Sunday Shorts: Emo The Musical – Rev Film Fest Special #3

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Written by Neil Triffett (director):

I’ve been fascinated by Emos for a while. There’s something admirable about people who accept life is full of misery while the rest of us are pretending we are happy and emotionally stable. To place an Emo – a sarcastic, despondent Emo youth – inside a light-hearted musical comedy creates instant drama, a conflict of values that has to be resolved, and was the jump-off point for “Emo (the musical)”. However, if it had stopped there, it would have easily become a gag film, and I wanted it to be much more than that.

“Emo” is the story of Ethan, an Emo boy, falling in love with Trinity, a good Christian girl, at a time when their groups are battling for the school music room. It is a story of star-crossed lovers that bizarrely explores religious extremism and holy wars.

Much of the humour and effect of the film is built through contrast and comparisons. We wanted to capture the feeling that a moody Australian-drama had been trapped inside an episode of Glee. Our excellent cinematographer, Sky Davies, along with our equally excellent production designer, Anna O’Donnell, helped create an Emo world that was dark and gloomy, with strong blacks and clutter, and a Christian world that had sunshine, bright clothing, green lawns, and lots of religious iconography. Music was contrasted in a similar way, with the saccharine Hillsong style of the Christian Musicians, with the Whitlam-esque, Death Cab for Cutie inspired songs of the Emos.

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It quickly became clear to us that there were some things this musical could not do. It had rules of its own. If Emos were stuck in a musical, they would refuse to dance, so choreography was a directorial tool that was taken from me. Our way of solving this was to allow the camera to do the “dancing” for us. Sky and I kept some of the epic camera moves that you would expect in a musical, which helps emphasise that our main protagonist isn’t so into it. Also, we couldn’t have Emo characters break into song mid-conversation, only the Christians could do that.

The casting for Emo was a battle, but one I’m glad we won. Finding young male actors who could sing, and sing non-musical-theatre songs, proved to be difficult. When we did find them, they often weren’t that interested in doing a musical. We sold our hearts out, and developed our “anti-musical” pitch, which began to pay off. Finally, after exhausting agents and the Internet, I was referred to Harry Borland by a friend. Harry is a great actor, and has the vulnerability every Emo kid should have. Charlotte Nicdao, who played Trinity, was a golden find and, to our great surprise, the easiest to get hold of. We met her at the St Kilda Film Festival Opening night just as we began casting, discovered what a beautiful voice she has (check out her band online, they’re cool), and the wealth of experience she already had as an actor. Zak Marrinan, who has a terrific comic presence, stepped in as our evil villain Bradley, and Robert Tripolino, a composer and music theatre performer, dazzled his way into the offensive Isaac role. Even our minor roles were filled with amazing cast, Jonathan Wells and Kristen Cunningham don’t even get a line but are still very present in the film, and our two emo boys, Will Weatheritt and Stephen Wainrib had two hilarious scenes that were cut in the edit (I still regret that) to keep the film under the ruthless 15 minute mark imposed by festivals.

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Directing this set of actors was a breeze. In most scenes, it often came down to simple directions of “more this” and “less that”. I put this down to the strength of actors, but also that the style and genre of the film was something that the performers had seen before and recognised. My previous film “Shoplifting” was a social-realist black-comedy, a style I feel we aren’t so familiar with, and it required me to really get my hands dirty with performances and style. With “Emo” being in the middle Glee, even if it is a twisted episode, this was not a problem. I still find it strange that something with the heightened nature of Glee is still more easily understandable than social-realist drama which, you know, is supposed to be like real life.

The shoot itself was a dream, filled with an amazing volunteer crew. There’s simply too many to mention, they were all amazing. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a film set. It was an absolute joy to get Screen Australia Funding and be able to pay all our crew for pick-ups second time round. It was also wonderful to work with producer Lee Matthews for a second time (Lee also produced “Shoplifting”), it’s so much easier to trust someone when you’ve done it all before and know all the skills they have.

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Since completing “Emo”  we’ve had a great time on the festival circuit, and have been encouraged to begin development on a longer version. I’m several drafts in and feeling it’s going to be a super fun script.

You can catch Emo (The Musical) at this years Revelations Perth International Screen Festival. It screens with documentary, To Be Takei at 8.30pm on Sunday 6th July and 6.45pm Saturday 12th July at Luna Leederville.

Find out more about the film at emothemusical.com.

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