Film Talk: Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden

This time I got to chat with Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden, two of the folks responsible for that great Aussie flick I reviewed earlier in the week. Check it out!

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I’d like to welcome my guests today to Film Talk: Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden, the writers (along with Chelsea Zeller)/directors/stars of a majorly cool and unique Australian film, “Watch the Sunset.” Guys, thank you very much for granting me this time.

Tristan: Cheers, thanks for having us.

Michael:Not a problem, always happy to have a chat.

Now before we get too deep into this film, in particular, I just want to hear a bit about your background and how you guys got involved in filmmaking.

Tristan: I recently watched a home video from when I was a kid about the age of 7 and I was ordering my two-year-old brother at the time to perform for me. So I didn’t know it at the time, but I think I’ve had the sadistic intuition of directing since I was a kid. But then I started off my career more as an actor and trained as an actor with these two.

Michael: I grew up just north of Sydney on the coast, with a big tight-knit family that we would see every week for our ritualistic BBQ. At these bbq’s, I was introduced to the art of storytelling. Tall tales where the truth was never allowed to get in the way of a good story. It was here I was shown how to manipulate stories to maximize your punchline. Combine this upbringing with my obsession of bringing 10 films every week from the video store and my filmmaking path was inevitable.

Were you guys fans of a certain genre or was it a kind of appreciation of film in general for you?

Michael: I’m always thinking I have a particular genre locked in as my favourite and then I’ll watch something that totally blindsides me, becoming my new favourite until the next one comes along. I think genre is a good way to define how it is you’re going to tell a story. People expect a certain vibe when you place a genre title on it. Watch the Sunset’s content and aesthetic chose our genre for us really.

Tristan: Definitely love the genre, and was inspired by films like Animal Kingdom and Snowtown but we are pretty appreciative of films in all genres. The film we did before this one was a quirky awkward comedy.

For us here on the western side of the world, Australian cinema is fairly unknown besides maybe Mad Max. How would you describe cinema in your neck of the woods?

Tristan: This is a tough question. I love Australian film, but it also has its struggles. So I’m going to pass this one onto you, Mick.

Michael: Subtle palm off there, mate. It is a struggle only in the sense of reaching a global audience. We have some of the world’s best storytellers born and bred here, yet those stories find it difficult to reach beyond small distribution attempts. One of the key issues hampering our impact on global cinema would be budget, more specifically budget for marketing. I don’t have enough time to list off all the great Australian films made in the last couple of years that won’t get the recognition they truly deserve around the world. Locally though, Aussies do have a keen interest in Aussie cinema. We had a record-breaking year for Australian film at the box office in 2015, which shows that our films are connecting strongly locally.

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As it pertains to this film, in particular, tell us a bit about how this got off the ground. It’s all about drug addiction and gangs in Australia so is that always something you wanted to kind of discuss in the realm of a film?

Tristan: Well I had written a scene based on two underprivileged young adults who had found hard times in a remote country town in 2014. Those characters were originally named Danny & Sally which have been kept all the way through until the final film. Anyway I went deeper into the writing of these two characters and whom they were based on, and out emerged this real story, which I felt needed to be told. The real life story that I took inspiration from, the characters that I had previously written being involved in that concept, and the setting of Kerang that Damien had access to worked brilliantly together. The next day I pitched it to Damo, Mick, and Chelsea, and within a month, we had the first draft of a script and had started rehearsing. During the scripting process I think the drugs were an issue we kept coming back to in our research and scripting, but for me, it was always the love story that I wanted to tell. Although it doesn’t seem like much of a love story…

Michael: There is always an elusive nature of trying to figure out the why and the how of gangs and the seemingly symbiotic relationship they have to the distribution of drugs. There’s a sensationalized version of their lifestyle which is always shrouded in darkness, but when Tristan brought an idea of a personalized, human story taking place inside that world it was always going to be interesting. It was an opportunity to show a redemption story in a new and unique way.

You also open the film with what seems like stock footage/interviews with real drug addicts and recovering ones. If this was staged then I apologize but it seemed like it was real footage that you either shot or gathered up, yes? What was the process of filming that stuff?

Michael: No need to apologize, because you’re right. A lot of that opening footage was sourced through our research in the lead up to the final draft. The images and interviews we saw in that research had always stuck with us. Through our direction and scripting, we always gravitated towards trying to drench the entirety of Watch the Sunset in a place of realism. Those opening clips and interviews represent the truth of the world we wanted to epitomize in the film.

After the opening, we get the rest of the film which is shot in one complete take, which is enough of a marvel to behold in itself. Explain the extensive rehearsal process to get that one unbroken shot.

Tristan: The rehearsals were just about getting specific. The cinematographer Damien Lipp and us came to an agreement that we wanted the majority of the camera’s movement to be continually flowing, assisting the dramatic tension similar to how Gus Van Sants ‘Elephant’ was shot. We had 9 different locations and followed the characters in and out of car’s, through the different settings, and needed Damien to hold the rig for the entirety of the 82 minutes. Without the advances in the technology, we would have in no way had a rig that was possible to do this. Once we figured out the sequence and had rehearsed every movement like a dance, it was basically down to the actors to bring to life the story.

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The actors are all marvelous including the two of you! How did you deal with the pressure on the actors of needing to perform this seamlessly? You guys are also performing so many different tasks while acting in it as well.

Tristan: Thank you. Yeah, the actors and crew both had a giant task on their hands. Chelsea Zeller, Aaron Walton, Zia Zantis-Vinycomb, the young Annabelle Williamson, Mick and myself had no choice but to live the roles for the duration of the film. I think no one wanted to be the one to screw it up.

Michael: The actors we were lucky enough to have come on board, all come from a theatre background and it was that training we employed for the preparation of the filming. Everyone understood the entire Arc of the film and exactly what was needed in each scene of them. Another big gift was their understanding and contribution to the scenes and overall story, we never felt that we were alone in the process.

How many takes were needed to finally nail the film that you wanted as your final edit?

Tristan: We started our shoot every day at exactly 3.52pm, in order to get to the right light, for a week. We got the take you are going to see on the 4th day.

Michael: That was a long 4 days, though.

This is a huge undertaking to film the entire movie this way. Was it always the plan or was it something you decided on later?

Tristan: It was decided early on, and it was ambitious but it felt like the right thing to do for the story. It brings the hauntingly raw quality to it.

Michael: Tristan’s right. The fly-on-the-wall approach that we employed of the one-shot makes it so the Audience is with the characters in every single moment of this horrific part of their lives. That raw, gritty nature you feel when watching was essential for the film to work.

There are some shocking elements to the film which I won’t spoil but you guys even managed to do some special effects work and what must’ve been some fancy footwork in getting some of the shots you managed to get. Walk us through the process of maybe one scene to the next. Do you have makeup artists feverishly working away while shooting another scene, etc.? I’m still blown away by this.

Tristan: I kind of don’t want to say as I don’t want to ruin the experience, but we had an amazing crew working seamlessly and frantically throughout. If you only knew in what crevices they were hiding!

Michael: Unfortunately, Tristan’s right again. There are a few moment’s throughout the film where that fancy footwork came into play very well. We do have a great collection of behind the scenes footage though, which we will hopefully bring to the world, soon, so only then will the secrets be revealed!

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There is a rather large stunt near the end of the film which, again, I won’t spoil. That must have been so expensive to film. Did you really have to shoot that multiple times with different vehicles?

Tristan: That was a very tricky part of the film and required a lot of rehearsal, and I think it was so hard as well not just as it was a stunt but we had to have the emotional stakes of the scene whilst dealing with the technicalities and dangers.

Michael: We did have to shoot that over the different days we were filming. We were extremely lucky though that everyone on board was so dedicated and so unbelievably professional to know exactly what was needed from the scene in an emotional sense as well as a safety sense. The trust everyone had in us as directors and each other was incredible.

Is there anything else that you are currently working on that you would like to mention?

Tristan: I have a few on the go, one is a film Mick and Chelsea produced called “Gabby’s First Time” which is a coming of age comedy, think an Aussie female Napoleon Dynamite where Chelsea plays the lead. It’s awkward; I’m having a lot of fun in post.

Also, I’m in the scripting stage for two features, one is a post-apocalyptic thriller set in the Australian desert and the other is a survivalist horror set in the Norwegian mountains.

Michael: I’ve written a TV show that’s based on my days in the removalist business, set up in the same style as ‘The Office’.

I’m also currently writing a script with a friend for a feature film that follows a few kids in their final year at High School and the expectations that are thrown onto them from the “Grown Ups” around them. Think ‘Whiplash’ meets ‘The perks of being a wallflower’.

Thanks for stopping by, guys! Be sure to look out for “Watch the Sunset” when it eventually hits VOD markets!