LA FOCUS - POP-UP

 

3 Strangers - 2 Continents - 1 Moment

Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Stuart McBratney

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Congratulations! Why did you make your film?

When I was seven years old I decided to become a filmmaker. Since that day, I’ve had an irrepressible need to make movies, so I am always working on one in some capacity. If I’m not editing, shooting or sound mixing, I’ll be working on a new script. And if I’m chopping carrots or driving to Sydney, I’ll be processing whatever problems currently need solving – from “Is she too young to play his fiancé?” to “Would my lead character really use the word cahoots?”

Sharing Pop-Up with the world is simply a juncture in this life-long obsession, though hopefully it’s one which will lead to more opportunities.

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?

I remember the tag line from Wayne’s World: “You’ll Laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl.” Clearly those filmmakers understood what an audience wants. While hopefully no-one will sully the carpet while watching Pop-Up, I’d like to think they’ll be taken on an emotional journey.

As a filmmaker, I want to make the sort of film I’d like to see. But the great irony is that I could never experience the finished product myself; after years in production, the film is reduced to pixels and sound waves. Seeing a film in a theatre with a group of strangers is the only way I can get close to experiencing it, but even then it’s like describing a red rose to someone with colour blindness.

I am hoping, however, that the audience will be absorbed by the stories of Mick, Rada and Neil, and swept along in their intertwined journeys. If I have done my job, they will feel surprise, love, anger, joy, shock and have a few laughs to break up the tension. If I’ve done my job well, they’ll emerge from the cinema feeling moved, though perhaps a little apprehensive about dental products.

POP-UP 1: Shooting the central moment of the film on location in Newcastle, NSW. This shot was taken moments before we were threatened with a fine for shooting without a permit, forcing us to abandon the scene. Luckily we scraped together enough footage. (Photo by Garrett Eckerson)

POP-UP 1: Shooting the central moment of the film on location in Newcastle, NSW. This shot was taken moments before we were threatened with a fine for shooting without a permit, forcing us to abandon the scene. Luckily we scraped together enough footage. (Photo by Garrett Eckerson)

How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

Henry David Thoreau said that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”, and this quote is an apt reflection of Pop-Up’s primary characters. Mick is desperately trying to provide for his daughter, despite being beguiled by the mystery face in the photo. Rada longs for a lost love while alone in a new country, and Neil is desperate to make a name for himself, and perhaps win back his former fiancé.

On the surface, Pop-Up looks at the random nature of life, and the interconnections between people. But look a little deeper, and it’s about hope. While each of the three protagonists are desperate, there’s always a spark of hope which pops up. They find something, somewhere, somehow, that stops them from giving up, and from personal experience, sometimes that’s all you need.

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?

The first draft is quite similar to about 75% of the finished product. The additional 25% was added over the course of 4 years of script tinkering. Being knee-deep in production always brings changes too.

The additional elements emerged from personal experiences, which were unpleasant at the time, but which were absorbed into a character’s journey. The entire subplot of Neil producing the viral video was added years after the first draft; in the original version he wanted to impress his father, rather than win back his former fiancé.

The section in Romania was added at around the 3rd draft. I realized that Rada’s backstory was crucial to understanding her motivations once she’d moved to Australia. Her rationale for not covering her birthmark was an important part of her character, so I wanted to show how her mother’s comments influenced her actions many years later.

The final changes took place during the edit. The first cut went for over two hours, but some major chopping trimmed the fat, producing a leaner 90 minute cut less likely to choke your arteries.

What type of feedback have you received so far?

We held several test screenings over a 6 month period in various parts of the world, and these were invaluable, helping us to trim the movie even further. The Dances With Films screening will be the first time the actual finished product will be seen in public. But once we started to get closer to this final cut, the feedback started becoming very positive. The best compliment I’ve received was at a Cast, Crew and Kickstarter screening, where one of my crowdfunders said he felt I’d made the movie about him.

POP-UP 2: Shooting in the heart of Transylvania, Romania overlooking the town called Sebes. A factory which processes wood blows huge plumes across the horizon. We filmed with a drone during several scenes in Romania. (Photo by Dan Pereț)

POP-UP 2: Shooting in the heart of Transylvania, Romania overlooking the town called Sebes. A factory which processes wood blows huge plumes across the horizon. We filmed with a drone during several scenes in Romania. (Photo by Dan Pereț)

Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?

Filmmaking is much harder than I ever imagined as a kid. Sure, it’s easy enough to make something, but to actually get it seen is another battle altogether. When my first movie sat on a shelf for 8 years, then was finally given a theatrical release for two weeks in one tiny cinema, it was a reality check.

It took me another 15 years to finish my second movie, Pop-Up, though in between I never stopped writing and directing. The films just tended to be 30 seconds long and designed to sell discount furniture or whale watching tours.

So having made a movie that people seem to care about is a great feeling. It’s nice to know that my childhood ambitions weren’t completely misguided.

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?

In the immediate future, it’d be great to attract people to our premiere at Dances With Films on June 9. It then plays at the Nickel Independent Film Festival in Newfoundland, Canada a week later on Thursday June 16, before which I’ll be conducting a screenwriting masterclass. nickelfestival.com/2016-films/.

But in the longer term, I’m hopeful that someone will read the article, which will lead to a connection of some kind. When a friend asks me if I know any sound recordists, DJs, graphic designers, novelists, journalists, or lawyers, it gives me a great thrill to introduce them to someone I know.

Likewise, if a stranger reads the article, and wants to reach out for whatever reason, then it’s a good feeling to connect. Whether that person is interested in collaborating, hiring me, picking my brain, or simply seeing the film, then it’s totally worth it.

Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?

I currently have several offers from sales agents/distributors, but I’m not rushing into anything. I want to make sure they understand the film, and have a comprehensive strategy for it to find an audience. When I made the TV series Back in the Soviet Bloc, I made the mistake of signing with a big sales agent who promptly did next to nothing upon acquiring the series. It was only ever broadcast in Israel and Thailand, and we never saw a cent.

But I’ve learnt from my mistakes, so this time I hope to sign with a smaller company, but who are passionate about the film and are hungry to see it succeed.

I’m also in development with an Australian production company for my next project, so I’d love to discuss this with the right people too.

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?

In addition to making people feel like they’d experienced something, I’m hopeful that Pop-Up will open doors for me professionally. I’m immensely proud of it, and for the first time, I feel as though I’ve made something that captures what I’m capable of. It only took me three decades to get there!

POP-UP 3: The character of Rada (Clara Voda) is a Romanian immigrant living in Newcastle, Australia. To ease her heartbreak after being ghosted, she makes pop-up cards for everyone she knows, and hand-delivers them. (Photo by Xanthe Roxburgh)

POP-UP 3: The character of Rada (Clara Voda) is a Romanian immigrant living in Newcastle, Australia. To ease her heartbreak after being ghosted, she makes pop-up cards for everyone she knows, and hand-delivers them. (Photo by Xanthe Roxburgh)

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

Some of the questions I’ve been asked a few times include: What’s your connection to Romania? What inspired you to write these stories? Is this autobiographical?

But I’d really love for someone to ask, “Is it true that the death scene in the slasher-film-within-a-film “Bloodgate” was based on a movie you made at age 14 for a high school science assignment?

What are you developing or working on now?

I’m in development on two interconnected features about a female filmmaker who receives a very strange offer. Wealthy investors are welcome to request more details.

 

Interview: June 2016

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If you enjoyed reading about 'POP-UP' please check out our platform: www.wearemovingstories.com We embrace new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you are a filmmaker - we'd love you to contribute. More info: Carmela (cbaranowska@protonmail.com)

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Pop-Up

Length: 94 minutes

Director: Stuart McBratney

Producer: Stuart McBratney, Rebecca Abramovic, Eduard Schneider

Writer: Stuart McBratney

About the writer, director and producer:

Stuart McBratney has directed two feature films, numerous shorts and music videos, a factual TV series shot in Russia and Ukraine, and around 500 TV commercials for clients including McDonalds, Honda and Nike. He’s close to completing a PhD at the University of Newcastle, and is a lecturer at the New York Film Academy, Sydney.

Key cast:

Clara Voda (Rada)

Eugene Gilfedder (Mick)

Greg Powell (Neil)

Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): all of the above

Funders: McBrat Motion Pictures

Made in association with: Schneider Productions

Release date: TBA

Where can I watch it? Dances With Films – June 9 at 7:15pm, TCL Chinese Theatres, Hollywood Boulevard.

Nickel Independent Film Festival, St John’s Newfoundland – June 16 at 7pm.