Written by Patricia Cornelius, one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights and a Windham-Campbell prize winner, the micro-budget Melbourne feature Shit began life as a play (2015), with its powerhouse cast of three – Peta Brady, Nicci Wilks and Sarah Ward – all on stage for the show’s entirety. Their characters Sam, Billy and Bobby, respectively, it emerges, had all been complicit in the perpetration of a horrific and wanton crime; throughout the show, they attempt to come to terms with the grim fate that likely awaits them, while ruminating over how their hardscrabble lives, marked by unrelenting, underclass struggles, were never destined to amount to anything.

As bleak as this might sound, the show – with minimalist staging and moody score – was mordantly funny, with the girls winding each other up amidst a bracing, quintessentially Australian torrent of foul language, leaning into its musicality and poetry.

Susie Dee and Trudy Hellier are the first-time feature film directors behind the incendiary screen adaptation of Shit (2023), with Dee having been a longtime creative partner of Cornelius’s and the director of Shit’s previous, well-travelled stage incarnations. “Dee & Cornelius” have long been synonymous with fiercely feminist, often confronting, deeply unsentimental theatre steeped in a poetic, dirty-realist vernacular, often concerning disenfranchised characters and situations anathema to main stage productions, and typically operating with budgets miniscule in comparison.

Shit the play

As with the play, so too the film, in which Dee and Hellier, working closely with Cornelius, have crafted a potent feature which expands the narrative universe of the play by availing themselves of cinematic storytelling devices, while keeping true to the fundamentals of the stage production – for much of the runtime, we’re trapped with just Sam, Billy and Bobby for company, themselves trapped within a cage-like holding cell, in a space both physical and metaphorical.

The following interview with Dee, Hellier and Cornelius was conducted in May 2023. Shit has since been picked up by Melbourne-based indie distributor Bounty Films and is belatedly beginning to gather some momentum. This free-flowing interview is almost as rich in colourful Australian vernacular as the film and dives deep into the Melburnian theatrical landscape that birthed the play, and the film, and the struggles had – and sometimes won – in adapting a successful play for the screen for next to nothing.

Patricia Cornelius (PC): I’m going to talk about the conception of it. It was around a group of three directors, three playwrights and three actors who came together to talk about women’s theatre. Partially because the representation of women in theatre and as playwrights, in particular, and directors and actors, was so poor, really poor – people were enraged about it. And so it came about, to look at how to make women in theatre much more vibrant. There was a whole lot of male theatre, men’s theatre groups, that were quite dynamic, really physical. How do women compete with that? How do you find the strutting cock of that male theatre – an equivalent way of talking about it with women in the theatre scene? And then I thought: three really fucking ugly women… Ugly, as in, ugly with the world…

Cerise Howard (CH): When was this?

Susie Dee (SD): Maybe 2012, maybe? At least ten years ago? Yeah.

PC: And so that was the origins of it. And I kind of took off on the language of it. And because I live on the 86 tram line, there was a point there historically where you’d get on that tram and it was so fucking entertaining and high drama, really high drama, and you’re lucky if you had your sunglasses on because eye contact was a fucking no-no. And women, young women swearing, and how the impact of that was like a slap in people’s faces. There’s much more anger about them swearing than men swearing, or boys swearing – it was the greater crime. I felt like, from that genesis, I had something, and I knew it would be a bigger play and had life in it, a life force. And that physically, it would take the stage, not the talking heads shit that we sometimes get lumbered with as women.

SD: I was part of that development, as a director, as well. And I think, Patricia, you took off on the concept of women being locked up, locked up metaphorically, physically, emotionally – and how do you unlock that? And that was translating to the stage as well with the women we saw and were represented by. There wasn’t a freedom to burst forth and have all the different, ungainly ugliness, all the robust female characters – there was such a dearth of them on our stages ten years ago. There was a flurry of all these great men on stage doing magnificent work – people love the male prowess: oh, they’re wild and they’re ugly, and they’re mean and amazing.

PC: And physical.

SD: Yeah, very physical, visceral. God – how come we’re not doing that? Why don’t we see women on stages doing that?

CH: So you came to very consciously wanting to address, or even redress, this imbalance in presentation and representation on the stage here. And was there some entity that brought you together to workshop this – who was that?

PC: Some funding was gained, probably by Angela Betzien and Leticia Cáceres, who were also involved. And that funding enabled us to be able to talk about what’s missing – what hadn’t we got there? I think what fuelled it was a kind of anger, that we were pissed off. When you’ve been around in the theatre for a long time, you kind of go in waves where, I used to go, oh well, it’s gone, we’ve had a little splurge about women’s stuff. We’ve had our go – sort of like the history of Blak theatre here, but we’ve done that, and moving right along… And then it all gets to be about men again, about men telling stories, about male presence on stage. And we get to support that rather than be in the power position. And you sort of go…

Shit: Sam, Billy, Bobby

Trudy Hellier (TH): Sometimes we’re like, the moral compass – we hold the morality and we’re sensible. And, you know, we do all the right things.

PC: Yeah. And often with a really dull character. Or inactive.

TH: And we don’t have the fun.

PC: No.

CH: Or the subjectivity, perhaps?

All: Yeah.

SD: But it’s interesting. We’re talking – it was ten years ago. That’s interesting, if you look at the current climate, and what we need and want to see on stages now. The last few years, it’s like, yeah, where’s the queer culture? Where’s the cultural diversity? I think that’s become much more into our consciousness, of raising that. It wasn’t so much, ten years ago, was it?

TH: Don’t you think that, once you start to notice one absence, you start to notice a lot more of the others too? We all become more conscious of what we’re actually seeing.

PC: I think there’s something I’ve left out. One thing I’ve always been interested in is class. There is a lot more about gender and sexuality, and race, even, but class is so unfashionable still. It’s like, who gives a shit – and stop whingeing. There’s no interest in it; it’s got no potency, for some reason. Where actually, I think the thing of language is, it’s not just swearing; it’s the way that you use language to empower yourself, because you’ve got fuck-all else to empower you. That’s fabulous, as a playwright, because you’re using language as a kind of dangerous tool, and that invigorates people in the space, in terms of actors and stuff.

CH: And that space is historically and contemporarily, I’m sure, a pretty middle-class space where there is, no doubt, a very blinkered outlook upon class. It’s the great unspoken-of in Australia, isn’t it – there’s this myth about egalitarianism? And it’s…

PC: Classless…

CH: It’s nonsense, obviously.

PC: Yeah.

CH: So the three women, the three characters that emerged from this – was it their story and the trajectory of their story that came to you first, or were you hearing the language, and that informed the creation of these three quite different, but united, characters?

PC: Yeah, it was the language that probably enticed me first. Yes, sometimes with storylines, I’m really shit at it. And I find a way – I’m just a bit slow on it, but I knew the three women had to have distinct characters, just as a basic tool. But really, the language of it is the thing that pushes it along, that drives it more than anything. The story’s much more vague than in the film; we consolidated the story really firmly in the film.

SD: It didn’t feel like, in the theatrical version, we needed to answer all those questions, those details, those plot twists; it was really an examination of these three women and their bond and the shit that had happened to them, and where they’d come from and how they’d survived. And sure, you wanted to look at why they did something horrific, but it wasn’t the detail of what they actually did. It wasn’t a psychological examination. It was just about three women who had this strong bond from this fucking shit life that they’d had. And they formed this bond and they were angry with the world.

Nikki Wilks as Billy

PC: I think the interesting thing is that, usually, you see an earnestness about – let’s hear about the poor-bugger fucking lives of these three women, and that’s the slit-the-wrist sort of storytelling: “and this happened to me when I was 15”. Whereas, there’s something really refreshing about those three characters because they’re not reflecting, in that way – they just are, and sometimes the most horrendous things are fucking funny for each other. Or they ride it in a way that isn’t milking it. That’s fun, as a creator, because the worst thing you want is that kind of confessional mode stuff and dreadful telling everybody “this is what happened”. Rather that, somehow, you sneak it out; you seduce people by the dynamic between them, and the stories eke out, and that’s lovely. So that was always there – that kind of internal world of the story, of their lives. But I think the film did consolidate it.

SD: It was a really successful theatrical show – we had many seasons, got great reviews, lots of awards and nominations, and…

CH: It went to Venice…

SD: It went to Venice, went to Edinburgh. Quite a few festivals. Darwin…

CH: And always with the same cast?

SD: Yeah.

CH: The same cast as in the film.

PC: So faithful, that cast, and so wonderful – we were lucky, so lucky. Really. Because they could go there. Actually, it took a while, in some ways, but to actually hear – it’s hard to hear that language and not get stuck with a kind of, too broad… The truth is, when you hear a lot of “fucks” and “cunts” on the tram, it’s really abrasive. But it is poetic.

SD: It’s always blessed when you get great actors.

CH: How did you find them?

SD: It came about quite organically. We’d worked with Peta Brady before.

PC: She’s almost like a given, that we can work with her.

SD: She can do that dogshit character really well.

PC: Look at her – she looks like a junkie, even.

CH: You mean that most respectfully…

PC: Yeah!

SD: I think it sounds corny, but I think it was looking for that, the authenticity… Look, there’re incredible private school actors that can probably play class really well, play lower class.

CH: But you weren’t looking for people to play class. But to be class.

PC: Nicci’s country, so there’s that really different feel, kind of matter-of-fact. She’s rare in the theatre.

SD: I love working with trained actors, but there was really a rawness [with Nicci], and she really hadn’t done theatre before. Think she’d done one play, one or two plays before.

CH: Really?

Billy, Bobby and Sam at party

SD: Yeah, the same with Sarah Ward. Sarah hadn’t done a play before, though she had done training at Sydney’s Actors Centre. It was interesting because we had three diverse characters, clearly defined by Patricia’s writing – so Peta was a given, then Nicci was like, wow, she’s earthy. [(To Patricia)] You really loved her.

CH: So, she auditioned?

SD: No, none of them auditioned. We had a great gut instinct with Nicci. And we’d done some work before. She’d been my assistant director and I’d cast her in a few little things.

PC: And I’d seen her years before in circus and knew if I could ever get the chance to work with her, I would, because she would do little vignettes, little characters, and she’s always so present, funny, and just tough as.

TH: She’s got so much energy in her body, doesn’t she. You can feel it coursing.

SD: It was a risk, because she’d never really handled tech. She was quite unconfident about doing character work. But we felt confident. And we felt confident with Peta. And then with Sarah, I’d just seen her in Circus Oz, [Patricia]’d seen her in Circus Oz, there’s something really great about her presence.

PC: And those acting skills get buried in some of those sorts of shows; you can see they don’t give you the chance to explore. 

SD: We didn’t cast her straight away – we actually said, look, would you like to come around for a reading? You know, with Peta and Nicci, and meet us, see how you feel with the play. See if there was an energy and how she read. And it was great, wasn’t it? We sat around [Patricia’s] kitchen table – it was clear that she could create this really great character.

PC: The one thing about this casting, is that that play, in my mind, was for really young women. Really quite young. Often if you see people who’ve been living it hard, you think, they’re so old – and you get closer and they’re not. So, in some ways, that was a cheat. But nobody’s ever said those women are not the right age; it’s never been an issue at all.

SD: Patricia and I – do you want to know how we met?

CH: Sure!

SD: We were both actors. And were really both very physical actors and loved a very sort of visceral, physical work, working with our bodies. And we did a play together. And then Patricia asked me to do her play with her, a play called Lilly and May that she wrote. And that was about two homeless, working-class characters, when we were young, probably 35 years ago.

TH: You so should bring that back.

SD: So we did this play; we did many seasons of this play.

CH: On what stages?

SD: Well, it started off at La Mama. That was our first little incarnation. And then we created a women’s season for Melbourne Fringe.

PC: It got picked up by Playbox then, when it was Playbox. [(This is the Malthouse Theatre nowadays.)]

SD: And they extended it to a larger play, with a male character. And it was on in the Fairfax Studio [in Arts Centre Melbourne] with Michael Leunig doing a big set design and we had composition, had all these things. But we ended up going back to our small production: it was basically Patricia and I, one lighting state and a cassette player with one piece of music, and it ended up going everywhere. We took it to Edinburgh; we did a month season in London and went to Buffalo, and then Canada for a season. We had a Victorian tour. It was about three or four years of probably over a couple of hundred shows.

CH: You’re talking there about the show that brought you together having a very spartan set design… 

SD: It had no set, actually.

CH: Shit, when it was staged – I saw it in Melbourne and in Venice – was quite minimalist too, and quite Brechtian in certain respects. The stage seemed to be a semi-metaphysical space: the women are confined; they’re free to move around the stage, to a certain extent, but it’s not a naturalistic space they’re inhabiting. Is that consistent across your collaborations, over all these years, as an aesthetic and dramaturgical strategy you’ve pursued?

SD: I think we both hate big, cluttered sets and big, naturalistic sets. I feel like we both have a passion for the lean, the poetic, the body.

PC: A lack of props.

CH: There was never any conversation about, okay, we’re going to make a film, should we make it “cinematic”? You wanted to keep that minimal staging and a sense of a metaphorical space?

PC: The cage was everything. Because that didn’t exist in the play at all.

SD: I think we should bring in Trudy soon, because Trudy had a great impact on the film version.

PC: The cage was absolutely transformative, because you made a metaphorical world, and you enclosed it, and it still had an abstraction about it.

SD: We didn’t have a set designer or an art director, as such, did we?

TH: No. But in order to keep the language, we really needed to have a kind of environment that wasn’t necessarily really naturalistic, so we could embrace having non-naturalistic language as well. I thought it came out of that: the nature of the play, and the language that was used in the play. And then we use that in the film, because if we’d put it in a more naturalistic environment, that language would have felt really weird.

Billy, Bobby and Sam

CH: So how did you come into this, Trudy – who sought whom?

TH: [Susie and I]’d worked together. I’d written a play that Susie had directed, and we had an ongoing relationship from that. And I’d seen Shit twice as a play. And [Susie]’d said to me, I’d like to do it as a film. And at first I went, well, I don’t know how you’d do that. Because it’s mostly language. It doesn’t have a lot of plot happening. But then, when I saw it the second time, I kind of went, oh, if you did it in an abstracted way, or a stylised way, you could probably do it. And so I said to Susie, I reckon we could do it, if we did it in a different way.

SD: When I had that first idea, I thought it was going to be much more realistic. It’s always a balance, right – taking a theatrical work, making it into a film. I’ve seen quite a few over the years that don’t quite work.

CH: Well, why this play, of all the work [Dee & Cornelius] have done together? Why did this one need to become a film?

SD: I think, because it had a lot of love. For me, it had such longevity. And always, every season, we had such great responses. People really connected to what the piece was about, and the characters. And God, these characters – we’re probably not going to do it again in a year’s time; wouldn’t it be great to have them keep on living, to capture it? So a film was next. But really, it was your enthusiasm too, Trudy.

TH: Also, we had no money. So, you know, no money is a really good birthplace for creativity, in some ways – if you have to work out how to get around that. And this is a play that is very simply set in one location. It’s got great characters, the performances are great, the writing is great, the directing is great. So, you go, well, we could actually shoot that for almost nothing. And that’s basically what we did.

SD: But we didn’t just do the one location, because, let’s challenge ourselves – and Patricia took it on: what is that backstory? It was only alluded to [in the play], all this backstory in the film. Patricia went and fleshed that out, and I think you [(Trudy)] were imagining it too: the scenarios that played out, the crime that played out – how do we physicalise that?

TH: Because we basically had a work that was dialogue-based, and then we had a medium that is visually based – we had to work out a way to be able to embrace both of those things. So we tried to make it partly theatre and partly film, and then create this whole other world which didn’t have dialogue in it, which was all visual, and we spliced those together.

CH: And in that splicing you took some nonlinear approaches to the storytelling. We begin with, we don’t know this at first, but it’s a flashback, and we come back at intervals to scenes on a train and a party scene, to piece it all together. Whose idea was that, and why did you think that you needed to have this intermittent release of that information, always cutting back to the girls in the cage considering their lot in life – past, present and future, with the future looking a bit bleak…

SD: I think in the first incarnation of the film, the first draft, it wasn’t broken up so much. There was a really big chunk about the past, and then we were in the holding cell with the girls for a good two-thirds. And we shot it like that. We hadn’t broken it up. Maybe we’d done a little bit of breaking up in the next draft. But then we realised: how long can you stay in that holding cell with these three characters? How long can we sustain that?

TH: We shot it so that we could do what we wanted to in the edit. We shot it and thought, okay, we might break it here, we might not break it here. We’ll just kind of see how it feels. So there are a few moments where, certainly in my head, I was thinking, you might edit here or we might go into this here. Like, say, the hand on the fence, you had some ideas that you might…

SD: You’re thinking about cutaways or thinking that we might like to break it up. Remember the first draft of the film – it was one big chunk. All the party scenes happened in one go. And then we went into the holding cell.

TH: But we shot like that because we had to shoot like that. And so you kind of knew that you’d end up breaking it up, because that much dialogue, you can’t sustain it.

SD: But when you look at the editing process, as always, it could have been edited very differently. It could have been a much more experimental, much more provocative film, if you did have that whole thing. Remember, we talked about that, that if we didn’t…

TH: Didn’t go out [of the cage] at all…

SD: Yeah, if we didn’t go out, it’d be a very different sort of film, but still be really interesting. Much more of a – I don’t know what sort of film it would be. A much more, sort of, poetic, theatrical version.

TH: You might need to make it shorter.

SD: Yeah. Probably a 40-minute, intense piece.

CH: How did you divvy up the directing duties?

TH: We basically did interior and exterior.

CH: Ah, okay.

TH: So, I did exterior and Susie…

SD: I did all the cell.

CH: That’s a very clean divide, then.

TH: Yeah, it was really good. Because Susie knew the play so well, and the actors and the characters in that whole world, and she was so familiar with that – for me to step in and start directing that would have felt very weird.

Shit the play

CH: Were you present for each other’s parts of the shoot?

SD and TH: Yeah.

CH: And Patricia, were you present on set?

PC: Yeah.

CH: And were there rewrites happening on set?

All: Nope. No.

CH No, no – “stick to the script!”

SD: There wasn’t time.

PC: There were already some edits. It’s such a big ask for these actors who’ve just been in the play and done it 100 more times.

SD: And we had no rehearsal.

PC: And to be able to fuck around with the dialogue too much would have just been really taxing on them. And they managed to be able to take the edits at the time, as long as they weren’t too fiddly.

CH: Some of them had done work in front of camera before?

All: One.

CH: Just Peta? So, they had to learn about blocking, and camera, eyelines…

PC: They had really good instincts though. Probably it was helpful having Peta there as well.

SD: Really great having Trudy there; she’d done more film than me. And we had a great cinematographer.

CH: Let’s talk about the crew. How did you bring others in to handle cinematography, the score…?

TH: We really wanted to have a lot of women in our crew, and certainly behind the camera as well, because that’s very often neglected.

SD (to TH): Did you know Sky [Davies, the cinematographer]?

TH: I’d worked with Sky; she’d done second unit on something that I’d shot and I remembered thinking, wow, you’re really good. I could just see she had this really extraordinary talent. I think I met with her and…

SD: Yeah, we had a coffee with her and talked about this work. She’d actually heard about the play and that had already piqued her interest. She was keen and she read the play. And we did say that we’re probably not going to get much money. After reading it, she came on board. And then she brought her partner, and she owned quite a lot of equipment. That’s really handy. We knew we had to find a little bit of a fee for her and the gaffer. And so it was mainly through her contacts, wasn’t it – she brought a little crew in, didn’t she?

TH: Yeah, a camera crew.

CH: How many days was the shoot?

SD: Three weeks?

TH:  Three weeks. We might have extended out over four weeks, but COVID kicked in on the very last exterior shot. It actually kicked in that morning.

SD: Two weeks in the holding cell.

TH: Yeah. And then we had a week exterior. And then we had a few pick-ups and stuff like that.

PC: We had funding with the [Australian Cultural Fund] – luckily, we were in the type of funding where they meet you with what you have, dollar for dollar.

SD: Getting back to the crew, we had the original composer on Shit, Anna Liebzeit. We all adored the score for the theatrical work. And she said yeah, she’d be happy for us to utilise a lot of the music from the play. But of course, gradually, when we started the editing process, we needed more. And the editor, Meri Blazevski, was a friend of Trudy’s. She came in, and she knows quite a lot about sound. So, in the editing process, she was really calling on Anna to give us all the stems, possibly create a little bit more music here and there. It was a huge edit overall; the editing process was massive.

CH: And a lot of it done, I believe, during lockdowns.

SD: That was Patricia, Trudy, myself and Meri the editor, that spent a lot of time pulling the whole thing apart and looking at different sequences. And Anna contributing music.

But everyone did it on really minimal… even things like – we didn’t really have a costume person. We were all doing costuming, catering, even doing some stupid tattoos, and we had some student make-up people.

CH: It’s a micro-budget film.

TH: Totally, yeah.

PC: The catering was probably the most tense thing.

All: (Laughter)

PC: I had to do a meal and it’s really nerve-wracking for you to be able to do it for that number, and I couldn’t, I was terrible – it was worse than doing the writing!

TH: The other thing I think that was really important for the film is not just the cage’s look, and how we found it, but that we shot it in this underground car park which gave it this really good kind of theatricality.

CH: Where was that?

TH: We all had to eat in this old, dirty concrete car park as well – but yeah, it was in Maribyrnong. It was an underground car park and it was deserted. The textures of the hostility in that environment – that was something really important. And it was huge, too – it gave it this kind of scope which was exciting.

SD: Which gave us potential in terms of visual material.

CH: And you shot on a train. Was that a guerilla shoot, or did you…?

TH: No, we had a producer, Eyvonne Carfora, who did a lot of work organising that whole train thing. Because, with trains, it’s very difficult to get the right kind of insurance, and to get the right trains, and get everybody on and off the trains, and you’re only allowed a certain number… And we never knew which side of the train the doors would open on. There was a lot of chaos on the trains. Random people were coming in…

SD: I think, did we shoot for two nights on the train? Two nights, yeah.

CH: Did you know ahead of time that you wanted Peaches on the soundtrack for that scene, or did that come later, when watching the footage?

TH: Yeah, that was later. That was in the edit.

SD (to TH): Yeah. I don’t know who suggested it, was it you or Meri?

TH: I think it was me?

CH: That might have eaten up a bit of the budget?

TH (speaking about Peaches): They’re actually really generous and supportive. So that was good. It had the right energy for that scene, that opening scene with the girls coming on the train.

CH: The other scenes that you shot – there’s a party scene.

SD: That’s a friend of mine’s house

CH: Was it an actual party, or staged?

SD: A staged party. With all our friends, our external mates – it was pretty interesting casting that. Because we knew that it had to belong to a certain world. It was interesting having to choose the people to ask for that party…

PC: [Executive Producer] Claire Dobbin said, where did you get these people?

SD: And fuck, it was cold.

TH: It’s interesting. Like, when you look at the party, there’re a few decisions that you make in film that have this really strong impact, like having that fire in the party was really important but also really difficult to do. And there was a lot of challenging – whether we will be able to have a fire, or not, because of health and safety. And safety is such a huge thing.

SD: We had to pay.

TH: We had to pay for that OH&S guy.

SD: Something like 500 bucks.

TH: That party would be nothing without that fire. And there’s something about the fire and the girls and the chaos of that, that we really needed.

SD: A friend of mine who’s a stunt person came in; I think we only gave her $100. And she did the stunt work in the cage. And then she did stunt work for the party – she was great, wasn’t she?

PC: But then there was another stuntman that came and bossed her around.

SD: That was the same [OH&S] guy.

TH: We tried to keep it as safe as possible. And we tried to follow as many rules as we could, within our budget.

CH: So you had to go a bit outside rules, regulations, in order to see the film through? Not trying to get you into any trouble here…

TH: We certainly did, but not in terms of the safety of the cast and stuff. That was something we did prioritise.

SD: With that house, I remember printing off 50 little notes and delivering them all around the neighbourhood saying, we’re making a film, there’s going to be a party until…

CH: There was, nonetheless, an element of guerilla filmmaking?

PC: Even on the train, there were three actors that we knew, or four actors that we knew really well, who volunteered their time.

SD (to PC): Your son and his friends. 

PC: Well, that didn’t matter, he doesn’t get paid because, he just thinks, it’s wonderful for him and his friends to be on the screen. They like that. That’s the payment. But for actors to give their time…

SD: No-one got paid.

CH: Was there an element of cinéma vérité? You had some people on the train who did not know what was going on?

All: No.

CH: It was a closed set then, in that respect.

PC: In fact, it was actually a bit dicey on the way out to Mernda, because the train was full. And people got freaked out – a couple of people with, probably, some mental illness who were getting really, really agitated. And you realise how careful you have to be, that people are quite nervy about all that stuff. So, it was on the way back it was shot, because nobody was coming into town from Mernda at that time.

TH: I think the most kind of guerilla thing we did with the film, in fact, was the kind of madness to decide to even do it. We literally decided to make a film with zero dollars and just went, okay, well, if we can get this, like $10,000, that we would match funding with…

SD: Yeah, we applied to Australian Creative Partnerships and we were successful, in that they would guarantee $2,000. We had a vicious campaign…

TH: Yeah, we had to have it, so we got over 400 donors, and we just had this incredible community support which was a really beautiful thing, because I think people wanted to see this being made, because you guys had done such a great job with the play. It had been really celebrated.

SD: It’s so strange, because everyone donated so much time, I think we all worked so hard. A lot of time – and the money was getting leaner. Everyone was doing it for love, of course; the essentials, like some of the equipment and some of the crew, we had to pay. But then we got it through to the editing and then, of course, to those final stages. I just couldn’t believe it. The colour grading and the final sound design, we had to pay – not commercial money; people did quite good rates for us. But still, it was a big chunk of the budget, those two.

TH: Yeah, people with equipment tend to get more money.

SD: So that was a tricky one. Because we spent months and months and months, and then all of a sudden we had to find this extra money. We decided to keep going and, I think, Patricia and I and Trudy, the three of us, have put money in over time for post-production and to try to keep it alive a little bit.

CH: What do you hope for the film, from here on in, now that it’s out in the world and getting some festival play – where would you like this film to land? Do you have hopes and dreams about who it might reach?

TH: It’s been a really interesting response, because some people absolutely love it, passionately love it, and write to us and say how great it was, and they go into great detail. And other people are just really resistant to it and don’t really like it at all. So, I think the fact that it polarises like that is really interesting. And I think that will help it to go on and have a life, because it is something that you want to talk about. You do come out going, “ah, what did you like about it? What didn’t you like?” And I think that I’d like to see it kind of bubble on and have a long, small life. I mean, not small, but a life that goes for a long time.

SD: I think we’re all realists. I don’t think we’re expecting it to have big theatrical releases. But I feel it would be so great for it to be seen in places around the world. Love it to be shown in London, Berlin, translated into German. But yeah, a few indie seasons here…

I feel sad that no-one will ever get paid. I’m so new to film. And it’s so sad, the reality, that no-one will ever – those actors will never, ever get paid. Anna Liebzeit will never get paid. We will never get – that’s fine.

TH: We’ll never get paid back, either!

SD: I feel the saddest about – it would have been so brilliant for Melbourne Film Festival [to play]. I feel like it’s such a Melbourne film. Yeah, that’s heartbreaking, you know? It was really great to have it in the Melbourne Women in Film Festival. That was fantastic. It was really, really great, but it’s sad that it’s only got a little life. So, hopefully yet, some small indie seasons…

CH: And home theatrical?

TH: Yeah, we certainly want it to have a streaming life. We want it to be accessible. So yeah, we’re working on that too.

PC: You learn something about the independent sector. All my life, I’ve defended the independent theatre sector and actually see it as much more important than most people do. I’ve never been enamoured with the mainstream, except that they have access to an infrastructure and money that, obviously, the independent sector doesn’t. But I would always look for the work in the independent sector as being something that’s alive and vibrant and got a life force. And I felt like – I didn’t know enough about film. I assumed that the independent sector in film was really alive and well, and I’ve learned it’s not. And like the dearth of stuff with the independent sector in our industry – the theatre industry – it’s shocking. It’s shocking, the depletion – and you sort of go, this is a film that belongs to an old tradition, in some ways, in that independent sector. It is going for something. It is abstracted, to a point, there’s a vibrancy to it, and you think, fucking hell, where’s the avenue for these films, because they’re the ones that I was brought up on, the ones that I remember and I loved, and still love, which stimulate you and make you think: “I’m gonna make that fucking film, no matter what”. And it feels, it feels really sad, that it’s had so much of a struggle.

TH: I think the biggest shift has been that all the major festivals are really linked in with the box office now. And so, it’s all about having that connection to that box office. They don’t have that same independence that they had. Little films like ours, without those kinds of supports, there’s not a place for them. And I think that’s a great loss to creativity.

CH: Can we end on a more positive note?

TH: I think it was a fantastic experience, in that we did it, and…

CH: Would you do it again?

All: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

CH: You said that without hesitation…

SD: It would be really great to get a little bit more money, though.

TH: Yeah, I’d have a little bit more prep time.

CH: What might be a likely candidate – an adaptation, or a new work for film that hasn’t been a theatrical work previously?

SD: I’ve been asking Patricia about one of her plays that would make a really fabulous film.

PC: You might have seen that in Venice too. That was Love

CH: Yes!

SD: I’ve mentioned it to Trudy. Patricia, you haven’t sent us that screenplay yet…

PC: I did!

CH: What is it about four letter words, Patricia?

PC: They’re easy to remember. I don’t know… I’ve got a few, actually.

SD: Haven’t done Cunt yet.

PC: No, I think Cunt would probably be pushing it.

CH: I want to see it already…

TH: Yeah, I’d like to see that script. It’s a challenge!

SD: I think it’s a testament that we’re all still friendly. Still trying to find an avenue for the film.

TH: Well, it’s kind of a lifelong relationship to a film, isn’t it? In a funny way – it’s like a baby.

About The Author

Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Cerise Howard has been Program Director of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival since May 2023. A co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque for several years now, she previously co-founded the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia and was its Artistic Director from 2013-2018; she was also a co-founding member of tilde: Melbourne Trans and Gender Diverse Film Festival. For five years she has been a Studio Leader at RMIT University, specialising in studios interrogating the shortcomings of the canon and incubating film festivals. She plays a mean bass guitar.

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