Category Archives: Wastelander Panda

“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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.26.17 AM

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/

The Business of Film & the Role of the Producer

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed an interest in business and start-up culture, particularly in taking an idea and giving it the maximum chance for success when releasing it into to the world. On reflection, this interest has probably coincided with my transition from camera department to producing, and I find it really interesting to draw parallels between the two worlds [business and film].

I enjoy the creative side of filmmaking, planning for the bigger picture and the day to day organisational logistics far more than accounting and management – areas where I tend to feel like I’ve been thrown in at the deep end the majority of the time. However, I’m learning more the further I go down this path, so I want to share my thoughts from time to time, as I believe that filmmakers – especially in Australia – need to think as much as possible about business models and strategy rather than simply creating individual films.

Last week I was interviewed by Jamie Stenhouse for his blog, which is centred around entrepreneurship and marketing for businesses. Jamie came out on set as one of our extras for the upcoming Wastelander Panda episodes, and asked if he could talk to me about the project. I didn’t know what the focus of the interview would be in advance, so I was a little surprised that his questions were based around managing a team, the long-term development of the project, planning tools and budget implementation – all “business” questions rather than “film” ones. It made me realise how much of the day-to-day filmmaking process revolves around business skills, and that processes we took on everyday as a natural part of our production process – such as arranging for up to 100 people a day to be on set and working towards the same outcome – are actually things to be pretty proud of from a “business” perspective.

Here are a few of Jamie’s questions:

- “When I arrived on set for the first day I was blown away by the professionalism of everything and mainly the size of the team. How were you able to round up such a high quality team of people in such a short time?”

- “I know for a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners working on a 1 year project can be daunting, let alone a 2 year project. How did you keep everybody focused on the same goal and were there any times where you felt like just “calling it quits”?”

- “Being able to delegate and then trust people with a certain task would have been a large part of the project. Did you have any “trust” issues with letting certain areas of the project go?”

As well as giving me a fresh perspective on what we’ve achieved, Jamie’s interview allowed me to focus on my own job as Producer. A realisation I had during the interview is that the way I interpret my role, despite the Producer apparently being “in charge,” is really as one of support. It’s my job to create an environment, a structure and a strategy, that allow each other crew member to do what they do best with as few external issues and concerns as possible. It’s doing the small things that matter from day to day, not only helping out with the project, but being there for the cast and crew. I still have a lot to improve upon in building the perfect creative environment, but it’s something I want to work on a lot more in the future.

For my full interview with Jamie, click here.

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.

THE-UNDERWATER-REALM-05-149BC

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.”

Picture 13

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:

Exhaustion & Balance: My 2012

Philip Bloom wrote this post about Work/Life Balance on January 1st, and it really resonated with me, especially after the year I’ve just had.

2012 was exhausting. It was exhilarating, challenging, rewarding and exciting, but even after a few days off over Christmas to relax and prepare for 2013, exhausting is still the most appropriate adjective.

You know your work/life balance is off when you find yourself sitting in the hallway of your accommodation 20 minutes before you need to leave for one of your best friend’s weddings, hurriedly finishing off a client meeting via Skype on an intermittent wireless signal so you can get dressed and make it to the venue in time. Or sitting in a French hotel bathroom in the middle of the night, sorting out logistics for a shoot during Australian business hours, while attempting not to wake your boyfriend – six feet away – for the fifth or sixth night in a row. Yup, things were bad.

Still, looking back at everything I’ve done, and considering I’ve escaped any dire consequences (I’m still alive, and despite threats to the contrary, he still doesn’t hate me), it was worth it. Don’t get me wrong, 2013 will be different. Drastic changes are required in my life, and I’m working hard to make them happen. But some amazing things happened in 2012, so here’s a summary for your reading pleasure:

Wastelander Panda
On January 24th, we released our 3 minute Prologue for Wastelander Panda, and within just 3 days it had over 100,000 views. It’s the first “real” project I’ve ever produced, and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved, from raising $25,000 in crowdfunding, to being featured as an Easter Egg in Borderlands 2, to being accepted as panellists at SXSW 2013… and all that’s on top of shooting three episodes for online release this year. It’s been a huge journey, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the awesome group of people I work with. (We have a Wastelander Panda 2012 Round-Up post on our blog if you’re interested in reading more).

Camera Assisting
My background is in camera department, and I’ve worked on features, shorts and TVCs as an AC for the past 5 years. In between producing, I managed to fit in several assisting jobs in 2012, including international TVCs for Nurofen (with the inspiring Maryse Alberti as DP) and AEON (a Japanese supermarket chain), as well as many national and local jobs.

Social Media & Crowdfunding Consulting
Since Wastelander Panda’s online success, Ella Macintyre and I have been offering social media & crowdfunding consulting for filmmakers and businesses, and have been privileged to work with an incredibly broad range of clients. It’s been a great opportunity to not only share our knowledge, but to learn from some fantastic filmmakers and entrepreneurs about different aspects of their own work.

Other Work
I was also lucky to be able to work or offer my time in many other roles, from cinematography to photography to admin to catering. One of the things I love about my life is the amazing variation in what I’m doing from day to day. It’s not everyone who has the opportunity to travel to such incredible places, or meet some of the best people in the world at what they do, and I think of it as a privilege everytime. The exhaustion is worth it.

Projects / Companies / People I Worked for & with in 2012:

2012_work

Places Visited, for Work & Pleasure:

2012_places

And the rest?
My plan is to focus this blog around filmmaking and related work, but here are some other key moments from 2012:

2012_moments

Overall, a pretty productive year, and I’m looking forward to achieving just as much in 2013 by working ‘smarter’ rather than longer.

This is the kind of post that I could spend hours on, looking back over every moment of the past year, but it’s currently 35 degrees at 8pm and my friends are on their way to the beach. Time to shut down the computer. 2013 is all about balance.

P.S. Graphics were made with http://infogr.am/.