Director Nic Barker has spent the last four year’s putting together his first feature film, Short Distance, a drama about the breakdown and build up of three interconnecting relationships set in inner city Melbourne.
Here, Barker fills us in on the making of his new film which will be released for free on June 1 via Vimeo.
“The actors brought an enormous amount of ideas to the table.”
What’s it about?
Short Distance is a relationship drama that also romanticises the city of Melbourne. The film consists of three interconnected stories of long distance relationships – how we deal with saying goodbye, the reality of reconnect after time apart, and how two people can become stretched by emotional and physical separation.
What inspired the story?
Interestingly this project didn’t begin life as a series of vignettes, and in fact was going to be just the one narrative about a couple dealing with having to separate for a stretch of time. Together with actors Calista Fooks and Sam Macdonald, as well as DP Filip Laureys, we developed this story extensively over a year but I became inspired by these conversations to broaden the scope. From that came the other two stories, focusing on characters that were initially going to be supporting players and fleshing out their stories too. The final script was written in mid 2014 and we began filming in early 2015.
In terms of inspiration, it wasn’t so much drawing from direct personal experience as it was from the feelings that we all talked about, the stories of people around me, moments in the lives of friends, family, etc. The actors brought an enormous amount of ideas to the table too so that really helped develop the screenplay as we went along.
Tell us about casting the film?
I wrote the roles with many of the actors in mind. Calista, who I’d worked with on the 2013 short Worth, was always the only choice for Lauren, and she introduced me to Sam with the idea that he could be a good fit for the character of Chris. I was already extremely familiar with the work of Christopher Kay (Max) and Chris Gibson (Ollie) through their short films, which I’d seen at local film festivals here in Melbourne. Chris Gibson’s performance in the indie feature 41 was one of a likeable, personable everyman and after seeing that I just knew that he was someone I was keen to work with. Chris Kay had also directed several projects with Roe Coleman (Sara) in which she really shined. The two of them already knew each other well so like with Calista and Sam it made a lot of sense to me to cast actors who liked each other and had working history, because it made establishing a rapport and chemistry between the actors that much easier.
Gabrielle Savrone (Belinda) I’d worked with on several shorts (To Have and Withhold and a deleted scene from Dead Sharks) and was keen to give her a role to really sink her teeth into. She’s a seriously committed and thoughtful actor who I was keen to work with again after such great experiences in the past. So knowing who I wanted to work with and write for really informed the development of the script, and with each subsequent draft of the script I worked hard to tailor each of these roles to each of the actors.
60 minute feature films are rare. Did you set out to make a 60 minute film from the beginning?
No I definitely didn’t, and you’re right in saying they are definitely quite rare. The screenplay for the film was 84 pages, and the old adage is one page equals one minute of screen time. This didn’t prove to be the case with this film for whatever reason, but to me it was more important to tell the story as efficiently as we could, rather than pad out the screen time to 70-80 minutes and risk out staying our welcome.
There’s pros and cons to this length – the film still qualified to compete as a feature in the vast majority of film festivals, and we have had a successful run over the last year on the circuit with several awards and numerous official selections. The cons are that the traditional distribution schemes aren’t really designed for this running time, and it really is a bit of a weird middle ground that makes getting it out into the world a little trickier.
Having said all that I actually kind of wish more films were 60-70 mins, rather than 2 hours plus. It’s probably mostly for selfish reasons as I love films and never feel like I have enough time to catch up with all the great ones coming out all the time! I think it’s possible with the rise of streaming services we could see more medium length content but for now it’s definitely not the norm.
You’re releasing Short Distance via Vimeo. Why for free?
I think I alluded to one of the reasons a little bit in the previous answer – with a running time of 60 minutes you can’t really interest many distribution companies in purchasing the film for home media, especially not films of this small a size. So that’s one option that’s closed off to us.
But to say that the format of the film is the only reason we’re launching the film free on Vimeo is well off the mark. Truth is, this is a small film, and we wouldn’t have been able to make it without the community of backers that supported us getting the project off the ground. This is a film that had such a groundswell of community support and it just felt right to give it out the world free and public online so that community around the film could grow. At the end of the day we make films so people can see them, and I firmly believe in this case that all things considered, releasing for free Vimeo is the right way to achieve that.
Who inspires you as a filmmaker?
I’ve always been interested in telling small-scale stories about real people and the every day – so in that sense mumblecore filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz, the Duplass Brothers and Lynn Shelton have been massive influences, both stylistically and philosophically. The DIY spirit of the mumblecore movement was huge in empowering me to attempt to make a feature film in the first place – these are artists who worked with what they had access to and told small personal stories – the fact that each has carved out success in the broader industry I feel like is a testament to both their talent and to the ever growing democratisation of filmmaking gear, knowledge and resources. In that respect I’m also hugely inspired by Cassavetes, who was doing the same the thing almost 50 years earlier.
What’s next for you?
I have numerous shorts in various stages of production – my latest completed short No Filter is also screening online at NoBudge.com and Vimeo. It’s a comedy about social media obsession, and appropriately enough it’s shot entirely on the iPhone 6S. I’m super proud of it and hope it gives people a laugh.
I have two more shorts in the pipeline – The Greta Fragments, which is finished and aiming for a premiere at a festival later in the year, and Tech, Support, which is in the final stages of post production.