Archive for the "other" Category

Since The Accident

Posted in "other", News on September 1, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

More changes in film funding in New Zealand, more marginalisation of different kinds of work – The Creative New Zealand Independent Filmmakers Fund, an obviously ignominious failure, dying after 2 rounds when the Film Commission decided it could better contribute to screen culture by not funding films engaged in anything beyond the most mainstream of notions… Fair play to them, I guess, they’ve never made particularly engaged or credible claims to care about things outside their narrow range.

Of course it does mean access to funding “experimental” film has pretty much now rolled into a bigger pool with the news that next year the IFF will be replaced by a broader “Media Arts” category… Very ominous news to lose a separate film fund that is engaged with work of substance and quality.

But we don’t really have a film culture in New Zealand beyond the efforts of a few heroic individuals – people like Martin Rumsby, Lawrence McDonald and Mark Williams come to mind in ways that, say, Auckland’s MIC doesn’t. We do have a few filmmakers who battle on to find and raise their own voices despite the culture of mediocrity and concensus – we just lost one who died at her peak in Kathy Dudding, both a filmmaking comrade and a rare active enthusiast for other people’s work. But for all of us involved in non-industrial filmmaking, the roads are just getting harder and harder.

But hey, on the other hand, I just came out of a big black hole… I am now formally stating that I am Not Depressed Any More after being pretty much missing in action, findable in the bar,  for the last three years after failure to deal with destroying my marriage. I am now ready to Return To Work, even if work isn’t ready for me – if the above didn’t cue you in, I am among the unfunded by the IFF and finally ready to talk about it without getting pissed of.

This was a bit unfortunate, I decided – I had an application in for a film I think I’m now really ready to make, and make how it should be made. I’m going to post the Treatment and Director’s Notes here, and I’m interested in responses anyone has – but I also think I need to find ways to make it, so if anybody has any constructive suggestions or interest in assisting let me know either here or via email uncontrollabledancing  @gmail.

I’ve been working on this for a while – yeah, its a personal project but no its not my life before you ask… It’s ready to get started on. The way I work means intense bursts of activity, especially with the actors, and a certain lack of filmmaking apparatus. I’m going to be hating asking people to work on it for no money when its such an intense – even destructive – project that requires commitments of time and emotion, and that will leave all involved shattered by the end – but ask I will, and can promise actors especially that working on it will be (a) unlike any film they will make with anyone else, especially not in New Zealand, and (b) Almost certainly the best acting they will ever get to do… If they can find a way to give full commitment.

Who else is involved? There are people who are keen, but they may not be able to do it for the money I can track down. At this stage its just me… and I can make a devastating film with this material with a few actors and a crew of 1, though I’d kinda prefer not to. But any resources I can muster will be put towards intensifying the characters, enhancing the ability of the actors to be where they need to be, not in making it more palatable for casual viewers… It’s not that hard to find the shots and sound recording you need if you get that right…

Here’s the treatment, and the Director’s notes:

Since The Accident – Treatment


Its just at the end of the relationship – that moment where everything is poised before both Jasmine and Stirling take their last plunge into agreeing that it’s over. They think hard, they look at each with a tired respect, they’re going to do it properly, with love and respect and care…

“Are we finished?”

“Yes we are”

They hold each other for a moment, strong, secure and resolved and then the movie starts and we get to watch it all fall over, violently and messily.


Stirling comes up to the door. He knocks, waits a moment, then lets himself in with the key from a boot.

There’s a couple of boxes in the lounge, he picks them up and carries them through to by the door. He goes into the kitchen, looks in a high cupboard. There’s a whisky bottle there. He pours himself a glass, goes through into the lounge, starts flicking through the records. He spots one a little way in, grunts unappreciatively, puts it on the turntable, where it plays quietly. As it plays, he keeps flicking through. Sporadically he’ll pull out another one, forming a small pile. He goes over to the CDs on a shelf and does the same, taking small sips of whisky as he does so. He goes into the bedroom, looking in the wardrobe, the bookshelves as he goes. The house is messy, not dirty, but things are not put away very well. He goes into the bathroom, the kitchen, picking up the odd little thing, forming a little pile with the records in front of the stereo.

Later he picks up the phone – the landline – and calls a number.


We cut to Jasmine. She’s walking down a corridor in a large, anonymous building, with a guy, Matt, when her phone rings. She looks at the front of it, and is surprised by what she sees – “Hang on a minute” – and she ducks through a glass door, answering it. An initially tentative greeting is followed by a small explosion: “What the the fuck are you doing? Its not your house any more!”

It’s Stirling, of course, taken aback.

“What do you think I’m doing? I’m collecting my stuff? It’s not my fault you’re not here.”

“How did you get in?”

“The key, in the boot, of course”

“Well, get your boxes and get out again, would you”

Full of self-righteousness, she paces quickly away from the bemused Matt, round the corner, down the steps, walking furiously, loudly as she talks.

Stirling seems to want to talk about which records he wants today, but she’s pretty clear that now’s not the time. He’s chatty but feeding off her aggression, wants to know what the rush is.

“Are you out with someone?” he asks, teasing her when she denies it. She loses her temper, hangs up on him, turns her phone off afterwards, then realises she has no idea where in the building she is, or where this guy Matt might be. She wanders, lost, turning corners blindly until she comes to an exit, then walks out onto the street, looking up at a large apartment building towering over her, sits, waits.

Eventually a concerned looking Matt comes out, and they go in.


Inside Matt’s house – He’s older than her, and seems nice enough, but the conversation isn’t really flowing, and she’s still embarrassed about getting lost in his building. Eventually she kind of throws herself on him awkwardly. He seems happy enough about this, but it’s hardly an edifying encounter – she can’t really deal with it when he kisses her or touches her, lies there awkwardly when he tries to go down on her, but won’t acknowledge that there’s anything wrong. It’s like she shouldn’t be allowed to have a good time, so she won’t.


Eventually she goes home. The boxes are gone, and so is Stirling’s pile of records. She sits on her bed hugging herself. She didn’t think it would be this hard, but whatever punishment is in store she’s up for it. She probably deserves it, she thinks.


Stirling is staying at his parent’s house, but they don’t seem to live there at the moment. At the moment he’s in their big, tastefully appointed master bedroom. He’s put away all the things in there that look like they might belong to an older couple, so it looks a bit like a hotel, anonymous. He’s going to be using it as his seduction room, and he’s got Lydia in there with him now.

She’s a young, normal woman, blond, professional, well turned out, drunk. Stirling is a bit drunk too. He’s currently fucking her from behind. He isn’t showing a lot of affection, keeping her at some distance as he fucks her. When he’s about to come, he pulls out and does it into the sheets as she collapses face forward onto the bed. There’s not a lot of eye contact going on.


A few minutes later Stirling is in the bathroom, angsting out a little. He’s staring at himself in the mirror, not really in a narcissistic sort of way. As we watch, he starts to move his head back and forth towards the mirror, getting closer and closer to it with each swing until he starts to bang his forehead against the mirror, gently, but with an implied promise of force to come.

The door opens behind him, and Lydia wanders in naked, and goes over to the toilet, sits down, has a piss.

“You look drunk”, she says to him, currently resting his head still against the mirror.

She finishes, washes her hands. As she dries them, she scrutinises him a little.

“Are you ok?”

We look closely at Stirling’s face up against the mirror. He’s not moving now, eyes shut, thinking hard. After a long pause he speaks, quietly, deliberately.

“No, I’m not alright, I’m not alright, I think I need help. Will you help me Lydia?”

He turns to her. She’s long gone.

He sways a bit, laughs in self-disgust, breathes a sigh.


Stirling looks round the door into his parent’s bedroom. Lydia has gone to sleep in there. He walks down the hall to his small childhood bedroom, still with its small single bed, childhood accoutrements, and goes to sleep in his own bed.


It’s the next morning, and Lydia is waking Stirling up with a cup of coffee. She’s talking freely.

“I wondered where you’d gone – this room is cool, who usually lives here? I thought I’d make some coffee for us, but I gotta run, gotta get home and get my work clothes on or I’ll be late….”

He blurrily sits up as she continues. She looks clean, made up, fully in organised morning mode. He’s a little repulsed by this vision of young health. She gives him a quick kiss on the cheek as she leaves. She firmly but gently says “Thanks for having me, but I don’t know that we need to exchange numbers or anything, do we?”


Jasmine is sitting on the floor in her bedroom, just at the point of giving up on the comprehensive re-organisation it needs to become properly hers. She’s surrounded by posters, books not on their shelves, cupboards in search of new corners, but she’s had enough of trying to claim back the flat. It’s time to go out again.


Stirling is sitting on the little single bed in his bedroom, although he too looks to be in transitory mode – there’s an open clothes bag sitting on the floor. He’s taking refuge in old pleasures of home, reading an old adventure story from his childhood, smoking a cigarette carefully out the window like a teenager.


A barman is leaning over a groggy Jasmine curled up in the corner of an empty bar. He’s telling her she can’t sleep here, she’ll have to leave.


Jasmine is walking the streets. It’s late, they’re deserted and she’s thoroughly momentum free, shakily and haphazardly putting one foot in front of another.


Now it’s getting towards dawn, and she’s sitting hunched up in the corner of a bus shelter. A young guy on his way home. James, comes up to her, shakes her a little

“Are you alright?”

She latches onto him as the final saviour for a wasted night.


She’s gone home with him, and now she’s awake, still drunk, quite manic. She tries to do a little dance for him, starts to take off her clothes. He is excited, but wants to talk, so he sits her down, makes her a cup of tea, makes her laugh and relax a little. She tells him a little about what’s been happening, and looks glad of someone to talk to about it.

As she starts to approach a quieter level of equilibrium, he reaches in to kiss her. She responds quietly but with warmth. When he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, she makes a joke about not wanting him to leave, smiles at him again, gets a small kiss as reward then does a runner as soon as his back is turned.


Jasmine is getting ready to go out for another evening. She’s dressed up, trying to look just a little tarty, and has her hair done. She’s in the bathroom putting on her make up carefully, controlling exactly how she looks. She sits on the toilet, and pulls down her skirt, worries away at a red, sore ingrown hair with tweezers, then gives up, slathering it with makeup concealer. It doesn’t help much.


Stirling is also preparing himself. He takes a lot of time and care over it too, ironing, moisturising, shaving. He jerks off for a while, not to come but to get himself a bit revved up for going out. He dresses carefully in his going out clothes, before heading out.


Stirling is talking to Katja, an old friend of his from years ago. He’s telling her about the break-up, and she’s making the kind of supportive noises you expect of your friends, especially the ones about how awful Jasmine is and how angry and worried Katja feels on his behalf. He’s friendlier and warmer than we’re used to seeing him, and opens up moderately – though we can still sense wariness. Katja is obviously fairly keen on him


Later they’re in bed. They’ve obviously just fucked, and Stirling is looking restless and distant like he usually does when expected to show some kind of affection. Katja is trying to kiss him, snuggle up to him, and he’s trying to quietly get her to settle for sitting still.

She’s concerned – “What’s the matter?”

He denies anything is wrong, wriggling further along towards the edge of the bed.

She persists – did she do something wrong, is he upset abut something?

Eventually, under duress, he admits he maybe feels like he shouldn’t have done that, he doesn’t feel very proud of it, that he should have held back… It was nice and everything, but…

She looks levelly at him, at his earnest expression.

“Oh god,” she says. “You thought you were giving me the pity fuck.”


Jasmine is at home, putting books back onto the bookshelf. It’s the last part of reorganising her bedroom. She takes her time ordering them. They don’t take up more than two thirds of the shelf, so she turns some around so they’re facing out. She stand up and looks around – the job is done. She looks pleased for a moment, and then it drifts off her face.


That night, Jasmine is standing at a bar, vaguely watching a band carry their gear off when Stirling comes up behind her. They’re pleased, and not awfully surprised to see each other. Stirling goes to hug her, and she pulls away, but says she’s pleased to see him anyway.

A little later, they’re standing together, watching the main band playing. They look like a couple, really, although there’s a weird tentativeness at times.


Its pretty late by the time they both get back to Jasmine’s house, and they’re both pretty drunk. We’re seeing a different side to them here – they’re affectionate, relaxed, obviously taking pleasure talking to each other, being with each other.

The bottle of whisky Stirling was drinking earlier in the film comes out, and they put on a record and curl up on the couch. They talk a little now about which records they each want to get from when they were together, and they talk about the band tonight, and when they last saw them –

“Do you remember, we were doing a really drunken kinda waltz up the front?”, she says

“Ah, vaguely. I seem to recall them being quite surprised about it. They probably don’t get a lot of waltzing at their shows”

“No there was none tonight”

Later she says

“I should have expected you’d be there – but if I’d known, I might not have gone”

“Really? You trying to avoid me?”

“Of course I am, its easier that way”

“Oh. Ok.”

He’s a little nonplussed.

“No. Its ok, I’m glad to see you after all. I think I must be missing you a bit.”

It’s almost as if its Christmas in the trenches and a truce has been called between them – they toast each other, dance to old records, talk about past times. good and bad. For a while they’re having what seems to be a pretty good time between two people who know each other really well – better than anyone else – and who’ve both been starved of someone to have a good time with.

But, it slowly slips in that the converse is true as well – they are both fully aware of each other’s weaknesses, and by no means incapable of exploiting them. As they get closer physically, they start to increasingly dig at each other in the way that only a couple who’ve lived together for ages can.

“Hey, stop grabbing at me -”

“You used to like it”

“No, I just used to like being wanted. Maybe I’ve grown out of it now. Maybe you were just never very good at it”


Soon after they’re fucking, but not well. Their bodies don’t seem to fit together any more, and Jasmine starts to withdraw from responding.

Feeling this, eventually Stirling loses his hard-on. He sits on the edge of the bed, and they both look away, feeling the weight of recent events.

He reaches out to her, trying to recapture the warmth and affection of earlier in the evening. He wants to stay, not for sex, just for closeness. He tries to lie next to her and hold her, but she pulls away, turns around towards the wall.

“Just go away,” she says. “Leave me alone”

“But I miss you, and you miss me too – what’s wrong with just holding you? Please?”

He tries to hold her from behind. She pushes his hands away and they struggle a little.

“I don’t want to”

“But why not?”

“Because you make me feel sick. Because I don’t want you to touch me”

He pauses, shaken, and lies still, next to her, not quite touching, almost winded. There’s a lengthy silence, then he sighs and gets up. He puts on his clothes without saying anything else, then stands up and stares at her. She’s staring fiercely away from him at the wall, curled up tightly. We hear him walk down the hall. She doesn’t move until she hears the door shut, when she finally relaxes her body – she was scared, but she coped with it.

She realises she’s shivering. She gets up and goes into the bathroom, feeling ill. After kneeling over the toilet bowl for what seems like a silent eternity, she sits back up.


Stirling is wrapped up in the duvet at his house, in front of the TV, eating instant noodles. He’s expressionlessly watching the sex ads they play after normal programmes have finished. He looks exhausted, completely emptied out.


In the late afternoon, Jasmine is walking home from her office job. She runs into Betty, a cool girl she knows a little and likes a lot. They get to talking about gigs and people and clothes.


Jasmine ends up at Betty’s house to drink tea and listen to music. They sit in Betty’s room and try out her clothes and make up. Jasmine is initially a little shy and wary, but she soon relaxes and starts to have fun. For the first time we see her trying to make a friend – she’s been so alienated from everybody, between being with Stirling and then being without him, she’s forgotten the simple pleasures of making a new friend.

Only she’s going about it in an odd way. She’s talking freely and happily to Betty about her life – but from what we can tell, she’s mostly lying about it, tentatively at first, and then more brazenly. She’s having a fine time, much more relaxed than we usually see her – it’s just pretty much all fictional.


Across town, Stirling is in someone’s bedroom with some girl at some party. They’re both drunk and aggressive, wrestling with each other and their clothes, enjoying pushing each other around and being pushed back. He pushes her face first against the wall; she pushes him back onto the bed and sits astride him. He pushes her off again, and reaches for his jacket. He takes out a cigarette, lights it, and puts it in her mouth, telling her to smoke it while he fucks her. When she refuses and stubs out the cigarette, he tells her to turn around. She laughs at him and complies, and they start fucking vigourously.

The door opens and a man comes into the room. It’s his room, and he’s surprised to find people in there, although he initially seems more upset that they’ve been smoking in there. When he tells them to leave, Stirling loses his temper and jumps the guy, knocking him off balance. He sits on top of him and slams his head into the floor. The girl attempts to stop him, and he elbows her away, then looks up, leaps up and runs out.


A little way down the road, he’s walking hard, breathing heavy, somewhat shocked and manic, He just wants to get home and under cover before he does anything else that bad.


Jasmine is at a different party. It’s really late and the party is running down. She’s leaning drunkenly over a cute boy, Logan. She feels pleased with herself – he’s a good 4am score, and a couple of slumped girls look grumpy as they leave.


Back at her house, she pulls him into the bedroom and onto the bed. He lies down across from her and pulls up her shirt, blowing raspberries on her stomach. She puts on a CD and goes to the bathroom. While she’s gone, Logan looks around the room. He goes through the drawers and the CDs.

When she comes back, they snuggle back down onto the bed. He gets up to take off his clothes at the foot of the bed, making a little show of it. She’s amused. He comes back up to try and take off her clothes, but she wants him to slow down, and to kiss him.

When he has taken her clothes off, she slides down to go down on him. He sits watching her. After a couple of minutes he stops her and takes out a condom – “Are we going to do this?” She teases him a bit; she’s enjoying herself, then puts on the condom. They have good, fun missionary position sex.

Afterwards, Jasmine is tired and is falling asleep very quickly. He keeps talking to her for a while before he realises she’s gone to sleep. She looks relaxed.


It’s the early evening. Stirling is moving through his place, collecting up the dishes he’s left in various rooms, and taking them to the kitchen. Some of them have been there a few days. A little later he’s washing them. He’s a meticulous, patient dishwasher, and he spins the task out as long as he can. Its almost as if he doesn’t have anything better to do.


Meanwhile, Jasmine is sitting in her lounge, going through her clothes, sorting through them, putting them into two piles. When she’s done, she picks up the bigger pile, and takes them back into her room and dumps them on the bed. She takes the smaller pile, puts them into a plastic bag, and puts them next to three boxes piled in the hall by the door. She’s working with a quiet but sustained energy.


It’s late again. Stirling is back at his place with Rebecca. She’s older than most of his “conquests”, with an air of authority, and she’s tougher and more sarcastic. She derides his attempts at small talk.

A little later, she’s undressing him. She expresses some disdain for how skinny he is, which disturbs him slightly. She undoes his jeans to go down on him anyway, but he stops her – he’s feeling a bit uncomfortable, and he’d rather be fucking her. But even that’s not much good, and as they fuck he finds himself losing his erection.

He starts to panic a bit – Rebecca tells him to keep going, but it isn’t working. He stops and rolls off her, sitting up against the wall, apologising. She’s furious, and when he asks for her help she refuses it. He begs her to help him – he really needs to get off now – but she’s just angrier and more disgusted. She leaves, slamming the door behind her.

After Rebecca leaves, Stirling gets up and dresses.


He walks the streets for a long time. He strides slowly but purposefully down the road towards an unspecified destination.


We see Jasmine walking around the supermarket. She has 3 bottles of wine and nothing else in the carrier. She looks vaguely at colourful items on the shelf before moving on.


It’s much later. Stirling is standing outside Jasmine’s house, staring up at it. The curtains are drawn, it looks pretty dark. He smokes a cigarette fretfully, then walks up the path towards it.


A minute later he’s climbing through a window into her living room. When inside, he moves quietly towards her bedroom. In the light from the bedside lamp he can see an empty, unmade bed. He steps in confidently, and is so very surprised to see Jasmine sitting around the corner, in the low light, drinking her wine and smoking her cigarettes.

She’s been thinking about Stirling and all the things that happened between them, both good and bad. She is very drunk. She has obviously been crying, but she isn’t now. She laughs almost mockingly to see him, as if she’d thought of summoning him magically and presto, he’s here.

She starts to talk, and doesn’t stop for a long time. It’s a drunken tirade, an outpouring of all the things she’s been going through, all the things she’s suffered through, both with him and since they’ve stopped as well. She shouts, and moans, whispers and cries and keeps going. Something she’s talking directly to him about what’s wrong with him, sometimes she doesn’t even seem to be talking to him at all. She talks about the years they spent together, how bad and how good they were, she talks about sex and love and loss, she talks about fucking strangers and how good and bad that makes her feel. She feels she’s building up to something, to some way of expressing how she might be able to live on her own, to a realisation or an epiphany, but sometimes the thread is comprehensively lost along the way. Finally, she’s spent, she subsides into a relative silence.

Throughout, he doesn’t say anything. He watches and listens; when she looks at him he looks at the ground. When she’s finished, he finally speaks. He says he’s sorry, he asks if he can hold for just a moment. She’s hesitant, but she agrees.

He leans over and holds her. Initially it’s quiet and clean, but soon he’s holding her a bit tighter and harder. He pulls her against him, a little aggressively. He holds the hair on the back of her head, and tries to pull it down towards his crotch.

At this, she protests loudly: “What are you doing? Let me go!”

When he doesn’t respond she pulls away, scratching and flailing, screaming and yelling. He’s silent, but when she pulls away and looks at him, he turns away and heads for the door, narrowly avoiding being hit by the wine bottle she throws at him. She follows him to the door, locks it behind him, and leans against it.


A little later we see her standing at the window, looking at the street, self-contained.


We watch Stirling walking slowly, evenly down the road. Neither we nor he have any idea where he’s going. He looks tired, blank, but we can sense the turmoil behind the mask.


Since The Accident

Campbell Walker – Director’s Notes

“There’s a gap in my brain and i haven’t been the same since the accident…”

-Scorched Earth Policy, “Since the Accident”

Scorched Earth Policy were a legendarily feral, chaotic Christchurch band from the mid 80s. Although both their EPs were released on Flying Nun, they only had a tenuous resemblance to the Dunedin sound bands of the same period – or to anyone else really. Combining intermittent pop smarts with a grim horror/ sci fi world-view and a sound that would frequently creep, roar and writhe, they were a band apart even in the extraordinarily fertile darkness that was the under-appreciated 80s Christchurch scene.

Their song Since The Accident is a typically violent, uncontrolled ride through a comic-book view of brain damage. Its not exactly a subtle or accurate picture of mental illness, but its a great blast of a discordant rock song, and one of my all-time favourites when there’s heavy drinking to be done. I wanted to evoke it in naming this film, because there is a kind of lurid insanity in the way the characters are responding to their break up, to the inevitable and necessary collapse of their long term relationship, that is ridiculously improbable, yet completely normal at the same time.

The title is also an indication that the film is not about a couple’s relationship failing, but rather about what happens after that, and that the causes of the failure are of much less importance than the damage caused by it.

I often refer to my last epochally destructive separation – 2 and a bit years ago – in these sorts of terms – “Don’t talk about the war”, “Still recovering from the accident”. I sometimes feel a certain reluctance to talk about it outside of these euphemistic terms – it’s just easier that way and less painful. The accident occurred, the amputated limbs still make their phantom presences felt, there’s no way to pretend it didn’t happen, or to pretend that I wasn’t driving drunk at the time – but why would I want to evoke all the details of the car spinning round with me stuck inside? Much easier to use a painless shorthand for those events and try and move on with getting better as fast as possible.

This is what Stirling and Jasmine are doing in this film – diving determinedly and blindly into moving past having to think about the accident of their lives being irrevocably changed, thinking so hard about dodging the pain of the moment that there’s no room to notice that they may be doing even worse damage to themselves with their recovery plans. Everybody who has suffered a really major relationship break is aware that there’s no quick fix for it, even if it had to be done – but that doesn’t mean that it’s possible to just sit there and wait for healing to occur. Even worse, an adult separation after a long, interdependent relationship usually leads to a period of enforced solitude for people who’ve forgotten how to be on their own, in all kinds of ways, but who have no ability or inclination to interact positively with anyone else either. Both Jasmine and Stirling are in that position, and the film will follow them through their different routes – Jasmine’s leads towards, just maybe, a possible recovery and the ability to be moving forward on her own, Stirling’s is going pretty much straight to hell.

There are lots of ways to try and recover from the trauma of separation. Both Stirling and Jasmine have chosen to basically try and fuck their way out of it. This means a film with a lot of fucking in it, an untypical and possible unwise strategy in a country where film-makers flinch dramatically from exploring the way that sex is a complicated, messy, uncontrollable part of many people’s lives. To show this, the sex in Since The Accident will be complicated and messy, violent and ugly at some times, quiet and calm at others, concerned with the appropriate emotions for this film of power and powerlessness, fear, need, control, failure, anger, pain, compulsion… but also warmth, compassion, companionship and excitement, and the search for meaningful emotional connection. There will be no L-shaped sheets, no soft focus fades to musical montage, none of the traditional cop-outs of movies and TV to the perils of trying to show sex as other than an embarrassed observing of a plot point, but also no careful racking of acceptable titillating tickboxes of exposure with an arse here and a breast there… The sex scenes will be graphic, but emotionally, more than physically, and the idea is that the viewer should be sufficiently involved in the emotional intensity and complexity of the scene they don’t get time to add up physical exposures or lack there of to themselves.

Obviously most actors in New Zealand come from a background where this is not what usually happens in films. And while it may be possible to bring together ten good actors in New Zealand and get them to feel comfortable diving happily into a film full of grim, realistic sex scenes without having to spend a lot of time negotiating the processes and possibilities, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. The best way to negotiate this is slowly and carefully through a thorough process of building trust between actor and director in the workshopping process, taking time to build the scenes in a private and secure environment.

To do this requires time and money – not a lot by film standards, but more than a no-budget process can provide. For a film like this – and all my work for that matter – the most important resource is the actors, and accordingly the project is based first and foremost around giving the performers what they’ll need to reach the marks they need to reach. This means paying them a little so they can spend all their time concentrating on the project, or recovering from the stresses inevitable in delving into such dark and harsh emotional states. This means working in real and consistent locations, with a small crew who aren’t taking all day to light, this means shooting in long, uninterrupted takes to allow full levels of realism and intensity to be reached, this means giving the actors a lot of say in creating the characters they play through an open script and through heavy use of improvisation. This means spending as long a time as possible shooting the film with the actors on location.

The best film I’ve made yet is Little Bits of Light. A SIPF grant of $25 000 for production meant we had just enough to spend a month on location with 2 actors and a small crew. My other films have been made with no external production funding. This meant a week’s shooting, more or less. The difference in what we could achieve with a little money and time was amazing, revelatory! The difference in the film over my other features seems clear to me as well. The nature of the work I do means that I’m always likely to be in a guerilla filmmaker at least some of the time, and I’ve come to accept, sometimes relish that… but going back to a no budget project with Broken Black Lines (currently nearing completion, after being in very slow production for 2 years plus) after Little Bits of Light has really served to focus what can be done with a budget, and to make me think about the kind of film I would make if i could.

I don’t make physically extravagant films – i couldn’t, and still get to choose the complex and stressful themes that most interest me. In the world of New Zealand film, careful, observational movies about real, unglamorous, non-parodic, non-emblematic characters not shoved violently into an unrealistic plot are really an uncommercial proposition. It’s not our cinematic tradition! Even the films that are interested in touching on this usually have to deal with being shoved into a genre straitjacket.

Maybe it’s something to do with the supposed emotional reticence of New Zealanders – certainly we live in a culture where people commonly use “Too much information” as a response to any kind of personal statement about sex. But making a film like this is going to be a significant challenge. Between the people who assume a film with this many sex scenes is pornography, and the people who flinch from watching a film that is realistic and stressful because they “get real life at home”, I’m confident there’s a substantial audience out there of people who will be interested in taking a trip through somewhat a stressful film world to see recognisable, non-cliched New Zealanders dealing with recognisable situations in recognisable ways – but ways that until now have not been recognisable very often in films.

Likewise, as reading the treatment will indicate, the film isn’t based around traditional film storytelling. It is quite strongly structured, in a symmetrical fashion. But neither the story nor the characters are going to be compelled to act in the predictable or predictably unpredictable ways film characters are usually expected to act. Instead they’re allowed to be as close as possible to real people and real events: complicated, confused people getting lost in messy, uncontrollable events.

Audience responses are hard to predict because we’re not telling the audience how to respond. I don’t know yet how the characters are going to turn out, because I’ve only started the process of creating them – the biggest part of it will be done with the actors, finding the people within them that can inhabit the world we’ve written for them, negotiating the process of giving these characters flesh, allowing them room to spring up, then carefully putting them into place next to each other and among the events imposed upon them – sometimes changing the events dramatically to fit the characters, sometimes squeezing them to fit together, always adding new scenes, new emotions, new worlds as we find them working with the actors, then redefining all these terms afterwards in the edit suite, usually losing many of the best aspects of them along the road to finding the precise film.

This was how we made Little Bits Of Light: we shot a lot of scenes, most of which aren’t still there, many of which were better/ richer/ tougher/ funnier than the ones we used. Some scenes were written a long time beforehand, some we came up with on the spot, some grew from an original idea that was wrong when we planned it. Everybody involved contributed new ideas for scenes, and many of the ones that weren’t used in the final film were the ones that best shaped the characters and so informed what became the final film. It’s an extremely organic process. To work best it takes time with actors of courage and talent, but working this way seems the only way to generate characters and performances, scenes and worlds of the kind of realism and intensity that I’m most interested in exploring.

In this respect the treatment for Since The Accident we’ve submitted – even though we’ve worked hard on achieving the right tone for my intentions – should not be viewed as a shooting script. It does give a close idea of the intended story, of the tone of the film, of world of the film. But it’s also a kind of scrapbook for the next step – working with the actors, taking paper scenes and trying to make them seem like real events. The final film may be comprehensively different, or relatively similar.

An example: in the treatment, the last shot of the film shows Stirling walking off to an uncertain future, the second to last shot shows Jasmine having gotten him away from her. This is just as likely to be the other way round, ending on her toughness, a more positive end perhaps. It may end with her leaving the house, getting out and leaving him in possession, a very different toned ending. I’ve also written another, more sinister possibility, what i call the “Melodrama Happy Ending”, where they end up back together despite all the evidence that they’re really not good for each other. These all feel like strong possibilities for interesting ways to finish the film – we just have to find which is the right one. I’m prepared to bet, however, that it won’t be any of the above, that we’ll find the right ending during the shoot, because this is how it’s always happened in all the films I’ve made.

Stirling and Jasmine have been together for years and years, they’ve become completely adjusted to being with each other and relying on each other. But they break up because they’re not very happy with each other – although as the title indicates, the film is about everything after that. Essentially the specific events that meant they finished being together are not as important as the fact that it has happened.

Neither of them are going to come across as wonderful people, either – no-one is at their best when trying to cope with their world falling apart. These are characters who are sometimes easy to like and respect, but they’re also breaking under the strain. It’s important for the sake of the film that someone does something that’s going to be hard to deal with afterwards – as with Stirling trying to force himself on Jasmine at the end – but they’re both sometimes horrendous people all over the place. Audience members will have to make their own decisions about whether they can understand, sympathise or forgive these actions – its not a filmmaker’s job to make those decisions for anyone – but for me, all the things that happen in the film are common events around emotions that almost everybody has to cope with at some point.

Because both Jasmine and Stirling are under so much stress, we’re not really seeing a full picture of them. We’re just seeing them under stress! They’re not in a position to be warm, sweet, funny characters we’d love to hang out with – they don’t want to hang out with us much either. Neither of them have much interest in seeing people, because they’re ashamed of themselves, depressed and angry about what’s happened and not ready to come back to friends and family with an answer to what’s just happened. The only times they want to be close to people is during sex – and neither of them are having sex to find a new partner or anything so simple. They’re locked into powerful, dangerous compulsions, related both to loneliness and loss, but also to trying to have all the things they couldn’t have when they were together, and to both newly forming and long-held feelings of self-hate… and a hundred other things too.

The other characters are less clearly motivated – we don’t look inside their heads in the same way. The film will only see them in the context of Stirling and Jasmine. But I wanted to try and make these characters so there was room for them to be interesting, singular, surprising people for the brief period we’re spending with them. I’ve tried to make these scenes a little bit stretched away from expectations, to make them unpredictable, not just to be interesting but also because going home with a new person, a stranger, is an unpredictable and uncontrollable event.

©Seal in the Sea 2010


Funding Applications!

Posted in "other", News on June 10, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

It’s been a while since updating this… More films on the way – next I think is a couple of short films from various times through the years, and after that we’ll start getting into the other features.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested, I’m also going to start – probably just as intermittently  – start posting other related things.  Today: Some ideas expressed as funding applications, specfically the 3 ideas we applied with for the Escalator scheme, earlier this year. We liked these ideas, and thought with our background in no-budget film making, and a decent, laterally experienced team, we’d at least make the 12 who went through to “boot camp” – especially since the initial description of what they were looking for was people with lateral ideas who could conceive and produce films at a low budget ($250K). Instead they went for familiar names from their short film funding lists who submitted what mostly looked like the same genre films that get made otherwise.

A couple of them can be maybe made for less – with compromises – and have been submitted to CNZ this round. The cricket film is a bit more expensive – but seems to be much liked as well, and is maybe a bit more commercially viable. We think we’d need a bit more for it, though the other two can be maybe done for the 30k each  CNZ may give out – though such a low budget for such ambitious films means the same stresses and damages on everybody involved as we always seem to have.

The funding submissions for Escalator required 3 one page story ideas, plus half a page on how they’d be made. This is what we submitted. Any feedback is welcome

Since The Accident

Its right at the end of the relationship – that moment where everything is poised before both Jasmine and Stirling take their last plunge into agreeing that it’s over. They think hard, they look at each with a tired respect, they’re going to do it properly, with love and respect and care…

“Are we finished?”

“Yes we are”

They hold each other for a moment, strong, secure and resolved and then the movie starts and we get to watch it all fall over, violently and messily.

For both of them, it’s been so long since they’ve been single, they’ve forgotten how it works. Jasmine is beaten down and distressed, her self-esteem all gone, as she tries to transform their old flat into her own space. Stirling falls back to his old family home, where he grew up, and is now alone. He tries to rebuild himself from scratch and to sell himself back to the world on his own terms.

They both leap into sexual encounters with new people. Stirling assertively and coldly pushes himself onto others, with an increasingly shaky grip on himself and a progressive loss of his own control. Jasmine starts off tentatively, unable to allow herself to enjoy being with anyone, then slowly builds in confidence and independence.

In the middle of their diverging paths, they meet, at a gig, a band they used to listen to together. Predictably, an initial warmth leads to fucking, and then to a chill. Their bodies don’t fit together anymore, and they each know all too well how to hurt the other. Eventually Jasmine asks Stirling to leave.

They return to seeking solace in others. As Jasmine starts to find new ways she can get around, an increasingly aggressive Stirling is headed for a breakdown.

After an especially harsh encounter, he turns up at Jasmine’s, climbing in through the kitchen window. She’s quietly getting drunk on the bedroom floor, thinking heavily if not well. Seemingly unsurprised to see him suddenly turn up in her house, she launches into a torrent of anxious, drunken, messy catharsis, an emotional purge of everything she can’t get rid of any other way. He sits through it in silence.

Afterwards he asks to hold her. What starts calm and almost sweet turns violent and disturbing. She eventually pushes him off her, and he runs for the door closely pursued by her wine bottle. We end with her staring out the window as he walks down the street to an uncertain future.

Shooting Since The Accident

Since the Accident is about trying to fuck your way out of trouble. It’s different kind of film to make in a culture where “too much information” is the reply to any personal statement about sex, and where our cinema flinches from even acknowledging that sex is a complex and uncontrollable part of people’s lives.

The sex in the film will be relatively graphic, but much more emotionally so than physically. As in real life, its complicated and messy, Violent and ugly at some times, quiet and calm at others, but always concerned with the appropriate emotions for this film of power and powerlessness, fear and failure, anger and grief… but also the search for meaningful emotional connection.

To do this requires time and money – not a lot by film standards, but more than a no-budget process can provide. The most important resource is the actors, and the budget will be based first and foremost around giving them and I what we’ll need. The best way to negotiate this is slowly and carefully, building trust between actor and director in the work-shopping process, taking time to build the scenes in a private and secure environment.

Little Bits of Light, the best budgeted film I’ve made, gives an idea what can be done with two actors in 2 weeks of work-shopping and 4 weeks of shooting. For Since The Accident, we have considerably more demanding roles, and many more characters – there are 8 substantial smaller roles in the film. With the more considerable Escalator budget, we will have time to get it right with all of them.

This is a film that benefits from the techniques I have developed over 4 no- to (very) low- budgeted films – combining improvisation with written and planned elements, getting in close to events in sustained takes when shooting in real locations and real time, complex and concentrated work with the actors in developing the characters and events, a small crew (about 6) fully engaged with the job to be done. Everything is stripped back down to a flexible, responsive unit, because the focus of the film is on drawing out and distilling physical and emotional reality, not on creating a false world from scratch.

Not that this means it won’t be a striking film physically – but an audience is always much more emotionally touched by the change in the expression on an actor’s face, than they are by an action set piece. The film making is about finding, seeing, hearing the emotion in the scene and in the location, rather than imposing a look or a style upon a scene that destroys the ability of the emotion to be expressed.

Untitled Cricket film

Its day 3 of a poorly attended test match. The other side had posted a big total, and the NZ side is characteristically up against it.

First over: Facing is struggling opener Batsman. Poor form, incipient depression, and an inability to get on with others in the team have damaged his prospects, despite obvious talent and intelligence and, once, an unusual degree of patience and application for a NZ batsmen. An unfashionable and curmudgeonly grafter, Batsman is often at odds with the rest of the team, a sarcastic and isolated individual with an old-fashioned attitude to a game increasingly professional and aggressive in its attitudes to fitness, morality, and application.

We watch in real time as Batsman struggles to survive this first over, with a focus on elements of the game we don’t see in television broadcasts – the distances between people, the speed and violence and nastiness of the game, the way in which sportsmanship has obviously been replaced by more pressing commercial imperatives. Ball by ball, Batsman somehow manages to survive at the crease, until an ignominious dismissal on the last ball of the over.

After the long walk back to the dressing room – and the obvious repression of expressing how angry he feels – Batsman destroys his bat, shreds his clothes, and leaves the arena without talking to anyone else in the team.

From here he disappears into a bender of ridiculous proportions: drinking, arguing, fighting, whatever he can hide behind. He’s also hiding behind the fact that no one will recognise him without a helmet or a cap on – the way cricketers, or at least batsmen are always seen and usually remembered.

Through the course of the night, everything he does gets more ridiculous – throwing up in the gutter, only staying in bars where there’s no mention of sport, visiting a brothel where he responds to a moment of recognition by pretending to be foreign, waking in an alley bleeding and bruised the next morning.

He gets back to the game moments before he’s supposed to go out to bat again – the rest of the New Zealand team hadn’t done much better. Stopping only to dress in cricket whites and apply a little makeup to his blackened eyes – the TV audience mustn’t know about his issues just yet – he staggers out to open the batting in the follow on.

Promptly, he gets hit in the chest, falls over and is taken off the field and to the hospital.

At the hospital, while NZ wickets continue to fall at an alarming rate, again, he tries to recover. He makes a scene , gets pumped up with painkillers and returns to the arena in time to return to the crease as last man in.

New Zealand is hundreds of runs behind as he emerges, bandaged and limping. He starts to bat like a wild man – swinging and connecting, scoring runs all around the field, constructing a highly unlikely last ditch defense.

Of course, they don’t make it. They don’t even make the other side bat again. They just manage to salvage a little dignity, take up a little more time. Eventually, Batsman gets out and walks off the field, his career and mental health uncertain… but maybe a little better than at the start of the film.

Shooting the cricket film

This film started from thinking about the famous 1953 test between New Zealand and South Africa where Bert Sutcliffe came back out with a huge bandage on his head, and Bob Blair coped with the death of his fiance in the Tangiwai disaster to defy the South Africans for an extra hour. They still lost, but in the process they defined the way the perpetually battling NZ cricket team is viewed.

At the same time, I was thinking about recent opening batsmen – We’ve had one quit because of depression, another gets into trouble for drinking too much – and the game isn’t anything like it was in 1953. The game story here still is very familiar to any follower of the Black Caps – a test match, a big total, a batting collapse, a follow-on – there’s a test match like this going on as I write.

I also thought about how we construct national identity and celebrity in New Zealand, and the confused and contradictory pressures of being a representative icon whom nobody can actually recognise without a hat, even though everybody can see you have problems.

Batsman is an old fashioned cricketer, a battler. He’d be tailor made for the role of the Man Alone, the last ditch sporting hero, if this was a movie about heroism… Instead he has to do media training and be a good ambassador for the game. He may play “valiantly”, but in this less innocent age, the physical and emotional pressures of his job are destructively incompatible with the very idea of heroism. A hero doesn’t go on benders.

What makes cricket strange and interesting is the contradictions: on one hand, a team game where most of the key moments are solitary; on the other hand a long game featuring extended periods of inaction for most of the players, especially the unsuccessful ones. The very few films about cricket are usually about sporting heroism or about nostalgia – and this film will make passing reference to both those things within the context of the main character. But it also provides a singular yet culturally resonant framework for watching a character struggling with their life.

For something that is so endlessly watched on television as cricket, the first challenge is to find images the audience isn’t familiar with. But the extremely precise, high tech, telephoto lens, super slow motion nature of cricket coverage gives us a low budget but cinematic way of dealing with this story : restore the game’s actual nature to the viewer. Making no reference to anything off the pitch and using wide angle lenses and long takes, will restore the internal reality of the game – brutal bursts of violence surrounded by the player waiting and battling with themselves.

Untitled Road movie

Two bands travel across Cook Strait to play 4 gigs in the South Is, after shows in the North Island. One are well known, have been playing and releasing albums for years, although like most “legendary” “underground” NZ bands, they don’t tour all that often. The other are a new combination of experienced and new musicians, full of energy but not exactly familiar with each other yet.

Our central characters are B, the bass player in the new band, who’s never toured before, and R, the “road manager,” who definitely has.

As they travel, they deal with the usual aggravations and indignities of bands touring with little money and little space. Tensions flare, equipment breaks, audiences are unpredictable.

These are not 20 year olds in their first bands – these are older people, some have been doing it a while, some for too long. Sex and drugs aren’t so important to these people – when those things are there, they serve an almost nostalgic function. Drink is a bit different though, and there’s a strong focus in the film world on drinks before and after the show – and how it can upset the fragile emotional states of performers already struggling with the whole thing.

A fantastic night in Takaka starts the film hopefully, but nobody enjoys the hangover driving down the West Coast to Greymouth. After the Greymouth R and B take two local women back to the backpackers’ where R crashes out and B spends the night listening to them talk about how awful their small town lives are.

Dunedin is always expected to be the best crowd of the tour, but comes after a long drive where everyone is exhausted and sick of each other, and the band doesn’t play at their best. Christchurch is the last show, and the most depressing turnout, and the long drive back up the country to catch the ferry results in the climax of building arguments and recriminations. B’s anxiety and relative lack of skill on his instrument have made him the scapegoat, and R and the rest of the band leave him on the side of the road as the van drives off

Making the film

The central notion of this film is that we organise an actual tour of the South Island for two bands – one will be a real and well known New Zealand band, who will feature more peripherally in the film, and the other will be created for the film from a combination of musicians and actors, but will be forced to function as a band in gig scenes.

We take two or three weeks over it – rather than the 4 or 5 days usually spent on tour – with a combination of planned events and room for spontaneous ones. The crew travels effectively as the bands do – although the budget gives us a bit of room to do things more thoroughly and comfortably than a touring band usually can, so there is a decent margin for error.

The film is drama shot with documentary technique, with a small and responsive crew, so we can seamlessly integrate dramatic set pieces with found events, documentary elements recording an actual tour and a detailed depiction of the process of creating and performing music ,

We run the tour in such a way that what happens is what really happens on a tour like this, both for better and worse – Audiences will only be in the film if they are choosing to come to the gigs we’ve actually organized and promoted. The live sound will be the sound we get in the place we shoot.

But we will also have carefully controlled set ups – like the girls in Greymouth – which provides a strong scene in the middle of the film about how rock ‘n roll expectations never quite work out how you expect, but which we probably can’t rely on to occur spontaneously in front of the camera.

All stories written by and copyright Campbell Walker.

Of course, there’s been more work done on all these outside the formats required… Since the Accident has been in process for a while, and will work well if we get time to make it properly – the other two need more work yet, though in the band film the process means that only a limited amount should be planned too aggressively.

In the meantime, I’ve spent the last week suffering from a fairly major toothache – which kicked in the night before the recent CNZ application was due, which, er, compromised it a little. Its hard to write stuff while in fairly extreme and mind clouding pain, I’ve learned. After a lengthy and almost equally painful struggle to get social welfare to pay for the treament, I’m having two teeth out tomorrow. After the wait to get to the dentist, I think I’m actually looking forward to it…