Focus on St Kilda Film Festival #2: Director Matt Holcomb writes about his opening night short film, Flat Daddy

“It was a surreal, occasionally out-of-body experience.”

Written by Matt Holcomb exclusively for Cinema Australia:

I have made only a handful of short films – far less than I would have liked to have made at this point. I don’t consider myself to be a natural short-form storyteller; it’s just not something that comes easily to me. I have more than enough original ideas for long-form stories, though. The irony is that Flat Daddy may finally give me the opportunity to turn some of these long-form ideas into reality, and it was based on someone else’s idea – the award-winning* short story of the same name, written by Louise D’Arcy.

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Louise’s story was sent to me by my brother and long-time filmmaking partner, Trevor, back in 2013, after he was alerted to it by his wife, who had received the link to the story from her mother – a good friend of Louise D’Arcy. Upon reading the short story, Trevor felt it had all the ingredients for a compelling and affecting film. I agreed, although I had concerns about the source material – I felt there was too much story for a ten-to-fifteen-minute film. The process of adapting the short story for the screen was going to be an exercise in condensing the narrative and using the medium of film to full effect, relying mostly on imagery to tell the story. For the adaptation to work, the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” was going to have to become a truism.

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In September 2013, my wife and I moved to Sydney from Melbourne. We made the move because I was keen for more opportunities to direct television commercials, and because my wife wanted to be closer to her family. Prior to the move, I had established a relationship with Sydney-based commercials producer, Annie Kinnane, who was keen to work with me on something. After arriving in Sydney, I pitched a couple of short film projects to her, Flat Daddy being one of them – the only one that caught her imagination.

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It had also caught the imagination of producer, Al Clark, of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Chopper fame. In 2012, Al Clark optioned my feature-film screenplay, Pinball – a fraternal drama set against the backdrop of the Melbourne underworld and a newly-invented bloodsport. To help accelerate the development of Pinball and build my case as a first-time feature film director, Al felt I needed another short film under my belt and encouraged me to apply for production funding for Flat Daddy via Screen NSW’s Emerging Filmmakers Fund. So I approached Annie and asked if she wanted to produce the film, with Al serving as Executive Producer, to which she said yes.

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In June 2014, Annie and I received the good news that Flat Daddy was one of three projects to be awarded production funding from Screen NSW. The following month, we entered pre-production at our Fox Studios production office and, simultaneously, launched a crowd-funding campaign via Indiegogo to supplement the Screen NSW funds.

Some have said that 90% of directing is casting. From my experience, that’s 100% true. The day I started writing the script, I saw Kat Stewart in the central role – the wife of the titular flat daddy. To me, it was helpful to be able to visualise the character while writing the script, never once entertaining the thought of actually approaching Kat to play the role until I was urged to do so by our casting director, Stevie Ray. I didn’t think Kat had the interest or time to do a short film. Luckily I was wrong – on both counts. It turned out that Kat loved the script and was willing to make time in her schedule to spend four days in rural NSW to do our film, and for award rates.

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By September we were ready to shoot Flat Daddy. Everything had come together nicely – almost too nicely. I had been able to assemble a great cast, which included Kathryn Beck (These Final Hours, Wentworth), and the talented-beyond-her-years, Sophia Tsoltoudis. I had been gifted a great crew – the incomparable cinematographer, Geoffrey Hall (Red Dog, Chopper), art director, Blossom Flint, composer, Guy Gross (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, A Few Best Men), and my brother, Trevor, as editor and co-producer. Thanks to the generosity of the town of Lithgow, I was able to shoot the film in the atmospheric former steel town, which was my preferred location. And on top of all that good fortune, we had also managed to raise over $10,000 from our crowd-funding campaign, which meant we now had the funds required to cover our production and post production costs. The realist in me said that something had to go wrong; I had been a filmmaker for too long not to acknowledge the rule of Murphy’s Law.

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But, to my surprise and relief, nothing did go wrong. The experience of making Flat Daddy was unlike any other filmmaking experience I’ve had. On numerous occasions while shooting the film, it felt as though I had wandered onto someone else’s set; I’d look up from the monitor and watch Geoff Hall setting up another beautiful shot, then I’d look back down and see Kat Stewart’s face sort of materialise from the ether. When we were shooting the exterior scenes, the weather always performed the way I hoped it would. When I needed the sun, it appeared; when I needed gathering storm clouds, they arrived. It was a surreal, occasionally out-of-body experience.

Our good fortune carried through to post production. We screened a cut of the film for Ian Anderson at DDP, who liked what he saw – enough to throw his support behind the project. Ian’s support meant we were able to utilise the state-of-the art facilities at StageOne Sound and DDP in Lane Cove – and the considerable talents of Stewart Dean, Angus Robertson, Sam Hayward, Ian Letcher and Jolayne Crabbe – to do the sound post and online, all of which gave Flat Daddy the polish usually reserved for high-profile feature films.

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As someone who hasn’t made as many short films as I would have liked, and who isn’t a natural short-form storyteller, I have been extremely lucky to have been able to make Flat Daddy – a gift from the gods that continues to give. After the wonderful experience of working with Kat Stewart on Flat Daddy, I decided to approach her about playing the lead in a television comedy series I’ve developed, to which Kat is now formally attached.

I am proud and humbled that Flat Daddy has been selected for Opening Night at the St Kilda Film Festival. As a filmmaker who has spent most of his life in Melbourne, the St Kilda Film Festival is near and dear to my heart, and for Flat Daddy to have received an Opening Night slot is a dream come true. I am grateful to everyone who contributed to the project and made it such a pleasure to work on.

* Winner — The Age Short Story Award (2010)

Flat Daddy Cinema Australia Poster

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