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The Blondini boys are back

Writer/director Jeremy Dumble.
The Blondini boys are back. From the place film-makers go to when their funded short films don't

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By Ande Schurr

The Blondini boys are back. From the place film-makers go to when their funded short films don't make the A-list festivals, Jeremy Dumble and Adam Luxton have bounced back with a feature film Last Strike.

The self-funded film took four months to make from script to final shot. There is a kind of revenge in the air...

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Once upon a time, when film schools were rarer and feature films dearer, there were two friends who set out to make a career in film. Trumping the unconventional, they called themselves 'Blondini' and soon proved to possess a touch of Houdini in bringing laughs (and cash) from their short flicks.

Still young, the Blondini boys have moved into feature films. Without funding they have launched themselves into the world of micro-budget film-making. Now that the limitations of expensive equipment have been removed thanks to the advent of the DSLR culture, feature length films can be shot for next to nothing; ring up a few star actors on holiday, rope in your friends to be extras, pull on the heart-strings of your freelance crew mates (Ande Schurr was the sound recordist), toss in a few petrol vouchers, add lunch, shoot, edit and upload to the web... Cha-Ching! Well, they hope so...

Ande Schurr interviews writer/director Jeremy Dumble, who has just put the baby to sleep...

The first part of your career was a dream run. Short films that were exciting, colourful and seemed to always win awards or attract commission funding. Then your last short film The Road Out of Town didn't hit the mark everyone thought it would. So there was a gap and now you're diving into the deep-end with your first feature. What was happening before for you and what is happening now to the Blondini boys?

You're painting quite a rosy picture of our early years, but it sounds good so let’s not allow the truth stand in the way of a good yarn. I think when Adam [Luxton] and I started out we had a healthy disrespect for convention or alternatively, the naivety of youth on our side. Our first short film won a TV2 comp for young filmmakers, and filled with delusional self-confidence we applied to CNZ with a script and got funding first time up. After that we made a series of self-funded films, then, as you mention, got funding through the NZFC Short Film Fund to made The Road Out of Town. It was a very ambitious film for the budget we had, and intensely visual in its storytelling, but didn't make it into any of the A-list festivals that it needed to. While that was disappointing what it did allow us to do was take a breath and re-evaluate the sort of stories we were trying to tell, and basically I came to the conclusion that somewhere down the line we'd taken a wrong turn and were no longer playing to our strengths. So, four months ago I cooked up a crazy idea to write a new script and shoot a no-budget feature film while Adam was back in NZ on his Christmas holiday. And we've just finished shooting it.

Your Canon 7D cameras are still hot from shooting your latest film, Last Strike. What was it about? How did it go? Any preliminary comments?

You're right about that 7D. It overheated quite a bit. The 60D however took everything in it's stride. Actually, the one question I really hate answering is what a film of mine is about. To me it seems like a cook coming out from the kitchen and leaning over a customer and pointing out all the ingredients and gastronomic hues of a dish. But okay, I'll make an effort here. Last Strike is a film about trash, waste and shit, and what it's like to be a human in the 21st century. I've been telling people it's a serious comedy. But we've still got the edit to come, so anything could happen. Maybe it'll end up being a musical. How did it go...? Well, for a film that went from an idea to 40 hours of rushes in under four months, I think it's been totally fantastic. In the run-up to shooting it felt like I had a bomb in my hands that could blow up at any moment, but through good luck, a small but amazing team of collaborators in front of and behind the camera(s) and 12 days of totally mint weather, I don't think we could have asked for much more.

You've just become a father and stay-at-home-dad. Tell me about what this has done to you personally and professionally as a writer/director.

That's right. I now have a little son to look after. Personally I'd say I'm much fitter, since as you well know, most of my pre-production meetings took place while walking up and down the road with Jasper on my shoulder. It's also given me a clarity of purpose which has helped immensely in getting this project up and running.

Your short film Ninety Percent is brilliant. You seem to really enjoy playing with existential conundrums in a way that is just funny. Your films seem both intellectual and yet still engaging emotionally. Why do you make films like this and what do you think people walk away with?

Hmm, do you really think you can choose to make any particular sort of film? I reckon you just make the films you make. Michael Bay makes films like Michael Bay does because he's Michael Bay. Adam and I make films like Adam and I do because we're us. If you're being honest all you can do is tell it how you see it. Having said that I do always hope that people walk away being, as you say, engaged both emotionally and intellectually by my films. If it's just one or the other it isn't quite so compelling.

You enjoy multi-narrative dialogue, your scripts explore questions about the decay of society, dry humour illuminates your characters, your favourite novel is 'Infinite Jest'. You are quietly spoken and don't seem to have big ambitions yet I know I'm only seeing the surface. Please explain what you are about.

Gosh. I wonder what sort of responses you'd get if you put that as, like, a description of someone on a dating website. Probably none! I don't know if you're doing me any favours here. Anyway...throughout the process of making Last Strike I've thought of myself as a facilitator rather than one of those directors who pace around micro-managing every detail. What I'm interested in is finding a genuine creative collaboration with everyone working on the project - whether it's actors, or cameramen, or soundies or producers or art dept etc etc. I think when you can't pay anyone you still need to find something to offer people, and in this situation what I felt I could offer people is responsibility to really own their role.

As a director this working process lets me move quietly in the crowd, listening to what people have to say, having a word here and there to make sure they know what the expectations are, but letting them get on and do their job as autonomously as possible. What I'm looking to build is a community of fellow practitioners with whom I can create an ongoing filmmaking partnership based on mutual respect and enthusiasm for intelligent and engaging local stories.

Where do you envisage the future of the micro-budget feature film? Do you feel they belong on iTunes where you pay $1.99 do watch a movie? Do you feel a new infrastructure is needed to channel the multitudes of films being made into the right audiences?

Some big questions there, and I'm just a novice in the world of micro-budget features, but it seems pretty inevitable doesn't it? There are already a number of legal download options available for film/video content so once the telecommunication infrastructure gets up to speed then I'm sure you'll see an explosion of opportunities for digital distribution - and not just for low-budget films.

At this point it's probably important to say that personally, I think the advent of DSLRs that shoot HD has probably changed the game quite substantially. There have been plenty of local filmmakers who have shot low budget films on video in the past, but the crossover appeal to the general public has always been hampered by the gulf in quality between professional film and the low budget video available to them. On the new DSLRs however you can achieve pretty spectacular results on a camera that costs less than $2000. And in a few years time they'll be shooting 2k, 4k whatever. Not that I think Last Strike is for a general audience, but the opportunity is definitely there for some unexpected successes shot on this new technology.

But distribution opportunities, or lack thereof, can be a bit of a red herring. The perennial challenge, at least for us down in little old NZ, will be how to compete in a tiny market that will always be swamped by bigger badder films from the USA and other English-speaking countries, and that's where the question turns from a technical one to a creative one.

Making really good films would be a start I suppose and that's one of the reasons we've turned to micro-budget projects like this one. I don't know how this film will end up, but at the very least working without the expectation of a commercial return has given us the freedom to re-inject some innovation and risk-taking and life into the stories we're trying to tell - that healthy disrespect for convention that we started out our career with.

Another real killer as a director is not being able to work regularly, so I think that having the opportunity to increase the frequency with which we work and learn the craft of filmmaking on micro-budget features will help to increase our skills enormously, so that when we come to work on projects with a budget (which we definitely want to do), we'll already have a load of experience behind us.

So it's not just the distribution infrastructure that needs to change with the times. There are plenty of ways that micro-budget filmmaking is going to help improve the chances for small national cinemas like we have in NZ, and the faster the traditional industry infrastructure changes to recognize that, the sooner we'll start to see a more robust local film industry.

There is a sort of magic balancing mechanism between you and co-director Adam Luxton. When one of you dismisses something in a take the other jumps on it and emphasises how important it is. My question may be especially good for those at film school - surrounded by eager co-filmmakers in waiting: how to you know when you have found a good partnership? Were there any telling signs with you and Adam? Please also say something about how much easier, or just different, it is when you have someone to share the load with.

Adam and I have worked together for 10 years now, so I guess we know how each other functions and we respect what each other brings to a project. As for looking for potential partners, I think you know you've found someone you can work with if you don't want to murder them after day one of a shoot. Obviously on this project, where in addition to directing I was on one camera, and Adam was acting then it was really lucky we were two people instead of one, otherwise it would have been one of those situations where you hold the camera at arms length, pointed back at yourself and try to act, direct and press the record button all at the same time. That would have been a pretty bad look.

I think whether or not you're cut out to work that closely with someone else depends totally on your personality. For some people I'm sure it would be hell. But writing and directing is a big job, and I think having someone to watch your back can't be too bad thing.

What can we expect next from the Blondini Boys? What is the fascination with Germany? What will you do while Adam edits this film in Berlin? Do you have any writing exercises or practices in general that help you achieve the levels of intellectual and emotional rigour that writing a script must demand?

Oh, next, well, we've got another script on the boil that we could shoot in much the same way as we shot this one. It'd be a project for next summer. Then, who knows. Maybe we'll need to get real jobs by then. Actually we both might end up in Berlin after that, and maybe we'll look to put together a project we can shoot there.

I'm hoping to put my feet up while Adam edits - I did the hard yards at the front end of this one, so he can do them at the end. I'll try to be a better dad. Go to the beach. Maybe sniff around for some smaller projects I can shoot to keep my hand in the game. When we get towards the end of the edit we'll start thinking about how we might get this shown to an audience. We've got a few plans that could be quite exciting, so I've got a bit to think about. Then there's always the next script...

Intellectual and emotional rigour? Sounds good. Where can I buy some of that? Actually, before Last Strike took off Adam and I spent a couple of years rigorously developing another script into a huge black hole of bad choices and overworked narrative cliches. So I'm not much into rigour right now. Instead I'd say, as a writer, you are what you eat. More specifically, what I've personally learned from this project is that when I actually set out to write something knowing that we were going to shoot it in 2 months time there was a real vitality to my writing, and a desperation to my work ethic that wasn't in evidence any time in those previous two years. So my advice isn't about general exercises or practices to improve as a scriptwriter. My advice is to forget about all that stuff and just go out and make stuff, because it's the 21st century, and you can do it, easy.

Further information: Blondini Films.

Written by

Ande Schurr

1 Feb 2011

Corporate video producer and production sound recordist now based in Singapore after a 15-year career in New Zealand. Video clients incl. universities, tech startups, medical clinics and business consulting agencies. Sound clients incl. Netflix, Discovery, BBC, National Geo.

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