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News15 - Dec - 2022

Award winning filmmaker Vonne Patiag is first in line for diversifying the screen industry

Vonne Patiag Too Many Ethnics

Vonne Patiag is a multiple AACTA, AWGIE, Logie and SPA Award nominated director, writer, producer and actor based in, Western Sydney. Screen NSW spoke to Vonne about his career and his new short, Too Many Ethnics.

Too Many Ethincs - Best of Australian Shorts 6 - Tuesday 24th Jan, 9pm https://flickerfest.com.au/film/too-many-ethnics/


Congratulations on having your short film Too Many Ethnics selected for the 31st Flickerfest International Short Film Festival. Can you tell us why you chose Flickerfest to enter the short?

Flickerfest is the perfect festival to launch Too Many Ethnics as our film explores the experience of queer people of colour (QPOC) within the Sydney nightlife and clubbing scene, and was shot and produced locally, so we felt a hometown World Premiere would honour that.

Too Many Ethnics is also a comedy short film, and at times it feels like the bigger Australian festivals prefer dramatic ones, so we wanted to partner with a festival that draws a large crowd interested in seeing different types of stories – there’s nothing more fun and satisfying than hearing a big audience laugh at some uncomfortable yet recogniseable truths.

 My producing partner Maren Smith and I are really looking forward to celebrating the film with our local cast, crew, and audiences at such a fun and vibrant festival. We’re especially excited considering we shot the film during COVID and haven’t had a chance to test how the film lands with a fresh crowd. A shot of fun and colour is what the Australian film landscape needs right now!

You also made some bold and stylistic choices in the short, including with the lighting and film’s pace. Can you tell us a bit about your choices and what you hope audiences will see

With the lighting in the film, we lit the main characters in a golden sunset to the pinks, blues and red of the club lighting, and end up in white lighting, which tracks their changing relationship to themselves – it’s only at the end that we see their natural skin tones once they’ve accepted themselves for who they are.

The pace of the film is quick and unrelenting, with almost no breaks between lines and a lot of overlapping – and the script was written this way – to reinforce how prejudice against QPOC seems to come from everywhere. The characters go through an onslaught of micro-aggressions, which is why the film can feel chaotic, and destabilised at times, mirroring the subtle shifts in power that can happen in the club line when you are trying to be a model minority.

I hope audiences will recognise the truth in these experiences – we don’t often talk about how much we change ourselves to feel accepted. This film honours the often-hidden added emotional labour QPOC go through to get into social spaces.


As you touched on above, the film uses the metaphor of queuing in a line to examine the invisible pressures that many people who are part of a minority group experience to conform to so called social norms, like dressing a certain way. Can you tell us about why you wanted to use that metaphor of a queue to highlight the issue?

The club line is a fantastic setting for exploring identity politics, so there’s always a concern of keeping ‘undesirables’ out –who decides what is ‘desirable’ or not though!?

When you line up for a certain type of club, your look must be immediately understood – guys usually must wear clean shoes and pants with button downs, girls in nice dresses. A lot of assumptions are made immediately by security to decide whether you’re in or out, so the queue is the perfect metaphor for exploring how we change ourselves to fit into the crowd, and what’s lost (and gained) when you relish in your own identity.


You identify as a queer filmmaker of colour (QPOC), and with this film you have challenged the stereotypes of troupes of the representation of QPOC characters on screen. Tell us about that.

I think often QPOC characters are written to be dramatic, or comedic, but never at the same time. And there is a clear space where many QPOC creatives can start to write complex characters that have nuanced desires.

One question that gets raised is ‘why do these QPOC want to get into this club?’, and my answer is everyone wants to feel accepted and belong, regardless of who they are!

The film honours some universal truths that look at the more human side of QPOC – where identity politics can sometimes reduce people to their sexuality, race or however they identify. At the end of the day, we are also humans with universal desire, and as a QPOC who celebrates myself every day, I would much rather tell human stories that can connect with a larger audience!


As an accomplished filmmaker with recent credits including Here Out West, The Unusual Suspects and Significant Others, why make a short now?

As a writer, director and producer working freelance in the industry, I always found myself working on other people’s projects and I was happy to lend my voice to all the projects and collaborators I have worked with.

Something inside me wanted to return to my own voice and hone in on a story that was extremely personal – one that felt like only I could tell. Too Many Ethnics became a good chance for me to refine my creative voice and to consolidate all the development and production experience I had gained over the last few years into a concentrated piece of work.

For me, it’s a personal marker of how far I’ve come as a filmmaker, especially as a Director – in the industry there aren’t many chances to refine your directing skills so sitting in the Director’s chair was important for me. Short films are powerful showcases for a Director’s craft and approach to storytelling so I’m excited to share a ‘100% VONNE’ film to everyone. The film and I are inseparable at this point!


Too Many Ethnics is also assisting as a proof of concept for your half hour comedy series Boy (Space) Friends. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Boy (Space) Friends is a half hour comedy about a trio of boys in love with each other, just not in the way you expect. It explores the stickiness and emotional enmeshment within QPOC friendships and is the best toxic friendship you’ll ever see!

We received Hot Shots Plus funding through Screen Australia which gave us development financing for the series and a production budget that we used to produce Too Many Ethnics which serves as a proof of concept for the tone, world and characters of the full series.

The series explores the QPOC experience at large, so Too Many Ethnics is only a small taste of what’s to come! And as a short film, we crafted it to stand alone as a self-contained story ensuring it could have a life of its own on the festival circuit and beyond. But as a proof-of-concept, Too Many Ethnics is now part of the pitch package for the series, and personally I’m ecstatic to see the script and writing style of the series come to life, as it was the perfect way to test the creative elements of the show.

I am a firm believer that a piece of material in motion will always demonstrate an idea stronger than words on the page ever can – plus executives are time poor and more likely to click on a ten-minute film than read a full script!


During your career you have worn many hats and in Too Many Ethnics you act, write, and direct. What are some the things you have learnt in taking on multiple roles when creating a project like this?

I think wearing many hats has been such a blessing, as I always like to understand the through line of an idea from inception to release.  Some call me a control freak, I call myself a creator!

Working in different genres has given me a lot of insights into how directing, writing and acting are different in those genres too. For example, with directing drama, I think the intentional directing choices are sought after, whereas in comedy, it should feel like it isn’t being directed, as if there’s naturalism to the scene that you can’t see (at least in Australia).

Wearing many hats on Too Many Ethnics was a fun exercise in sharpening my directing skills, but also meant doing most of the prep work beforehand as it was difficult to review things as the shoot days progressed, considering I constantly needed makeup and hair touch-ups to satiate my raging ego as an actor. Trusting my Heads of Departments, cast and crew to collaborate and deliver my vision was a fun exercise in over-planning, and then just having fun on the day. It is always chaotic, so I say dance in the storm! (that being said… it started to sprinkle that day…).


As a director on this film, you faced some huge hurdles including shooting during strict Covid-19 protocols and managing a cast of over 50 people and all in one day. How did you pull it off?

It’s all about the planning and the people you surround yourself with. Maren Smith (my producing partner) is my absolute saviour, and together we always inclusively plan our shoots to bolster our creative intent.

One fun thing we did was shoot our film in sequence – as the whole film takes place in a line up at a club that the hero trio slowly progress in (as the night gets darker and longer) – we used time to our advantage.

The first scene in the sunlight, the main cast look fresh and excited, and by the end of the night we’re all ragged and tired, but acting-wise, we used that energy! It also meant we could time the use of the extras – we had our full clubbing line at the height of the night and could wrap them in blocks as the scenes continue (as the clubgoers get in eventually).

We also shot at a risky time in early 2021 when COVID lockdowns were potentially hanging over our heads, so to mitigate risk we implemented heavy testing and changed our shooting location to be outside which made managing a set of fifty extras a lot easier.


There has been a real push for authenticity and diversity in the global screen industry and in Australia. What advice do you have for any culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) and QPOC people aspiring to enter the industry? 

My advice would be to work on your craft and develop your taste – find out what stories you like to consume and create work that you want to see in the world. I’d also say it’s important to engage with the existing industry – I know sometimes there’s a lot of apprehension to work with the established industry as you think it will dilute your voice.

There is a lot of innovation happening in film and television – and projects can only get stronger if you collaborate with teams of mixed experience and perspectives. I have found working with established producers and production companies the best way to learn and upskill, which can only help in creating my own work.  And you must remember that as creatives, you are gold – the industry needs your ideas! You should see yourself as the powerful one in the relationship – which can hopefully overturn any fears you have about working with more established names. There’s always room for more voices, so get out there, network and have fun making stuff!

Learn more about Vonne below at:

www.vonnepatiag.com and www.in-betweenpictures.com

Get in touch: @vonnepat on Insta, fb and twitter

@in.between.pictures on Instagram (only): https://www.instagram.com/in.between.pictures/)

Too Many Ethnics: Three best friends are pushed to their limits as they endure trials of racism, love and friendship in the long line to get into an exclusive nightclub.

Too Many Ethincs - Best of Australian Shorts 6 - Tuesday 24th Jan, 9pm https://flickerfest.com.au/film/too-many-ethnics/