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.