Written by Luke Creely
Part C: Principal photography, post production and our August 8 premiere
One of the biggest challenges for any filmmaker or director (whether you’re working with a micro-budget, low-budget or high-budget, an amateur, semi-professional or professional cast and crew, etc.) is maintaining consistent positivity and enthusiasm throughout the entire filmmaking process. Consistent is the key word here. Consistency is, in my opinion, one of the core ingredients of a successful and functioning film set. And it begins at the top. A film director is ultimately responsible for the morale of his or her crew. Enthusiasm is infectious and a director should always remain as upbeat and as energetic as possible. While this is easier said than done, and while all filmmakers will slip up from time to time, it is important to remember that, above all, filmmaking is fun. Creating film is the ultimate high. It shouldn’t be a drag or feel like a chore. As the great Frank Capra once said (Capra directed one of my all-time favourite films, the 1946 gem It’s A Wonderful Life): ‘There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.’ Principal photography for Playground certainly presented me its challenges, and it was Capra’s simple philosophy which kept me inspired.
Principal photography (main block)
The main block of Principal photography was shot at the beautiful Cricket Willow establishment in Shepherds Flat: a cricket bat manufacturing facility which sits alongside acres and acres of natural bushland and country landscape. You can visit their website here. The Cricket Willow setting is a perfect representation of the Australia that we wanted to showcase in our film. To find out more about Cricket Willow, you can read an article written by Jack during pre-production here, or watch a short video (shot on the trusty iPhone) of Jack talking about the significance of and brief history behind the location here.
We shot at Cricket Willow between Friday May 1 and Sunday May 3 and were blessed with perfect weather conditions (given the time of year, rain was always a significant possibility). Those 3 days at Cricket Willow were the absolute highlight of my filmmaking career to date. Yes, there were challenges – 3 days in the outdoors, constantly walking and constantly on the move; shooting on the tiniest of budgets with a largely inexperienced (yet totally awesome) crew who, for a lot of them, were shooting their first film; having to navigate the terrain at night which included a lot of steep hills and dangerously rocky and unstable surfaces; shooting into the very early hours of the morning, reviewing footage afterwards, barely sleeping and then getting up and going again with the same ferocity and excitement as the previous day; shooting some very difficult scenes with Rob and Cris where I pushed them to the absolute limit – but these were challenges that we smashed through and overcame easily. I honestly loved every single second of it. From our incredibly talented and passionate cast to our highly motivated and zealous production crew (led by Jack, as well as Nicole as our Production Manager, Tim, Alex, Sam, Jeff, Michael, Jocea, Gavin, Andrew and Ben), we were a tight-knit team who worked our absolute arses off in the pursuit of a common goal: to make a unique and thought-provoking film primarily about and shot within our stunning country. An experimental film with a distinctive Australian edge. (I do want to pay special mention to our Script Supervisor, Sam Creely. Sam was only 15 at the time of shooting, but you wouldn’t know it. Always enthusiastic and armed with incredible attention to detail, there was not one continuity error that Jack and I had to manage in the edit. Not one. And given the type of film we made, and the fact that we shot out-of-sequence, this is a phenomenal achievement for somebody so young. Hats off, Sam.)
Anybody that knows me has probably heard me say this hundreds of times, but a director is only as good as the cast and crew he or she has around him or her. Filmmaking is like a team sport. Take AFL for instance. If 1 of the 22 players in a team doesn’t perform adequately or fulfil their role within a set game-plan or structure, the team can’t win (I would know, given I’m a hardcore Saints fan). It takes 22 players to win a game of footy. And it takes an entire production crew to make a great film. Playground isn’t my film, it isn’t Jack’s film and it isn’t Cris and Rob’s film – it’s our film, and we should all be immensely proud of what we achieved together at Cricket Willow. You can watch a short behind-the-scenes video from one of our night shoots here.
Principal Photography (Steph's scene)
After our Cricket Willow shoot, all scenes except one (Scene 12, which features Steph as Liz) had been filmed. Jack and I got busy editing the footage we had. We struggled to find a suitable actor to play Liz (the reasons for which are mentioned in Part B, but once we found Steph, we knew we had struck gold. We shot Steph’s small (yet vital) scene on June 28 at Jack’s mum’s (Klara’s) house in Springvale. We got through it in a sole afternoon and everything ran smoothly and (mostly) according to schedule. We had to stop filming a few times because of exterior car engine noises (this is one of the realities associated with micro or no-budget filmmaking). Jack actually had to go over to a neighbour’s house, politely explain our situation, and ask them to turn their car engine off. They understood and did so. This is one of the reasons I’m glad that I direct and don’t produce. But these were only minor disturbances and didn’t set us back too much.
Because Scene 12 was an interior shoot in a cramped space, we didn’t require all members of our Cricket Willow production crew and instead opted for a smaller team. Both Rob and Steph produced the goods during this shoot and made my job as director a hell of a lot easier (as mentioned in Part B, Scene 12 features Rob’s character Stew having a live phone conversation with Liz. Rob was thus required to be on-set but always remained off-camera). Steph was a pleasure to work with. She scribbled a lot of notes and was very methodical and precise about her performance and how she wanted to portray Liz. She took my direction well and also offered fantastic suggestions which I incorporated into the scene. This is the sort of actor I like to work with. I can’t stand ‘yes’ people. For an actor, it should be all about striking a balance between exercising autonomy and trusting the director’s judgement. Actors should be creative and should propose ideas and suggestions. I always allow for that. But an actor should also understand that the director is the one ultimately tasked with deciding on what works and what doesn’t – the one who has the final say. Steph fully understood and exercised this balance.
So, we got through the shoot in about 6 hours and finished in the late afternoon. Steph nailed her scene. And I then yelled that magic director’s word – WRAP. A sense of relief and instant nostalgia sweeps over you when you say that word. ‘Bitter sweet’ sums it up pretty well. But we were finished, excited, and now fully primed to complete post-production and begin planning our premiere screening event at Monash University.
It’s funny how things shift from the pre-production/principal photography phase to post-production. During pre-production and principal photography, the writer/director is the crew member under the most pressure. For Playground, I was responsible for devising the story, writing the screenplay and finding the film’s vision, communicating this vision to our Story-Board artist Jocea Brough and Cinematographer Tim Cox, spending hours and hours conversing and rehearsing with our cast, and then basically overseeing and managing the performances and all creative aspects of the film while shooting. That is a lot of pressure (something which I absolutely love and thrive upon). This isn’t to say that the other members of our production crew didn’t have their own pressures to deal with (Jack, for instance, was performing up to 5 or 6 roles at a time, as well as managing our sound department and producing the film). But this phase of the filmmaking process is where the director needs to shine and be completely ‘on’. This changes once ‘WRAP’ is yelled. During post-production, I sat in the editing room with Jack and we spent many, many late nights and hours piecing the film together and finding its structure (it helps that Jack’s house, our ‘editing studio’, is only a 30 second drive from my house. Talk about coincidences). My role was still crucial in these moments and as director I of course had final cut rights. But the ‘doing’ for me had now stopped. I had to hand my baby over to the editing geniuses at hand.
The main star of post-production was Jack. Not only is he the best producer a director could ask for (given that he is supportive of my creative vision, will do anything he can to help this vision materialise, but is still honest when he needs to be), but he is a damn good editor and sound mixer. I sat in with Jack and we pieced together the film’s visual edit. Once the visual edit was locked in tight and finalised to the very frame, Jack was the one that shone and got his filmmaking groove on, while I began plugging Playground all over social media, advertising, and organising our August 8 premiere screening at Monash University. Jack spent hours and hours and hours and hours (basically without sleeping) during the 1-2 months leading up to our premiere, mixing and fine-tuning our film’s sound design. Jack is a perfectionist. He’d get me around to have a listen to some sounds and audio, I’d love it, but he was never content. He always wanted to go one step better. And one step better he went. The beautifully crisp, dynamic and naturalistic sound design in Playground is one of the film’s best features, and Jack (as well as our boom op Michael Sallai, who assisted Jack during the edit and also with foley) should take full credit for that.
The other star of post-production was our Graphic and Visual Artist, Jocea, who was responsible for colour grading and enhancing the visual quality of our images. I went through each individual scene with her and discussed my vision for each, how I saw each unfolding, how each should be coloured, and the particular areas within each composition that required illuminating and highlighting through colour and contrast. Jocea inputted some fantastic ideas and together we came up with a colour grading plan for each scene. No longer did we have a series of isolated images – we now had a cohesive film. She was an absolute pro. I can’t write too specifically or be too open about some of the little visual tid-bits she implemented into the edit (as doing so might ruin a few surprises and twists for those people who haven’t seen the film yet), but what she managed to do still blows me away. There are some scenes which just wouldn’t have worked and wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if Jocea hadn’t been involved in the project. For those that have seen the film, she was the one who made a particular moment at the end of the film really come to life.
It was a close call getting everything ready in time for our August 8 premiere, but we got there in the end. I think it was our collective passion, commitment and never-say-die attitude that enabled us to complete what we did within such a short time-frame (as well as a dangerous amount of coffee consumed on my part and an even more dangerous amount of ‘Mother’ consumed on Jack’s part). Once we got the film as good as we could get it, we had a small test screener with a few trusted film colleagues, made a few minor alterations, rendered it, converted it to a DCP file for the cinema projector (a completely new experience for me), and handed the film over to the Monash cinema projectionist. It was game time.
August 8 Premiere
Our screening took place at the Campus Cinema at Monash University Clayton: a small and intimate cinema which seats approximately 200. August 8 was and will always remain one of the most special nights of my life. I had never done anything like this before and had only ever had very small screenings for my earlier student films. We had practically sold all available tickets and were thus expecting close to a full house on the night. And a full house is what we got. I was completely overwhelmed and humbled by the show of support. I felt a lot of nerves intermingled with pangs of excitement. Adam Salerni was the event MC and did a magnificent job coordinating the night. Before we screened the film, and after Adam introduced himself, Jack provided the audience with a brief introduction to Primitive Films and Playground. It was a great speech. The moment then came. The lights went down, my insides swirled, and I couldn’t sit. So I stood at the back and paced around as if I had to pee. A few minutes in, my nerves subsided as I watched the audience in front of me and gauged their reactions. We got laughs in the rights places, gasps in the right places, and pin-drop silences in the right places. The audience were getting it, and I was relieved. It was mind-blowing seeing our film, the film that began as a simple concept in my head, up there on the big screen. Being watched by close to 200 people. I will never forget that feeling of satisfaction.
The film finished, we got a rousing applause, and then it was time for the Q&A. This wasn’t something I had ever experienced before, but I was confident going into it because of my film teaching experience at Monash and the fact that I had taught classes in the same space. I felt comfortable in there. My aim was to be funny, self-assured, honest and humble. I also wanted to keep it light and have fun. Remember, film is meant to be fun. I went up by myself to begin with and got thrown some very intelligent and stimulating questions by an exceptionally switched on audience. The one I knew I would get (and it was the first one asked, of course) was: ‘why did you call the film Playground?’ An engaging dialogue eventuated between the audience and I for about 20 minutes. I was then joined by Jack, Rob, Cris and Steph. The great questions kept coming and all 5 of us got an opportunity to speak about the film and open up about what the Playground experience meant to us. I felt very close and connected to the other 4 up there and I’m sure they felt that bond too. It was an unforgettable experience and one that I will always cherish.
Click here to view the official Playground trailer.
Click here to view the Primitive Films production logo which appears at the very beginning of Playground.
Read Part A of Luke’s Playground filmmaking journey here. Read Part B here