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The weekend in Canberra. As we drove up, Ryan and I had a lot of fun chatting about life in general, abusing each other for not following directions and laughing a lot at stupid jokes that I’m sure anyone else would’ve found incredibly lame.
We hit Canberra on the Friday evening, and found our way to the cabin in the park that we had booked for the weekend. It was awesome, actually; two bedrooms, large living area, powerful air conditioning and all very luxurious. I had no idea it was that good when I booked it, but we were well pleased. The heat was intense and it was fantastic to have such a comfy place to arrive at after seven odd hours on the road.
The following day, Chris Bland arrived from Sydney and we all got down to work. For him and Ryan, it was about going through the screenplay and breaking down set ups and shots. This was important ground work to start building their understanding of what the film will look like, and for me, to start to have an idea on what the schedule might look like. Very early days, of course, and ultimately the 1st AD would set the shoot schedule, but I wanted to get my hands dirty and have a really good understanding of what Ryan intends – and what’s possible – if I’m going to be in large part responsible for the film coming in on time and budget. While they did that, I intended to review the first draft of the MOU that Andy said he would send through the night before, to look for any risks or challenge points I would want to talk about with him before we signed. Unfortunately, though, the draft MOU had not arrived. To maximise the time, I instead reviewed all of the material that Andy had supplied to explain how pre-Accelerator and Accelerator worked, to see if I could find discussion points to prepare for.
We broke for lunch. As we ate, Blandy regaled us with tales of productions that he had worked on that were as close to trainwrecks – from a production side of things – that you would want to get to without actually going off the rails and ruining the film. Chris is a great guy. He comes across as very relaxed and calm, but he has an intense passion for the craft of lensing and filmmaking in general, and it’s apparent in his art. The stories were an eye opener for me – not because it all sounded so difficult – but because it all sounded so easy for the producers to avoid. A little bit of preparation, a little bit of commitment to professionalism and thought for cast and crew and you have a good chance to deal with the unexpected that always rears its ugly head during a shoot. I was again very thankful for the approach that Monica Penders and Andy Marriott were taking with this program.
That evening, Blandy headed back to Sydney after he and Ryan finished up their breakdown. The MOU had still not arrived. We were really confused by this, because the main reason for us coming all that way was to ‘put it to bed’ face to face, so we could all get on with the business of preparing for the film. By about eight, I called Andy on his mobile. He sounded a bit harassed, and said that he was working on the final touches of the draft as we were speaking. He apologised and said that he had so much to do lately that he had fallen behind. I instantly felt bad for calling him. I hadn’t wanted to pressure him or anything, just to find out where he was at, but of course the call was inherently loaded with pressure.
Ryan and I got dinner, and then lounged on the comfy sofas in the living room; Jaws was on free-to-air, which suited us right down to the ground. At every ad break, I checked my email to see if the MOU draft had come in. Ryan always looked at me in wordless question when I did this. We were so keen to see the MOU, because we wanted to be able to prepare for the face to face the next day. We didn’t want to be dead weights because we weren’t ready.
At about ten thirty, Andy sent the draft through to us, again with apologies for the delay. The poor guy had clearly been working his butt off on God knows what, let alone the MOU as well. We looked through it with what started with fun excitement… but that feeling turned to confusion as we worked our way through the draft. There was no mention of Ryan as director on the film. It mentioned me as a producer – great – but nothing about Ryan. Why? We couldn’t work it out. We talked about the potential reasons, but we could never come up with concrete answers. All that would be left was the burning, unanswered question – why would an MOU draft as detailed as this list me as a producer but not Ryan as the director? We had been clear about our desire to produce and direct, so clear in fact, that we said that if that was going to be a problem then we’d prefer to not proceed with the film in that program. There was nothing for it but to turn in for the night and see what happened in our discussion with Andy the next day.
I got up early the next day to iron a shirt to go with my jeans. The plan for the day was to meet Andy and Shannon – the production line producer – for breakfast and then to retire to The Film Distillery offices to hammer out the MOU, so I wanted to look at least a little bit respectable. I even offered to iron something for Ryan, but he said he was sorted.
We drove out to the campus grounds that were used in part for the POD program the year before. Man, did that make some great memories flood in; it was the first time we had returned to that location since getting the news that we had been selected out of POD to be the first film into production. We were a few minutes early, so we parked and sat in my car and waited. It wasn’t long before Andy drove into the lot. I moved the car to pull up alongside.
Andy greeted us with a big smile and hearty welcome. “Hi, guys! Sorry I’m a bit late, but I got halfway here and realised that I forgot my shoes.” He dropped a pair of sandals to the bitumen and started to pull them on.
We assured him that it was no problem, and moved to the back of my car to pull our laptop bags out. Ryan gave me a smile. “You ironed your shirt and Andy almost didn’t bother with shoes.” He gave me an evil smile. “Loser.”
We walked across a football field towards a strip mall area that also housed a bustling cafe in a red brick building. We selected an outside table in the pleasant shade of an old tree – the day was already starting to warm up, even though it was still very much morning – and Shannon soon joined us. In the days leading up to this meeting, Andy had ‘prepared’ us for our meet and greet with her. “When she works for me, it basically pans out like this,” he said. “I’m the dreamer, she’s the realist. She is very practical, very matter of fact, very to the point. If you can impress her, you can impress anyone.” Now that I know Shannon, I’d have to say that Andy was pretty much right in the way he described Shannon’s approach, but what we weren’t prepared for was just how awesome a person she was. We all hit it off immediately. Shan has a very dry sense of humour, which is right up our alley. We love that she calls things out as she sees them – mainly because she calls them out correctly. She also trusts her gut. She should, because she’s incredibly smart, with a very fast wit – she can figure people out in two seconds and decide how she will relate to that person moving forward in three. We hadn’t even finished our breakfast before it occurred to me that it felt like we had known her for years.
After breakfast, Andy walked back to the campus and The Film Distillery offices as Shannon retrieved her car. “Well, you passed the test,” he said. “When we were paying for breakfast, Shannon said she likes you guys, and she can absolutely work with you.” This pleased us greatly.
Once we were in the offices, Andy gave us a tour of the new facilities for the Distillery. While essentially still being constructed, it was really exciting to see the grading and sound booths, screening rooms and office space all being put together in the pursuit of making movies. A highlight for me was a walkway that had all of Andy’s old Apple computers, stretching back to the 90’s, on display. There were knick knacks all over the place, to maintain a motif of popular culture items as decoration, but this was a living museum. “They all still work,” Andy said proudly. Very cool.
And then we got down to business. But it wasn’t like anything we had imagined – or I have experienced in previous MOU negotiations for work. Andy talked us through his approach to the draft, and when we raised our concerns about Ryan not being listed as the Director, he didn’t hesitate. “Yep, not a problem,” he said. “You just pop in what you want listed in the MOU and I’ll include it.”
I didn’t know what to say. We went through the rest of the document, but instead of it being a good natured, but still stressful, debate – it was instead an explanation, a provision of clarity, that made us feel very comfortable with the whole deal. We knew what kind of a relationship we would have with the Distillery via the SPV that would be created for the film. We’d be listed as a director in Contained The Movie Pty Ltd, and would be completely protected by the fair and balanced constitution that would exist to protect everyone’s interests. Amazing.
At the end of the day, Andy showed us to the rear entrance; a fenced courtyard with chairs, tables and a big barbecue that was closer to where my car was parked then going out the front. We mentioned that it was a nice space. Andy nodded. “We’ve started a tradition here, although we didn’t mean to. We provide the meat, everyone brings their own booze, and we have a big barbie every Friday afternoon to see out the week. As long as the weather lasts, we’ll keep doing it. It’s a lot of fun.”
I looked around the courtyard and imagined everyone out there in the lazy afternoon sun, tools down and relaxed, enjoying other’s company and being so happy in their work that they weren’t racing home to get away from the place.
“It was really great to see you guys,” Andy said. “A really enjoyable day. Can’t wait for you to head back this way.”
Neither can we.