The number of Western Australian feature productions continues apace. Perth filmmaker Rob Livings has completed his first feature, TWO PEOPLE. Shot over five days, the film stars Liberty Hills and Nick Pages-Oliver. It tells the story of a young woman and man meeting by chance, one night in the city; it examines with nuance and insight the small moments that occur between people when they first connect.
Livings will premiere TWO PEOPLE next week. All funds raised by ticket sales for the premiere will go towards film festival entry fees and the production costs of the production team’s next film, shooting in July. Support these filmmakers and view the fruits of their labour at 6:30pm, Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge on Monday 26 June, 2017. Tickets can be purchased here.
We recently spoke to Livings about the process behind making a shoestring budget feature with a small crew.
AR: Did you have particular filmmaking goals when you made TWO PEOPLE?
RL: My goal with Two People was always to produce a feature film with zero budget that instead of using a script, followed a story outline, allowing the actors to improvise dialogue in each take.
AR: Describe the collaboration between you and the actors of TWO PEOPLE.
RL: Although I had an overall idea of the types of characters I wanted Libby and Nick to portray, I gave them very loose outlines early on in pre-production, allowing for them to develop the characters themselves. On set I would speak to both actors separately when giving direction so certain reactions could occur naturally when filming. Shooting in chronological order allowed for us to see how specific character arcs would play out, and tweak with each take as we felt necessary.
AR: Did the actors see their performances at all as you shot the film?
RL: Each day after wrapping I would cut together an assembly edit of the day’s scenes for Nick and Libby to see. We shot with three cameras rolling in each scene meaning we had all the angles and reactions we needed from one individual take. I would only use footage from one take in each scene, so it was very important they knew which one I had chosen so they knew what to refer back to in later scenes.
AR: As a well-travelled person, what qualities do you see in your hometown as opposed to shooting elsewhere?
RL: The best thing about shooting in your hometown is familiarity. You have access to more filmmakers and locations than anywhere else in the world because it’s where your roots are planted.
AR: How did you choose your Perth locations?
RL: The film was written around locations we knew (or at least were very confident) we could get access to. I’ve been disappointed in the past by having to settle with locations that didn’t quite fit what I had in mind when writing, so this time I tried to make it as simple as possible.
AR: You shot for five days was it mostly night shooting?
RL: We always intended on shooting the film at night on weekdays because we needed the city to look quiet. We ended up shooting four and a half days between the hours of 10pm and 5am, however we did shoot one half day at Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den because we needed a fair amount of extras and knew we wouldn’t be able to get them out late at night. Lucky for us the venue had blackout curtains, so it wasn’t problematic at all when shooting.
AR: What size of crew were you working with?
For the majority of the shoot our average crew size was four. This included our cinematographer (Steve), sound recordist (Nick), second camera operator (Jimmy) and myself. We had additional crew when needed for specific scenes such as the comedy club where we had a camera assistant (Chris) and a production assistant (Heidi), and in the long walking scene we had a steadycam operator (Sam). I’m a big fan of working with small crews because I find the communication rarely breaks down like it can when there’s more people involved.
AR: What sort of equipment were you using?
RL: We kept it very minimal on this film shooting all scenes on sticks except for the walking scene where we used a Ronin steadycam. For lighting we used the practical lighting available to us, as well as some small portable lights where needed for fill. Shooting on the Sony A7S, a camera so amazing in low-light, meant we were able to cut corners in the lighting department without having to sacrifice quality.
AR: What other films have you made and projects have you done?
RL: In the past few years I’ve produced various music videos for artists such as San Cisco, Northlane and Make Them Suffer, and co-produced the web-series ‘Greenfield’. This year I wanted to get back into directing drama after a long hiatus where I’ve been focusing on producing.
AR: Is low budget/no budget difficult – are there things that money can buy that you would like to use in your filmmaking?
RL: No budget filmmaking is difficult, but it’s also somewhat freeing because you don’t really have anything to lose. The way we were able to make this film possible was by pulling together a team who were given creative freedom in their craft which meant nobody felt like they were working for nothing. The best thing I find that money can buy on a shoot like this is time, because when when people are getting paid there’s room to spend a little bit more time getting the set-ups right.
AR: It seems you haven’t taken the usual film funding route to make your productions, is that a conscious choice?
There’s such a process to go through when applying for funding, followed by that nervous “will we/won’t we?” waiting period. With Two People we decided that instead of putting our time and energy into another funding application, why not just make a film with what we have available to us? From the first meeting with cast and crew, to rehearsals, shoot, and having a first draft cut, the process took about six weeks.
AR: What films or filmmakers have generally influenced your view of film?
RL: I’m very much inspired by filmmakers who either work with either loose scripts or story outlines only such as Joe Swanberg, Lynn Shelton, Andrew Bujalksi, Aaron Katz and the Duplass Brothers. I feel their wave of films from the early 00’s on are must-sees for young filmmakers as inspiration for what can be done for so little when you’re simply working with a collaborative team.
AR: What hidden treasure of film would you suggest that people see?
RL: Andrew Bujalski’s 2002 debut Funny Ha Ha is an absolute gem that was made on a shoestring budget and shows perfectly those feelings post-school/university where you’re expected to be an adult but have no idea what the fuck you’re going to do.
AR: What has been the most notable film of the past year?
RL: The most notable film of the past year for me was Moonlight. The film deserves all the praise it’s received and is easily the best film I’ve seen since 2013’s Blue Ruin.