Purge will be screening at the Straight Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival
How did you get into making films?
There were two parts to this actually - how I got inspired and how I actually started.
I had zero interest in movies as a kid in the 1960’s. I hated Saturday afternoon matinees with other kids running up and down the aisles. The type of movies kids were allowed to see were rubbish to me. I preferred books and art.
Then in 1968 when I was 13 years old, I was taken as part of a secondary school group to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It totally blew me away. Never before had I experienced such absolute awe-struck silence in a cinema. During the Dawn Of Man sequence, you could hear the tiniest squeak of a seat. Never before had I been so gob-smackingly glued to the screen as when that bone flew into the air and became a nuclear missile floating over the Earth. I walked out of the cinema that day saying to myself: “I want to do that!”
But I never actually had the chance to start doing that until the mid 1970’s when I was a Vocational Writing student at the Gordon Institute of Technology. Nearly every lunch time, the student union would screen films by the likes of Antonioni, Anderson, Bergman, Bresson, Bunel, Fellini, Fassbinder, Godard, Kurosawa, Pasolini, Resnais, Russell and Rosselini. We also saw a lot of these films as part of our course.
I slowly began to see it might be possible to make a film myself. So I borrowed a 16mm wind-up Bolex and a handful of photo flood lights from the audio-visual department and set about teaching myself how to do it.
My first 16mm black and white short film, the surreal black comedy, Daffy (16 min, 1975) was a technical mess but it ended up making back every cent of its cost through film rentals. So I was launched.
What inspired you to make your movie PURGE?
Again there are two parts to the answer - what was happening politically in Australia and the situation I found myself in as a filmmaker at the time.
I had just made and released a quasi-sci fi short called The Job (15 min, 2002) which had done very well at film festivals around the world. It was also screened on cable and community television in Australia, New Zealand and, I think, Canada. Someone even told me it was screened in Japan.
This film was the genesis of PURGE. It was set in a hypothetical future when job network agencies are under instructions to get people off the dole by any means possible and employers have carte blanche to do whatever they want with the long-term unemployed. A young unemployed artist is forced to apply for a seemingly innocent job and discovers the company offering it is killing the applicants and turning them into realistic shop window mannequins (one way of getting out of paying wages!).
PURGE postulated a parallel universe where people were artificially created and programmed for their roles in life, thus ending unemployment altogether. But sometimes the programming fails and people are unable to assume their pre-ordained roles. Those people are called Strays and treated worse than criminals. But as the heroine discovers, the system is deliberately creating Strays in order to maintain a level of fear and obedience in the population.
Both of these films were inspired by the rise of neo-conservative political rule in Australia which began with John Howard and saw a draconian crackdown on welfare.
After The Job was accepted into the London Disability Film Festival in 2003, I was told that if I was ready to make my first feature film, I could be one of the small group of filmmakers with a disability (I have a profound sensory-neural hearing impairment) to have their films four-walled for a week at the British Film Institute cinema in London.
My mother had recently died and left what I believed was enough money to be able to consider making the film - at least very cheaply. So I decided to go for broke, borrowing extra money from a couple of credit cards to just scrape in over the line. It took two years to shoot at week ends and the odd week night, and another year and a half to complete post production.
Any strange/funny stories while making the film?
Not so much in making the film as what happened when it was finished.
When I finally finished the film and turned to the London Disability Film Festival to claim the four-wall deal, I discovered the festival and its administrative body had been de-funded by the British government, and the four-wall offer was no longer open. So I was over $10,000 in debt with no cinema screening in sight.
The film gained a some enthusiastic fans and a fair bit of critical praise. But it became quickly apparent that it was not going to emulate the festival success of The Job.
Troma Entertainment picked it up for international distribution after endorsement by a critic. But, as usual with these sort of deals, Troma offer no money up front and they amortise the cost of marketing each film against all the other films they pick up at the same time, meaning your film is carrying the marketing costs of every other film in a given package. So none of the filmmakers in that package are ever likely to see any money at all.
I understood this going in, but felt the most important thing was to get the film ‘out there’. Alas, the punters on Amazon and IMDb mostly hated it, even as film critics continued to say good things about it.
I personally believe too many people have come to expect a standardised way of making films, a standardised way of storytelling, acting, cinematography, set design, music, everything, and anything that falls outside of this standardised template is considered ‘no good’. You only need to look at the fate of Mike Figgis ‘ experimental feature film Hotel to see that. People hated it because it didn’t meet their
expectations of what a film ‘should be’. Same with PURGE. I broke the rules of storytelling, drama, acting, cinematography and set design and ‘they’ didn’t like it.
But for me, experimentation is what cinema is all about and should be all about.
How has your style evolved?
I describe PURGE as an experimental narrative film...but I’ve become even more experimental since making it because I’ve realised it’s what I really want to do. I’m not interested in telling conventional stories with conventional storylines. I’m not interested in conventional acting or set design or cinematography or sound recording rules. I’m interested in bending all these rules, throwing them out the window, trying new things, doing what seems intuitively ‘right’.
Here’s a reason why. One of the cardinal rules of conventional filmmaking is always have good professional audio recording equipment on set. But quite often on PURGE we used nothing but a camera mike because we couldn’t always afford to have good audio gear.
I had a professional sound engineer go over the sound during post and he never stopped finding fault with the sound recorded on professional audio gear. But the sound recorded by the camera mike he declared to be some of the best he’d heard on any micro budget film. When I told him it was recorded with the camera mike, he refused to believe it. That, he declared, was totally impossible. So apparently, breaking the rules and doing the ‘impossible’ works.
I tend to use a lot of what other people call ‘antiquated effects’ (picture-in-picture, split screen, superimposures, tiles and text etc) simply because they don’t seem antiquated to me. I’m not interested in trends or fitting in with the latest fashions. I’ll use voice overs when everybody says don’t use voice overs. I’ll use garish colours when they’re out of fashion or dull colours when everyone else is using bright colours. I don’t do this just to be contrarian but because it’s how I see a particular film. I work very low-fi (even SD) because I haven’t the money for a computer powerful enough to run a full HD work flow. I make all of this part of my style.
Strangely enough since I’ve declared myself an ‘experimental’ filmmaker, I seem to have had more festival success and even started winning awards.
The short experimental version of PURGE - Dystopic Overload (3.10’, 2011) - was screened at festivals and galleries all around the world, and even at the Museum of Experimental Art in Mexico City.
My most recent long-form experimental sci fi short EXIT won two international awards, and a shorter experimental horror film Expunged From Collective Memory ( , 2017) won Best Editor and Best Music awards in Spain.
I’m sure the punters on Amazon and IMDb would hate those, too. They’re both on my Experimental Film page at You Tube.
The Misrule Film Movement and Pink8 bring what to mind?
Anarchy. But I like it, or parts of it.
Actually, they’re two slightly different things although often brought together. The Misrule Film Movement took place in the UK between 2010 and 2016 and saw the rise of people making movies on mobile phones and using You Tube and Facebook to promote them, also building their own cinemas and staging guerilla film screenings around the country - something we’re starting to do here in Australia because there’s no longer any other way we can get truly independent films screened.
I’m actually one night away from such a screening even as I write.
The Pink8 manifesto was apparently penned by one Fabrizio Federico and involves rules for making films similar to - but more extreme than - the Dogma 95 movement.
These rules deliberately undo all the rules of Hollywood and film school with some of the more unusual ones being - the cast must not know what your film is about and, continuity is wrong.
No wonder Mr Federico picked up PURGE for the Straight Jacket Guerilla Film Festival. A continuity person was one thing I refused to have on the set of PURGE.
I also edit all my own films, another of his rules. And much of the lighting tends to be jerry-rigged out of whatever we can find beg or borrow, just as the sets are.
So I guess the Misrule Film Movement and Pink8 are the reasons why I’m being interviewed here.
What can we expect from your next film?
More experimentation. I’m enjoying it and it’s no longer costing me the sun, the moon, the earth and half the stars.
An upcoming project is called Lost In A Borgian Labyrinth and was inspired by reading Jorge Luis Borges along with William S. Burroughs and Italo Calvino. Very intellectual, very non-mainstream, and also I hope, very intriguing.