“VIFF is one of the largest film festivals in North America. For 16 days, almost 365 films from over 70 countries will play on nine screens.”
Thank you to the cast and crew whom gave so much time, energy and expertise to make this film happen and reach the level that it has. Without you this film wouldn’t have been made.
Absolution was filmed in Perth, Western Australia except for a key flashback which was shot in the Wheat belt. The schedule consisted of two long nights at the Highgate Drycleaners (Beaufort St, Mt Lawley), with a third night of exteriors and a handful of pickup shots. That same day we also filmed day interiors at a house in Bayswater and after shooting the Laundromat pickups we went back to the house and filmed an intense night scene (and drank red bull).
Our final film shoot took place two hours east of Perth in Beverley.
The Laundromat Shoots
At the Laundromat we couldn’t start filming until 8:30 – 9pm because it was the height of summer so we were filming into the wee hours of the morning both nights.
Big thank you to Callan Manners who came in at the very last minute as AD for both Laundromat shoots. He was an enormous help and helped keep the whole shoot moving along productively. A tremendous talent and style to keep everyone on side and working faster!
I wrote Absolution knowing Dalip Sondhi and Gemma Cavoli would be playing the leads. One of the benefits of working with trained actors is just the simple point that they know their lines. I teach a little bit of drama (to high school age students, not at drama school) and when I do I always tell the students they need to learn their lines before they can actually start rehearsing properly. You can’t nail the performance or the beats if you’re focussed on just remembering lines.
On Absolution we treated rehearsal like a play and Gemma and Dalip were able to run through the whole film from start to finish. Coming from a background of doing 1 – 2 hour plays on stage, that was no drama for them.
Anyway, because they knew their lines we were able to work on the nuances of character interplay and they were still discovering new insights on the night. This meant a lot to me because I could see how honestly and openly they were invested in the material.
Some of the challenges facing the actors were the crews restrictions with the grip and lighting equipment and the restrictions of the location (lots of windows made certain camera and light positions either difficult or impossible). As well as the somewhat ambitious storyboards (in terms of number of setups and camera movement).
Even though the whole film takes place primarily in one room, we had to break parts of the scene up to capture it from different angles and lenses. Ideally for the actors it would have been better to keep to less setups and film longer ‘chunks’ of script. (This was something I was aware of before shooting but felt the actors would handle it fine and that overall it would benefit the film)
Unfortunately the only behind the scenes shot of Anita Jacobsen I could find is a blurry reflection. Anita is a friend (and partner of the very lucky Stephen Burge) and was our Make Up Artist. I worked with Anita on ‘Parents that Fight‘ for Legal Aid about a year and a half ago and she was just so professional, good company and superb at her job. I know the makeup is awesome when I never go… “I’m not sure about that”. That’s never happened with Anita, not once. She gets it and delivers. She’s just great at what she does. Thanks for your long hours and lending your talent to the film Anita. MASSIVE THANKS!!! Really appreciate it.
In doco work and some of Alucinors corporate/commercial films I often man the camera but on Absolution I only did for the handheld flashbacks… I wanted too and Shane was cool with it. So I had what felt like a privilege sitting with Callan Manners watching the performances on a monitor. That’s really where most of my focus was (the performances) and I left the heads of each department to concentrate on their work.
Shane and I had discussed the shots so much. I’d give some camera direction / clarification – lower, higher, tighter, slower push in etc but for the most part didn’t touch it. That was Shane’s domain and he did a wonderful job and in my selfish opinion did some of his best cinematography/lighting to date on Absolution.
So Dalip, Gemma, Jess, Shaylan and myself were able to chat quite intimately and undisturbed whilst the crew prepared each setup.
I’ve learnt that sometimes what you think is best (at the time) isn’t. So there were some key lines we tried a little different. I was amazed watching the actors how subtle shifts would change the whole feel. In post I had quite a selection of subtly different takes, some of which I asked for – others which I didn’t even realise the actors had freely given until I reviewed the footage. So my little piece of advice I would give other aspiring directors is to ask for / try different deliveries – harsher, warmer, snappier, angry, softer, faster etc. Give yourself options within the time restrictions you have unless you are 100% sure of what you want, but that doesn’t account for the fact that what you think you want at the time may not be what you wish you had later.
The Balance of Ambition and Knowing Your Limits
There were a few moments throughout the production where things took much longer than scheduled. This was due to ambitious camera moves / focus pulls, the limitations of the equipment (jib, dolly, stills lenses) and our ability/skill level to actually capture the shots.
I think it’s important to aim high, but also know what you can and cannot do. We put Dalip through 16 takes of just getting out of a car and walking and we had to cut the second half of the shot out of the film because we just didn’t nail it. What we got ended up working but I had to use it differently making an earlier than planned cut to another shot.
On the third night (exteriors, pickups and house night scene) we were all pretty tired. We got stuck on the dolly/jib shot of Dalip getting out of a car and were behind schedule. Some of pickups didn’t work out because the lighting didn’t quite match and then we had to race through an integral night scene before everyone collapsed. For different reasons we ended up with a predominantly underexposed scene which I was (to a degree) able to make use of in post by giving it a very grainy more stylized look.
It was a dark and intense flashback so this style worked. Had it not been (a flashback) we probably would have needed to shoot it again.
Interestingly when we did the test shoot it was lit really well, exposure was bang on but with time ticking away and tired crew we just didn’t hit the same mark. If Shane had more time it would have been very different but I just had to say we just need to shoot. Fortunately it’s a short scene and the actors were really on strong so it actually worked out pretty well in the end. Better than expected / feared.
40 + degrees. Talent in lots of clothes + fake blood = tough shoot. This was our middle east location. To disguise the Australian landscape we shot everything at f2 on a 100mm lens (so the focus was very shallow). Setups took a long time, it took a lot of takes to get enough in focus footage. Almost all the shots were pushing in whilst shooting at f2 on a 100mm stills lens… Very tough track and focus pull. It must have been frustrating for Melody Rom and Dalip Sondhi who were awesome sports. We just got what we needed (in focus) by the skin of our teeth and that’s for the most part what you see in the film!
The scenes in Beverley (doubling for Afghanistan) were heavily reliant on two factors. Costume and Production Design. I hadn’t met Jacinta McDonald (costume designer) prior to working together on Absolution. It was clear very quickly that she was going to be easy to work with. She just brought so much enthusiasm, knowledge and an understanding of what it would take to do it properly. It’s in no small part because of her that the scenes in shot in Beverley look as authentic as they do. I was so stoked with Dalip’s costume! (And Melody’s and Stephen’s). She has great taste and I thought nailed the costumes for the other scenes too.
Stephen Burge sits on the right. He’s an integral part of Alucinor Productions and on Absolution filled many roles. None perhaps more memorable than his on screen role in Beverley. Thanks very much mate.
Just to say a few things about Kaylee Higgott (production designer). She is an absolute trooper! Killer work ethic, fun person and totally awesome at her job. How she turned two plastic shiny black and orange guns into what they were in the film is beyond me. She took so much care in everything she did whether it was bloodying up Dalip and Melody in Beverley, dressing (and re dressing) the Laundromat set, or making a mess of my lounge room I was so happy with her work. She’s got such a good eye for Art Direction but also the skills and know how to make things happen and deliver great results.
I also just want to acknowledge/thank Daisy Benson who was vital in us getting everything we needed as our 1st Assistant Director for the Beverley shoot. (She is in the shot above in the Bulla hat… She looks like she’s texting but she is no doubt keeping an eye on the time!) Daisy put me in touch with Jacinta and Hannah Moran (producer) who became so important to the production.
I watched all the takes and made pages of notes on the takes before I started editing. Then I slowly began to piece the puzzle together using the storyboards as a guide without sticking too strictly to them. It took about 5 solid drafts before I locked the edit so Daniel Purcell could begin his sound edit. Other than myself, Hannah Moran (producer), Shane Piggott (DP) and Stephen Burge (lots) were my main points of feedback on the edits.
(I’m sure you’re sick of the thankyou’s but seriously Hannah. Thanks for everything. You’re awesome!)
I applied FilmConvert to all the footage before bringing it into Speedgrade. I wanted to emulate working with scanned film. I didn’t do any additional changes in RedCineX or FilmConvert – just applied the Kodak film stock emultion, then did the rest in Speedgrade.
I tried a few different look and discussed them with Shane (DP). It was initially more de-saturated than he intended so I brought the colour back. One subjective point we both felt very strongly is that with the advent of digital cinema and dslrs (which we love) a lot of films, videos and TVC’s seem to be lacking true blacks. Like they have been shot with a flat picture profile or raw and never properly corrected / pushed to black (or close enough). They just seem a bit washed out and you have grey instead of black… Like the shadows have been stretched and pushed up too much. Totally subjective but I don’t like the look. So we have pretty strong deep shadows and pure blacks in this film.
Sound and Music
Daniel Purcell. What can I say about this man? LEGEND.
Daniel is a great soundie and I feel, scored the film beautifully. He has really brought something very special to the table. I couldn’t sing his praises enough. Great musician, great communicator, great bloke.
The first time I sat to listen to his work there was a key motif which captured, lifted and set the whole tone of the film. He really got it. I would discuss what I wanted people to feel or the affect I wanted the music to have in key moments (and where I wanted it) but totally left it to him to explore how to achieve that and make his magic.
Massive thank you to Daniel for his time, effort and talent. If you’re after a score, hire this man! Huge talent + great guy to work with.
Long blog… Eventually we’ll put Absolution online but only after the festivals we will apply for have run. Need to cut a trailer together.
EDIT: Here’s the trailer