Andrew Serong

A hobby blog. Expect cats.

So who's going to watch your film?

March 16, 2011

From time to time I think a lot about who, ultimately, would watch a film that I might make.

I have lots of ideas for stories, a NaNoWrimo "novella", a couple quarter written novels, a first-draft of a feature-length screenplay, a semi-polished script for a 20-minute animated film, and treatments or outlines for a dozen other stories.

With each comes the question, but who might like to read or watch it? There's the temptation to think, "Oh, but surely that doesn't matter. All that matters is to tell a good story, that you might like, that speaks true to you. The rest is up to the gods."

Well, then, let's look at that more closely. A story that I might like.

Like a lot of Australians, I don't watch much Australian film. Nor Australian television. A couple of Australian films would make my top 50 movies list, but not my top 10. Certainly there are brilliant Australian films, and TV series. But, when I come home at night, are there any films I feel like watching?

What stories, if given the choice, would I naturally gravitate toward?

For me, it's genre fiction, usually with some element of romance or spirituality. TV favourites: Buffy, Firefly, Twin Peaks, Vampire Diaries, Battlestar Galactica. Film favourites: Ratatouille, Up, Spirited Away, Mulholland Drive, Back to the Future.

Okay, so there you've got mostly big-budget Hollywood productions, with the exception of Spirited Away and Mulholland Drive (which itself is about Hollywood). Why these kinds of films? Why (generally) do art-house films, provocative films, or foreign language films not make my list? At film festivals, I love discovering a little gem of a doco from France, or a Brazilian drama showing me what life's like elsewhere in the world... but the question I like to ask is, "Which film would I pop in, any night of the week to watch?"

The answer isn't determined by country of origin, but in its effect. I like movies that take me to another world, tell a clear, simple, and affective story, one which I enjoy returning to again and again. There are many films with brilliant and moving plots, but for me, a lot of these are not ones I wish to revisit. Romper Stomper, an Australian film, is a brilliantly made film, but you couldn't pay me to sit through it again. It's just not a place I want to go.

I'd like to make movies that people would like to go see. There is certainly a place, an important place for films that tell stories about things we'd rather not think about. Using a popular form of entertainment to give voice for those afraid or unable to speak up, is a noble and praise-worthy pursuit.

But the films I'd like to make are not the kinds where I, as storyteller, am trying to tell you, the viewer, something that you don't know. I'd rather make movies that create a world, an environment in which the viewer can actively (imaginatively) climb inside, and (though it's a passive medium) participate in the story, the adventure, and in that, experience joy. This, I think, is what a lot of Hollywood film does brilliantly. It's certainly what I love about Pixar's films. And yes, of course there are loads of examples outside of Hollywood, I loved the little Japanese film based on the manga, Solanin (2010), a story about a girl who reforms her boyfriend's band after the singer's death, and new-classics such as Amelie (2001), which I'm hoping we've all seen. These are films I could watch any night of the week.

But this sense of wonder, of joy, of entertainment and storytelling, is also what, for the most part, a lot of Australian films that I do not like, fail at. Or perhaps 'fail' is too harsh a word. It is something which I suspect a lot of filmmakers actively choose against, or maybe it's something they're not interested in.

Something's got to get you through the years-long development process. And the idea of communicating an important idea, or shedding light on some issue, is a valid reason to work on a film project, but it's not the reason I go to the movies. And so many of 'our' films are based around issues and themes, as opposed to a red hot story.

For me, I want to create a world to which I would like to return to again and again, and that maybe others would like to, also. I'm not specifically interested in seeing my own culture up on screen, I'm not interested in a National cinema, I'm interested in being swept away on an adventure. To then return at the end of such, and reflect. Film, for me, is an opportunity to spend a couple of hours in a dream-like state, my imagination engaged, in which I have an opportunity to reflect, see things in a way I had not seen them before, and return, refreshed for the experience. A bit like travel. It doesn't matter which country, I just want to get swept away.

I hope I'll be able to make things which resonate with people on that level. But there are so many leg traps along the way, with writing. It's easy to get carried away with things you think are novel, important, moral, affective, or worse, get scared, and attempt to prove yourself or pad things out.

But for now, I'm running with this idea: tell a story which you, personally, would love to return to day after day, not just as creator, but as a reader, as an audience. And I promise to try, to give the benefit of the doubt to Australian cinema, and again, head out to see what stories people are telling. And see if I like them.

My favourite Australian film in recent years, which is so, so close to being a film I'd love to watch every day, but I find it a bit too upsetting emotionally:

Mary and Max

I'm so glad I've found one. Samson & Delilah was incredible too, one of the best Australian films (and love stories) I've ever seen, but again, pretty hard going to watch that every night (and that's certainly not a criticism of the film!)

P.S. If you can think of others you think I might like, let me know!

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