2nd time lucky: A unique path to funding
Steven Woodburn and Sam Smith are a formidable director/producer team who don't take no for an answer. After missing out on production funding from the EFF for their short film Banana Boy, they went ahead and shot it. One year later they successfully applied for post production funding. We talk to them about their unique pathway to funding their film.
What did you do to make your application for support for this project successful?
Steven - We actually got really lucky with the timing of the application submission for the EFF as we’d just wrapped on the shoot and were waiting for our editor Karen Johnson to become available. We were asked to very roughly edit together a couple of key scenes to support our application, mostly to give an idea of the look of the film and some of the key performances. I went completely overboard on this and ended up throwing together the majority of the film. I knew we had some really great stuff all the way through the film and I wanted Screen NSW to see every bit of it. It’s such a big, ambitious short. I think there were always so many question marks, including from us, about how we were going to do it. Being able to show that we had actually pulled it off was, I think, a huge boost for our application.
Sam - We put together the best possible package we could with the material we had at the time. This included research material, letters of support from key industry people, rough cut scenes from our footage. We laid out the budget with brutal honesty, and made sure our Producer & Director statements were authentic and reflected our true feelings about the story and what we were trying to get across to the audience.
You had a unique approach to funding the film’s production, which we’ve heard included over 800 bananas. Can you tell us a bit about your approach to funding and marketing?
Steven - We crowd funded $20,000 of the film's shooting budget through a Pozible campaign. It takes a huge amount of work to make one of these campaigns successful. Everyday it’s a mission, not just to get fresh eyeballs on the campaign, but also to make sure that the people most likely to be excited about the project somehow find out about it. We got a lot of great support from the Refugee Council, Mahboba’s Promise and the Welcome to Australia organisation, all of which plugged our campaign through its newsletters and social media. We also got free stuff from Nudie Juice, Film Ink, the Body Shop, which we used to put together hampers. We did hand out 800 bananas in Martin Place, I printed off 1000 Banana Boy stickers and plastered them all around the city - every day just trying something new to get the campaign out there and to get it seen.
Banana Boy’s script also requires many locations, can you tell us how you went about location scouting, and what challenges you faced?
Steven - We looked at countless locations during pre production and it’s one area that I’m happy to say we didn’t eventually compromise too much. The main themes of the film revolve around isolation and loneliness so we needed locations that could convey that. Because of this I thought we needed to get out of Sydney to shoot the beach scenes, which is tough when you’re on an extremely tight budget and having to transport around a crew. We looked at a lot of locations for the detention centre, including all the old gaols around Sydney (Maitland and Parramatta). In the end Callan Park in Rozelle was the best fit in terms of cost and availability. Then it was up to our art department to really sell it.
Sam - For the external locations we spent time scoping potential spots out on Google Maps, and then we would jump in the car and get out there and see if it would work. One of the most difficult ones was Catherine Hill Bay, mostly because we were planning to be in the water with a child actor and crew and this raised red flags in terms of making sure we had the correct safety team in place. We had an awesome water safety professional however as Mother Nature would have it, on the days of our beach shoot, the surf was too big so we had to shoot our ocean scenes later when conditions were safe.
This is your second production together, how important do you feel your collaboration has been to your work and to being successful in receiving funding?
Steven - I think at the beginning we both had just the right level of naivety when it came to getting this film up. Neither of us had any idea starting out just how big and consuming it would eventually become, but along the way there was never any question of whether it would happen or not. Whenever there was a setback, and there were many, many setbacks, we just tried to not let it overwhelm us too much and to just keep on pushing. This includes the first time we applied for the EFF and were unsuccessful. This could have easily meant the death of the project but we both felt that we had something pretty special on our hands so we just kept on moving.
Sam - It’s important to have partners you can trust and clear goals. I think we Steve and I bounce well off each other and are both on the same page when it comes to striving for the best we can do. I think that shone through in the application.
You have previously said that along with funding, one of the key challenges you faced was the character of Omid. Can you tell us how working with a young person affected your planning and the shoot?
Sam - You need to be really careful and accommodating with planning your shoot hours when working with kids, but also you need to put some things in place to make sure they are happy, rested, fed, and having a good time! Luckily our young actor William Oakley has a great sense of humour and is a little professional in his own right. We had fun on set playing around with radios and generally keeping things upbeat.
What advice would you have for someone applying for the EFF?
Steven - I think you have to be incredibly passionate about the story you want to tell. That’s it for me. Then if you don’t get the EFF, because it is very tough, still go out and do whatever it takes to make your film.
Sam - Commit to the process whole-heartedly, it’s going to take up most of your time. Do plenty of research. Bring passion to the table!
What’s next for you?
Steven - I’m looking forward to getting back to writing. It’s much quieter! I’ve been working on a feature script for the last couple of years so we’ll be starting the long road towards getting that up as well as another short that we’ll be making next year.
Sam - After we finish post for Banana Boy I’m looking forward to a pressure-free Christmas break and relaxing for a while. We’re excited about submitting to film festivals. I’ll jump back into a bit of acting. And of course, developing a feature film down the track.
Any final tips?
Sometimes it seems daunting, but just take one piece at a time and stay with it, you can get through it. Do the best you can with what you have. Seek advice, but ultimately you have to get in there and figure it out. Stay positive, and work hard. Ignore the nay-sayers. Don’t assume problems are going to go away by themselves as they rarely do. And, the old cliché - you have to be in it to win it!
Image 1 - Sam Smith (producer) and Steven Woodburn (writer/director)
Image 2 - Eddie Baroo (Boof), William Oakley (Omid) and Steve Lemarquand (Bob) on location at St Ives, NSW