Damian Walshe-Howling is one of Australia’s most recognisable actors, best known for his roles in “Blue Heelers”, “Underbelly” and more recently “The Reef” and the US series “Terra Nova”.
He’s currently working behind the camera, directing his second short film, “Suspended”, which stars AFI and Helpman award winning Ewen Leslie (“Jewboy”), Leeanna Walsman (“The Pacific”) and Damon Gameau (“Balibo”).
The film has been shot and is now waiting to get a budget for post-production. To help raise the funds Damian’s put the film up on Pozible, which is a crowd-funding website – where people can donate money towards the film to help it get made.
Hugh Humphreys had a chat with Damian to talk about that process – ahead of a fundraiser night in Sydney this week – to discuss the film.
But first, here’s the trailer:
Damian, talk me through the short film “Suspended”, what’s it about?
So basically it’s set in the late 70s in northern NSW, about the hippie culture in Byron, about a kids who’s growing up in a family where there’s an open sort of relationship happening with his parents, and it’s his experience of that. That dynamic in the house, the tension that creates, and he starts to retreat into his own world because he doesn’t feel completely safe. He meets a blind man who’s like a mentor to him, and if I tell you too much more I’ll give the whole film away – but by the end of it we’re really in a sort of magic space. It’s about the kid finding his own autonomy, his own light, finding that within us.
And what’s been the film’s journey from conception to now?
The seed of the story is a really beautiful little memory I had from childhood, and if I share it with you I actually give the film away… but there’s a particular seed that was quite a magical moment, and to a child’s imagination that’s obviously embellished, so I was thinking about this moment and talking with a friend, having a laugh and saying that would make a really great film.
And then I happened to meet [film’s producer] Lisa Shaunessey, who was working for Seed [Hugh Jackman’s production company] at the time, his key executive producer. I just happened to meet her at this function, we didn’t know who each other were, and we just got on really well. We were just talking about films and all that sort of stuff. And then it came down to the fact that both of our favourite movies was the same – “Dead Man Walking” with Sean Penn. Then she told me where she worked and asked if I had any other ideas, because I’d told her I’d already made one short film [“The Bloody Sweet Hit”], and I just told her the seed of the film, and she stopped and looked at me and said “Come and pitch that to me tomorrow”. And I never ended up going in, life got busy, but she tracked me down and went “where the f*ck are you, what are you doing” and I said “I dunno, I didn’t have time” and she said “bullsh*t, get in here”. So I basically went in, chatted about the idea, and she said get your sh*t together and let’s script it.
So over the next year and a half I spent time scripting it, I wrote a draft within a few weeks, but there were a number of elements that needed time to drop in. Lisa is very good with script development, so she asked all the good questions and we had a number of meetings over the year. Then I was in LA for pilot season, and I went out in the desert for a week, a solitary trip for camping, and I just work up one night and everything dropped into place. I spent the next 2 nights furiously writing then sent the script to Lisa and she said, “It’s ready, let’s do it.” Then I gave it to all the actors that I wished would be in it, and every one of them responded really positively, and loved the script.
Yeah it was fantastic. Both for my own feeling within; and also just knowing with a cast of that quality there was a good chance we’d get it made. Then I sent it to Denson Baker who shot “The Black Balloon”, and he loved it and called me and said, “Don’t let anyone else shoot it, it’s got great visual challenges and I really, really like it”. Then slowly we got a much more dynamic team together, approached Screen NSW for funding for the actual shoot, and we got that. We needed more for the budget, but decided to just shoot it and then deal with the rest later. You know, get the footage in the can and start playing with it, using the footage to get the rest of our funding. And that’s where we’re at now, we just shot it up near Byron Bay, we flew all the cast up and half the crew, and crewed it from that area. We also got students from SAE [Studio of Audio Engineering] and they came and helped crew the film, and then a lot of my friends up there came and helped out. So it was really interesting because we had half professional and half voluntary, so that was really good because we had a lot of mentoring going on on-set.
I guess that’s one of the other things it’s good for in that regard, the combination of both those elements?
Yeah it’s the collaboration – absolutely man, the collaboration of all those elements creates a certain atmosphere. So the shoot was really magical, and my main kid Finn Mcleod-Ireland, who is just incredible. He’s a friend of mine’s kid – we were just sitting at lunch and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years, and he’s all of 8 years old – and I just looked over to him and said to his mum, “He’s my kid”. He’d never acted before, and she’s a casting agent and she’d never used him before, and said, “How do you know? What do you mean?” And I was like “I can just tell.”
You just know.
I dunno, there’s just a quality about him – he’s very still and attentive, and I thought, “I reckon the kid can act, there’s something there”. And then we got him in front of a camera, he did an amazing screen test, and then I worked with him over the next year and he was a key element to the film. We just got him to a point where he understood the craft a bit better, and getting him to be present with the story, and then we went up and shot it. Finn is just a little legend, he was so focused and just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe the kid could be so focused and really carry this film, and he does, it’s amazing.
Yeah, he’s incredible, believe me, he was an amazing kid. So we did that, and now we’re at the phase where we’re raising money to get the finishing funds for the film on crowd-funding website Pozible. We’re having a fundraiser on Tuesday night, and are entering the rough cuts in a number of film festivals.
How have you found the crowd-funding website so far?
Fantastic. I mean, you set yourself a target and then put out emails and Facebook messages everywhere and gee people up about the film. Basically I cut a bit of the shoot into a trailer, and then edited it myself. I basically sat down one night because I have a very strong sense of where I want the film to go and how I want it to affect the audience, and I just wanted it to create a feel of the film instead of telling the story. I wanted to whet people’s appetite for the film, feeling the magic of the film. And we’ve had an incredible response to the film now, we’ve got more than 12 grand now, with a target of close to 29 thousand dollars, so we’ve got to raise that over the next few weeks.
Is that going to be a bit of hard work?
Yeah, but you know, we’ll do it. I’ve just got a good feeling about this film, and there’s been a couple of key investors who have hinted they may help us out.
That’s very impressive.
Yeah we decided to set a main amount of $25 – I mean you can give whatever you want – but Lisa said let’s just put it out there that we need 1195 contributions of $25 bucks each. Which is sort of funny, I mean if we get 1195 of our friends to give us $25 each, then that’s our film. And I think people have really responded to that, and laughed and thought it was funny. But we’ve had some really big donations, over $500 and stuff, and a lot of people have given the $25, which is amazing.
And the reaction’s been positive?
Yeah it’s been incredible. The reaction to the trailer itself has been phenomenal, very heartening in a lot of ways. Really good feedback from some other perspectives as well. And the other thing I should mention is the post-production is a big process on this film. I mean it’s always a big process, thre’s always sound design, and there’s always music design and a grade and all that sort of stuff, but the other element to this – I mean the sound design is massive. One of the major elements of the film is very much to do with sound, there’s a lot a nature and natural stuff going on through the film that’s distorted and takes us into a magical world so, that is going to rely very heavily on sound and visual effects. And that component is also massive, we’ve got to build some really impressive elements of nature and also of a magic reality from scratch on a computer, so that’s where a lot of the funding will be going as well.
We put it out, we continue to put it out to festivals –that’s what you seem to do with short films – but also selling it hopefully, overseas, and here. My first film “The Bloody Sweet Hit” sold to MTV in Europe, and a number of other territories in Europe, so it sold quite well a few years ago. And that was through Flickerfest, through Bronwyn Kent there, she screened it at festivals here and a number overseas – she bought the film because she has a distribution company as well, and we had quite a lot of success with that film. I mean one of the big goals is to have it seen by as many audiences as possible and also sell it. And with a view to showcasing it with future projects as well. I’ve got a couple of feature film ideas I want to develop off the back of this, and short film in a lot of ways is its own art form, but t’s also a way to present the sort of work you’re interested in doing. So it’s been really exciting, it’s been great having the Government bodies on board and support from a lot of different corners.
What else are you working on at the moment, as both an actor and behind the camera?
Yeah, basically I’m finishing shooting “Brothers in Arms” which is a Channel 10 series, finishing that in the next 2 weeks but I’m not at liberty to speak about that- I’ve signed confidentiality agreements and all that sort of stuff.
But it’s in the media that I’m doing it so that’s there.. And that’s been huge 7 or 8 weeks solid. And I’ve just finished “Terra Nova” and I’m heading over to the states sometime in January for probably 6 or 7 weeks for pilot season. But at the same time I’m writing and developing my next film, which is basically the beginnings of a feature.
And what’s happening at the fundraiser next Tuesday?
So we’re having a night at the Alexandria Hotel in Alexandria, there’ll be music and live acts and comedy and stuff, a few raffles etc. It’s $25 on the door, $15 students. And all that money goes towards the Pozible website, raising our funds to a higher level.
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