Category Archives: Film

“Follow Friday” Article on Crikey

For his regular Follow Friday column on Crikey last week, Matthew Clayfield (@mclayfield) interviewed Wastelander Panda director Victoria Cocks and me about the process of making the project to date, as well as crowdfunding, working in SA and the Australian film industry. The first part of the article is below, or you can read the whole thing here.

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The opening shots are like something out of a Western. A seemingly endless sky. A row of lopsided power lines. Saltbush. On the soundtrack, the wind whistles across the plain, while a sombre, sonorous voiceover intones:

“My father once told us that water didn’t always burn. That you could drink it as it was falling. But that was long before his time, before the earth took its last breath and, with it, began to die.”

A hand enters the frame, holding a glass bottle, which it fills with dirty water from a pond. Well, not a hand, exactly. A paw. A big, black, furry paw. As the voiceover continues —  ”They say the sky collapsed not long after, and that is when the chaos began” — we cut to an extreme wide shot. A huge panda, wearing human clothes and walking upright, makes his way across the landscape, his cooking utensils hanging from his knapsack and clanging slightly in the breeze.

“For 15 years, I have concealed myself from the worst of this world. Soon, it will discover me again.”

This is our introduction to Arcayus, the hero of Wastelander Panda (@wastelandrpanda), a post-apocalyptic adventure series that started life as a joke between friends, grew into a three-minute teaser and a trilogy of short films, and has now been picked up by the ABC as a six-part series to be released exclusively on iView later this year. It’s a project that wouldn’t exist without social media, hinting at new and exciting paths for Australian filmmakers — especially emerging ones — to follow.

Read the rest at Crikey: http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/02/21/follow-friday-victoriacocks1-and-kirstysan-digital-adventurers/

SXSW Tips for First Time Attendees

Having attended SXSW in 2013, I was asked for some tips by a couple of people making the trip this year.  Some of the advice is aimed at filmmakers / multi-platform creators whose work is in the program, whereas the rest could apply to anyone attending, but I thought I’d put it out there so anyone can make the most of it.

Planning / Self-Promotion

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This section is primarily aimed at filmmakers, or anyone who wants to get networking / business opportunities out of attending.

- Go to http://schedule.sxsw.com/ and make a tentative calendar of all the stuff you want to go to.  Interactive sessions had huge lines compared to the film ones, so be prepared to get there really early to get a place for the ones you want, and have backup plans. It seems a lot of companies send their marketing people for work trips and get them interactive badges. Film conference sessions were less crowded for the most part, except for the ones with big name speakers.  If there’s something you really want to see, consider skipping the session before, rather than running from one to the next to find out that people have been lining up outside for the past hour.

- Once you sign in to the SXSW website you can fill out a profile and message people to contact them.  You can search by where they are attending from, or for keywords (company names etc).  It’s a good way to plan some of your meetings in advance.

- Go to http://mentor.sxsw.com/ and read all of the mentor bios, then set up mentor sessions with the people you want to meet.  I think you can pre-register for up to 2 sessions per badge, but if you have additional people you want to see, go to the venue in the morning and see if there are any cancellations or gaps.  The volunteers will often let you do more if there are spaces.

- You can look at who is speaking at all of the sessions at this link (http://schedule.sxsw.com/?lsort=speaker&day=ALL) to find out who will be there, especially people who haven’t registered a profile on the website, or aren’t mentoring – if you want to Google for their contact details and set up meetings.

- Hang out in the filmmaker lounge to meet and network with other filmmakers.

- Take small giveaways relating to your film/app that you can hand out to people you meet (and help them remember you).  We took Wastelander Panda badges, but even something like postcards of the film poster with your screening times printed on them are great.

- Take business cards! Last year you could order free cards as a delegate through moo.com.  They were branded with their name and SXSW, but a lot of people had them, and you could customise them with images from your film and your own text (e.g. contact details or screening times) to hand out – which saves paying for printing!  I think you had to log in to the SXSW website and select the offer to get them – then you can either pay for postage or pick them up for free once you get to Austin.

- There are a lot of spaces (glad-wrapped posts) for taping posters, especially around the Convention Center. If you want to get attention, print up some A3 (or larger) posters.  There are a LOT, so if it doesn’t go against the vibe of your film (or even if it does) I’d recommend something that stands out (e.g. black on fluoro). Again, don’t forget your screening/session times. Tip: have enough to potentially do it a second time if people cover yours up with theirs.

Food / Drinks / Entertainment 

- There is a Mexican place (Micheladas) across the street from the Convention Center that does frozen margaritas and you get free corn chips and salsa if you order drinks.  They also do Mexican meals.  They have a courtyard and a rooftop and it’s a nice way to escape the madness for a little bit.

- You NEED to eat the following things:
* Barbecue. We ate at IronWorks near the Convention Center, which has a display of people who have eaten there, including both Obama and Bush, but there are plenty of options and everyone has their favourites. Moose Knuckle pub is also good for a quick introduction to BBQ (in a soft taco) between conference sessions, rather than the longer experience at an actual BBQ restaurant.
* Beef Brisket (fits into the above category)
* Queso (essentially a cheese dip, but sooooo good). Different everywhere you go, but all versions are great.

- If you walk down 6th Street and look through the windows of bars, you’ll find the one with long tables covered in sawdust with puck-like things on the tables.  Go in and play this game – even if you don’t know the rules, it’s a great way to meet people who do. (Networking!)

- Go to the opening night and closing night parties and anything with free food and drink.  Go to the tents giving out free drinks. Walk around the Convention Center or 6th Street and make the most of all the free food being handed out by sponsors.  You can avoid paying for most of your meals if you want/need to.

- Eat at the food trucks.

Practical Tips

- Arrive a day early if you can to catch up on sleep, register, figure out where wall the venues, get a sim card and plan further (now that you know how everything relates).

- Go to Wholefoods.  It’s the first ever Wholefoods store that existed, and is a pretty amazing supermarket experience if you’ve never seen one before.

- If you’re from overseas and want/need a local sim card, the ONLY place we could find to get them (after going to 3 other phone stores) was AT&T, directly across the road from Wholefoods.  Make sure you take an unlocked phone.  This was also the place where we made our first few friends (amongst all of the international attendees who also needed sim cards).

- Popular film screenings (especially with big name actors/directors) have huge lineups – get there early.

- Wear comfortable shoes and don’t carry too much stuff around all day.  If you’re staying outside the main downtown area, don’t expect to go back to your hotel between leaving in the morning and whenever you get home at night.

- Downtown and all of the official venues are really easy to get between, either walking, on the free shuttles or in the Chevrolet taxis (through the Catch a Chevy promotion).

- Cross the river to South Congress for shopping in the more quirky stores (plus an entire store of cowboy boots).

- Get lots of free t-shirts to give to people back home. Everyone gives away random stuff in the street.

- There is free wifi in most of the SXSW venues, Wholefoods and a lot of cafes.

- Have a drink on the balcony at TGI Fridays (in the Radisson) at sunset to see all of the bats fly out from under the bridge.

- And finally, for Australian / NZ / Pacific Attendees, join this Facebook group if you haven’t already. It’s the perfect place to have all your questions answered. https://www.facebook.com/groups/SXSW.2014.Pacific.Attendees/?fref=ts

Thoughts on Tropfest & the Australian Film Industry

Tropfest, Australia’s largest short film festival, screened tonight to almost 100,000 people at the Domain in Sydney, as well as at satellite events around the country and, for the first time, live on free-to-air TV on SBS.

While I’ve sometimes been disappointed with the selection of films at Tropfest in the past, this year’s offering was actually pretty great – a range of audience-pleasing comedies, a gorgeous (& beautifully scored) animation, a wonderful documentary portrait, and some great thought-provoking drama.

I do have a problem with Tropfest though. It’s probably the biggest publicly-accessible celebration of Australian film in the country, and yet it’s failing to do the right thing by our industry as a whole, by insisting on promoting the wrong message about filmmaking to a public who knows no better.

The first thing Tropfest founder John Polson said tonight when opening the festival – in reference to the 16 finalists; and I’m sorry I don’t have the exact quote – was “These guys come out here and make a film for $50, $100, and look at the opportunities they get.”

Watching the broadcast at home from the perspective of a filmmaker, it was incredibly obvious that none of these finalist films was made for $50 or $100, possibly excluding “Better than Sinatra” (the doco) or “Punctured” (the animation) – but only if you discount the costs of equipment and time that went into making them. Judging by my Twitter stream, it seems like most of the filmmaking community thought the same way:

“Nothing says “struggling filmmaker in need of exposure” like an underwater car-crash. #Tropfest” – @andcutfilm

“The last #tropfest film look like it cost about $100k. Good to know the festival is so keen to keep supporting low budget filmmakers.” – @lukebuckmaster

I have no issue with people spending a lot of money making a Tropfest film. If they’re planning to make a short film anyway, there’s no reason not to include that year’s signature item and enter it into a festival that’s going to get their work seen by tens of thousands of people. That’s what we all want for our work, and Tropfest is a fantastic vehicle for the many talented people working on film in this country to show what they’re made of.

What I have a problem with is Tropfest itself devaluing the Australian film industry – the very industry it’s apparently trying to boost – by playing down these fantastic short films as the work of emerging filmmakers trying to get a break, or – worse – your average Joe at home on his couch with a handycam.

Sure, it makes the organisers sound good to be ‘giving people a shot,’ and to some extent, that is what they’re doing, but why not tell right story? The story of actors, directors, cinematographers and VFX artists who have studied or worked in the industry for several years to get where they are. The story that film does cost money, and that for a film like “Time,” the budget was probably closer to $100k than $100. The story that this industry employs a lot of people in Australia, and that every one of the 20 or 30 crew members on most of these films deserves to be paid for his/her work.

There are festivals out there for people starting out, but in 2013, Tropfest isn’t one of them. It’s a festival for people in the mid-stages of their careers, and there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s promoted as such.

At a time when Australian features are looked down upon at the box office as ‘cheap’ compared to Hollywood offerings, or ‘not worth the price of admission,’ surely the best place to start is with the truth. If we build up our film culture as being valuable, right from the very bottom, maybe we’ll start getting better results at the top.

*EDIT* – I previously had the audience numbers at the Domain as 10,000. Thanks to @comedyfish for the correction.

Why I (Still) Live & Work in Adelaide

The choice, as a twenty-something, to live and work in Adelaide is one that people from bigger Australian cities don’t tend to understand. To most, Sydney and Melbourne offer “more” – more job prospects, more touring bands and more things to keep you occupied in your spare time. From a filmmaking perspective, Sydney and Melbourne offer more courses, more consistent work and more chances to network with the “who’s who” of the Australian film industry.

Living here and trying to make a career in film is a choice I’ve made, although it probably wasn’t a conscious one at first. I’m an avid traveller and had lived overseas for a sixth of my life by the time I started uni, but Adelaide was always a great base to come home to. However, after experiencing what Adelaide has to offer me as a filmmaker, I’m actively choosing to stay here, at least for the immediate future. Here’s why:

Amazing Locations
At the risk of sounding like a tourism commercial, we have a pretty incredible mix of landscapes all within a 5-hour drive from Adelaide. Beaches, rivers, salt lakes, orange orchards, farms, vineyards and the amazing Flinders Ranges are all easily accessible, and working on shoots has given me the opportunity to see them all, sometimes living on location for up to three weeks at a time. It’s hard to complain about an early start when you get to see the sun rising over Wilpena Pound on your way to work.

World-Class Talent
SA’s locations are often a drawcard for international productions, which has led to me working on Oranges and Sunshine in Arkaroola, a Japanese TVC in the Riverland, a US/UK commercial on Lake Gairdner and a Russian ad on Kangaroo Island, among others.

Then there’s the opportunity to learn from people who are genuinely among the best in the world at what they do. I’ve worked under multiple Australian cinematographers who are now shooting on a global stage, and even spent several days loading film for two-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson ASC on an SA Tourism commercial directed by Scott Hicks. I doubt it’s normal in any industry to get the chance to work with people at the very top of their game, especially when you’re first starting out. Adelaide’s smaller crew-base and world-class productions have allowed me to fast-track that aspect of my career, and learn a huge amount by doing so.

Cheap Rent
This is a huge one. I live in Parkside, about five minutes’ drive from the centre of Adelaide, in a (slightly run-down) three-bedroom house with a huge backyard. We had friends from Sydney stay with us last year, and discovered that they rent they each paid for a room was almost as much as we paid for our whole house.

Having made the choice to move from cinematography into producing, the ability to work on my own creative projects without worrying about the cost of living is paramount. I love that Adelaide allows me to balance what I want to do with jobs that pay the bills, and that both aspects of my work are in the film industry. I can work on a feature film or a few commercials as a camera assistant, and then take time off to produce films that inspire me. I couldn’t maintain this balance without the cheap cost of living that Adelaide offers, and neither could anyone else I work with on our “love” projects. If we lived in Sydney, Wastelander Panda would simply not exist.

An Awesome Film Community

Adelaide’s small size means that pretty much everyone making films knows each other, or that there’s unlikely to be more than 2 degrees of separation between us. This not only creates a community in which everyone is willing to help each other out, but allows us all to learn from each other and share ideas.

Living in a smaller city also means that there can be dry periods where people have to jump into other crew roles for a while, take on corporate work to get by, or spend the time developing their own projects. It’s a climate that feels unique to South Australia, and in my opinion it’s leading to more multi-talented practitioners, and some fantastic projects coming out of the state.

Three of my favourite teams at the moment are:
- Closer Productions [Life in Movement, Shut Up Little Man, 52 Tuesdays]
- Dinosaur Worldwide [Danger 5, and Italian Spiderman under their former name]
- Studio Sunkie & Young Black Youth [who create amazing music videos & more]

It’s great to live in an environment where people are willing to share ideas and offer their time to make other people’s projects happen.

Supportive Film Organisations

I can only speak from personal experience, but the support of the Media Resource Centre to emerging filmmakers creating their first projects; the trade nights, networking and collaboration encouraged by the Australian Cinematographers Society; and the willingness of the South Australian Film Corporation to look at non-traditional funding models for digital projects have all had a hugely positive impact on my career. I’ve also seen the Adelaide Film Festival‘s progressive thinking and funding assistance make a big difference for others.

So Why am I Here?
I’ve only been working in the film industry for five years, so it’s difficult to make comparisons, but it feels like something special’s happening in SA right now. Ten, or even five years ago, I may not have made the choice to stay, but in a time where you can learn almost anything you want to online, hold meetings with people all over the world on Skype, and fly to Sydney or Melbourne in under two hours, it definitely seems like the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

What About You?
If you’re in SA, why are you still here? Are there other advantages? What do you feel like you’re missing out on? If you’re in other states, do you feel like you have the same advantages? What do we not have that you do? I’d love to hear others’ responses.

Putting Yourself in the Spotlight: The Filmmaking Process Online

Filmmaking has changed. We started Epic Films three years ago, and finished our first two short films, L’Artiste! and Landscape Scene, a year later. Then we sent them off to festivals. After a year, each film had had five or six festival screenings – both local and international, had a few awards and nominations, and had been seen by an estimated 1500 people each.

In contrast, the Wastelander Panda Prologue was seen by 100,000 people in its first few days online. Yes, the context was different; it was a 3 minute Prologue instead of a full narrative film. Yes, it’s easier to “sell” the curiosity of a live-action panda in a Wasteland to an online audience than it could be for an 8 minute film about a mime going on an invisible shooting spree in a park. But there’s something to be said for the internet and its value in making content accessible to anyone who wants to see it, at anytime.

This isn’t a post about internet distribution though. It’s about the difference that the internet makes to the filmmaking process, in a time where filmmakers are using it to develop their work, not just show it. And the major difference is expectation.

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For the last year, while developing Wastelander Panda, I’ve been keeping a close eye on The Underwater Realm, a project being made in the UK by an amazing group of independent filmmakers. I backed them on Kickstarter in the weeks before we released the Wastelander Panda Prologue, and have been inspired by (and learnt a lot from) their journey over the past year. Although there are a lot of differences between the two projects, the similarities are huge. The Underwater Realm has the closest resemblance to Wastelander Panda – in terms of process - of any film project I’ve come across online, which is why it captured my attention.

- Both are based around a story world or concept, rather than an individual plotline.
- Both built up an audience of people eagerly anticipating the release, based solely on the elements they had seen online.
- Both have audiences who contributed to getting the idea made through crowd-funding (they on Kickstarter; we on Pozible).
- Both are made by groups of independent filmmakers hoping to use the projects for skill development and exposure, potentially leading to career opportunities.
- Both are using the internet to share information about the project and keep backers and fans up to date through blogs and social media.
- Finally – and this is the major similarity – both hope to take the project to the next stage after its current incarnation as a web series – in their case, a trilogy of three feature films; in ours, a TV series.

(If anyone knows of other examples of projects following a similar process, I’d love to hear about them. Please let me know in the comments below!)

Making something online in full view of the audience it’s intended for is hard work. It has huge benefits, but it also has one massive downside: the inability to quietly make your work in a corner before releasing it to the world. Once some element is out there, people know about it, and want to see it. They have expectations about what it will be, and you no longer have the luxury of deciding whether it’s worthy of their attention before you you release it. That option was taken from you the minute you started the online journey.

The creators of The Underwater Realm spoke about this in an interview, “Dealing with putting your work out there,” on Philip Bloom’s blog last week. Speaking a week or two after releasing their finished episodes, it was interesting to hear their thoughts on the feedback they received, much of which came from the expectations they set up for the project during its creation. As Philip said,

“That is the biggest problem with things which are hyped. It sets expectations levels really high. It happens with Hollywood movies all the time. Sometimes the hype pays off. Very often it doesn’t. It’s always better in my opinion going into something knowing as little about it as possible. Of course for UWR, this was not possible due to their immense openness with the project from the very beginning.”

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In the case of Wastelander Panda, this openness is what has allowed us to get the project made. The huge advantage in building a supporter base early is that they can then play a part in the process of making your films. We could not have shot the upcoming three episodes of Wastelander Panda without our fans. It would have been impossible. Not only did they donate towards the production costs through our crowd-funding campaign (in turn, proving that a paying audience was out there and enabling us to approach the South Australian Film Corporation for further funding), but they have been there every step of the way – offering props for production design, acting as extras, helping us find locations and giving feedback. Without them, the next three episodes of Wastelander Panda wouldn’t exist.

However, the fact that so many have people have contributed to Wastelander Panda off the back of a three-minute Prologue means that there is a huge level of expectation on us to deliver something they feel is ‘worthy’ – either of their time, their money, or, at a minimum, of the amount of ‘buzz’ they’ve been hearing about it. To many, simply the fact that we’ve filled their Facebook or Twitter feeds with noise about the project, or ‘talked it up,’ gives them an entitlement to criticise it the moment something isn’t exactly the way they expected.

There’s also a fine balance between how information you release to keep your audience interested and engaged, without being detrimental to the final viewing experience. In the case of The Underwater Realm, the production team created weekly video blogs, posters and marketing materials, without giving away the story of the episodes. However, the expectation from the audience was that there would be a strong narrative; leaving many disappointed when the five short ‘teaser’ films didn’t tell as much of the story as they had hoped. Said Mark Ruddick, Associate Producer,

I think some people in the audience were so caught up in the blogs, the posters, the trailer – they forgot that we were making five teasers, not five features!

THE-UNDERWATER-REALM-TEASER-POSTERReleasing a project online also plays a huge part in the way your feedback is received. The majority of filmmakers make their films away from the spotlight before screening them to a close group of crew, family and friends. I’ve been at premiere screenings for feature films with reasonable budgets where everyone pats each other on the back, talking up the good parts and shying away from the bad. For fear of upsetting a crew that’s worked hard, or in order to maintain friendships and future job prospects, I’ve seen audience members praise a film to the director’s face, only to tear it to pieces behind his back. The filmmakers keep their egos, and the failure of the film is then blamed on critics, the lack of a ‘proper’ budget for marketing, or unhelpful distributors.

The internet, on the other hand, is harsh. The anonymity of a YouTube username allows anyone, anywhere to comment on your film and tell you exactly what they think of it. They won’t hold back their brutally honest opinions, which – if you can toughen up and listen – generally serve only to be helpful, as you can learn from them and target weak areas for future projects. It just means having to hear the criticism and not let it stop you from moving forward.

There is also an expectation online that anything should be able to be done quickly and cheaply. Mentioning the words ‘web’ and ‘independent’ to industry financiers and general fans alike creates the expectation that a project will cost less. The Underwater Realm was criticised for not “doing more” with the $100,000 they raised on Kickstarter – despite the fact that the technical quality of their work is incredible, and would cost far beyond their meagre budget if made in a studio. There’s a reason that multi-million dollar films cost as much as they do, and even without paying cast and crew, every element adds up when creating a complex and engaging world underwater.

Creating a project like The Underwater Realm or Wastelander Panda also means finding the right balance between leveraging enough attention to get your project made, making something that meets the expectations of your audience, attracting the attention of potential future partners (e.g. funding bodies or studios) and still leaving a sense of mystery and intrigue around your story so that everyone is left wanting more. It’s a fine line. The more attention you create for your project, the more likely it is to go somewhere, but the higher the expectations become.

Panda Running

Looking at Wastelander Panda solely in terms of actual content creation, the only thing we’ve done so far is make a three-minute Prologue that a bunch of people on the internet liked. The amount of anticipation we’ve created for the next three episodes is almost ridiculous when you think about it in those terms. From the perspective of a general internet user, we could very well just be a bunch of hack filmmakers who, after all of this build-up, will put out three films that nobody likes.

When it comes down to it, no matter how much buzz anyone creates for a project, the level of technical skill and storytelling ability have to be there for it to truly go to the next level. They are what will make people share it, and we’re doing everything in our power to make each of our films reach the expectations that have been set for us.

But at the end of the day, I think that actually going through this process says something about the people who do it. Opening yourself up to the world, putting yourself in the spotlight and creating those expectations requires a certain amount of dedication and accountability. You have to be willing to share your future goals, and be judged on your ability to meet them. You have to show the world not only your successes, but your failures, and you don’t know which they’ll be until they’re done. You have to be willing to take criticism, and still turn up to work the next day. Not everyone is willing to put themselves through that.

Wastelander Panda is the first funded project that I’ve produced, and that Victoria has directed. We’ve been through a process of amazing challenges and come out on the other side of every one of them, having learnt more about ourselves and our abilities than we ever thought possible. And as much as we want to make something that everyone will love, the truth is that no matter how good our next three episodes are, someone’s going to hate them. But it’s the journey that counts. As Eve Hazelton, DOP & Editor of The Underwater Realm said,

“The first thing to remember with all of this is that it is never EVER for nothing. It doesn’t matter if everyone hates your work – nobody can take the experience and lessons away.”

Putting yourself in the spotlight may be hard, but it amplifies your opportunties to learn at the same time as it enhances your successes. Filmmaking has definitely changed, but in my opinion, it’s for the better.

For more on The Underwater Realm, go to http://theunderwaterrealm.com or watch the first episode below:

For more on Wastelander Panda, visit http:/www.wastelanderpanda.com or watch the Prologue:

Wastelander Panda

I am currently producing a project called Wastelander Panda, the live action tale of the last remaining panda in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The project is written and directed by Victoria Cocks, with the majority shot by a small group of just ten: me, Vic, DOP Vivyan Madigan, Costume Designer Olivia Iacobelli, Production Designer Annalisa Francesca, 1st AD Kelly Carpenter, Sound Recordist/Designer Leigh Kenyon, Make Up Artist Eileen Brennan, Focus Puller Maxx Corkindale and Co-Creator Marcus McKenzie, who also plays Arcayus. Composer Chris Larkin and VFX Supervisor Jeremy Kelly-Bakker came on board in post-production.

We put our series Prologue online last Tuesday, and already have over 130,000 views on Vimeo.  We’ve been amazed at the response.

We’re now raising money to create the next episodes of the series, so if you like what you see, please head to our Pozible page and throw a few dollars our way. Even a small amount will take us closer to making this a reality, so thank you for your support!

You can watch the prologue and donate here:

Epic Films Website Launch

In 2010 I started my own production company called Epic Films with my friend and fellow cinematographer Vivyan Madigan.

A year on, and we’ve now completed our first two short films – ‘L’Artiste!’ and ‘Landscape Scene,’ shot a third short, ‘The Beekeeper,’ and are developing our next project, ‘Wastelander Panda.’

We’ve also recently launched our first website, and would love it if you’d head over there for a look. It features information on all of our projects, trailers and press kits for ‘L’Artiste!’ and ‘Landscape Scene’ and photos from all of our shoots, as well as all of our latest news.

http://www.epicfilms.com.au

We’re also on Facebook if you’re interested in keeping up to date with our work.