Sunday 8 August 2010

Final steps

Last night, I drove to Sarah’s place with Liam to finish up honey pot. We had one last thing to do: synchronize images and music. In the car, Liam gave me some tips for the following project: use a thing called ‘timecode’ earlier in the process, and have someone fully responsible for all the sound editing. I guess I hadn’t thought much about the technicalities of sound mastering, being a novice in the field, and shooting a silent movie; but I will definitely need someone to work on that for the next project.
Fortunately, synchronizing was quick – in about fifteen minutes, images and music were aligned. But I hadn’t anticipated exporting. The final cut files need converting to another format – options are infinite, with room for error in the choice of resolution, frequency, colour, and other parameters no-one seems to really understand. We tried, and failed, a couple of times – each tentative taking five to fifteen minutes of loading. And once we had four files in a format that could work, Sarah couldn’t copy them onto my PC-formatted hard-drive (they were too big, Nghi later discovered), so we spent more time re-formatting it for Mac. Only to find out, a couple of days later, on Nghi’s computer, that we still didn’t have the right format.
Digital work is wonderful, for the freedom it allows – so much footage, at no added cost, and immense editing capacity on a desktop. But how frustrating are these technical details, and the sheer time of conversion and copying! At least, we didn’t have a pressing timeline to add stress; and now, the product is finished.

Saturday 24 July 2010


Honey pot is about guys dancing tango in a public toilet. We always needed good music – at least, music – for that scene; and preferably for the whole movie, since we’ve got no dialogue.
Things started on a wrong foot: our first composer dropped out – after initial agreement, ahe said he was overworked, and wanted to pass. Then I met a great guy called Misha Doumnov through Naomi; but he only composes acoustics and works to very high standards, which comes with a cost that we couldn’t afford in our budget. I was getting a bit sour, when I met Liam.
Liam had worked with Joy before on Channel 31, and is finishing a degree in music. He’s been composing stuff for a long time, and he was very keen to get some film experience. As far as musos go, Liam is as good as it gets: he only missed an appointment once, returns a majority of calls, and comes just fifteen to twenty minutes late. More important, he actually does cool stuff, and runs around asking everyone for feedback and advice. He’s not one of these genius composer types that won’t have their baby messed with; which makes him a wonderful guy to work with.
The first week, he sent me drafts – themes he might use, ideas. There were things I liked others I didn’t. He didn’t get offended, on the contrary, took in the feedback, adapted, expanded, and together, we got something we were both happy with.
He did everything on computer, one of these magic software things with thousands of digitalized instruments. I went over to his place one afternoon to fine-tune stuff, and suggested having an Asian flute-like instrument for one of the melodic lines. He clicked on something, and a dozen options appeared for Indian and Chinese flutes.
I was also not completely happy with the music for the last scene. It transitioned abruptly from hectic electro-tango to sugar-sweet romantic. I suggested an idea for transition: slightly before Matthew falls, to reinsert a trip hop bass line that was there before, and to play the romantic theme on the strings over it. We tried, and suddenly, it sounded like one of Aphex Twin’s early compositions. I loved it – it brought a new depth to that last bit, with a sexual throb underlying the sweetness of the failed kiss.
I let Liam play with it some more, he went around, consulted friends, and in the end, he delivered a piece of music much better than what I hoped for when I started the project.

Monday 19 July 2010


Everyone’s been working hard on this project, and they need proper acknowledgements. But how I wish credits would generate themselves! Instead, a series of emails, back and forth, to check spellings of names, and how to label everyone’s role, and half an hour with Nghi deciding on order and size. Still then, more decisions to make ‘what font?’, Sarah asked – a legitimate question, but isn’t there a standard? I spent another half hour on Microsoft Word, comparing fonts, and on Wikipedia, learning about serifs and sans-serifs, eventually settling for Sylvaen, a variation on Garamonds, palatines and times new roman. Then I left everything to Sarah, who magically generated the credit sequence on final cut.

Monday 12 July 2010


I knew when I saw Sarah’s profile that I would want to work with her. A film editor with a martial arts background, interested in Japanese animation: she was perfect on paper – she was better live: a lovely lively young woman, with a quirky side smile, and a very pleasant enthusiasm.
I met her a couple of times in the city to discuss what I wanted and give her the files, but I let her do the work on her own. A few weeks later, I went over to her place in Taylor’s Lake. She picked me up in front of a gym – appropriate – and drove me to her house. I was very impressed by her edit. Longer than I thought, elegant, smooth. I gave her some feedback – first scene too fast, second scene too long, a of the dance sequence out of frame, and a red cable appearing on the take she’d chosen for the last scene. But overall, I was very happy with her work. After that afternoon, we only backed and forth twice before I was fully satisfied.
But she was not over then: she was going to supervise the colour grading - the complex technical task of unifying colours, contrast and lighting levels. And there was work to do: the urinal scene was too bright, and the colour of the walls in the dance scene varied from light pink to greenish. I’m still surprised at her enthusiasm for that kind of technical work, but she did beautifully. She came to my place this time to show me the result of her first go, and I had very little to feedback on – too much light still in the urinal scene, and a weirdly pink sequence when the two men do their swan kiss, that was about it.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Wrap up party

It's a tradition to organize a wrap up party to celebrate the end of a project. This one was a bit of a challenge. Everyone is very flexible and motivated actually getting work done. But when it’s a fun come together, things become sloppier – delays in emails, mother’s day plans, other appointments, etc. Understandable; when we were working, I was not going to hear excuses of ‘oh, but I’ve got a wrap up party for a previous project to attend.’
In the end, we found a date – Sunday 16th evening. Now I had to find a venue. There were a few constraints. It had to be close to my place, because we would all meet there first for drinks and showing the first edit. And it needed a table for 12. And our budget was not unlimited. And it was to be not too spicy, no seafood, and no dairy. Nghi suggested Japanese tapas on Bourke Street. He wanted Sake.
I looked at three places near the corner of Bourke and Russell. In the end, we went to White Tomatoes, Korean Barbecue. The Japanese tapas opposite were not open on Sunday; the idea of Shabu shabu down a laneway did not elicit high enthusiasm. Not the absolute best ever, but we had a nice evening, and eating barbecue was entertaining.
The main objective had been, show everyone our film, how nicely it all came together. I think everyone was pleased. Upon leaving, Nghi and I even hugged. He must have been happy; maybe the sake played a role.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Returning the material

One difference between film and writing is how much material it takes. Even if you’re using a laptop, you can write anywhere with a plug in the wall. Worse-case scenario, you run out of batteries, there’s always pen and paper. To make a film, you need cameras and lights, and both need not only tripods or stands, and filters, lenses, gels, but also power, an a maze of cables and powerboards, which you must gaffer tape on walls or floors. It was reminiscent of rock music for me. I was working in Paris with a rock-band, All Angels Gone, writing lyrics for them. I remember, rehearsals and setting up, how long wiring took – that kind of electric art, amplified music or cinema, does not survive on breathing air, it’s technical, it’s heavy- weight, and it’s a truckload of stuff to move around.

Some of the equipment for Honey Pot we borrowed from a director friend of Nghi, called Huu, who lives in Sunshine. The rest of the stuff, generators and camera, we rented from Normanby road. Since we were shooting on the beach over two nights, all of this material had to be stored somewhere and moved around in a car. I had thought that my apartment in the city centre would be convenient for storing, but I hadn’t calculated that you can’t easily park on my Swanston Street doorstep; and so we found ourselves walking half blocks or full blocks, avoiding pedestrians and week-enders, heavily loaded with our gear.

But returning the rental stuff was the worst. After two nights of shooting, and an after party that finishes at 3AM, the last thing you want is to wake up at 9AM and return a couple of generators and an arc lamp to a warehouse in Port Melbourne. It would have been half OK, if Melbourne taxis were not incompetent. Ours didn’t have a map of the city, couldn’t use his GPS, and hardly spoke English. I had to navigate him through South Melbourne after he almost took us onto some high-speed urban highway. I generally smile at people, no matter what, they’re trying their best. This guy didn’t get a wink; and it was wonderful for Joy and I to sponge our tensions out onto him.

Wednesday 14 April 2010


I remember talking to a fabulous indigenous photographer called Darren Siwes in Adelaide about four years ago, when I was doing research for a documentary film on ghosts in Australia. Darren creates these eery night-time landscapes, using a simple double exposure technique: he sets his tripod somewhere – usually framing some sort of suburban landscape – opens the lid for a while, then covers it, goes to stand in the picture, and has someone lift the lid again. This way, his body is captured on the film for only half of the exposure time, and appears as a fleeting indigenous presence, hovering above an everyday suburban setting: simple, powerful. He made me realize, in very concrete terms, that photography consisted in capturing reflected light on film. I hadn’t quite realized until Honey Pot that cinema was the same, and that you needed lighting to make things appear.

I had delegated the lighting entirely to Joy, but all of the people she contacted to act as gaffer fell through. Then a friend from work directed me to Mitch, a French editor and cinematographer who was on a working holiday visa in Melbourne. I contacted Mitch and his friend Gwladys, asking them if they’d be available to help. Mitch was very French in his attitude – suspicious as first, and then very warm when he got to know me better and saw the project was solid. He was professional throughout.
But I never thought it would involved so much. Mitch came to my place the day before shooting to check the lights we had from Huu. There were two spiral economy bulbs, one powerful halogen type, and a little dedo battery powered light. Mitch was concerned: the spiral economy bulbs had bluish light, the halogen was yellow. “You want stable whites”, he repeated, “otherwise you can’t edit properly.” I didn’t know anything about a stable white, but I got the general idea. You can change the colouring on computer, add a bit of red, diminish the blues. But all frames need to be lit evenly, especially in terms of colour balance; otherwise, it’s endless work.

The way to deal with a set of mismatching coloured lights is the same as making white hair even – cover yellow with blue, and vice-versa. We only had to find some type of yellow gels or material for the spiral lights, and a light blue fabric for the halogen. Except it was Good Friday, and all shops were closed. On shooting day though – Saturday – I had a lucky strike. I was looking for dark felt to cover a wall corner, in case the actors tripped over and banged their head. I didn’t really know where to find it, but there’s a big craft shop in a gallery below my apartment, so I tried it. Lucky me: they were selling fabric, and they had rolls of light cotton muslin in all kinds of shades. I got a cut of pale blue and two cuts of pale canary yellow; back home, I tried holding them over the lights – it worked, it balanced off the colours, and made a beautiful even white.
On shooting day though, fixing the lights ended up being the most time-consuming activity. The municipal neons were definitely not enough, we needed more if we wanted our film to be more than a grey cloud.

When I studied history of art, ages ago, I remember writing a paper on light sources in Vermeer and Rubens. How precise it was, how calculated, how meaningful. But there were different constraints here. We needed to see something, the lights had bulky stands under them, and they couldn’t be in the frame. So we moved them around after almost every shot, trying to bounce them off walls at least, hoping to create an illusion that it was all ambient lighting. So much I hadn’t planned. Hopefully, when all is edited, it won’t show too much.

Monday 12 April 2010

Shooting – second day

When you’re shooting, the main concern is time. I learnt my lesson first hand on dress rehearsal day. I confirmed upon shooting. Things always take longer than you thought. There’s a malicious resistance of the real: you run the whole process over in your mind, even visualising it: so and so grabs the lamps while so and so moves the camera, etc. But then someone trips over, someone forgets a bottle, a cable makes a knot, and you lose a minute. Multiply by the number of shots, and before you realize, you’re fifteen minutes or half an hour behind schedule.
The first night had been bad for timing. We hadn’t worked out the light before, so we needed to make decisions, and it took time. Well, we had a plan to shoot all of scene 2, 3 and 4. When I saw the schedule, I said ‘it won’t happen’. It was a way to make sure that even if an actor broke a leg or the toilet block exploded, we could make a film. By the end of day one, we had all of the shots for scene 2, one shot of scene 4, and about half of the shots for scene 3. A good third under the plan, but still, all of the film was in the box.
Before the second night of shooting, Nghi looked at all the footage. It was good, overall, but two shots needed re-doing, because a lamp appeared on the frame, in a corner. And one part of the dance sequence was not covered by any shot. More stress.
Luckily for us, our days of shooting corresponded to the end of daylight saving. It meant an earlier nightfall, one more hour. We would start with the end of the dance sequence. But my direction had been clear: Nghi, no matter what, we’re shooting scene 1 – the opening sequence, outside – at 10 o’clock. Unbelievably, we were very early for that. And shooting the outside sequence took us only 45 minutes.
I think I shrieked or jumped or both with joy when that was over; then we set up the lights for our bonus shot of Nick walking away along the beach and doing a nice happy jump. Serge and a friend of his arrived on the set by then, saying hello. I was in the last scene, didn’t have much time to chat, but Nghi and Matthew took care of them, while we finished.
We packed everything – the crew did, I was sitting down, exhausted, next to the cars. Then we returned everything to my place, and a few people had a last drink of campari cocktails. It was over, for that part at least.

Shooting – first day

This was my first ever day of directing a film. It was beautiful, but intense. I’m used to writing books, which is a very different type of activity; you’re alone for most of the time, self-reliant. This first shooting was an eye-opener the collaborative nature of cinema.

Collaboration sounds beautiful, but it’s always threatening to degenerate into chaos; and as director, I was the main person in charge of imposing order on the set. Not that I disliked the task. But it was the first time in my life that I had to ask someone to get me water, because I didn’t have time to get it myself.

Fourteen people were there. Some had very clearly defined roles: Nick and Matthew were acting, Jamila was fixing their make-up, Joy was behind the camera with Ivan assisting her, Mitch was setting up the lights with help from Gwladys, and Joe was outside doing security. But other people’s tasks were much less clearly defined: Nghi was coordinating the set – basically, that meant I turned to him whenever I wanted something, and he somehow made it happen; Naomi and Flic were watching over choreography and costumes, but also helped lift cables or bring water to people; Rena, Julian and Amir had come to help, and found themselves scrubbing the toilet or carrying packs around as soon as the picnic finished.

The four something hours of shooting themselves passed in a flash. Before I realized, it was over, the urinal scene was shot, half of the dance sequence was in the box, it was 11h15, and we had to pack everything out. Something was released, a tension that had been building for the last month or so. I laughed, a long, liberating nervous laughter, that had everyone turn to me. I was light-headed, dizzy, couldn’t really think straight, and in the end, I sat watching the crew pack up everything, listening to the sound of the waves, and smiling.

Saturday 10 April 2010


From the start of the project, we said ‘oh, we need someone to do the make-up’, but somehow, always considered it a non-priority. Still, there were going to be close ups, and if not properly made-up, faces shine, complexions change, and a patch of red or yellow blurs off the sexiness of a cheek or jawbone.
Flic was always our plan B for that – she’s got experience modelling, she’s got a box of products, and she can make-do. She did the make-up for us on rehearsal day. I had my lesson then on giving orders. We were bantering with Matthew on how I’d have him turned into a full-on drag-queen. Then I added, ‘for Nick, I was thinking green eyeshadows’, laughed, and focused on setting up the camera. Next thing, I turn to my actors, and I see Flic finishing up Nick’s eye in beautiful grass green. They should have warning signs, like they do in Australian airports about bombs: making-up is no laughing matter. You’ll be obeyed, be clear in your orders.
Nick was shooting a commercial after the dress rehearsal. He asked his make-up artist there if she knew anyone, she recommended a school, and the school recommended Jamila. That’s how you recruit a crew. Jamila was keen to get experience, and thoroughly professional about the job. She was on time, had clear questions and requests, and had all the necessary products already.

She was precious on set. It’s very good, in the stress of things, to delegate one area of responsibility entirely. I didn’t have to think about make-up once on shooting times: I could see Jamila constantly running after Nick and Matthew, tap tapping their faces with mysterious green wipes, and re-powdering their noses matt.

Friday 9 April 2010


Moving to Sandridge Beach, as the council had suggested, was not the end of our problems. Again, the official permit woman disappeared, and we were passed to some half-competent newby, who first was waiting for various mysterious 'recommendations', and then said she wanted us to go to Elwood. Furious, I wrote an email to the councillor. I didn't know him personally, but I knew he was French and supportive of the arts. He answered my email rightaway, and was extremely helpful. He couldn’t and wouldn’t impose anything on the council, but he could and did shake the machine a bit, asking a few questions, and suggesting that they get someone to actually deal with  my permit application before shooting was due. It wasn’t absolute magic – I still had to wait about a week for various recommendations and other meetings to take place. And after a few days of excruciating anxious waiting, I got a phone call from the helpful second woman, recommending... Elwood again. I think I got a bit sharp and crisp. I firmly said, I cannot, this is a scandal, and I'm not happy. The tone was right. She rang her supervisor, and agreed to go with me to Sandridge, in order to assess the location together. She did get out of her way, big time - I called her civil servant of the month! - meeting me at 7h30 on Sandridge Beach. I’m not sure what it was for. I told her where the camera would be, where the lighting would be. She couldn't see a problem. It was, apparently, just about assessing the risk of disturbing residents. And she agreed that it was a beautiful place for a film.

Cathy did advise we should hire a security guard, though. There had been a violent attack in the previous year, and it was a remote location. Also, I had to come back in the evening and drop letters in the residents’ mailboxes, to inform them of the shooting dates and time. So I took the bus 250 from the top of Clarendon, did my mail-dropping, and met with my partner on the Albert Park Beach to have a relaxing fish and chips.

The following day, I got the permit in my inbox. I did think and hope everything would be simple and settled once we got the permit. It wasn’t. 5h45, I got a phonecall. 'Hello, I’m a resident, and I’m wondering about your project. You're shooting a film, what's the film about?' I told him ‘it’s a comedy’ – I knew my line of argument. But he wanted more details. So I told him the while storyline. ‘It’s a gay film then.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you realize it’s the biggest beat in Melbourne. Hundreds of men come to have sex here everyday. It’s wrong. You’re encouraging it. Don’t do it. We’ll prevent it. My neighbours, they're very angry with it. They'll have their dogs barking.’ I spent half an hour on the phone, diplomatically trying to explain that, I’d been tossed around by the council, that I had invested considerable and a bit of money in the project, and, also, that Honey Pot was about a man deciding to NOT have sex in the beat, so that if anything, I was 'discouraging it'. He never quite got that last point - 'that's shit arse' - but the other ones, when repeated often enough, somehow broke through. Particularly the fight against helpless bureaucrats. I promised I would ‘try to talk to the producer and council about what could be done to shoot somewhere else’ – I did, I always keep my promises; Nghi said, shoot on Sandbridge. The council didn't answer the phone. He threatened a bit more, but said he’d ‘let me go’ cause he could see that I was a ‘fair bloke’, and I'd been 'conned by the council'.

That phone call did make me feel threatened however. I called Nghi for advice, and he agreed that we should get a security guard. National security services normally takes care of the place. They're in charge of locking up and patrolling at night. We phoned them for a quote. It was expensive, at about 45 dollars an hour, it would be close to 500 for the whole two nights – it was Easter week-end after all – but the guard they sent us, Joe, was extremely friendly, reassuring, and helpful. He gave us Easter egg chocolates, and offered to drop two our crew in Brunswick on his way back home – we gave him a thank you bottle of red, and a warm gush of praise when the company called us for feedback.

In the end, there were no resident issues, no marches or even  barking dogs. But there were people passing by, wanting to use the bathroom. So Joe directed them to the women’s, while keeping an eye on our generators. I had a moment of concernt on the second night: a resident went in the males to have a shower after his evening run, while Nick and Matthew were changing. Joe let him go in, though we officially had the place to ourselves already – it was after sunset – but he warned him that he should be quick, as we'd start shooting soon. The resident didn’t protest or do anything to block off the shoot. He had his shower, then peacefully retreated home. And everything went smooth.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Feeding the troops

On his previous film, The Probationer, Nghi had promised everyone food, friends and fun. A minimum for volunteer workers. This time, the first of these was my responsibility; being the French man, it made a bit of sense. I was originally planning to cook one of my budget banquets of aubergines in tomato sauce, homemade hummus, parsley-rich tabouleh, asparagus omelette, and herring trio. But I’d been so shaken by the permit thing that I decided I would rather spend a bit of money, and just buy everything.

On shooting day, Nghi came to my place around 10AM to drop some equipment, and out we went to the Queen Vic Market. We ended up with a French style picnic of dried sausage, pâté and cheese plus Mediterranean dips, some good bread, and fruit for dessert. Nghi is not used to markets, obviously, and seemed to find me immensely entertaining as I perused the stalls, weight-lifted rockmelons, or ordered a never-ending assortment of bread-loafs.

Saturday 3 April 2010


When you’re about to shoot, you suddenly realise why crew lists are so long on films. Every detail matters. For instance, I suddenly thought today that the shirts had been stored in a suitcase, and would be crumpled. I checked, and they were – now I need to plan on how to iron them. Ideally, I shouldn’t have to think of all this as director; or rather, I should have to think about all this, but be able to delegate everything rightaway – hair, costume, light – to the person in charge. Instead, I find myself, on the day of the shooting, not only hoovering and cleaning my apartment in anticipation of people staying over, but also listing last minute items we may need – extra security pins for the police badge, padding for the walls, oven proof paper to diffuse the light, in case… Exhausting.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Dress rehearsal

Nghi had insisted that we needed a dress rehearsal. He wanted Joy to rent the actual camera so she could play with it, and wanted us to run through the whole film in the studio. I wasn’t convinced, but let him have his way – he’s funding the film after all.

He was right. It was immensely useful. The main thing I learnt was how long everything takes. I had imagined, naively, that lifting and putting down a tripod was somehow instantaneous. It’s not. Even if it was always clear, when I say up, that I mean tripod up, not angle up, it would still be a slow process. Joy will have a camera assistant, but still, I know that now, we need to plan ahead, for every shot, take a few minutes only to set up camera.

The other good thing we learnt is how good the actors are. Everything went smooth, dance, urinal scene, final scene, and even the first scene. Nghi put together a rough edit of the rehearsal, I’ve shown it around a bit. I think it looks good, and it’s a real encouragement for the last stretch.

Sunday 21 March 2010


I had never thought I would need to dress my characters. I naively assumed actors came fully clothed. Well, Nghi doesn’t do naïve much, so we set out looking for someone to help us.

I had originally asked Alicia, my friend. She worked as a professional set designer and prop-scout for a while, and has been involved in film. She was willing to help, if and if, work, other projects etc. We had a lovely chat in a cool Fitzroy café though. It was refreshing: I’d been thinking of Honeypot in a purely technical way so far – beautiful Alicia read the script and asked ‘I was wondering, what is gonna be the main colour on the screen.’ Female eye: it was an important question. After a look at the pictures, we settled on red and yellow.

Alicia called after a week, and said unfortunately she wouldn’t be involved. Nghi had been talking meanwhile to Naomi, whom he’d almost collaborated with on his previous film, The Probationer. She sent me pictures of her theatre set-ups: it was neat, elegant, warm – exactly the style I was going for. We met at another cool café, this time in South Yarra – something about set designers and cafés! We chatted about an hour, discussing colours again, characters, social background, and also technical issues – Flic had warned against loose pants or flaps.

Naomi came to the screentest, in order to get the actors measurements. She had started research, and brought a couple of magazine cut-outs. Five or six cow-boys, from the rural to the catwalk, and a few dags and dorks. I pointed out options, she nodded OKs. Next thing, there she was at a rehearsal with plastic bags: ‘I went to K-Mart and bought stuff, you can get a refund anyway.’ We tried a pair of jeans and a shirt on Matthew, shoes for Nick. It was like being a little gay boy again and playing barbies. I loved it.

Not everything fitted rightaway - the shirt on Matthew was too large, and so were the corduroy pants on Nick. But we were going somewhere. Naomi went on a few more expeditions, exploring target after K-Mart, and then op-shops - as well as toy shops for the police badge. In the end, we had a full set for both of our actors - untill I thought, hey, what about socks on Nick and singlet on Matthew? So we had to add two pairs of each. A never-ending task.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Getting a permit

Filming on location requires a permit. I wasn’t entirely aware of that, but Nghi and Joy were. After we decided on the big toilet in Port Melbourne, I ended up responsible for liaising with the Council. Our location was in the City of Port Philip, so I checked out their website, and after a few clicks, I reached a film permit page. It seemed all very simple, a pdf application form, and a list of fees, but, for young film-makers, or projects with community benefits, the council offered a waiver, so filming was free.

I rung the number attached, and had a lovely woman on the phone, who said everything sounded OK with our project, and I should send her all the paperwork about a month or three weeks before the intended shooting date. I sent a thrilled e-mail to Nghi and Joy, and set about drafting a text applying for the waiver, explaining how our project reflected the ethnic and sexual diversity that Port Philip prides itself on, etc. etc.

By the end of February, I filled in the whole application paper, scanned it, and sent it over to the person in charge at the council, excepting everything to run smoothly, only worried about our fee waiver – would we qualify, or would we have to pay about a thousand dollars altogether for accessing our public toilet?

I hadn’t received any news after about a week, and thought I should ring, if only to check everything had come through. No one answered at the land-line number, so I rung the mobile number attached, and the same person said everything still sounded OK, she just hadn’t had time to check our paperwork, as she’d been on leave or something. I asked about an extra day or evening on location, to rehearse. I had to send an email about it, which I did, and then I sat and waited again.

I gave another call at the end of that week, hoping I would get a confirmation. But I had called on the wrong day, she was not working full time, and I had to ring back on Tuesday. I sympathized, being a part-time civil servant myself. And I showered apologies upon her, imagining her as an all-powerful dragon gate-keeper who could stall our project altogether.

Still, I needed an answer, as our deadline approached, and Joy had to book equipment. I called again on a Tuesday, leaving a few messages, and then getting her on the phone. Unfortunately, she was ill, and not at work. On Friday, we had a call from the council. Our permit had been refused, a building manager had advised against it, and reasons were obscure: we would be blocking a public facility - but it's closed at night anyway - or residents on the other side of the road may find it annoying to see movements around a toilet at night - but we'd be shooting inside most of the time. Damn! How are we gonna do it?

The film officer, however, was willing to help, and offered a few suggestions about other male toilets I could use. We bonded over a common rejection of residents ‘some of them, they will complain about anything, anything.’ Well, as annoyed as I was, I could have a bit of sympathy for this woman. After all, I had lost a location, but she had lost face, big time.

I set off on a wild exploration that afternoon, walking from South Melbourne Town Hall across St Vincent’s gardens and Gasworks all the way to Sandridge Beach. The Town Hall had been wrecked by the storm, and I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to see the toilet. The ones at St Vincent’s gardens, Gasworks, Lagoon reserve and Murphy reserve were all microscopic – are public toilets built especially to deter cruising, or what? But the one in Sandridge beach was just right. It was big, it was grey, it had a change room.

We did waste a bit of time over that incident. Steps have to be re-choreographed, and angles re-calculated. Another afternoon of storyboarding, an extra rehearsal, and we’re pushing the shooting back one week. We did gain a quieter location, a bigger change room, a few grills, and, who knows, a better film in the end?


I jokingly refer to this short-film as “Baz Luhrman shooting a gay version of Kung-Fu panda”. Here’s a few sequences that had a strong influenced on this project. I’m not uploading them here, so as to not breach copyright, but you can easily find them on youtube by googling: Roxane tango, Moulin Rouge and Fight scene, Kung-fu Panda.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Casting straight guys in a gay film

Casting straight guys in a gay film When we did the casting call, I had always assumed we’d get gay actors. Not so, both are straight. There is a fantasy aspect to casting straight guys in a gay film. They have to become intimate – they have to appeal to a gay audience. Their body relationship has to be sensual. There’s a whole porn subgenre doing exactly that. But it’s also a challenge for them; not only breaking some sort of intimacy taboo, but also just acting desire for another man. I remember giving them funny exercises to do, like go to a sex shop and caress the dildos, or try eyeing other men’s penises at the urinal. Fortunately, the dance helps. Gestures are measured, intimacy staged. But they’re slowly getting to know each other, and I’ve even seen them mock-humping while we did the last scene. It’s getting there.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Dance Rehearsals II

We have completed another dance rehearsal. It was exciting watching how much the actors had retained. They are doing so well and have clearly been practicing which is great and means that each rehearsal is very productive. The most recent rehearsal was both productive and challenging.

We are close to completing the choreography and will have done so by the end of the next rehearsal for sure. However there was a lot for the actors to learn. The foot work and timing in the last section is fairly complex and I needed to work with them on where to place body weight and styling. This is not just so that it looks good, but so that everything they do is safe and manageable. I certainly tested them this time around but I think they handled the pressure well. They have a lot of practice to do so that we can move forward but I am determined to get the final snippet done next time around- and I am positive the guys can pull it off.

It has been good working with a crew that is so supportive and adaptable. Everyone is very encouraging and creative so there are always good ideas flowing. Soon there will be footage posted from some of the rehearsals too so that will be good. We are very close to filming now so I am really excited about that - it will be good to see it all come together.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Freedom and gravity

Today, we rehearsed the urinal scene, and I focused on the spatial setting, giving Nick and Matthew simple indications about how the toilet is structured – the urinal block, very confined, like a trap; an intermediary space, to dance in, and outside, the big open air, the beach, and the sea. I told the story spatially: Nick, you’re attracted to Matthew, who’s bringing you to the trap; but when he’s flashing his police card, he's threatening to actually restrict your freedom, confining you to such a small space; then you realize that what you really want is freedom, a wide space to move as you will; so you try to go out; however, something in you resists, a desire for Matthew. So you’re hovering, in that intermediary space, and that’s what the dance is about, half-restricted movement, you suspended in-between those conflicting desires.

So Nick’s character is after freedom – that’s what he wants, and he comes to realize when he thinks he’s about to lose it.It's the story of a guy who understands the value of freedom, and experiences freedom as movement - that's what the dance symbolizes. But how about Matthew's character? Today, I realized one thing about him – he embodies gravity. Nick is fighting against gravity, trying to move more freely, dance, jump, even fly. Matthew brings him down, ties him to the ground. But how potent, how - attractive - is a body that's all gravity! There's one stage in the dance, when Matthew does that, spontaneously: in the first twenty seconds or so, he tries to get over Nick, to push him down. But then, he changes strategy, goes below him, and pulls him down, trying to make him trip over. Till, in the end, falling down, he brings him down with him. The final fall is the natural outcome for Matthew's character; Nick resisting - leaving - is his ultimate act of freedom.

Warming up

I’m always on time at the studio, but everyone else is early. So when I get into the room, I see Nick and Matthew stretching, bending, lifting an arm up or twisting a wrist. I feel like I’m in Fame or Flashdance, or one of these hundred American movies about performing arts school – and sure dance looks good on the screen. Here’s two pictures of the guys warming-up. Enjoy the vibe!

After the warm-up, Matthew goes into break-dancing mode, he jumps on the side and lands on his right arm, or does a kind of head-flip. I’m thinking, I don’t want a cast on the screen, OK; but, hey, what can you do? So, well, I clap. In another studio downstairs, a line of guys is doing kicks and spins on a Lady Gaga soundtrack. I have to say, sometimes I get distracted.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Film schools and pointless questions

Many people seem to think that in order to do something, you should study first. Before you make a movie, you should study film. It’s not surprising, there’s a lot of marketing out there for universities and TAFEs. And since a lot of aspiring or failed do-ers teach there, pressure is high: study, don’t think you can do it on your own, that is, with books and friends. By-passing the commercial case of official study.

At my housewarming party, I discussed honey-pot with a guy who’s doing a film course at the Victorian College of the Arts. He started asking me – “What’s the purpose of this film?” He wasn’t satisfied by “it’s a fun idea”. I realised how lucky to be making a first movie without an establishment over me, throwing a thousand useless questions at my face – purpose and all of this crap. I pitched a story to Nghi, gave a quick general idea of the aesthetics. He liked it, he’d pay for it, and now we’re doing it. The purpose is to show the world our products, and have fun in the mean-time. There’s no frustrated teacher or bureaucrat grant-allocator to please, only the crew, cast and public. I love it.

Saturday 6 March 2010

The playlist

I always write to a playlist. All of my novels had a musical colour, an album, or a couple of albums I would set on repeat as I drafted. Same with Honey Pot, I set up a 'gay film' playlist on my windows media player. I thought at first it was music I wanted as soundtrack, but it’s more an atmosphere, a mood – a combination of moods.

I experimented with it today. After their work with Flic, I asked Nick and Matthew to run through the urinal sequence a few times over, adapting to different soundtracks – and I took them through my gay film playlist: Zarah Leander singing “Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen”, German grand-kitsch; Ala dos Namorados singing, Os Velhos, Portuguese melancholu; The Shanghai Restoration Project playing its 1936 introduction, nostalgic Chinese Swing; Astor Piazzolla playing Milonga, Buenos Aires passion; and in the end, Teresa Teng singing San Nia, Taiwanese emotionalism.

I was impressed, at how Nick and Matthew created a different atmosphere each time. But the main thing I achieved, I think, was having them relax. After the five experimental takes, I turned off the music, and asked ‘I want a combination of all that’. It worked: Nick came up with a wonderful up and down movement of his shoulders, and Matthew camply moved his right hands onto the back of his hips, inviting him in. I laughed, I actually laughed, and also Flic had a light laughter.

I was proud, I was happy, I had made comedy happen!

Friday 5 March 2010

Fancy Footwork

Here is a quick video of Nick Teoh and Matthew Keating practicing new footwork. Choreography by Flic Manning. Keep up the good work!

Thursday 4 March 2010

Dance Rehearsals

I have spent quite a bit of time working on the choreography for film. This has involved story-boarding movements, looking into music and tempos and taking traditional Tango movements and working out how to adapt them for people that have not performed Tango before. Involved in this is creating movement that does not look specifically like dancing the whole time- rather stylised movement and fighting that just draws on the Tango and other passion based dances.

It is always interesting choreographing as it is visualised in the mind and then applying it means being able to adjust it in the moment and upon request.

Working with Nick and Matthew has been a lot of fun. The first rehearsal was a fairly short and so we only covered a small amount of movement, but I was extremely impressed by the enthusiasm shown by them. A good attitude always makes it easier to teach. The second rehearsal was a full length rehearsal held in a dance studio in Prahran. Both of the actors were very switched on and involved and we managed to move quite far ahead in the choreography. Julien, the Director had a few ideas for movements and intentions and I worked with the actors to include these on the spot and it worked very well.

In this rehearsal we covered some much more complicated movement and I made sure to pull the actors aside and teach them how to safely move so that the next section of choreography would not be too dangerous to them. They have adapted to it so well and I think we are all having a lot of fun as it comes together. The feedback so far has been great too which is always a good sign.

The next rehearsal is going to cover some very intricate foot work and so I expect that it may be a bigger challenge than anything else the actors have faced in movement so far. I am looking forward to it as this next section is leading to the "crescendo" of the dance too. We are well on our way to completion.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Character exploration

I was early for our first rehearsal and sat at the terrace of the Tusk café, next to Patrick Studios in Windsor. Memories – I came here often when I was living in St Kilda, just a month ago. I’m a bit anxious: today’s my first day as a director, actually telling actors what to do. I did coach a few people before, for the stage or speeches, but still, I’m wondering, will I manage?

As I’m waiting there, an Asian arrives and sits down in front of me. He’s cool, he’s wearing rings, he’s reading a book, he’s drinking a Latte. And I’m thinking, he’s exactly what I would like Nick’s character to become. Ten minutes until the rehearsal starts, I text Nick, and ask him to come by and observe. He arrives shortly after, and looks at how this guy moves his hands like a crab, in very precise gestures, and touches his face lightly with his hand, but actually supports its whole weight entirely through the neck. Meanwhile, we discuss the family background and personal history of the Asian Guy: does he live with his parents? What’s his job? Is he out yet?

A bit later, after the dance rehearsal, I sit down with the actors and start discussing their characters – focussing on Matthew’s this time: Who is he? Why did he choose to be a policeman? Why is he the one doing the beats? He had options, he could refuse – why did he go on that particular mission? Is he actually on a mission, or just using his badge as a sexual prop? And, as in some sort of psycho-something film, personal experience and memories come up, Matthew starts talking about his father being a policeman, about his own desire to dance and act as a kid, how he had to impose that on his family. I’m listening, moved – and also, calculating how that will nicely feed into the character. At a deeper level, proud of myself for managing to bring it out so well. And thinking, it’s actually like writing a novel, I’m exploring my characters, and from a first cluster of ideas and emotions, a whole range of psychological and personal history stuff appears, that justifies the whole situation.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Is everything OK yet ?

Nghi and Joy came to my house today for a last production meeting before the rehearsals actually start. Nghi always has a list running of all the things we need to do. And there's always more there than you think.

Sound., for instance: it’s not a straightforward matter. I'm not even talking music. When Asian guy is walking, in the first scene, is there sound of him walking? When Cow Boy smokes a cigarette, is there any sound of breathing out? Decisions to be made on every single detail – Who's in charge? I suppose it's my role, as director. Right – and how does it happen? When are we recording what sound? On what shots? Only close-ups, or wide shots as well? Who's holding the mike? Where will they be? Shadows?

Shooting order - another issue? We've got two nights on location, we're filming four sequences, one outside, and three inside. We must wait untill darkness for the first. We won’t be following narrative order. I’m thinking about my actors, already. But also, me.  Will they like that? the tango sequence, it will mess up with clothes, we can’t start from there.

We discuss it a bit, and come up with  working solution: focus on the dance sequence only the second night; on the Friday, shoot all the rest – it’s more technical, it's less important, it will take longer. We start with the urinal scene, which we can probably shoot with a bit of light outside. An hour for that, a pause, we follow on with the outside sequence (weather depending, of course, it's Melbourne, who knows if and when it's going to dribble or blow), we finish up with our final sequence. On Saturday morning - I'm think, wow, early to rise... - we can review the Friday footage, and re-do the shots that didn’t work. Nghi adds, if we've got a major problem, we want a few security shots of the dance sequence on the first night. Hey, storm, broken arm, or power shortage - everything happens in this world. He's trying to cheer us up, I guess: ‘I think it’s all looking good. It’s in your hands now. Remember, always have a Plan B. Things are not going to work.’

Monday 22 February 2010

shooting on location

Joy and I decided to go on location early the other morning to finish work on the photo storyboard, and explore a few camera angles. We met at the corner of Swanston and Collins, opposite Westpac, and jumped on the 109. It was about 8h30, we thought we'd have the location to ourselves. We did, for about half an hour. Then people started coming.

First it was a man in his thirties, who came in as we were measuring the space. Joy went out, I went out, then I thought I could go on measuring. The man was undressing, then he started having a shower. We started chatting – 'so you’re shooting a film? And what’s the film about?' When I said ‘it's a gay film’, I could sense, instantly, that the naked man in the shower tensed, a little bit. It was comic actually. But I thought, it was not the most diplomatic way of presenting it  – from then on, I shall describe Honey-pot as 'a comedy'.

The man dried himself, got dressed and left. A few older blokes had been using the urinal in the meantime, but eventually, Joy could come back in. Untill a flock of children arrived. Having lived in Australia for more than a year, I know how peadophilia is THE major evil, and, a funny side effect, I was instantly terrified I could get into some sort of trouble, so Joy and I grabbed our bags and headed right at the exit: I mean, some of these kids were so quick, they started undressing while walking in, to change into their surfing outfits!

I had read the situation well, though. Lateron, as Joy and I were chatting outside the toilet while some guy was having a shower or something, the surf instructor approached us: ‘excuse me, you’re aware that you’re not allowed to film the children, are you?’ We nodded apologies and reassurance – yes yes, children, forbidden, we know, not interested. I didn't say 'gay movie' this time.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Auditions II – the Cow Boy

Four people answered our call for ‘one Caucasian actor, aged 25 to 35, not too tall, medium build, muscular, traditionally attractive, masculine looking’.

We ruled out half of that: one had his issues and preferred a film with dialogues. One had a completely wrong look – alternative grungy  rock, with tatoos – we said ‘attractive, traditionally attractive, dude!’. Funnily, the remaining two were Matthews.

We were to meet our first Matthew at Brunetti’s, on City Square, on a Sunday afternoon at 6h. But the dumb place decided it would close at 6h15 that day, so we moved on to Fed Square before they kicked us out. That Matthew had been in quite a few short films, he was expressive with his face and eyes, handsome, even sexy, but he was not enough of a dancer for me. Flic was there, and asked him to learn a few simple tango steps; he struggled. And then, she asked him to interpret the footwork, first in a clumsy way, then in a seductive, assertive way. His middle body was weak and stuck, his hips didn’t sway. We were doubtful.

It was about a week before we met our other Matthew. Joy had been in charge of coordinating all e-mails, she told me that Matthew was very keen. And he lived in Ballarat, he would  be coming all the way for an audtion, all the way for rehearsals, all the way for shooting. I thought, if he’s ready to do that, he’s motivated; and I never mind a bit of enthusiasm.

He was more than that. He was good, he was handsome, he was a bit rough, and had incredible knowledge of his own body. He’s a break-dance instructor, a real dancer: he got through Flic’s footwork in about a second. I then took him through the first scene, asking him to seduce me using various parts of his body, shoulders, hips, or legs. He did it, well. He was a bit young, sure, but it’s easy to fix, a touch of make-up – it was really the only thing wrong. I was relieved: I had a cow boy, now, to tango my Asian guy.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Auditions I – the Asian guy

Nghi was always doubtful: finding a fat Asian actor willing to shoot a gay film would be hard. I was always my optimistic self, and said, it’s got no dialogue anyway, worst of all, we can always get a foreign student. I was ready for everything, use Joy as interpreter, hand-language, anything.

Things went better than we could hope for. We had waited until everything else was sorted before calling for actors, we didn't want them to lose impetus or feel the production was lagging, but send them right from the audition to the rehearsal and then on to the shooting. Joy had been in charge of sending a casting call on the net, using the website Starnow. We advertised for 'one Asian actor, aged 25 to 35, medium-heavy build or chubby. All skin colours and ethnic types welcome to apply, but must have recognisable Asian/South Asian features'. Three guys answered, and they were good!

One was a really handsome and skinny Chinese guy – very professional, but not at all the type of body we wanted, he was not short-listed.

Two candidates remained. We asked them to come for an audition in my St Kilda place, which I’d only just vacated. A large rectangular living room was a perfect setting for trying out a few dance movements.

The first actor was a bit young, but he sounded like a good dancer. I wasn't sure from the photo what he would actually look like. I was disappointed - weirdly, because he was way too handsome for the role, a young South Asian guy with bollywood features. If we casted him, the public would not understand, how was he ever supposed to feel insecure about his ability to seduce?

The second actor, Nick, was rightaway perfect.  He’s not exactly fat, but he’s got a strong body, so that when he slouches a bit, he looks exactly the part. His features are also very interesting – he’s got one of these admirable acting faces that can vary from the handsome to the plain or even the slightly ugly.

We didn't give them an answer rightaway, though. We want to do a screen-test first, with the Cow Boy - after all, both actors have to match. But the decision is already very clear.

Sunday 24 January 2010


The central part of the film was a dance sequence. During the dance, roles and balances were inverted, psychologies revealed, and power exposed. In theory, that was all very nice. I have no experience in choreography, neither have Joy or Nghi. So we recruited a choreographer, on starnow. Two people answered our call, but Flic was a clear favorite from the start. She had recently arrived in Melbourne, and I felt she would soon be a star on the scene. She exuded professionalism, sympathy, clarity, something warm, efficient, and passionate.

I called her after a week and another interview, just in case, to confirm that we would collaborate. Enthusiasm on both parts. I quickly ran through the idea again in a mail - how the dance evolved, and what it had to achieve. And then we organized a meeting, one morning, to run through it.

I arrived at a random cafe down an office building on Queen's road with Joy. Flic was giving a class there afterwards, and had asked us to come and meet her there. She was extremely busy, but willing to see us all the same. I immediately liked her for that. She quickly exposed her ideas about the dance sequence. It was in line with what I wanted. Tango inspired footwork, entangled arms, torso pushing, a mock-fall, a chase. We sectioned our minute of 'dancing-fighting' into 6 units of ten seconds approximately, with a focus on heads, or legs, or arms, or torsos in each of them.

And then Flic ran off to her dance class, while Joy and I tramed back to our respective jobs in the city. Relieved, happy, thrilled! We knew where we were going now; and knew Flic would take us there.

Friday 22 January 2010

Fighting the weather

We went on location to do some storyboarding with Nghi and Joy. The idea was to take pictures of where the actors would be, so we could

a)      Check that the shot would actually look good

b)      Refer to the picture on shooting day, to save time.

It sounded like a good idea, even fun times. Except as we arrived on the beach, it was blowing like hell, and one of these hectic Melbourne weather days when the temperature is 15 degrees below what the season requires.

Well, we were philosophical about it and thought, at least, we can do the inside sequence. Which we started, experimenting with angles for  the last shot, me lying on the floor. But after ten minutes or so, a big butch woman came to the toilet. “I’m here to close it.” Damn, aren’t they supposed to stay open until – at least – sunset? Not when it’s a windy day, we learnt. Subtleties. Negociation was impossible – “you should have rung the council” apologies only. Yes, but should you really double check everything ??

And so there we were, in the freezing wind, locked out of our location, having come all the way down to the beach. So we decided we were warriors and carried on, and would storyboard, at least, our first sequence. I had a little Katmandu sweater, Nghi had some sort of wind-breaker – we managed. It was hectic, we went behind a wall for shelter to look at the results after each series of shoots, Joy wanted feedback, and I couldn’t really think or talk - neither could anyone else probably. We carried on, for about an hour, completing a full series of shots, and finishing the whole outside sequence. I wouldn’t be  perfectionist, and if the framing was not pitch perfect, it could be sorted later.

We headed back to the tram, relieved, and realized as soon as you were inland a bit, the wind subsided. It was warm and cosy sitting in the 109. We road up to Pie Face on Swanston Street, and there cuddled around a threesom of hot drinks, smilingly handed to us by Joy's friend who works here with her.

Today, Joy sent a full version of the photo-storyboard – it's awesome!

Sunday 3 January 2010

Location Scouting

The first idea for this film came to me when I was riding on Elwood beach. I’ve got a very spatial approach to writing, and most of my stories have been born from a particular space structure and the constraints it generates.

There’s a round public toilet there there, down from the hill with a white watch-tower on top. It’s lit up by a single high halogen lamp, and looks exactly like a painting by Edward Hopper. I went there often, and always wanted to see it in a movie. I came up with the beat story – mostly, it was just a desire to see a Cow Boy standing under the halogen. I talked to Nghi about it, he liked it, and we decided, let’s do it.

But we needed a place that was functional to shoot, and the toilet in Elwood was too small inside. No room to put a camera, two men dancing, a generator, lighting, and a couple of helping crewmembers.

A mad exploration of male public toilets in Melbourne started. A friend mentioned one at the skate-park, in the Alexandra Gardens. I went, I saw, I loved. I even started calculating angles. But when I took Nghi and Joy there one evening, there were skaters in the skate park, and loud music around, and heaps of people passing. It was a no.

‘Location scouting is an art form in itself’, would later say Nick. I was on the look-out again. Things you discover: there’s an online map of Australian public toilets. A great initiative, I thought, except it’s got no photos attached – damn, this wasn’t made for film-makers, or beat-strollers. I got an idea, though, where to look. I had a stroll along the beach all the way from St Kilda to Port Melbourne, and two blocks qualified.

The first was at the South Melbourne Life Saving Club, one block west of Victoria Street: a beautiful art deco block, with dark brown urinals, an open roof, and warm red bricks. The other one was further West, at the Port Melbourne Life-saving club, opposite Jonhston street. It was less iconic, but it was bigger, had a solid roof, and would be more convenient for cameras and lighting.

I took Nghi and Joy there, to make a decision. We took the 109 down to Station Pier, checked out both of them, had fish and chips on the beach at sunset, checked out again at night, and selected the more convenient one. I mourned a little bit – I had been toying with quirky shots in the deco block. But now, I’ve embraced our location. It’s got wonderful quirky doors, a nice yellow tint, and heaps of space for proper dancing.