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ANATOMY OF A LOW BUDGET, PRIVATELY FINANCED AUSTRALIAN FILM

DREAMS ARE A BITCH - BUT THEY CAN GET MADE
It was about to shoot when they lost 25% of the money. . . it was spartan and draining, but as Spudmonkey's producer JONATHAN SILVER tells in his own words, the film was getting made because everyone believed in the screenplay. This is how it happened:

Stuart McBratney - the writer / director of the film is an extraordinarily gifted creative artist. He writes, directs, he is a very good DoP in his own right, he composes music and plays a series of instruments very very well. He is a 25 year old filmmaker who won a couple of really prestigious new filmaker awards (national awards) for his short film, The Test, in 1998.

Inspired by character driven films like Brothers McMullen, Chasing Amy and by Kevin Smith's film Clerks, Stuart developed "Spudmonkey" and had tried to get the project up on his own through the usual channels and was getting very frustrated because he was getting nowehere. He decided he would make the film on his own and his family supported him with money that would provide partial finance for the project.

"a really interesting small project"

Everyone I knew in the industry up here in Brisbane kept talking about the great pool of talent we have up here but how it is impossible to get a feature film up and made in Queensland. I kept hearing you had to move south if you wanted to succeed.

I had come home quite sick from filming In a Savage Land up in the Trobriands but the period of convalescing gave me time to think about what I wanted to do next.

I decided I wanted to find a really interesting small project and make a low budget film within the next year or so and see if I could finance it outside the normal channels to prove that it could be done. I started circulating and putting signals out that I was looking for a low budget feature that could be shot in Brisbane and that is how Stu and I met.

He told me "his" story. He was a graduate of the Queensland College of Art with a Bachelor of Visual Arts in Film and Television. He'd got his first video camera at the age of eleven so he had over 14 years of filmmaking experience. He'd freelanced over the last few years both here and in London. He'd worked on a lot of short films, documentaries, TV commercials and corporate videos as a writer / director / cameraman / producer but said he wanted to find a producer he could work with who could get the project up and give him the opportunity to focus on the writing and directing.

Stuart had been very smart in the way he had strategically planned exactly how he could make this film from a technical point of view. He had savvy, he was pragmatic and he wasn't a prima donna. I admired his determination and we hit it off. - the personal chemistry between us was right and I think we both knew then that we could work together. He left me the script and some of his short films and the music tracks he had composed for Spudmonkey.

"I wanted to do it"

I read the script and really liked it and immediately knew I wanted to do it. His short film The Test was great - it had won him the Supreme Award and the Youth Award at the Tropicarnival National Video Awards and he'd previously picked up the Queensland Young Filmmakers Award for best secondary school drama for Psycho Nerd when he was at school. So here was a young director with some real talent and lots of potential with a good script and some exciting original music. We had the foundations for getting this project up.

I put a call through to an old friend Michel Bouskila in Sydney and he liked the script as much as I did. He flew up and we met with Stuart on the Gold Coast and we agreed to produce it. We believed we had a strong package for a low budget film and we were fortunate in being able to put together the finance in a fairly short period of time from private investors in Brisbane in Sydney.

We had all agreed from the outset that the script needed further development so Stuart undertook a major re-write working with me and with Tom Betts as his script consultant .

I kid you not, everyone who read the final version of Stuart's script were as enthusiastic as Michel and I had been. From the moment we started exposing it to potential cast, crew, sponsors, investors etc. Everyone seemed to want to be involved. People started calling us - the thing had a real buzz about it.

The project had all of the budgetary restrictions that go along with being a low budget film but it was also an ambitious project with some very big scenes that made it a very demanding shoot.

"innovative planning"

Whilst Stuart had been very clever in the way that he constructed the script and we were convinced it was logistically possible on our budget, we had to do some very careful and very innovative planning about how we tackled some of the more difficult aspects and when you have a limited budget you don't have any choice but to think creatively and out of left field.

So by the Xmas 1999 break we had the film crewed and all cast members were now in place and we were set to roll and the project now had critical mass.

We had to be shooting in January/February - we had little choice - there was a window of opportunity to shoot a very big concert scene that was critically important to the plot within that time frame that we had to take because the next opportunity at that location was simply not available again for three months unless we threw a lot more money at it, which we just didn't have in the budget.

Then out-of-the-blue just prior to the start of filming we had a major problem which almost stopped the shoot and had forced us to re-schedule by a few weeks. At that time I knew that we were in real danger of losing the considerable momentum that the project was building and also losing some of our key cast and crew due to other commitments if there were any further postponements I was absolutely determined we were going to make this film within that timeframe. So we strategised and problem solved.

Our problem was that one of the investors who was putting up 25% of the budget and who had formally signed the shareholders agreement when we incorporated the company indicated their financial situation had changed and couldn't provide their investor funds. Now 25% of the budget is a big slice. I'd planned 5% visible contingency and had an extra 5% "hidden" contingency built into the budget but finding another 15% on-top-of-that wasn't easy on a film that was already too big for the existing budget.

"the golden rule of low budget film making"

We agreed that we just had to go back to the golden rule of low budget film making - put every single dollar up on the screen. So for every single budget item we asked "if we cut this item out would it stop the film being made or detract from the quality on screen?" If the answer was "no" then it got the chop or was dramatically cut back. It eliminated some of the things we would really have like to have done and made conditions on the film a lot more spartan than we would have liked but it worked and saved the film. We commenced principal photography in late January.

The cast were magnificent. Greg Powell, Alistair Tomkins, Samantha Fitzgerald and Damien Garvey aren't household names at the moment but some of them are going to get noticed after Spudmonkey. Its the old story - here are a group of very talented actors who just don't get the breaks because they don't live in Sydney or Melbourne and aren't visible.

The film was shot on Super 16mm and we had a really talented upcoming young DoP named Andrew Strahorn and I think we are going to hear a lot more about him too over the coming years. (Strahorn shot Vinganca, Darcy Yuille's short film which won the Young Queensland Filmmaker Award [2000] as Best Film.)

We crewed the film with some of the most interesting new behind-the-camera talent up here in Queensland. There were a few experienced people in key roles like Georgina Greenhill our Production Designer and Christy Beard who did a great job as First AD but the crew were mostly short-film filmmakers and/or recent university film school graduates just waiting for a chance at a feature. We also lost two experienced heads of department just days out from the start of the shoot so I promoted two of my younger crew Glenn Jones and Adam McPhail and they were absolutely outstanding.

They entire crew were magnificent. I take my hat off to them - we had one of the most difficult and arduous shooting schedules you could imagine and they just got on and did the job with complete professionalism and not a single complaint from anyone during the whole shoot.

"targeted at the 16-24 year old market"

Spudmonkey is targeted at the 16-24 year old market and judging by the reaction that I've witnessed first hand, from the people in that target audience who've heard the music tracks - we have a hot soundtrack. The Brisbane music scene as you are probably aware is burgeoning at the moment and there is some real talent up here. Spudmonkey has a really interesting
range of songs which have all been locally composed.

We started post-production on April 10, 2000 and if things go according to schedule we'll have Stu's cut ready by the last quarter this year.

May, 2000

Email this article


Jon Silver

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SPUDMONKEY -
synopsis and marketing tags (as presented to potential investors)

Dreams are such a bitch

One sentence outline
A 25 year old pizza delivery boy achieves his dream of drumming in a successful rock band only to be replaced by computers, and in the process learns the value of friendship.

Style/Genre
Spudmonkey is a contemporary comedy drama.

Main theme
Follow your dreams, but not at the expense of your friends.

Underlying themes
Computers can do many jobs better than humans, but they can't write poetry.
Young people can learn a lot from old people.

Story lines
A story: JEFF searches for success but finds friendship.
B story: ALEX finds success is not all it's cracked up to be, and learns
how to trust.
C story: NAOMI is forced to lie to keep her job.

Characters
JEFF: Funny, uncool, strong self-belief now fading.
ALEX: Deep thinking, self-doubting, untrusting, good looks
NAOMI: Ambitious, friendly, beautiful, corruptible
STAN: Dictatorial, jealous, cunning

Relationships
JEFF teaches ALEX how to trust.
ALEX teaches JEFF the value of friendship.
NAOMI screws over ALEX and JEFF to achieve her goals, but finally redeems herself.
STAN is jealous of JEFF, thus hates him.


Samantha Fitzgerald (Naomi)


Alistair Tomkins (Alex)

Synopsis
Jeff Brookes (Greg Powell), 25, is a talented drummer. Between delivering pizzas and dealing with unsupportive parents, he searches fruitlessly for a 'band that doesn't suck'. Finally he meets Alex (Alastair Tomkins), an angst-ridden but brilliant singer/songwriter/guitarist.

Their road through the music world is a rocky one, in which jealousy, technology or ruthless ambition could destroy their success at any moment. As Jeff searches for an identity, one thing becomes clear: dreams are such a bitch.

Spudmonkey is a contemporary comedy about coping with life, keeping your friendships, and never giving up.

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Contact: Jon Silver
Tel: +61 7 3893 0721
Email: jdsilver@ozemail.com.au

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