This ain't no Hollywood. Anyone remotely involved in any aspect of the Australian independent film industry is well aware of this statement of fact. Sure, with the ever increasing ease and access to film equipment (even on our phones), virtually anyone can film something and have it be viewed by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people, but that's not the point.
Filming something on your phone or GoPro and uploading it to YouTube isn't necessarily about making art, true expression, introducing and building character development or real viewer engagement. It's more so about the 'here' and 'now' generation attempting literally anything just to be the next flavour of the week. Independent film and filmmakers don't do what they do for fame or fortune, for if they did, they'd all be following other, more profitable vocations years ago. Very few of us are famous and even less of us have any real and measurable financial wealth as a result of this industry, however what we do have is copious amounts of wealth in creativity, in our vision, in our path and our decisions.
We don't just have ideas and sit on them. We are artists. We are doers. We meet and chat, we draw (story-boarding), we structure and plan (producers), we fund raise and seek investors (executive producers), we manage budgets, we are marketers, we design fantastic sets and stunning outfits, we provide make-up, special effects and props that are as authentic as the real thing. We write stories that enchant, allowing the mind to wander and emotion to linger, we write music and soundtracks that haunt us in their beauty, we perform, we collaborate, we bring strangers together and create families, we promote locations, companies, services and businesses and we package all that and more into a tangible product and release it into the world full of hope, yet with a mountain of uncertainty of what will ever come from it.
Sadly, for the most part, the state and national film finance and funding bodies aren't generally interested in providing funding for short films and from my primary experience as an Executive Producer on a major Australian independent film, even feature films made in this country have to fight for funding, especially when there no world renowned or household names attached to the screenplay.
So how do we do it? How do we keep an unofficial, unrecognised, thankless and seldom spoke about industry running and operating smoothly? Many of us work, either full time, part time or holding down several casual jobs for the betterment of sustaining our creative passion and endeavours in film. What's involved is some very serious collaboration and commitment to get almost all of these projects off the ground. A considerable amount of time spent away from family and friends after hours, during the night, on weekends, public holidays and in obscure and remote locations in order to fulfill that which drives us.
"But you're in the film industry, you must be paid well?"
Hmm yeah, about that; yes and no is the answer. You see (speaking from my acting point of view) when we get auditions for TV commercials, TV shows or Feature Films and are fortunate enough to land the job, then yes, you won't anyone complaining about rates of pay. Payment for studio backed productions are typically very generous, and the amount increases the more you are on screen or the more you speak. So yes, your assumptions would be correct there. This often applies to crew as well. However independent films are well, just that, independent. They're usually not studio-backed, which means these productions are often self-funded or crowdfunded.
You'll notice how I didn't say "professional productions" when speaking about studio-backed films? There's two reasons for that. One is because there's no guarantee of professionalism from a crew or on a production simply because the production is fully funded, but more importantly, to speak of paid work as "professional" would depreciate and disrespect the extreme level of professionalism that I have experienced in my film and TV career on almost every independent production. It would severely undermine not only myself but all of my contacts, colleagues, associates and acquaintances in the industry who I know work damn hard on their craft and passion, and it's just not something I'm prepared to do.
In fact, I would even say that the level of professionalism is just as if not more evident than studio-backed productions. Why? Because on an independent film, the money just isn't there or flowing; it's tight and everyone knows it. They work above and beyond, often without pay, during their own personal time, to get it done. There's an unspoken, unseen energy on set, where everyone bands together, supporting each other to fulfill that same creative vision. There's excitement, there's fatigue and there's hunger ever so present (aside from the mandatory Subway and Jelly Beans). All of this and so much more is what is referred to as "the buzz" that exists on a film set. It can't be described any easier or more succinctly than that.
Everyone involved in Australian independent film is acutely aware of the fact that the bulk of their work on an indie film will be unpaid. It's not desirable, but we accept it due to various reasons outlined earlier on. There are no shortage of conversations, forums and blog posts online as well as disgruntlement offline about the lack of money going around for indie films and experienced cast and crew.
Recently I've collaborated with Primitive Films to be the Executive Producer of their new independent film 'They Can't Hear You.' Part of what I'm responsible for is raising capital to meet or exceed the budget (which was achieved), as well as sourcing professional and talented crew for the production. We actually exceeded our budget with our fundraising and investment campaign, with a total of 104% of our goal raised, a stellar effort indeed. This means we have the money to pay people for their trade, talent, skills, ability and experience; which in the Australian independent film industry is a very rare occurrence indeed.
I'd imagine we should have people chomping at the bit to be a part of this production, not only because it's a fantastic screenplay from a multi award-winning production company, but also because there's an opportunity to be paid. Whilst majority of key roles have already been cast and locked in (both for cast and crew), there remains several that we still need to fill, all paid roles. Although we are currently in discussions with some key people we've targeted for these roles and others who have gone out of their way to respond to us in great detail as to why they unfortunately won't be able to join the production (scheduling and budget issues mainly), there are also some individuals out there who are letting the entire independent film industry down by first expressing their keen interest in the project prior to the funding campaign concluding, and then virtually disappear without a trace after it concluded.
It's 2017, we are blessed with a myriad of mediums, platforms and tools at our disposal in order to communicate with others, but after exhausting every one of them in order to follow-up with these interested parties, their clear lack of response, acknowledgement and professionalism has highlighted an ugly side to our industry; the 'me' generation. So yes, despite being able to offer something quite uncommon for a short film, paid work with an award-winning production company, we have found the snakes head of the industry and will simply cut it off.
The word independent in film means that we are in dependence of others in order to get things happening and require commitment and follow-through. Sadly this minority in the industry are responsible for giving it a bad name, but it's a small industry and this behaviour won't be tolerated, all it does is expedite your name to a blacklist.
So this is our challenge in the Australian independent film industry. Reliability, loyalty, commitment and communication. People complain about the lack of paid work, we offer it to them and they purposely do not respond. This is by no means a majority-based issue, because all that has been said above about the beauty of what we do remains truth and whilst our list of names and amazing talented contacts and those we wish to work with continues to grow, the blacklist is not too far behind at all.
So the decision is yours, which list do you want to be on? Make the call.
Thanks for reading.
If you'd like to keep updated with the progress of our amazing short psychological thriller and horror film They Can't Hear You, simply follow Primitive Films on Facebook or subscribe to my blog for updates.