Short film, tall ambition.
An interview with new local filmmaker Tommy Eyers, by Adam Lemmey (that Movie Man About ADL).
Last week we saw the Adelaide International Youth Film Festival take over the Hindley Street GU Film House. The festival was a celebration of screen arts for young people and also a showcase of talented young filmmakers. The festival concluded with the launch of three new shorts films that had been brought to life under the AIYFF’s own Short Film Worx initiative. I had a chat with one of these filmmakers, Tommy Eyers, whose work, What’s Going On In AV1?, was able to shine on the silver screen.
Oh hai Tommy, tell us about yourself.
I’m Tommy Eyers, a 20-year-old university dropout and storyteller. In my spare time I play drums, coach soccer, collect records and umm… VHS tapes. I know plenty of others that enjoy collecting the first, but unfortunately, not so many are with me on collecting the latter.
I finished high school in 2015 at St. John’s Grammar School studying all the ‘crazy’ subjects (maths & sciences) and then I took a gap year in 2016. It was great after the stress of Year 12 to have some breathing room to explore things freely and end up… wherever I ended up, in film. I had always had an interest in filmmaking and over that year I tried to learn as much about the industry and the craft as possible to find out what it’s all about. I don’t think I’ll ever stop finding out what it’s all about.
So, What’s Going on in AV1? What’s your film about?
What’s going on in AV1? You’ll have to watch it to find out, bar the following… It’s 1988, and a young girl finds
herself trapped within the plastic of a mysterious VHS tape and must escape with the help of the young boy that’s watching her through his TV.
Talk us through the history of the project.
I reckon it was a bit over a year ago that I first became interested in the idea of a friendship between a person stuck inside a TV and that TV’s viewer. I wrote a few different scripts around that notion, and then over the next few months, the idea turned into one I found more interesting. Which was, what if you were to get stuck inside a VHS tape? And what if when the tape is stopped so is the life of the person stuck inside. So I had a concept and a set of ‘rules of the universe’ I was broadly happy with, but there was no real satisfying way to fit the complexity of that idea into a short film- and so the story went into the bottom drawer for a bit.
Then, two weeks out from the deadline of the AIYFF Short Film Worx, my mate and writing buddy, Steve Lockley suggested telling that story from a different character’s perspective to satisfy the festival’s theme, ‘uplift’. So we churned out a first draft of that story in 2 weeks and managed to get it green lit!
How was the process of working with AIYFF and the Short Film Worx initiative?
The AIYFF Short Film Worx Initiative has been great, I mean, who’s heard of a funding initiative where the strength of the script is the only factor at play and you find out if you’re successful a week after submission?
We knew we didn’t have much time. We got the funding, and we had to deliver the finished film 7 weeks later to play at the AIYFF awards ceremony, and so it was a very busy, fast paced 7 weeks. As soon as I found out I’d gotten it, I started trying to get as many people on board as possible. I asked Rebecca Duncker on board as DOP which was a great way forward, but then we struggled to get a Producer and Production Designer, and given the time frame, there was no time to waste lingering on filling those two roles, so in the end, myself and Stephen de Villiers, the Short Film Worx mentor ended up co-producing the film, while myself and Rebecca did the grunt of the pre-production art department. I definitely do not recommend doing everything yourself. Something’s gotta give, and unfortunately that something was my preparation for my role on the day of shooting.
Working in collaboration with de Villiers has been a great learning curve. Being able to see how he might combat a certain problem, as well as surfacing considerations during the making of the film has made what was possible, possible.
What was it like getting to set and going through the shoot as a director?
It’s weird. I felt pretty calm but excited driving to Day #01 of the shoot, my first day of directing. I knew what I wanted and had done rehearsals with the actors and planned all the shots with Rebecca, the DOP. But then as soon as we start shooting, we’re told that we’ve scheduled way too many shots and that we’ll have to cut over half of them. And like that, I panic, I guess I went into whatever mode those Adelaide crows did on Grand Final day when they realized they didn’t know what to do about the problems in front of them; the classic case of pre-event confidence, but not as a result of good preparation. From that moment forward, the day was very fast and stressful. We simply didn’t have breathing room, we were getting the bare bones to cut a film together, we were even plowing through so fast that we missed some of the essential shots, which we ended up having to pickup the next day.
I remember de Villiers saying to the Short Film Worx group during pre-production, if you’ve done your job well as a director, you should be relaxed, bored and have barely anything to do once the day of the shoot comes. Unfortunately, this was certainly not the case. I’m not trying to bag anyone or draw sympathy; I’m just trying to be honest about the feeling I had on that set. I was completely out of my depth. So unfortunately, it wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped. I remember having comments on the day that I looked the most flustered, worried and overwhelmed people had ever seen me, and that certainly comes through in the photos. But in amongst all the stress and pressure, were moments of pure love for the craft. It was amazing to see how well the crew worked, and the ability of the actors to bring the words on the page to life; I genuinely got goosebumps at times. It was these moments that made me appreciate why we were all there, and hopefully the more films I make, the more time I can spend appreciating the craft rather than stressing. To be fair, we only had 2 days to shoot a 10-minute short with a lot of practical effects, and it was always going to be hectic, but we got through it and now we’ve got a film. I’m already hungry for the next.
What are your hopes for the future of What’s Going On In AV1? I hope that the film can get into a couple of more festivals, and help me and those involved make the next film. I’m keen to one day make a TV Show or web series out of the concept of What’s Going On In AV1?
What’s next for Tommy Eyers? I’m currently doing some work experience on the sci-fi thriller Mother being filmed at the SAFC. I’ve started writing a short comedy and a short drama, one of which will be made soon out of my pocket money. I’m looking forward to making some brutal mistakes with that next film, and those mistakes will no doubt teach me a lot about the best way for me to go about telling stories through film.
Any final stories from behind the scenes? So, in order to tell the story of What’s Going on in AV1?, we needed it to look like the television was playing vision of a girl stuck inside the TV, and instead of using a green-screen to superimpose the image on top of the TV screen, I thought it was important to actually spit real footage out of that television screen of the girl in there. To one, help our actor, and two; make the screen look as realistic and true to life as possible.
We had about 3 hours between filming the footage going into the TV and shooting that scene, so we needed someone to come in and edit that footage in 3 hours while we were still shooting other scenes, and that someone was Bryce Kraehenbuehl.
It was the day before when I rang to confirm that he could still come in to do the job that I discovered that he would be coming to us straight off a night shift. So we had our runner Jess pick the sleepless dude up and deliver him to the on set computer to do his editing stint, and to his credit he did it well. He had little sleep and even less clue what was going on because we were too busy to give him the time he needed, and I don’t know how he did it, but he gave us footage of that girl with a VHS overlay 3 hours later to spit out of that television. It was impressive. Whatever he did to get through that, I think we all ought to get on it.
What’s Going on in AV1? Screened on October 1st as part of the closing day of Adelaide International Youth Film Festival. We hope to all have the chance to see it soon!