Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Runner (2003)

I’ve been resisting writing about “Runner” for awhile now because it was a film that left me pretty sore about a lot of things. Since these are the last days that it will be here before disappearing into the archive I better put something down.

“Runner” is the first film that received funding. A lot of people thought that I got funding all the time because I had produced 4 films beforehand but they were all self funded where I had complete control over everything. At the time it was only costing me $50 to make a film and that was money spent on minidv tapes, minidisk tapes and competition entry fees.

I used to apply for every funding grant that ScreenWest and the AFC had. I got knocked back from all of those with only a letter (I wasn’t doing any interviews at this stage). It was a little frustrating but like I said my films were cheap to make so I would go out and make my own film and put it in a festival. I had been winning a few awards here and there (I won heaps of fti memberships and short courses) and people at the festivals seemed to really enjoy my films so I felt I was doing ok and was still feeling pretty inspired. Finally it seemed a funding grant for me had just turned up. It was called “The Fly Initiative”. It was co-funded by ScreenWest, FTI and the ABC to produce a collection of short films up to 4minutes in length for the now defunct ABC digital FLY channel.

When Dean Swanton and I heard about this we got in contact with a few of our friends from our old animation course and suggested we co-create something with them. At the time they were in the middle of producing their own film so in the last week before the applications were to be submitted they sent over and email saying that they feel like they don’t have enough time to come up with something new and decided that they were going apply with the project that they were working on. Dean was a little bit sorer than I was about it. I didn’t mind as the project they were working on was looking pretty cool, unfortunately it was rejected later by Josh Reed (the funding overseer from the ABC) as he didn’t like that sort of film (the problem with people who like animation is that they aren’t very broad in what they like. Quite narrow minded on what animation should be and what it can’t be). So anyway Dean and I were left to come up with something fast. I decided that I would do a variation of the ‘Opening Doors’ film but make it darker like ‘Maggie and Tony’ and add in some action scenes. I then scrapped together whatever art I had to apply plus the usual show reel and cvs of all the crew and submitted it on the last day at the last hour.

So after a few weeks (maybe a month) we were called up and told we were short listed. (It was interesting to find out later that a lot of people thought since it was FLY tv it should be about flies but that just got your application tossed out) For some reason we didn’t do the interviews but we had two guys hired by FTI who pitched our ideas for us. We had to do a short meeting with them and give them any new images or whatever. Looking back on this now I would have argued this approach but at the time I was very excited thinking we were finally ‘making it’.

In another week or so later (making films through funding are about 3months of sitting on your hands) we found out we had been selected to produce a film WOOHOO! It was great to call Dean and tell him the good news. There was one problem though they thought it would work better as a 1minute film so we had pending script approval on our project. 1 minute to do a drama … are you crazy!?! Dean and I laughed this off as we were pretty arrogant with the success of our previous films that we were sure we could change their minds.

So later on there was the first big meeting all the people selected were sitting around the room with some mean egos (more the male filmmakers). There was this awesome competitive vibe back then. Dean and I used to compete quite bitterly with the “Davison Bro’s” as they used to take our awards. Heh we still compete a bit now but it’s more just friendly competition (If you thought we were taking too long with ‘Porcelain’ those guys received funding in the same round and they are still finishing their film). This day we saw who else was making films for this grant.

Ok so now begins the script amendments. From this experience I will never ever do any from of script writing by email. I’d rather have red pen underlines and notes in the margin plus some face to face with the person I’m working with. Josh Reed was the one I had to work with, I’d seen his film that he’d made. It was this stop motion that had these Rats in a prison. It was pretty stylish, a little crass here and there, but all up it was quite polished. We were two very different types of film makers and like I said before he had a very strong opinion on what works in animation and what doesn’t. With my stuff I’m not afraid to put drama into it. I don’t think animation should only be jokes and humour. At the time with all the south park and web cartoons that were everywhere I was really bored with all that immature, crass humour and I was really into reading indy comics about 20 something relationships and living in everyday life. This was something Dean and I shared an interest in, we thought well if it works for comics then there must be a market for this in animation. With a really great response from the audience for when we screened ‘Opening Doors’ we felt we had proved that point and wanted to develop it more. Now Josh and I sent the script back and forth a couple of times most of our arguments were about the drama lines he wanted them cut so it would get to the action quicker and I wanted them in to flesh out the characters more. The script began to lose its dark edge because when I get annoyed or frustrated my mind goes more absurd. (In ‘Existence’ Rose and Starehe had to stop me from changing the action fight scene into a Benny Hill chase scene) I finally got to a stage where I couldn’t take it anymore and I basically said “thanks for the opportunity but this is as far as I will go” Josh conceded and said that he really loved my art style and that even if he didn’t like the script I could go with what I wrote. I don’t really like what the film became through this process. I liked the original scripts feeling a lot more. I felt that I cut too much out of the character ‘Mike’ that he became quite plain. ‘Porcelain’ I hope will most likely be the film I wanted ‘Runner’ to be.

Something else that was taking it’s time was that our contracts weren’t coming through. We didn’t know at the time but FLY tv was on the chopping block, due to impending budget cuts to the ABC (There was speculation at the time that the ABC was being too anti-war which is why it received this budget cut). Finally (after the head of FTI put some pressure on) the contracts came through along with the news that FLY tv had been axed. It sort of took the sting out doing the film a bit because now they weren’t sure where the films would be screened. Another major problem for all the filmmakers was when we started we had around 6months to turn over our films after the waiting for these contracts we ended up with only a month and a bit. I think a few film makers had to pull out because of this. However what made matters worse for me was Dean my co-animator was leaving the country. In the original schedule we would have finished the film before he left but the schedule kept getting pushed back and back while we waited for the contracts. So in the end Dean was only able to do about 1-2 weeks work, he was also at the time doing 3 part-time jobs to earn money for his trip (a crazy working machine). He did an amazing amount of work in the time he had (he did nearly every shot with Sarah in it) but I was still left with a lot of work to do.

Recording the voices was a lot of fun. The person I got to play ‘Mike’ was a FTI class mate who I just thought was perfect for his character. Mike’s best friend was fun to cast Phil Jeng Kane who had been a great supporter of my films from the beginning and he also is a really good person to shoot the breeze with. He suited the slacker character he played haha. Adrian and Regan make another cameo in this film doing voices in the office. Adrian does that voice at the start when his computer has an error ‘god, why!’ if you look close you will notice it is hotmail that crashes his computer, this is an in-joke to our tafe animation course days. I always enjoy recording voices. I usually do a lot of takes and nearly always choose the first or second take.

During the day I was doing an animation course at FTI and at night I would be working until I couldn’t hold my WACOM pen no more. The backgrounds were probably the hardest. Each background took nearly a day to complete. I wanted everything to look like a real place so I tried to add in heaps of details. There are a lot of hidden references in my films to other films, comics and things that inspire me. I used a no outline style for this film as it is easier to animate with as you don’t have to worry about your line work as much and inbetweening is just moving blobs of colour around. The scene where ‘Mike’ has to dodge the staples was my first bit of extreme action animation. This gave me the confidence for ‘Existence’. I did plan to do a heap of after effects filters to this film but time didn’t allow it. The opening shot was put together by a new friend through the FTI animation course Daniel Pita. I drew up all the buildings and he put together and composited the camera move and the opening titles.

Near the end of the films completion when I had to drive down to Fremantle to attend my course I could only hold the wheel with my palms as my fingers were in pain. Sometimes now on cold days my hands hurt again, I really pushed every limit I had to get that film done on time. I’m pretty amazed at how much work I did with such little time.

Another person I really need to mention is the wonderful Perrina Bozanich. Another tafe animation course friend of Dean and me who had been doing all of our editing on our previous films. She was someone who was also badly affected by the contract delay. Her money job was working at burswood casino and she would work all kinds of weird hours and since we were running very late sometimes it would mean after she’d finish a shift at 3am and I’d be driving over there to give here the latest files or to pick up the latest edit. She worked so hard and lost way too much sleep. It got to the point where she was falling asleep at the dealing table. With us both tired we were getting a little short with each other but we pushed through it and got it done. Also thanks to Craig as I’m sure I upset his sleep as well with him worrying about Perrina. ‘Runner’ was the last project we did together also the last project I did with Dean, it is almost like a band splitting up to pursue our solo careers. We took a bit of flak about being auteur film makers that need to learn to work in a team but our team was dam strong and that’s why we produced such great work.

I also have to mention Adrian Tolman who recorded a lot of the sound effects and did the first sound mix. Adrian was really hindered by what he could do since he was the last of the last people to get stuff. Through the grant we had Richard Mahoney from Toad Hall studios doing the final sound mix. It was a great and fun experience to have him work on my film. He had a great bag of tricks and he was very direct with what worked and what doesn’t. It really bought some scenes out a lot more. He had to do something on every film some films he did from scratch, an amazing amount of work and all of it very high quality.

Oh the music! I was suggested a group to check out called ‘K’ they were this cool jazz group. Adrian and I went along to their show and really enjoyed it I caught up with one of the members during their break and asked if they were interested in scoring this film for me. They seemed really happy and wanting to do it. That’s what is cool about Perth is there really is a lot of great talent around and most of ther people are pretty friendly. They were also a bit rushed but even still they produced a great score. I did have an interesting trip home from their show I was caught by a booze bus (by an American policeman) and had to sit in the big bus and was retested, I was still over the second time so then I went further into the bus and was retested by this crazy looking machine the senior officer did all these math calculations and I got my printout at being 0.049 just under enough to get off. The American cop was pretty cool and we even laughed about it. Adrian on the other hand got a good telling off by the female policewomen for letting me drive. Funny night!

So after the film was handed in we were told that they were going to make a DVD (I think it took nearly 2 years before we got those dvds) and eventually screen it on the ABC before RAGE. We had to do a little spiel in front of the camera about our film. I was so tired at the time, you can really see it (I should upload that footage at some point).

After finishing this film I wasn’t happy with it. When it played I used to cover my eyes and one occasion I walked out of the cinema as I couldn’t even watch it (except for when it was on the ABC that was kinda cool). For a long time this has been the film I liked the least, my biggest regret. I’m not allowed to say this anymore because this is the first film of mine that Roseline saw. After seeing this film she saw me as someone with depth and emotion and to her it is quite a special film and I guess for that reason it has become quite special to me.

The egos between the film makers that took part in this Initiative seemed to lessen after all the films were done. There was a great respect for everyone who survived the harsh deadline. You would enjoy sharing your war stories and laugh about how crazy it was. The real shame is the closure of the Fly channel. This could have been a recurring event and some of the film makers could have gone on and started making a TV series. 1 step forward 2 steps back it seemed. It did promote the talent of the WA animation industry and by bringing people together it showed that there is an industry. There is hope though with people beginning to watch the digital channels more and ABC now has its ABC2 channel maybe something like this will happen again. I’d be ready to do it all again.

directed by
Timothy Merks and Dean Swanton
written by
Timothy Merks
Mike: Reuben Herriman
Sarah: Gillianne Richards
Ed: Phil Jeng Kane
John: Phillip Biggs
Music by: Graeme Blevins and Grant Windsor
Sound effects by: Adrian Tolman
Edited by: Perrina Bozanich
Opening Titles by: Daniel Pita
Funded by: "FLY TV INITIATIVE" ABC, ScreenWest and FTI


M. Le Trivia said...


Why isn't RUNNER taught in schools? Of course, I am just a little biased...

Timothy Merks said...

hehe and you tell people you can't act "Just run Mike" that line made the world stop.

I'll get around to doing a bit of behind the scenes writing later on. Cheers for the comment