Warm Cola #1
Megan Spencer, Melbourne documentary maker.....
Your first documentary was Heathens; How did that come about? Initially what was the idea?
Well, I've got this friend Scott who co produced the film with me and he is in the film as well. He's the third Heathen off the rank and he is obsessed with ST Kilda and football and one day he came back from the footy and he had brought a recording Walkman like the one your using: he had taken it with him and had recorded, um him and his friends like hurling out abuse over the fence and like singing....chanting and singing songs and that, so he played it to me and it was really funny, and it was really full on as well, and I just said to him that we should really make a documentary about it, mainly because we were doing radio at Triple R back then as well, so I think the Christmas of that year Scott's sister was given a Super VHS camcorder so that next year she was kind enough to lend it to us. So I just went and filmed him and his friends at all the games for a year.
For a year? So how much footage did you end up with?
It was cut from about, I think about forty hours of video footage, down to thirty minutes.
It you claim that it has more swearing than any other film of it's length in existence?
I will put out a challenge to anyone to prove me wrong. Per screen time.
Are you happy with the cult success that it got in Melbourne, with the screening at the George cinemas ?
It was a really good experiment, by no means does it mean that I am successful or got to the level that I want to get to in a way I kinda look back at it 'cause it was on; and then it was over, and there was nothing really resounding from that, like no one sort of rang me up and said what's your next film, do you need a producer? do you need any funding? So I kind of hoped that would come from it, and till now it hasn't. I mean it's not going to deter me but it hasn't happened. But as far as it being a fantastic road test for completely no budget independent video documentary making, of just getting off your arse and just going out and making a film and someone giving you the opportunity to go out and play it in a public arena, and then the public coming in a paying money, which is the only yard stick, in terms of critical reaction, it worked really well. Along the way people said it's too long or you might want to do this , you might want to do that and basically stuck to my guns and believed in what I'd made and the way I was kind of proved right was the fact that a thousand people showed up over six nights and made a lot of money for the cinema. I'm still in debt, but you know it made a lot of money for them, at three nights it was sold out and um, and it out did the box office on any other film program that was part of celluloid bites, and I'm not boasting here what I mean is that it worked really really well as an experiment that I can make a film that people want to see.
Why do you reckon it did really well at celluloid bites?
Because I think people are really hanging out to see this; if you just look at Melbourne, I mean we are just obsessed with football and there really has never been a documentary made about that obsession, and accurately and honestly represented: and its a really good fun film as well, and it probably horrifies people and that but people want that from documentaries as well. They want to see an entertaining yet accurate portrayal of our own culture up there, and the fact that it is comedy as well....
As well as making documentaries, you are also behind the ULTRA film festival, as well as VCA film screening nights.
So you are definitely a fan, your into the academic side of it, so to speak?
Yeah I am. Mainly from selfish view point though ,that I'm learning, I suppose my obsession is films and video and T.V. So I guess I was just lucky enough to program those two film festivals, and since I've been doing documentaries , I think its my duty to learn as much as I can about the form and the genre that I'm working in. So I've just had another opportunity to program a bunch of documentaries at VCA . I'm really into it, but there is also a bunch of films that never see the light of day that sit in the state film centre and the national library; So if I like them I figure that there is a good chance others will as well.
The new things that you have got on at the moment. You are in the middle of post-production on your new doco "Hooked On Christmas" tell us a little about that?
Well, It's a feature, it's like seventy eight minutes, and its a video documentary again which as been a part of my studies here at RMIT. I started it actually before I came here, but I have finished it here and it's set in the heart of suburbia in East Bentleigh. It's about a couple in their mid sixties who are obsessed , sort of; with Christmas and for the last twenty years they have been putting on this huge Christmas show at their house on the roof and on the front lawn of their house. What they do is they pick a different cartoon story each year and make life sized figures to go with that and cover the house in five thousand lights; so they get up to about a thousand people a night coming to the front lawn, and it goes for about fifteen days over Christmas. Every night at around nine o'clock hundreds of people come, Brian does magic out the front of the house and then he goes on his porch and he's got mic and a PA and he does a bit of a speech about how he made it and then they do a countdown to bring the lights up, and they all count from ten to zero, and you've got hundreds of people you know "Ten!....Nine... Eight!...," then all the lights go on and then fifteen minutes later he comes out on the roof dressed in a Santa suit and then goes down the side way of the house and gets mobbed. I mean literally mobbed like a rock star, by hundreds of parents and kids want to meet Santa. So that's kind of like the umbrella structure of the film, and then underneath it; I mean I spent quite a bit of time interviewing them about who they are and what they think and it's kind of about their relationship as well. So its sort of a story about them and what they do... So I suppose people could write it off as kind off wacky weirdo suburbanites, like the David Lynch thing but it's more than that ...it's like.. It just reflects all of us I think in a lot of ways.
Do you subjects have the notion that you are taking the piss; that they are being made fun of?
Um, look the subject matter I choose sort of predisposes that question and I think really; you know if you are making any film be it a documentary or something else it has to be engaging and or entertaining . I choose unusual subjects so there is bound to be something there that people find weird and funny you know. But I don't think that necessarily means that I'm having a go at them or making fun of them. I am trying to actually take them very seriously, but you know , you edit things, and you have to edit to a certain pace, and you make points in each scene or whatever. I think the subjects themselves are a bit self-effacing they might be naive, they might not realise what they do is funny, but it's not a fast cut film so it's not like I'm making points every fifteen seconds, by putting an edit in so you have to laugh in that spot. It's far more serious than that, I'm trying to take them as seriously as I can, and let them express themselves and explain what they're doing. Anyone watching it will kind of make that out, and if they find it funny they do and if they don't they don't. But there is an entertainment element there which I will never be ashamed of.
What do you intend to do with these doco's; where do you want take it?
Well, really because of the stuff I do and because it's all on video, it really belongs on television. I guess SBS or ABC is where I'd like my stuff to end up. I mean I'd like to get some money so I don't have to fund it out of my own pocket; and be desperately poor like I am all the time. I mean you can only go on like that for so long. The cinema thing with Heathens was really good, it took it to a new height, it was up on a twenty foot screen the sound was big. But.I love watching T.V and I know that most of us watch it so I think it belongs there, because it's got that hand held(Camera) "Cops" aesthetic if you like; and we're all used to that 'cause we all watch the news, current affairs, Cops.....
It's similar to that Real life T.V thing pretty much.
Yeah, It is and I think that's a really valid form of TV. I mean it depends on who makes it ,a show like Cops people may have ethical problems with; and I might from time to time. But then again I have taken that kind of style and applied it to my own thing and what you get is a very intimate, domestic feel to the film. Or to the documentary and therefore I think it becomes a truer representation of who the people are. I won't pretend that documentaries are real, it's all fiction you know ,as soon as you record it becomes something else. But think the secret of documentaries is searching out truth, even though it might be highly constructed, it can still have a truthful basis.
My final question. If you had to endorse a brand of Cola what would it be and why?
I've given it up! But I was addicted, this is really awful but I had this serious Diet Coke habit, but I've given it up.
So you would endorse Diet Coke?
Eight months ago I would have given it two thumbs up... and you van forget Pepsi and Pepsi Max.,
and I tried Jolt once but it didn't measure up.
Interview by BenK.