Disabled Life, Film, Theatre

Getting Involved.

This year has seen a big change for myself personally and I have been going over it a lot in my mind. It’s not physical it’s a mental change. I think. I’m not sure how to define it.

At some point this year I gained new followers on twitter, I still don’t know what post or tweet caused it, suddenly I was in touch with more people with disabilities and I have become more aware that I am not alone with my concerns.

So I decided to become more active on social media in issues involving the disabled community. Have I caused any change in the world, no, but I am still finding my feet in this regard.

There does seem to be a big move against casting AB’s (able bodied)  actors in disabled roles. So at this point I should address the elephant in the room.

My own films are guilty of this. It is something I have always been aware of and it is why I have taken extreme care with my actors to make sure they are honest in their portrayals, taking the melodrama out of the situation.

There are many reasons why AB’s are used. In my own case when I was at film school we had to use fellow students who were studying acting. However for the next 3 films I did in fact ring agencies and ask for disabled actors. You can only hear the phrase “There’s no market for that.” so many times before you feel like you’re asking in vain.

A cheat can be “We need flashbacks to when they were well” this of course leads us to the stereotype that all disabilities are caused by accidents.

Recently an actor in the US was questioned by disabled people about how he felt playing a disabled person when he himself was not disabled. His response was one of the worst I’d seen. He dismissed the concerns and tweeted out a picture of himself with standing with his two paraplegic consultants. One of whom was an actor in his own right. The whole situation just got worse and worse. I would have preferred if he’d engaged with his disabled fan base better, being rude and dismissive is unhelpful. It’s great to have a disabled character on screen but they could achieve more if they were disabled.

There are a few things I can accept. Budget and safety concerns can affect the casting of a disabled person but they should still be given the opportunity to audition. From there you can talk to them about their disability and what they can and can’t do.

I guess this is an issue I’m passionate about because I feel I can effect some change here and it is my hope to address the balance in a web series in 2017, I am hoping to once again be prolific in my script writing. Maybe I can bring some disabled people in on smaller roles thus creating a demand and then agents can have a better look at their books.

I’m also considering applying for  the disability advisory panel at Auckland Council. My main inspiration for this is my amazing friends who have been standing up for diversity much longer than I have. They’re smart and I have learned a lot from them and I hope to take those lessons and apply them to the disabled community .

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Disabled Life, Film

NZIFF Diary -High Rise & Ghostbusters

I know Ghostbusters isn’t part of the festival but it served as a filler film between work,dinner and an 8:30pm screening of High Rise.

At the start of the day I had to make a choice. Go to the gym (in Takapuna) after work, then subway, then back into the city, then second dinner, then meet Kat & Tim and go to High Rise or go to another film around 4pm, it’ll get out at 6, walk to a cafe on Victoria St, have dinner, walk back to the civic. I opt not to go to the gym as I’ll just be sore in the screening.

Around 1:30 I start to feel bad about missing the gym, but if I walk to the Imax centre that should make up for it. It’s flat for half of it but has a couple of hills at the end. It’s 1.6 km (a little bit longer because I can’t use the stairway that cuts a bit out of the journey)

So after work I begin walking, a bus pulls up next to me and offers me a ride, I wave it off. As the bus pulls away it starts to rain..son of a …..nevermind the human body is mostly water anyway, suck it nature.

As I walk i’m trying to decide what my filler film will be. I chose Ghostbusters because I was at least a little curious. None of the other options appealed. There was a festival film but I had heard mixed reviews of it. A co-worker told me “I felt it was an hour longer than it needed to be.”. So despite it being a remake and the festival being on I go to Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters

So much has been written about this film that at this point I’m not sure there’s much to add. I have a mixed history with Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy films. I loved Spy,I thought Bridesmaids was ok, The Heat didn’t appeal to me (I’ve since seen it in bits and pieces.).

The 3D was good when the slime and proton streams are going they pour over the screen  it’s very cool. The performances were fine. It was slow to start but once it got going it was funny, then it would chuck in a reference to the original film. The two are not connected.

The amount of references to the original film is over the top and it really does affect the overall film. If you like Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy’s work or you haven’t seen the original you’ll probably really like this. I found it funny in parts but just average overall. The concert scene is a real highlight. Also Chris Hemsworth and Cecily Strong are very funny in the small amount of time they’re given. I hope they’re given a sequel so that they can focus on a more original film. There is a scene after the credits that tells you where the sequel could be heading.

After Ghostbusters and a quick catch up with a friend I walk to Victoria St and into a cafe. Now I am cutting back on coffee but it’s been a long day and I have at least 5 hours to go before I’m in bed. I order a steak pie and a small flat white while I peruse the menu. This cafe has unlimited brunch (until 2 pm) so…….limited brunch bro.

I walk down to the Imax centre , I grab an ice cream (I have done a lot of walking today so don’t judge.) and I get a text from Kat she’s in town early. I agree to meet her at the civic.

We meet up at Starks and discuss what’s going on in our lives. Which is sooooo amazing you guys OMG! You wouldn’t believe it !

So I won’t elaborate.

As we’re chatting a few familiar faces pass by. We actually don’t chat about High Rise that much. Tim arrives and we get offered free tickets to High Rise by someone who was unable to attend, a free ride but we’d already paid. Damn you Alanis!

High Rise

High Rise is a tale of the haves and have nots played out in a tower block. The higher up you are the higher your wealth/status. It’s from Ben Wheatley who previously made Kill List and Sightseers I liked both those films when I saw them but I never felt the need to go back. I feel the same about High Rise. Robert Liang (Tom Hiddleston) moves into the Tower and right at the start we know where this is going as we see the end first. It’s about the journey. The intense, bloody, gory, tear the skin off your face journey. For the most part I was on the journey but about halfway through there’s a strange time jump and it feels like we’ve skipped a bit. The woman next to me kept covering her eyes at any sight of blood and during one particular sequence her hand was waving so much it looked like a John Cena impression. It is possible that I didn’t get it but I feel like I did. The film doesn’t say anything new. A very solid cast make it an interesting watch but Kat and I didn’t have much to say about it after. I was glad I saw it but I don’t need to see it again.

After the film we say our goodbyes and as Tim and Kat head home I stay have a chat with another friend who’s just seen it and then begin my quest for a cab home. It’s yet another walk…up Wellesley st and down the other side.

By time I get home I’m cold, tired and sore. I do the minimum to be ready for tomorrow and roll into bed at 11:35.

 

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Disabled Life, Film, sport

Martin Crowe

Originally this was a facebook post but I wanted to share the story with more people and expand on it a little. There was no media coverage of this at the time it happened.

One story I have about Martin Crowe. Craig Julich-Serventy and I filmed an interview with him for a producer (Footage now non existent as the producer took it and never called back.) His brother Jeff and I set up a cricket game at Northcote college. The interview was about the Cricket Max concept that they had devised.

Northcote was where I had captained an indoor cricket team and a social cricket XI, the social XI was also the only XI, I sometimes thought of it as “The first XI that turned up.” Being disabled and captaining in cricket I had a bit of attention from media and was able to turn that into something positive for a small school, there were 400 plus when I went there. This was only a few years after I left.

Jeff rang me to say that Martin would be coming. It was a third form vs fourth form cricket game. No media there (apart from Craig and I with a faulty camera). The two brothers played against each other (Martin 3rd form, Jeff 4th form). Martin had retired and his knee brace was almost space age. I remember him smiling during the game and each kid that got to bat with him or bowl against him was having the time of their life. The school setup a commentary table and two students called the game. As Martin batted he sometimes let the ball go through and pushed for singles and then crack! He belted the ball into a wall. It was an incredible show he and Jeff put on, It was quite amazing to see how much joy he brought to everyone involved. His enthusiasm for cricket was still there and I am glad that I got to see it first hand.

I can’t tell you who won but I don’t think that’s important.

 

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Film

I was a Shorty extra and got extra yelled at. Till Claire Chitham stepped in.

I wrote a while ago about my time as an extra on a short film. That was while I was at film school, after school I still needed to get a foot in the industry. So I joined an extras agency. I ended up on the street..Shortland Street!

Quickly for international readers Shortland Street is a 5 nights a week soap set in a New Zealand hospital. Judge Dredd, Jango Fett and Hercules sidekick have all been there. Lots of Lord of the rings actors. I’m going to mention a few names here to give these people props, others shall remain nameless.

It was a 2 hour commute and the pay basically covered my travel. I didn’t make money from it. being disabled the agency sent me out quite a bit. “You’ll just look like a regular patient.”. Once you get there your herded into a room. You need to take 3 changes of clothes, I just took shirts and hats. Changing pants would take to long. Turned my phone off and I sat and waited.

My first time I was just to walk into the clinic and sit down. Coming out of film school the set was really big and a little intimidating. As I stood there waiting for “Background action!” I must have looked pretty nervous as one of the main actors walked passed me and gave me a pat on the shoulder “Hey bro.” “Hey”. That was it. And then I saw another extra just go to town and screw up the shot.

This guy had been telling myself and the other extras about how experienced he was and that he was known for whacky/zany characters. Whatev’s you’re background bro, stay there. The scene is in reception On the reception desk there is a Canteen bandanna box.  The show is promoting the charity. “Background action!”  we all move, “Action” the scene begins.

Everything is going fine. Whacky Zany reaches the bandanna box, right where the main scene is happening, and tears into it. WTF are you doing! He proceeds to try on every bloody bandanna. Maybe his character has brain cancer and a magical bandanna can heal him. “CUT!!” “I think we had a scene stealer in that one.” Understatement. He gets directed to walk to the desk and then sit down.

On my last time job I was to be used in a bar scene (A disabled person in a bar on prime time tv. PROGRESS!). I had been in a few times now and had a handle on what happens so I’m comfortable. I’ve never had a mishap or any direction beyond “sit here.” and “Change shirt”. Naturally shit went wrong.

They are running behind. An extras phone goes off. This causes much yelling from the 3rd AD (3rd AD is in charge of extras) nobody moves. The phone goes again, more yelling. Nobody moves. “If you answer your phone now you won’t be fired!” A woman gets up runs to her phone and we get back into the scene.

“You stop looking at (MAIN ACTOR)!” “Did you hear me?!” “Please look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Maybe say a name?

No one is sure who he’s talking to, I’m facing the other way so I can’t see.

“You in the green shirt!”

Evidently it’s me, pretty sure I wasn’t but ok I’ll just focus on my fake beer.

The scene continues.

“Ok next shot that means you out, you out and you out!”

I am one of the you’s who are out. But I know I’m in shot so I stay seated. There are 3 people at my table who all move.

“Green shirt! I said out!” “Please listen when I am directing you!”

I really don’t like this jackass. “I’m in the shot.”

“What? No. Out.”

I start picking up my cane. I’m sure this is wrong but I’m not paid for my thoughts. I’m background bro.

Then it happens. Claire Chitham a long time cast member has a quick look around at the cameras and scene. She stands up

“No he’s right.” “Stay seated.” Brief but epic. The AD checks his notes. Mumbles a sorry.

The scene continues. I move pretty quickly once the scene is over. I’m not needed. On the way home I realise how much I know about sets and things. I decide to quit the agency. I did extra work one last time for a friend. But I’d gotten enough on set experience at that point.

Years later I met Ms Chitham after a play and was able to say thank you.

Also I now direct my extras personally.

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Film, Theatre

A Marathon? Sure, I’ll do it.

Every year I do a marathon with a group of friends. We all prepare individually trusting that the other one’s will just be there and be ready. It’ll take endurance, concentration, water, coffee, no doz, deodorant, a blanket maybe a pillow or a bean bag for the lucky few. It starts at 2pm on a Saturday and I won’t be home till 3 or 4pm Sunday.

The 24 hour movie marathon is not for your fair weather cinema goer who struggles through a 3 hour film or is spooked by a triple feature. If you have taste and no tolerance outside of your taste it’s not for you.

I was invited a few years ago by a friend. I’d never heard of it so I thought I’d give it a go.  It started with an old 50’s film and then Zombieland (Well before the public release) I saw 4 other new releases that year as well as a lot of cult films. The closing film was Commando. This list is severely truncated to only the recognisable names.

Every year since I’ve gone back. Hauling out a hiking backpack I use just once a year. Stuffing it carefully with a blanket, food (both sugary & actual food). My stamina has gotten better and last year I managed to stay awake for the vast majority of it. I faded during the second to last film but was fine for the last film.

This is 12-15 films back to back to 5 min break to back to dinner break to back to back to 5 mins then midnight film,midnight film to back to back to back (sleep is for the weak) to OMG it’s breakfast, to back to back 5 mins break to back to back to can we squeeze one more in? Sure! to back and home.

You will not see a Marvel or DC logo grace the screen, you won’t know what’s coming at any time, you may know of one film before hand. You will have some expectations that won’t be close to what you’ll see if you’ve never been before.

There is a mixture of new features, old features, classic (not necessarily Citizen Cane or Hitchcock). There might be 4 or 5 mainstream films. Beyond that is so far beyond that I can’t even tell you for many reasons. Mostly it’s against the rules.

The rules. No phones or talking during the films. Doesn’t matter how bad you think the film is, how insightful your observation, how funny you are, noise pollution, light pollution, it won’t be tolerated. I once saw someone yelled out of the theatre for bag rustling at 3am. Don’t talk about what you’ve seen. Really try to control your stink.

This is where hardcore film people go. I have friends whom I only see here.  It’s a bizarre community where some people wear pajamas for 24 hours and others wuss out and drive home for a couple of hours to sleep or shower (wimps, unless your actually working the event then go for your life.). The most overwhelming sense of this community, for me, came a couple of years ago.

My friend had passed away about a month before the event and there was a sombre mood among my friends. I missed her badly. The marathon is broken up by smaller items and games between films. There is also a section honouring people in film who have passed away. Yes like the academy awards but it features people they may have missed. Right at the end they put up a photo of my friend. It was a nice touch.

It’s a good experience and if you’re curious you should go and at least try to stay for the midnight film.

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Film

Musketeer

Musketeer.

This is my favourite film of all that I have directed. Is it my best film? No. But it’s the one I love the most. It was also the hardest to make as well as being a little painful to look back on.

Most short films are very simple stories well told. Don’t over complicate it, Use a few locations, have a small cast. ORRRRRRRRRRRRR Have one big location, multiple sword fights, an amateurish cast, a kid as your lead, a chess champion who by the way will disappear for a bit to Belgium to represent the country, no heating on set, a disabled director who’s never done action before, oh and an unforeseen disaster that almost trashes the work.

The story. A young girl overhears that somebody died in the hospital she’s staying. The next thing she knows Death is coming for her unless her imaginary friend, a musketeer, can stop it.

I had spent a lot of time in and out of hospital as a kid so I was able to draw on that experience. I handed the script unfinished to a friend at work who was looking for her final project. She read what I’d written quietly in the corner. She liked it and asked me to finish the script. I can’t remember how many drafts there were. I want to say 3 but maybe 7 after tweaks and things.

So we have a script and do a quick count. There are 3 sword fights in the final draft. We will need to train our actors to do this as we don’t have the budget for “stunties”. I contact a guy I know who tells me he can train the actors to do this. COOL! I start thinking about who to cast. If I cast from an agency we can lose them to paid work and then we waste a lot of time training  them for nothing. We end up casting newbies and amateurs. (this is not a slight. We cast two tall sisters who had done fencing they weren’t  actors. just very nice people).

The cast came together really well. Natasha was our Musketeer. I had worked a bit with her when she was younger in a production of Hamlet. I thought she looked like a hero. Bridget (Zoe) I cast Bridget in 10 seconds, She’s that good. We clicked and she made me laugh. We had one actor drop out and after some emergency phone calling Jen my producer was able to find Kate Vox who was super keen. After 12 weeks of rehearsing, most of this was to allow for the sword training. We were ready to shoot.

Work begins. We are shooting in Devonport. It’s good for Bridget as she lives there. It’s kind of a pain for everyone else. But we are shooting a sword film so that seems to be enough to keep everyone excited. A lot of films being talked about Highlander, Empire, The Princess Bride (Bridget is studying it at school so not so keen on it). We start with some simple dialogue scenes to get everyone warmed up. But we need to move fast as the action sequences will take a bit of time. We have 4 days to pull this off.  Mike an assistant has started shooting a little behind the scenes video. Good vibes going into this.

Natasha is very quiet for the first day. She’s either in front of the camera or next to me with her fingernails buried in my left arm. Around 7pm she tells me she really has to go as she’s made arrangements to be somewhere else. I wasn’t quite ready for it but we manage to shoot around it. It’s an easy mistake to make if you haven’t worked on a film before. There is a schedule but you can fall behind. The crew are a little concerned by this. Producer and I assure them it’ll be fine.

The next day Natasha has picked up Bridget and bought her to set. Their on camera roles have kind of morphed in to real life. Again we are moving through the dialogue scenes as the DOP and I know we have a really big challenge coming. Just to keep things interesting and lighten the mood I let Bridget direct one shot since she’s not in it. Ok I let her call action and cut but she got to sit in “The Chair”. She did a good job, so I never let it happen again.

Tomorrow we shoot the big climactic fight.

Day 3 We all know what’s coming. Also my work is having a ball and I am expected to go as I have been there a while. I have an assistant named Campbell he’s extremely tall and I feel really weird telling him “Hey can you  pick up my suit at 4?”. Man I never felt more Hollywood.

The fights all work on a number system for each swing of the sword. There are basically six swings. The girls swords weigh about 2 or 3 kg. We start with the opening exchanges. Bridget has a day off school and is in her pajamas in case we need her in the back of a shot. (she’s in 1 shot). By 5pm I am in my suit and still directing. Everything is going well but I’m conscious of resting the actors. Actors won’t always tell you they’re tired or something’s wrong. Also the crew is realising that I am tired. We have shot half the sequence by 9:30pm and resolve to shoot the rest tomorrow.

Christian my DOP and I are sitting outside the location. We are both buggered.

“Don’t worry we’re gonna finish this” he says, I believe him.

The producer pats us both on the back she’s ecstatic it looks great and we are an amazing team.

The producer and I go to the ball at the museum. By time we get there everyone is buzzing. People all look amazing and have had a few drinks. All I want to do is go back and direct my sword fight. I AM LIVING MY DREAM RIGHT NOW!!!

It’s 8am and I am traveling to set. My phone rings. It is my producer, she never calls this is bad.

“The set got broken into. Everything has been trashed. There is graffiti on the walls, there are beer cans everywhere, The hospital beds are broken, the wheelchair, they threw the microwave through a window. We are fucked.”

I tell her it’ll be ok. We’ll work it out. I have no idea what to do. I get there and it’s really bad. Doors are broken there is glass everywhere. The camera with photos and the behind the scenes doco is gone. My mind is racing. I can shoot at these places maybe? I am trying desperately to keep the film going. I can’t freak out if I do the crew will give up, I think I don’t know but that’s where my head is. Then comes the most gutting moment.

Dan our amazing 1st AD comes in and tells me “Bridget’s here. Should I say something?”. I’m the Director effectively the captain. “I’ll do it.” I am really trying not to cry. Dan wants to close the set and call the police. He’s right I reluctantly agree.

I get to the door just as she arrives. She’s 13, has no shoes on, this is her first film and she is about to put on the Musketeer costume for the first time. I ask her to put her shoes on and I tell her what’s happened. We have some outside stuff we can shoot while we think of backup places to shoot. (There are no backup places I am just hoping there are). This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do on set. Telling Bridget we may not have a film was just a horrible moment I never want to go through again. And yes I know it’s just a film but it doesn’t feel like that at the time.

During our outside shoot a couple walk their little dog without a lead. It goes through my shot and won’t stop barking. I am tempted to introduce it to one of our swords….so tempted. I am cracking jokes to keep my mind off the issues. The scene is good. Yay our film has an opening.

While we were shooting it turns out a minor/major miracle occurred. The makeup team rounded up anyone not working and begun cleaning up. The beds look ok because good old gaffer tape is holding them together. But nobody put any weight on them.

Shooting begins again and we move much faster. I finally finish shooting Bridget at around 8 on Sunday night. She can go home. She doesn’t want to leave. I try to explain she’s missed a lot of school and I don’t think her parents will be happy about this. Jen rings the parents. They allow her to stay. As the night gets longer and colder.  Musketeer completes it’s final shots.

I am in bed by 3am. I wake up at 5pm. Getting a call and a hail of texts. Nobody had heard from me and was concerned. We complete the post relatively pain free. Watching the film on a big screen it looks great and the audience is reacting well to it.

Sadly there are no behind the scenes photos of the shoot. There is only the film and the friends I have stayed in touch with ever since.

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Disabled Life, Film

Disabled representation in film

The Bone Collector, it’s not the best film you’ll ever see but it was an important film for me as the central character was a bedridden forensics investigator. It stars Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. I saw it many times upon release while I was at film school. It is what drove me to become a director. I wanted to tell stories where the central character was disabled but the disability was not the focus of the story.

Recently Furiosa has emerged from the latest Mad Max film and is being hailed as a step forward for the portrayal of women in film which I suppose she is. She also represents disabled people something largely ignored in the hype machine. A friend recently shared with me a blog by a young amputee who was ecstatic to see someone she could relate to on screen.

The next step of course is to see disabled actors/actresses on screen in these roles. Currently there are not a lot available and when I’ve tried to cast my own projects with disabled people I have been told by agencies “There’s no market for it”. So we are stuck with able bodied actors who win awards for “crippling”it up on screen until the market changes. But if disabled people don’t see themselves on screen will they be interested in entering the industry?

When I look at what I’ve created I realise my films are made for able bodied people. The point I try to make is “Here’s a disabled person, it’s a little weird but not too much”. Some of these films make people feel awkward. I have been told I’m very “In your face” about things but ultimately they stick with the people that have seen them. Can you imagine the reaction if there had been actual disabled people though. Check out the Rollmance restaurant scene if you get a chance.

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Here’s what happens the two characters are having a romantic dinner when they get stared at by an able bodied couple coming out of the restaurant. The two people in wheelchairs proceed to exchange I love you’s in mock handicap voices. An audience will laugh but also much later I have had people come up to me and politely ask if they were in fact mocking able bodied people just to be sure.

Here is a link to the film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-85-TkeD5js

Hopefully in my next project I can move forward and employ a disabled person who’s just completed training at South Seas, Unitech, Toi Whakaari or The Actors Program.

I’m sure they’re all actively encouraging disabled people to train there.

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