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The Diamond from Sierra Leone – An Interview with Archie Waterson and Sam Cotton Wong

Very few documentaries can really change how you view your life. Sure, you may watch them and think “that’s cool” but it’s near impossible to change someone’s perception on the world around them. Sam and Archie did just that. The Diamond of Sierra Leonne is not just an incredible student film but simply an amazing short film. Abib Kamara Smith’s life story made me so grateful for those around me and so driven to do more with my life. If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favour and click the video below.

Sam Cotton Wong is a freelance photographer and videographer based in Brisbane. Sam specialises in cinematography and music videos. He was the director of this production. Archie Waterson is a writer and producer who is completely dedicated to comedy. He was the producer and writer for this short film.

What is the focus of this documentary?

“The documentary follows the story of Abib Kamara Smith who was originally born in Sierra Leonne. He came to Australia when he was 5 years old. He was adopted into this family called the smiths which had siblings of Archie, Gemma, Isaac, Bailey and Bass and his parents Willie and Anthony. And ultimately the documentary just follows his life from Africa and the struggles along the way.” – Sam

Abib Kamara Smith

Why did you choose to produce this short film, Archie?

“Being a student, I was over doing stuff that wasn’t meaningful or purposeful to me. Taking on this bigger story gave me a lot more passion and I think that’s why it was important to take this story on. The minute Sam told me about Abib’s story, I was hooked. Just imagining seeing it on screen and telling it to the world.” – Archie

Why did you want to tell Abib’s story Sam?

“I have grown up with him. Knowing him and his story is completely different to everything I have heard and in Australia especially. Abib’s whole past, his upbringing and especially how he is now excelling in life. Also, the focus of don’t let your past define you was the universal idea and everyone can relate to this idea.” – Sam

Can you just talk us through the style and shooting of the short?

“When we met up with Abib, he just remembers having this old vintage TV in Africa. We tried to recreate that old TV vintage look as a memory of him watching it as a kid. Also, the floating photos seen were representing Abib’s memories in his head.” – Sam

“We wanted to put a lot of effort into the cinematography. We didn’t want to let it drag. The story was obviously going to carry itself, but it needed to look just as good as it felt. We shot on Super 8 for it. It had a nostalgic feel and, we just wanted to experiment.” – Archie

Adam Potts (DOP), Sam and Abib on set

What were some core inspirations for this documentary?

“Definitely Colin in Black and White. Especially the projector shots, they were a big influence.” – Sam

“Also, another one was …. We were really inspired by the look and how poetic it was. Just the structure and how intriguing it was.” – Archie

Can you talk me through the name a little?

Archie and Adam

“When we were originally pitching the project Abib’s from Sierra Leonne and I just sought of put them together since I am a massive Kanye fan. When I was doing background research, I saw they were the biggest exporter of Blood Diamonds. The overall meaning though is that Abib is the diamond coming out of the ground. Also, giving the Kanye fans a little easter egg as well…” – Archie

Biggest challenge of making an indie documentary?

“We had this three-act structure obviously going in that we knew how we wanted to shape it. But, cutting it to a 5–6-minute documentary from a 36 minute was probably the hardest thing.” – Sam

“Abib had so many different stories you could tell in 6 minutes that it made it so difficult for our editor Cooper and Sam to keep it down. Just finding which leads were the strongest and what to go with.” – Archie

What was the most rewarding part of The Diamond of Sierra Leonne?

Lachlan Wormwell, Abib, Sam, Archie and Adam on set

“Feeling the flame inside of all of us when we were making this thing because it was such a passion project. I felt the happiest I have been years working on this because I knew we were telling this massive story. Also, how good the crew was and how much we cared for Abib’s story. One more thing was the lessons I learnt from Abib as well. The perspective it gives you is second to none. It changed my life and how I look at thing’s day to day.” – Archie

“I remember leaving the interview and just going “Holy fuck.” I knew his story well but it was just so intense. You just look at life a bit different. Also, just watching it on the big screen altogether seeing what we created. We made something special and it’s the best thing I have done.” – Sam

What are your ultimate goals with this project?

“We have sent it to a few festivals, and we are looking to get accepted. Another plan was using it as a proof of concept to create a bigger documentary.” – Archie

“I would love to have a screening with friends and family.” – Sam

Where do you both want to see the Brisbane and Australian film scene move?

“For me, I want to see all of the creative people backing themselves more. Australia wise, I want to see more comedy. I want to one day see an Australian TV comedy show that doesn’t overuse Australian cliches. I want to see Australia being universally funny.” – Archie

Abib Kamara Smith

“I think we need more up and coming people supporting each other. At the end of the day, that’s the future and we are all going to be working together one day.” – Sam

Dream project to get off the ground or collaboration?

“I would love to work on a proper Hollywood / Marvel set just to see how it runs. Just watching from preproduction to postproduction to see the flow of things and how they operate. Secondly, starting my own production company. Even if it’s just a photography studio with editing suites at the back. Just a place where we can meet and work together as a creative industry.” – Sam

“I would want to make a feature film. Also, just working with certain people. I would love to be in a writer’s room with Larry David. Even just a conversation with someone like Taika Waititi. I find him so inspiring as someone who comes from somewhere like Australia and keeps his exact same style.” – Archie

Anyone you want to shoutout?

“Shoutout Abib and his family. It’s not an easy thing to allow people with cameras into your home. Also, the rest of the crew on the doco. Our soundie Lachlan Womrwelll, editor Cooper Huzing and our director of photography Adam Potts.” – Archie

The Crew on set

“Big ups to Archie as well. Just his work ethic and planning it all was crazy.” – Sam

All these incredible black and white photos were shot by Finn Negrello.

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Interview

Otter and Fox – an Interview with Ben Rohan and Carmelo Keating

I truly believe comedy is the most challenging film category. Sure, horror and drama can be hard, but nothing is as complicated as making someone laugh. Whenever someone says they are comedy writers or producers, I have instant respect for them. Ben Rohan and Carmelo Keating are another pair who have jumped headfirst into this challenge. After speaking with them, I can see their passion for comedy and more specifically their love for their upcoming short film Otter and Fox.

Ben Rohan is the writer and director of Otter and Fox while Carmelo Keating is the producer. Both are currently working tirelessly on pick ups and reshoots. 

What is Otter and Fox?

“Otter and Fox is a 15 minute short film about two robbers in the middle of the biggest heist in Brisbane’s history. They have robbed 9 luxury stores in a row and want to celebrate by robbing some snacks at a grocery store. At the store, they run into a kid named Zane and from their chaos ensues.” -Ben

Where did this idea first pop into your head?

“I typically get inspired by the name first… The idea was the name Otter and Fox and then the robbery part came after.” – Ben

Mark Hill and Bridget Freeme
Carmelo Keating on Set

Melo, why did you choose Otter and Fox to produce?

“I got to hear Otter and Fox right from the conceptual phase and its pitch. I just thought “that’s just Ben on a page, it’s brilliant and hilarious.” I actually also pitched my own idea and I slowly saw it got deleted on Teams. But straight away I knew I wanted to be on Otter and Fox. It was always a project I supported and always loved. – Carmelo

When you are casting Ben, what do you look for in actors?

“The main things we looked for were people who could take directions but were also really good at improv. Being a comedy, they had to be good off the cuff. When people did it differently or added their own twist it just made them standout.” – Ben

What have been the biggest challenges of making an indie comedy?

“The film takes place in a supermarket. We looked into independent supermarkets. All in all, I contacted 30 supermarkets across Brisbane and only one replied. They almost dipped out and we had to get them back on board.” – Melo

“One of the biggest challenges was probably getting the script right. Once you start writing, you see that people don’t get it or the plot holes start opening up. Rewriting jokes and trying to get jokes in is sooo tricky. You want it to be funny but you don’t want it to be cheesy.” – Ben

So far, what has been the most rewarding part of Otter and Fox?

“Hands down the actual filming process. Finally getting on set and working with everyone with such an awesome crew was amazing. There were tears but they were always good tears followed by laughter… I hope.” – Ben

“Getting the team photo after an exhausting week. Seeing our crew still smiling and being happy it pointed me back to that first night where I got attached to it.” – Melo

Ben’s Writing Process

Ben on POC

“75% of the time my script writing process is not writing a script. I suck at sitting down and doing something. I have fun doing it but I just won’t. Just verbally vomiting as much as you can to keep the story going. Even if you don’t think something is going to work, just keep going with it, finish it and then edit it. The more you write the more you come up with” – Ben

Melo’s Producing Process

“I had to try and allow myself to take momentary breaks. If it’s just go go go you will burn out. Always prioritising your mental health first but if you are having a breather, it’s got to be a productive one. “ – Melo

What are your ultimate goals with this short film?

“I would love to do the festival circuit. But I just want to show as many people as possible. I am so proud of this project and I will be just pushing it into my family and friends faces. This is why I couldn’t hang out with you for the last 12 months. Also, I would LOVE to do a cinema screening. Just to see it on a big screen would be so fun.” – Ben

What are your dream projects to get off the ground or collaboration?

“I once pitched this project called the Death of Cinema. It’s about this 40 year old washed up cinema manager who has lost his love for the job he is in. His autistic nephew who he has been separated from him comes to start working for him. I wanted it to explore the meaningfulness of the cinema as being one of the only places where people can go and share the same experience no matter who you are.” – Melo

Sarah Stone on set

“My brain keeps going back to Survivor. I love the idea of watching it, making it, the twists, voting each other out, even the craziness of it. Being a producer on that or even reality TV in general. Starting my own reality show would be fun.” – Ben

Favourite movies and director?

“My favourite movie is Mr Bean’s Holiday. It’s up there with Over the Hedge and the Little Rascals. There’s just something so stupid about them and how nostalgic they really are. Taika Waititi – I love Hunt for the Wilder People and Boy. Also, Sam Raimi cause he directed Spiderman 3. Also, Edgar Wright.” – Ben

“I do adore Spielberg because he was at the forefront as one of the handful of directors who made sci-fi what it is and some of the best war films. But Adam Mckay is one of my favourite directors – Vice, Step Brothers, Anchorman. My favourite films are Star Wars, the Great Escape, Blackkklansman.” – Melo

Adam Mckay

Where do you both want to see the Brisbane Film scene move?

“I really like the Brisbane scene but since I am at the beginning of my journey, I want to see more beginner filmmakers getting into it. You honestly don’t need a budget to make a film and I think that’s something we need to push. I feel like the community is pretty small and I want to see it expand.” – Ben

“Breaking down the stigma of making a bad project. You have got to make a bad film so you can learn from it. I don’t think I made a bad film but I made an ambitious film. It was ultimately a learning experience. I would love to break down the stigma – don’t hide from your films or be embarrassed about it.” – Melo  

Anything else you want to shoutout or promote?

“Keep an eye out for the names Carmelo Keating and Benjamin Rohan attached to it. Also, the Griffith Film School Chronicle, go check that out.” – Melo

The crew of Otter and Fox

“I want to shout out the actors Bridget Freem, Mark Hill. As a director, they have made it so fantastic, they are super funny and easy to work with. They make each other laugh and even the crew laugh. Also, the moment Chris fell over…” – Ben / Melo