The Weatherman's Umbrella is a community feature film from Marysville in Victoria. It was shot over 16 months with local cast and crew. “When you think about it, The Weatherman's Umbrella is probably unique in the history of cinema. I think this film should be shown all over the world as an inspiration.” John Flaus, Australian screen legend.
Writer, Director and Producer: Anne Richey
Length: 90 minutes
Looking for: distributor, sales agent
Interview with Writer, Director and Producer: Anne Richey
Congratulations! What led you to write and direct a community feature shot over 16 months involving the town of Marysville?
The project evolved significantly over time. The script was inspired by the work in Bruno’s Sculpture Garden, a well-known tourist attraction in Marysville, and it was always our aim to shoot in the town and involve local people in the production. I was initially aiming for it to be a funded film with some established stars in the lead roles and some established crew behind the scenes in addition to locals, but this wasn’t possible due to the eligibility criteria at the screen agencies. We needed to reassess.
I knew that the film could have very positive impacts on the area, so rather than leaving the script on the shelf, we decided to just go ahead and make it anyway, with no budget and with a much higher level of local involvement. In retrospect, and although funding would have been very useful, I’m incredibly glad that the project worked out the way that it did. The people involved were absolutely fantastic, great to work with and really stepped up when it was needed.
Why did you decide to call this film a community feature?
The community was very heavily involved in the production throughout and it couldn’t have been made without them. The vast majority of the cast were from the Marysville Triangle area, and behind the scenes they were recording the sound, assistant directing and operating cameras. The fabulous music was all sourced locally, and even the artwork featured in the film is from the area. Another wonderful aspect of the production was that every time we needed something for the film, whether part of a costume, a prop or a location, all I needed to do was vaguely mention it to someone and within five minutes it had been provided.
Describe the scriptwriting, production and editing stages. Did you receive feedback from locals in Marysville?
During the Black Saturday bushfires, I stumbled onto images of Bruno’s Sculpture Garden online and kept returning to them over the following year or so. I began to wonder if there might be a story in there, but didn’t write anything as I didn’t know what had happened to Bruno or the garden. When I found an article saying that the garden had reopened, I decided to visit and ask Bruno if he was okay with me writing a script inspired by the garden. Fortunately he said yes, so I set to work.Once the script was completed, I put out a call to find cast for a stage reading and fortunately the perfect number of children and adults came along to the audition.
Everyone who wanted a role got one. A stage reading was conducted and most of the town came along to see it. This aspect was very important to me as I wanted to make sure that the community was comfortable with the content of the script before we went ahead and made the film. The feedback was very positive, and I think that conducting a stage reading was very helpful in gaining access to locations and other peripheral support.
The editing was done on my laptop using Premiere Elements, and as the film was shot over a long period of time, the editing was done as we went. Once the filming was completed, I began showing various edits to the people involved to get their feedback. During some of the screenings, everyone was given a piece of paper and a pen and asked to write down elements they weren’t comfortable with, which needed more work, or which needed correction. These proved to be incredibly helpful in completing the project.
This film is set in and is about Marysville and stars many of its locals. But nobody directly addresses the devastating 2009 bushfires. Why?
For the first few years after the fires in particular, the locals were faced with constant reminders of the fires as they rebuilt their lives. A number of people told me that the film arrived at the perfect time as many of the houses had been rebuilt and people had begun looking around for what to do next. I think that the community took to the project strongly because it didn’t reference the fires, and because it was just something fun and not another reminder. If the film had been about the fires, I think that the community would have been far less willing to get involved. The Weatherman’s Umbrella is a children’s film with plenty of silliness and laughter, and there’s something incredibly healing about getting outside in the sun and doing something just for fun.
It’s almost like you’ve conceived and delivered a new film genre. What’s the future for the community feature? Would you like to be able to do this in other communities?
Given the availability of filming technology, I suspect that community features will be made much more frequently. They’re a terrific way of bringing people together, with everyone working towards the same goal. They can help with community-building, wellbeing and tourism, and I certainly hope that more people will begin making them. It’s also surprising just how much hidden talent exists. If people are thinking about making a community film, have faith that it will work out, be open to new ideas and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The community will be the biggest asset you have.
Now that the film is completed, the community around Marysville are keen to work on more projects, and it looks likely that we’ll soon be making a not for profit comedy webseries. When I wrote the script for the film, I didn’t really know anyone in the area so it was a solo effort, but this time local people will also be involved in the writing, to the level they feel comfortable with. This might include workshopping ideas, contributing concepts or actually writing the scripts. We’ll also be working on craft skills in a variety of areas, with a view to creating further projects.
I’d certainly be keen to help other communities with their productions, whether advising or being directly involved. It’s a whole lot of fun, and I highly recommend it if there are communities keen to do the same thing.
Why did you decide to make the little girl the main character? Is it a kid’s film?
The Weatherman’s Umbrella is more a family film than a children’s film. It could be compared to stories like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden, as a young girl goes on a quest, meeting unusual characters along the way. We decided to break all of the rules with the film, with the lead character no only being young and female but also being Korean-Australian. During filming, Lily Morrow (Sarah) competed in the popular South Korean singing show KPop Star, and amazingly came fourth overall. She has a spectacular singing voice, and is now a household name in Korea.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
The feedback has been incredibly positive. The launch screening in Healesville was particularly fun as the cast and crew got to feel like stars for the night, and the audience was wonderfully warm in their response to the film. We are very limited in terms of marketing budget which makes it challenging to compete against Star Wars for example, but those who have come along appear to have enjoyed it very much.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I was always hoping that people would like the film of course, but I’ve been surprised by how much they liked it. There have been quite a few times where complete strangers came up and hugged me after the screenings.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
One of the challenges with gaining formal distribution is that established stars are generally needed, so we’ve been self-distributing. We’d love to find a way to get the film out into the wider world, whether through a distributor or through holding community screenings.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We’d love to hear from anyone who can help us to get the word out about the film. It would be great to get a local distributor on board, and possibly a sales agent with contacts in Korea in particular. We’d also welcome contact from festival directors or journalists.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
I’d love to see more community filmmaking, and more awareness and support around arts projects in communities, particularly rural communities. It’s a great method for healing and creating stronger societies.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
What elements can be put in place to support community filmmaking?
Interview: March 2016
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