Sunday Shorts: South by Scooter – Rev Film Fest Special #1

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What is South By Scooter?
South by Scooter follows Max, as he desperately attempts to become the first person to ride a scooter to the South Pole. Unfortunately he lacks the necessary expertise, funds, or boat to get to Antarctica, so he sets about assembling his expedition from whatever bits and pieces he can find around his house. The film follows him from his first kick, through his polar adventure as he encounters all kinds of imagined experiences on his way to very real heroism. Even though it’s a massive adventure, the whole thing visibly takes place in one room.
South By Scooter blurs the lines between cartoon and live action and achieves much of this feeling through an emphasis on totally handmade felt props and costumes. The pair of hands responsible for this belong to Max Piantoni. This is Max’s first film.
South By Scooter was produced in 2013 in Melbourne, since then it has gone on to show at various film festivals around Australia. Including Little Big Shots, Byron Bay International Film Festival and Adelaide Kids Film Festival. It will be screening at Revelation Film Festival in July.

How did character lead the development process for South By Scooter?
Because the Max featured in South By Scooter is really just an exaggerated version of myself it wasn’t difficult to make design decisions on the film. I really let the character drive the design process.
After I had the initial idea, the first step of production was to put together my dream ‘Adventure Kit’. I’ve been using felt in my projects for a few years now. I love the chunky impressionistic feel, the colour and the liveliness that felt has. Each day I would sew a new item out of felt for the adventure kit.
I found that as I got further into character, the props I made were becoming more and more ambitious. I began with a map and a mission patch and it spiralled out of control from there… A couple of weeks later I found myself making a pair of sneakers! I never thought I’d sew a pair of shoes – I had no idea how – but I figured it out and knocked them together.
Like most things on this project, I had no idea how to do it before I did it. I think that roughness shows through in the film, but rather than try to polish the work I encouraged myself to be rough and hasty. Hopefully this translates into palpable excitement and humour in the film. I find ridiculousness to be a useful metric when I’m making my work. ‘Is this ridiculous? No? Keep going’.

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How did you shoot South By Scooter?
Most of the work on South By Scooter was making the costumes and sets. I shot the film over a few very hot summer weeks. The heat was terrible, especially when combined with the lights and the super-hot-explorer-costume. I’m a pretty poor actor on a good day, my primary acting achievement in South By Scooter was certainly ‘pretending not to be hot’. That was hard.
The whole thing was shot in the front room of my parent’s house. I picked up a D3200 and used lenses I already had, mostly an ancient Nikon 28mm lens that I had to modify a little to fit the camera. I used that camera because it was within my budget (almost nothing) and I knew that if I spent time with it I could get a good result. It’s not a pro camera, and it has plenty of ‘quirks’/terrible-design-choices-for-cinematographers but it really was a dream to work with. I lit the film with a couple of temperamental Redheads bounced off the ceiling.
Most days I worked alone, but it’s important to note that I had invaluable help from Liz Indrans. She moved the foreground ice in the scooting scenes. Occasionally when I needed an extra pair of hands I’d grab dad to help out. But generally whenever someone helped me you can see it in the film, because it’s all on camera.
All of the sound is foley. I didn’t use a single piece of sound from the set. Partly because I was working alone, and partly because the room didn’t sound much like Antarctica…

You mentioned having your ‘assistants’ on camera, all of the mechanics of the film are totally obvious. Why?
I want everything that happens in the film to be totally obvious. I want the adventure to be inclusive, so that the audience can see how it is all happening and hopefully get on board with the adventure. I didn’t want to hide anything. I think if I had covered up the skirting board, or shot on a cyclorama, or used animated backdrops the film wouldn’t have been as rough, it wouldn’t have the energy that is the real life source of the film. The rough edges and knowing winks are the hand that extends out of the frame and welcomes the audience in to join the fantasy. Also, Mum and Dad really wanted to be in it, and so did the cats.
There’s one green screen shot in the film, and I regret putting it in… Maybe I should pull a reverse George Lucas and take the greenscreen bits out?

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South By Scooter places large ambitions in a very small space. It’s short but it moves at a kind of meandering pace. What inspired this?
The film goes for just under six minutes, which in internet terms could be called a long film. I wanted it to feel long, because riding a kick scooter to the South Pole would be a long and exhausting experience. The distant, locked down, feel of the camera was intended to invoke a kind of Lawrence of Arabia feeling. That film inspired the cinematography of South By Scooter a lot. Although in this situation ‘the other side of the desert’ was substituted for ‘the other side of the room’. I wanted to create a large scale adventure from intimate moments and small scale props and costumes.

How did the music come about?
I made all the music in my bedroom. I made the ‘womp womp’ noises on a Korg Monotribe and played the ‘ding didda ding’ noises on a guitar. The drums were also done on the Monotribe. I started with a really dark sounding synthy track but it was way too serious for the film so after some fiddling I ended up with the upbeat songs that are in the film.

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What was your main objective in creating South By Scooter and were you successful?
As foolish as it sounds, I wanted to make South By Scooter because I wanted to go to the South Pole – or at least to get a sense for doing so through role play. I wanted to make a film that was unashamedly fun. A film for people to enjoy. I wasn’t in it to raise big questions or make people feel bad. I wanted to learn how to make a film, and to prove to myself that I could make a film. In all of these regards South By Scooter has been very successful and I am over the moon about that.
South By Scooter has been getting into a few festivals which is great, I didn’t know if the film would get into any festivals, so in that regard it has really surprised me. As a first time filmmaker South By Scooter has been a dream! I’m already working on Max’s next adventure…

South by Scooter is screening as part of this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival. You can find out more about the film at www.southbyscooter.com

Interview conducted independently by the South By Scooter team.

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