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Interview

A Conversation with Writer and Director Michael Shanks

If you are talking sports, Michael Shanks is like a number one draft pick for the Australian Film scene. He is the writer and director of Time Trap, Rebooted and Wizards of Aus, has a YouTube channel with over 200k subscribers and his script – Hotel, Hotel, Hotel, Hotel – recently was selected for the BlackList (that’s a big deal). In the next 5 years, anyone interested in film will know his name (if you don’t already).

Guy Pearce and Michael Shanks on set of Storm Music Video

I was lucky enough to interview Michael last week. It is undoubtedly, one of the most motivating film conversations I have ever had. His commitment to the craft over the years has made me ready to work harder and excited for the future of Australian films. Read on for more.

INTRODUCTIONS

EXT. ZOOM – DAY

FRAZIER: So! Before we go into the proper filmmaking stuff, I just want to talk about the something stupid video with Nicole Kidman that you made…

MICHAEL: Oh God.  That’s definitely a blast from the past…

FRAZIER: Well when I was 14 there was this big deal with ‘try not to laugh’ challenges and your video was in it. My friends and I had some type of forfeit that if you laughed you would have to get slapped. So your video would always make us crack up.    

Is there any small part of you that wants to give up the filmmaking career and return to these types of videos?

MICHAEL: If it gets people slapped then I am happy about it. But no not really. Kind of the opposite. I have always wanted to make the next thing bigger then the last. But that video is like the first thing I ever did that got any attention.

FRAZIER: Well I didn’t know you even made it until like two months ago.

MICHAEL: “I used to get slapped because of it!”

Winning Flickerfest for Rebooted

THE PROCESS

FRAZIER: You started off with the Doomsday Arcade series for the Escapist Magazine, if I’m not mistaken?

MICHAEL: The first thing I made was a pilot for a web series when I was in year 12. I made it for a competition and won. The prize was that your entry was part of a 25-part series that you were paid to make. That was kind of how I jumped into filmmaking.

FRAZIER: Well I watched it the other day.

MICHAEL: Oh God…

FRAZIER: It has got some funny jokes and I was genuinely laughing. It’s got this kind of referential/ parody humour that is woven throughout everything you do. Is that where it started or have you always loved that style of writing.

MICHAEL: I was always into that stuff like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Spike Milligan’s Books and Monty Python. I always loved genre parody. But moving back to the show, I kind of used it to be able to jump into different genres that I loved.

FRAZIER: So after this show you didn’t go to film school?

MICHAEL: No, I think of Doomsday Arcade as my film school. Almost two years of straight shooting, writing and editing.

FRAZIER: I recently dropped out and I was thinking, did you have a period of people constantly telling you to go to film school or any self-doubt? Or did you know this was the path you wanted to take?

MICHAEL: Well since I had it as a job and had to do it, it gave me the confidence to just keep going. I know it sounds pretentious, but I think the best film school was watching films. When I started moving onto proper sets, I didn’t really know what second AC was… but that’s fine! You get told on the day and you work it out.

The short that launched Michael’s career.

FRAZIER: Following this, you had Time Trap released after the success of the George Lucas special edition trailer and that short film was only made with a budget of 6k?

MICHAEL: Yeah so that was just self-funded. It was 6k with people lending their time and borrowing a camera and just making it happen. And it was a huge amount of time – months of visual effects and composing. I then had this huge amount of traffic coming to my channel from this Star Wars parody I made. I just released the short film on that same day and it really caught fire. It got a lot of eyeballs on it, especially in LA. It was actually how I got my US reps because the short film went around Los Angeles. I was out there a few weeks later interviewing managers and agents.

Time Trap

FRAZIER: When this crazy period was happening what was your mindset like at the time?

MICHAEL: It was very exciting but I was weirdly hamstrung cause I just had signed onto do the web series the Wizards of Aus. I had these reps saying these are things we could go for but I had to go and spend 45 weeks making this web show.

FRAZIER: So with the Wizards of Aus, I saw something you said that you moved back into your Mum’s house for 36 weeks to edit the VFX straight?

MICHAEL: Yeah…

FRAZIER: How do you do that and maintain motivation because I would be drained?

Michael on set of Wizards of Aus

MICHAEL: I do get pretty fixated on things… It’s really satisfying work as a day job. I find it akin to playing a puzzle video game. You have these certain tools to get from point A to point B. I am also just one of those people who is content to just sit in a chair for hours.

FRAZIER: When you are on set and working with comic actors like Aunty Donna, Nick Cody and Guy Pearce, do you like improvising?

MICHAEL: It was a mixture of both. Me and a guy called Nick Issel wrote the show. But when you have guys like Aunty Donna doing funnier stuff it’s pretty sweet. I love the idea of improv but sometimes you can tell they are just improving the whole thing and it feels kind of loose.

FRAZIER: Now onto Rebooted, a short film I have shown my friends and family like 20 times. I understand the budget was only $120,000. But if the budget was bigger, do you think it would have changed the film that much?

Rebooted Short Film

MICHAEL: I think probably not. It would have made some quality-of-life stuff easier like bigger offices and larger studios. The only thing that would be different was that because it is a mixture of genuine stop motion and live action, we weren’t able to move the camera in specific three-dimensional ways. If we had a bigger budget we would have been able to do motion control shots. But other than that, it turned out exactly how I wanted it.

FRAZIER: Now just onto your directing style. I have seen a lot of videos where you say you storyboard everything to a tee, is this linked with your love for visual storytelling?

MICHAEL: I just think it would be really hard to come up with that stuff on the day. By really storyboarding everything, I found more cohesion across everything I am trying to do. It’s just a way of me feeling like I have the shot exactly in my head.

Michael on set

FRAZIER: I saw on your Instagram that your script got selected for the Blacklist. Can you just talk about your process in writing an already successful script?

MICHAEL: I am not one of those people who writes a million ideas. I just want to make sure the idea is super unique. But once I have that 3 act structure, I will typically go away and find some AirBnb for like a week and beat out a draft. But I am really slow at editing. For me it’s just really premise heavy, once I find a sweet idea then that’s it.

TALKING MOVIES

FRAZIER: I know that the Lord of the Rings BTS, the Simpsons and Edgar Wright were big inspirations but was there any other films or creators that helped you?

MICHAEL: Definitely all of them. But for the last few years I have really been mainlining horror. Recently, I watched Incancation (2022). I was loving it but my girlfriend can’t watch scary movies. She had come out and I was at the end of the movie, watching it through the menu on the third of the screen that’s how scary it was. Horror films just always surprise me. They have a looseness to them and can introduce elements of surrealism without having to build a fantasy realm. Horror films can just be really unique.

Michael on set

FRAZIER: Do you have a current favourite horror director?

MICHAEL: I know these are mainstream choices, but I think Ari Aster is incredible. I think Hereditary is so so so good. It’s the sweet spot for me because it’s unique and I didn’t know where it was going but it was really exciting. Also Jordan Peele. Nope was awesome and I love his ability to make mimetic visuals.

FRAZIER: Now in the opposite direction, what is the most annoying thing people do at the cinema?

MICHAEL: The most annoying experience I had was in Sydney, I was by myself in this small cinema. 30 minutes into the film I hear this foil crinkle and they unwrap two big burritos and it’s just the smelliest food. This old woman several rows in front was looking around smelling… That and obviously just being on your phone.

FRAZIER: The other month I was seeing Doctor Strange 2 and this group of 12-year-old eshays came into the cinema. They were all vaping and all you could see was the vape smoke covering the screen. This guy told the manager and they came in and kicked out the wrong people so we had to get involved and tell the manager who it was… right in the middle of a big set piece.

THE FUTURE

FRAZIER: Where do you want to see the Australian film scene move in the next 5-10 years?

Wizards of Aus

MICHAEL: I think we need to be making movies that people want to see. I think the movies we are making is ‘the whole small town has a secret’, which is fine but we are just making samey films that appeal to middle aged people. I would love to see us take more genre swings. When I tell my girlfriend a movie to watch and say it’s an Australian film she says “oh an Australian film…”

FRAZIER: I have interviewed a few people now and they all say that same thing.

MICHAEL: I am not saying they are bad, I just think they are a little safe. Maybe because a lot of stuff is based on state and government funding.  But it is literally something everyone in the Australian film scene talks about and it never changes so I don’t know what the fuck is up with that.

FRAZIER: I just think doing the Wizards of Aus and Rebooted is the right direction but it’s like why is there not more of that…

MICHAEL: The people I know at Screen Australia are very cool and funny so I just don’t know how it works.

Motion capture…

FRAZIER: My last question… what is next for you?

MICHAEL: I want to always feel like the next thing is bigger and better. With that trajectory, hopefully the next things is bigger. Over the last few years, I have been putting my efforts into writing features for people and hopefully that’s the space I can work in.

Make sure to go and check out all of Michael’s work on Youtube because it is honestly some of the best Australian filmmaking I have seen.

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Interview

Making an Indie Romance – An interview with Charlie Baz

Charlie Baz is a Brisbane based writer, director, and actor. He is a co-creator of a new production company known as 2nd Circle Studios whose focus is on creating work that is story driven. 2nd Circle studio’s film show reels and promotion for people looking to get their work made. Through this, Charlie has written and directed an upcoming romance known as It’s nice to meet you. Talking with Charlie reminded me why I love interviewing creatives – seeing how passionate artists are about their projects. I am extremely excited to dive into this interview because of how enthusiastic Charlie truly is.

Emily Crow, Charlie Baz and Ethan Waters

What is It’s nice to meet you?

“It’s fancy boys’ night and Chris falls in love again. Will she be the one? This story is a classic love story that is very close to my heart. I wrote it from how I have interpreted romance my whole life.”

Where did this idea come from?

“A few years back, I had this very deep crush and fascination with this girl. I kind of based it around what that could look like. It is not a real story, but it came from real feelings.”

Why should people see this film?

Emily Crow and Ethan Waters

“Everyone loves a romance. Even if you don’t, there is something so sweet about watching people fall for each other. It also looks amazing, and I can only thank Jarod, our DOP, for that (Jarod Woods). The music is also stunning as well – written by Natalie Ferris. “

“It’s also short, so it will take you 15 minutes if you watch it twice…”

Biggest challenge of making an indie short film?

“Postproduction. I was editing it and I now know why a director shouldn’t edit their own films. There is so much technicality and obsession with getting everything perfect.”

“All in all, it was just praying that it would work. Just hoping it would translate from script to screen.”

Jarod Woods and Charlie Baz on set

Charlie’s Writing Process

How long was this idea bouncing around in your head?

“Honestly, subconsciously, forever. I started writing this short film in 2020. It was very boring and a clinical romance film. Something that came off that was “is that how I interpret romance?” I just realised the relationship to romance and love in my own life and I think that brought out the feeling that this film brings. “

How long did it take you to sit down and write?

“It was never really done. I could always go back and rewrite it. But probably like 6-7 months of proper rewriting.”

“When I’m drunk and out with friends, I will write on a scrapbook a lot. I will think of a moment, open my notes, and write it. The next day I look at it and think why was this anything.”

How did you put yourself into the script?

“Its quite a raw snapshot of me a year ago. Even when I was directing it, it’s like I was directing something so close to my heart.”

When you are writing, how do you keep focused when writing?

“I kind of don’t…”

“I really enjoy writing and telling stories. I want to do that for a living. I use distraction to help me write. I try and write a page a day. I will then take a break for a few days and when I come back it’s like I was too in it.”

What are the core challenges of writing a romance?

“Making the characters interesting. I look at films like La La Land where both characters are interesting and feel like distinct people with personalities. The struggle is writing an interesting relationship and not interesting characters.”

How has an acting background helped with writing and directing?

“I direct people how I would want to be directed. I came from a place of just talking a lot. From a writing perspective, we were reading so many monologues and scripts. You get a gauge of what you actually like.

What are your final goals with It’s nice to meet you?

Liam Wallis on set

“I think my dream for this film is for people to see it. For me, I want it to work as a proof of voice. I want it to be accepted into festivals but that’s also not the end of the world for me.”

Favourite movie, director, and show?

“My favourite film is easily La La Land. I do love Damien Chazelle. I really really love Bertie Gilbert. He makes lovely short films. My favourite show is Normal People, it’s just a bloody beautiful show that doesn’t need to be recreated or touched.”

If you could choose your dream project to make or be apart of, what would it be?

Bertie Gilbert

“Working with Bertie Gilbert would be amazing. Acting or on crew. I also have this short, long film idea. It’s a story about a band who is on the verge of breaking up. I really want to be able to do that with crowds and mosh pits. Honestly though, just being able to go to work and make cool stuff with my mates, that’s all I need.”

Where do you want to see the Brisbane film scene move in the next 5 years?

“The film scene in Brisbane is pretty good. I would love for more of a community involvement. Its very insular, in its own little section that is pushed off to the side. I would love for more people to get amongst it.”

“With Australian films, a lot of the time it is the same stories. A bushman, small town, someone who needs to belong, a murder etc. It can be interesting – Baby teeth – but I would like to see more films that don’t have an Australian feel to it.”

The crew of It’s nice to meet you

The short film is out this Friday July 15th on the 2nd Circle Studios YouTube Channel. Make sure to like it and share around this incredible project.

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Interview Uncategorized

Shooting a film in outback Australia – an interview with maia jorgensen

Maia Jorgensen on POC

Every year, countless movies, short films, and productions are shot out in Winton, Queensland. If you have never been or heard of Winton, it is a tiny little remote town in Outback Australia. Winton is home to some amazing scenery that has been featured in films like the Proposition and Mystery Road. Recently, I was able to interview another writer and director who recently shot their upcoming film in Winton – Maia Jorgensen.

Maia is a Canadian born writer and director currently based in Brisbane. She recently completed production of her Australian psychological thriller / drama Solitude. Before this, she has directed an episode of the web series Ain’t it Fun and an incredible outback short film called Shelter. Maia is another Brisbane based creative who is clearly on the rise.

What is Solitude about?

“Solitude is about a co-dependent friendship between two childhood friends that takes a dark turn when old secrets come to the surface. It is a psychological thriller based in Winton that uses the landscape as a third character.”

Mackenzie Curtis as NOA

What inspired you to write Solitude?

“I went on the Winton Outback trip last year. I left the trip knowing I wanted to make a film that showcased the landscape in Winton and the beautiful outback. The core idea came from my own experiences with friendships. I thought it would be interesting to tell a story that shows how toxic platonic relationships can be. You see those toxic relationships between couples on screen so I thought it would be interesting to explore it between friends.”

When you are casting, what do you look for?

Maia Jorgensen, Sandro Karayan, Megan Dale, Jarrah Marchio on set

“I specifically wanted someone who had experience and training. People who can be good collaborators and really shape these characters and bring them to life.  Its also very internal so I wanted actors who could really showcase the subtleties so we can truly understand the subtext. I also wanted people who had really good chemistry because there such close friends.”

Biggest challenges shooting in the Outback?

“We definitely had some problems… Most of the issues that we learned from was how to shoot with the outback sun. I think we got the hang off it by the end of it. When we shot our Proof of Concept, it was overcast but when we were out in Winton, it was a full sun with no clouds. We couldn’t get it too look or feel right. By the second day, we just had to cut shots and shoot within that 3-6pm area. “

Lachlan Margetts and Remy Webber

“Also, half the crew went up by bus and half drove. Just a really long bus ride together, 21 hours…”

What was the scariest thought going into production?

“The sunlight and also shooting at night was daunting because it gets really really cold. The day would be warm but at night it would drop to like 10 degrees.  Even just knowing we only had one shot to do this and there was no room for mistakes. We couldn’t reshoot anything because we only had one chance. Also, the wild animals, shooting on the edge of a cliff, rocky boulders and driving back late at night on the highway.”

With that pressure and stress building, is there anything you do to combat this?

“There was one day specifically where the crew was getting really stressed. We just couldn’t figure out the lighting. So I got all the HODS to meet and we stopped filming. I just reminded everyone that this is an enjoyable experience, and this isn’t going to be the end of the world. We just breathed and came up with a better plan to schedule for the light.”

What are your primary goals with Solitude?

‘We will definitely be doing the festival circuit and in particularly indie Australian film festivals. With my time in Australia, I have fallen in love with Australian filmmaking.”

Why should people pay attention to Solitude?

“This film has a unique perspective on platonic friendships. Just because it isn’t romantic doesn’t mean their can’t be toxic dynamics and tendencies. When you do put all your attention, love and care into one person that can backfire in a way. Also, just the exploration of the outback and landscape. “

Maia’s Writing Process

How many hours a day were you writing during the peak time?

“It was a lot… a lot of time. This might be dramatic but probably between 8-12 hours on planning. When I actually started writing it was probably more like 2 or 3 hours a day. When I sat down and wrote it, it didn’t take that long, it was just the planning.

Is writing a challenge for you or does it come easily?

“I enjoy writing. It was a bit of a challenge for me because I have a lot of experience directing things I haven’t written. This was the first thing I wrote and directed in a while. I am meticulous so I wanted it planned out perfectly.

Do you find yourself getting distracted?

“I can be quite singular focused. If I ever got distracted it would be with the pitch, so always Solitude stuff.”

How did you know the script was finished?

“I think it was a gut instinct. I got to the point where if I made changes it would divert from where I wanted it to go. The screen actually didn’t change that much from March since I planned it out a lot.”

When you draft do you completely restart or have the first draft next to you?

“I like to have it next to me for reference. I start a new document to rewrite but if I ever feel like I get to a block I will start from scratch and not look at the old one until I bring them together.”

How do you put yourself into the characters and story?

“It does come from my own experiences, but they are not necessarily negative. I wanted to showcase a different kind of relationship on screen that I have with my own friends but not in a bad way. That platonic intimacy and co dependency that may not be toxic but does exist. I have had experience with friendships that don’t work out and so I intertwined those negative feelings and those intrusive thoughts. Also, just playing into those deepest insecurities.”

What is your dream project / collaboration / film? (No limitations at all)

“I would love to work with Taika. He is my favourite human in the entire world. I take a lot of inspiration from him as a director and creative. “

As someone who isn’t born in Australia, where do you want to see the Brisbane and Australian film scene move?

Anya Suffolk on Set

“I definitely think its on the rise. As an outsider, its interesting not seeing Brisbane on the international level like Vancouver or Melbourne. Its definitely on the rise and is up and coming. There is still something unique Australian about films that come out of Brisbane and the Gold coast.”

Advice for other indie filmmakers on writing and directing?

“Just trusting yourself and trusting your own experiences and instincts. I feel you can get a lot of criticism but at the end of the day you’re the only one who knows their own mind. For directing, remember to enjoy the experience and knowing that no film is worth your mental health or the crews. Also, just putting in the work to learn your craft and working with your actors.”

Why filmmaking?

“I just love storytelling and entertaining. Also, just being on set and brining a film together. You can only go into film if you are passionate about it. When you are on set, everyone there wants to be there so badly and have worked so hard to be there. “

The Crew of Solitude in Outback Winton

“A shoutout to my crew. I had an amazing crew and I couldn’t be happier with the people who supported me. Also, my cinematographer Remy Webber, Ash Burgess, Frank Button, Joe Mineham and the town of winton.”