditional sense. The pictures seemed to be covered in this strange haziness, which looked like the result of someone having not wiped the lens down after condensation had gotten to it. After Robin did some tests with the camera to ensure that it was mechanically functioning properly, it was decided that our cameraperson (or perhaps anyone for that matter) should have checked the diopter on the eye-piece, so as to be able to judge focus in the first place. The brightness was also too high in some takes and if we had bothered to check the peaking, we would have noticed this consequence.

Indeed, in Robin’s endless words of wisdom, “The best ideas turn to dust without technical proficiency.” Rightfully so. As editor, Isobel had to re-arrange the story that we had initially been trying to convey since we had to scrap a lot of integral shots. Now, the ‘baby-sitter’ figure had morphed somehow into the young boy’s dead sister, who he imagines to see lounging in their yard once again. The soundscape really helped in giving our piece depth despite not having some of the shots that we needed. The increasing wind throughout the film, which reaches its climax as the young boy flips through the magazines alone and without his sister, move to highlight the notion that she is a ghostly presence in his life. I also really like the heightened sense of sound that was utilised – the magazine flipping, the ice blocks clinking in a glass and the door of the fridge closing.

It’s a shame that we had to use VSCO filters from adobe Lightroom to shield the haziness of the clips. The overall effect is highly saturated but we hoped that it complimented the dream-like atmosphere that we intended to evoke.

This experience has however taught me that camera tests are crucial. If we had known that the Sony EX3 would cause us all of this trouble prior to filming, I much would have preferred to just use a  DSLR.