Blockhouse Blues and the Elmore Beast
Festivus brings in films from all over the world. With “Blockhouse Blues and the Elmore Beast” we bring a flavor of Australia to Denver this year. It screens Sunday, Jan 15th – 5:00PM at the Bug Theatre. Get your tickets here!
Here’s the writer/director, Ross McQueen, discussing how he made it:
Festivus Film Festival: This is your first feature film and it must be very exciting for you. Describe what your experience was as a first time filmmaker, and what kind of lessons you could pass onto other filmmakers who are attempting their first feature?
Ross McQueen: Yes, it was very exciting. Gruelling also. It all starts with a great script and the best cast you can get. They go in hand in hand. If the script is good enough you should be able to attract good actors even on a limited budget. Unless your family and friends are professional actors, don’t cast them. They can’t act.
Something we did pretty well was be organised. You can’t be too organised. The shoot is going to be insanity whatever, but if you plan well you can make it easier. We managed to shoot the film in 16 days, which is pretty amazing, but more so considering we were at a new location virtually every day. Good planning and preparation is vital, and doesn’t cost anything.
Finally, get good sound. Good sound is more important than pretty visuals.
FF: Your screenplay was submitted to Trigger Street, which begs the question: did the film start there? Was the film developed from that submission with any useful feedback?
RM: Trigger Street (the online writer’s group, started by Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti) is an incredible resource for writers and taught me a great deal, especially about the craft of writing and how to present myself and my work in a professional manner. Specifically in terms of this script, it didn’t help so much – the version I uploaded is pretty much the shooting script. I guess the feedback showed me that the script was what I wanted it to be and wasn’t for everyone. But generally Trigger Street can be a fantastic resource for writers.
FFF: What were the biggest challenges you faced in directing a comedy? How do you know the jokes are good if you’ve been with them for awhile, especially as a writer? Did you use any techniques to keep your comedy “fresh” in your mind?
RM: There’s always an element of self-doubt with comedy. “Is this funny?” “Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny?” You just have to trust your judgement I guess. I think it comes back to the script and the actors. Being a writer director is pretty big advantage, because you know the script so intimately. I was confident the humour was on the page.
During the shoot there wasn’t time to contemplate the comedy or much else. Shooting 6 or 7 pages a day there’s always a key scene to shoot coming up or a tricky thing to get right or something to worry about.
We had some really strong actors, particularly the main four, who got their characters straight away and understood the type of film we were trying to make. They really respected the script too, so essentially we shot it word for word, which was important, given the time constraints.
It’s more now, a year and endless post production work down the track. Now, someone laughs at a joke and I think “Oh, that’s right, that’s funny.”
FFF: What would you say is the hardest part about making a feature length movie? And to post script that question: does doing it in Australia make it any easier?
RM: The hardest thing I found about making this movie was the sheer volume of work. The less money you have the more you tend to substitute hard work for additional crew members. For example, on a regular film whole teams of people work on the post production – for Blockhouse the entire post production (with the exception of composing the music) was completed by just two people. So, two of us did everything from syncing the sound, to editing the film, to creating and recording all the foley, to final sound mix and picture grading, to duplicating and sending out the DVDs for festivals. It’s an enormous amount of work.
I’m not sure making it in Australia makes it at all easier. There are a lot of very talented people down here, so that helps. Australia also has government funding bodies that invest in films, which I am sure would make things easier, if you were lucky to be deemed worthy of their funding. For me though, it’s probably not much different from making a low budget film anywhere in the world. I wanted to show what I could do as a writer and director. No one was going to just hand that to me. The only way it was going to happen was to scrape together what I could and create the opportunity for myself.