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Over a glass of red wine one evening, fine artist Robert Clinch, and collector, Jeff Brown postulated a fun idea, “What if we could find a Goggomobil Dart sports-car and paint Robert’s signature paper darts on it?” And so the story begins. G, O, G-G, O! What starts as a simple “art car” project quickly reveals itself to be a fascinating mix of art and engineering, combining car racing, automotive design and a passion for collecting art and fascinating objects, in one documentary.
Here, D’art filmmaker Karl von Moller gives us a fascinating and insightful look at the making of his documentary.
“As Robert struggled to finish in time for the car’s unveiling, I struggled with the enormous amount of footage and the unenviable task of cutting it down. Finishing the film became my focus after the car was finally unveiled.”
Article by Karl von Moller
Director, cinematographer and editor of D’art
Most films, be they factual or fiction, usually require incredible planning, careful budget management and resources that could be likened to waging a campaign in a war. The logistics of making a film is everything. From the equipment to create beautiful cinematography, glorious locations and the creation of studio sets, to feeding the army of people usually involved, it is a massive undertaking involving highly curated logistics supporting the filmmaker’s storytelling process. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to have participated in many of these types of productions, however for my documentary feature D’art, I had none of this.
While most funded films will follow an optimised route with many of the trimmings, there are still many independent films that get made with virtually no resources and D’art is one of those. In contemporary, factual formats that happen in realtime, it is not always possible to know the outcome and thus prepare a schedule, budget and marketing plan to accommodate them at the time of filming. Recognising that a project could be suited to a particular format is part of that discovery. In this article, I would like to share some of my experiences regarding such a project.
In March 2016, I received a call from a local collector of art and cars, Jeff Brown, about the possibility of filming the making of an “Art Car” project. Curiously, I drove down to the artist’s studio for a meet and greet. There, I met Jeff Brown and fine artist Robert Clinch, who proceeded to tell me about their crazy but fascinating project idea, to paint Robert’s signature paper darts onto a Goggomobil Dart car, to transform it into an objet d’art.
Usually, I receive a script from a producer or a brief from an ad agency or even a client about a product they want to sell or a film they want to make and there is a well-established process pouring my soul into a treatment and ultimately pitch for the job. This process often leaves me feeling hollow inside when the result is often a watered-down shell of the original idea. So to hear two grown men explaining to me the details of painting a Goggomobil Dart car with paper planes and how they wanted me to film this, the fun side of the project wasn’t lost on me.
Robert produced a beautifully bound book of his past work and I could see that he was a truly extraordinary and talented artist. There were so many images that leapt off the pages and many of them featured a paper dart which existed to convey a message or be a point of focus. The precision and detail of his work were breathtaking. Additionally, the car itself cornered my interest as well. The brand Goggomobil had been seared into my brain by a series of ads featuring actors Tommy Dysart and Joan Brockenshire for Yellow Pages Australia. However, I didn’t think I had ever seen a Goggomobil in person, so I was curious about that as well. I agreed to make a behind the scenes “making of” video which was meant to accompany the finished art car in galleries Australiawide. This video would only be a 5-10 minute piece and I had the time in my schedule between other work.
Day one of any project is always a tentative affair as one tries to find the right steps, the right approach to capture the story. In this case, I came face to face with the Goggomobil Dart for the first time and was surprised just how menacingly small it was as it was being assessed at a spray painting company in Melbourne. Robert and Jeff, we’re engaged in speaking with the spray painter while I utilised my slider and camera to film as much footage as I could of the diminutive car before it changed colour forever. Little did I know that this would be the only chance I would get before being transformed and the lesson here is always film more than you need. Later in editing, I struggled finding shots that showcased the car in its original factory yellow skin.
Over the following days, I popped into Robert’s studio and filmed him making marionettes of the paper darts to scale and placing them in front of a 3/4 sized plan and elevation view of the car he had drawn in his studio. His methodical and ingenious process of working out how to place the darts onto the dart car fascinated me and as he worked, I spoke with him about his process and how it reminded me of engineering. This led to a conversation about his father, who was an engineer and so one of the core ideas for a longer film was born out of that time.
A couple of weeks into the project, I still had no idea I would pursue a full-length feature documentary. I did, however, feel that the video I was making needed some explanation from Robert and Jeff which I could then construct a simple narrative around, by placing images over their conversation. So, I organised some interviews for both. I made sure I prepared thoroughly for these interviews by researching both gentlemen extensively and building a list of questions that extended well beyond the needs of the gallery video, purely to see if there was more relevant information to include in it. To my surprise, I learned about Jeff’s father, Dr Joseph Brown, who was a very prominent art dealer and art collector in Australia and had represented Robert for a long time before he retired. In 2004, Joseph had donated his massive collection of Australian art to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), worth at that time around AU$35 Million dollars. It was the largest single donation of artwork gifted to an Australian gallery by a private person. The family link between Robert and Jeff now made more sense and the donation fuelled excitement that there was real substance to the background behind this story. On the 14th of July 2016, I arrived at Jeff Brown’s house to conduct the interview. He greeted me in the driveway and proceeded to help carry my equipment into the house. Jeff and his wife Annie are collectors of anything of interest to them and I was gobsmacked at the amazing objects displayed throughout their home. Paintings on every wall, a dining room table full of collected crockery, a wonderful collection of vintage 8-bit computers, mobile phones and cameras. It was like stepping into a private museum. But the best was yet to come. We moved through the house and into the garage, which is unlike any garage I had ever set foot in before. Remarkably, the garage is literally another room in their house. A really, really long one filled to the brim with genuine F1 style racing cars! With my jaw on the ground, I set down my gear to take it all in. Jeff explained that he collects racing and road cars and had a few Australian cars in his collection including an Elfin and a Brabham racing car as well some amazing race cars from overseas including a Chevron BT16. I wanted to feature the cars in the background of his interview but literally, there was no room to stage it with lights, cameras and audio equipment.
At the very far end of the garage, there was a different section where Jeff kept his aviation collection. Looking for space to host the interview we made our way to have a look. There, I found a fully functional Ansett Airlines simulator from the 1950s which Jeff explained moves around when you pull on the yoke. It was used to train pilots on instrument flying and had an accompanying control desk for the instructor, all of which was valve-driven technology. At least there was room to host the interview and see the collection of cars. Clearly, Jeff and Annie’s collecting habits had to be included somehow into this story because the Goggomobil Dart car bridges the gap between art and car collecting. Jeff revealed to me that he had been involved with engineering during his working life and there again was this link between art and engineering.
As with Jeff, Robert’s interview revealed a great deal about Joseph and being involved with his family. It revealed a great deal about his own father who he considered somewhat distant. Sadly just at that time, his father was not in good health and although Robert was drawing furiously for the project, it was clear he would have to leave and visit him interstate at some stage. The interview reinforced to me and the audience as a whole, the human aspect of working on a long-term project.
Based on Robert and Jeff’s initial interviews I set about editing some of the material together and started to consider a longer project for the first time. It was becoming very obvious that there was a lot more to this story that I could include, such as a brief history of the car itself, its Australian designer Bill Buckle and the famous ad that made the car a household name. The brand Goggomobil was also such a funny name for a car manufacturer, it somehow completely suited this project.
I researched both Bill Buckle and the Hans Glas GMBH company which made the Goggomobil line of cars and motor scooters. This is where I learned that Bill was still around at the spritely age of 90 and I immediately confronted Jeff and Robert that we really should see if we can bring him down from Sydney to take part in an interview and see the D’art car project for himself. Luckily Jeff agreed and approached him with the idea. Bill loved that his car was being used for an art car project and agreed to come down to see it and to participate in an interview. It was probably at this point I was convinced that a much longer film was possible. I felt it had enough interest to carry it.
Weekly, I dropped in on Robert working in his studio. By this stage, he had progressed to painting test panels where he could learn to paint using automotive paint. We had filmed a section at the spray painter’s facility, where the car was being resprayed. The colour change turned out to be a huge issue and filming that was awkward for our collective friendships. Again, the valuable lesson to learn here is always to roll the camera, no matter what. Capture everything and decide what to cull later. I am lucky that I have a thick enough skin to persist with filming the moment, even if it is awkward and potentially invasive on private matters, which is evident in the final cut of the film.
Over the next few weeks, I tried to contact Tommy Dysart and Joan Brockenshire to involve them as well. As far as I was concerned, they were pivotal in explaining why this car was made famous to Australians and indirectly making the car an appropriate canvas for this project. Bill Buckle had manufactured over 700 of them in Sydney, between 1959 and 1961. The car could have slipped into obscurity from that point if it were not for a clever ad created for the Yellow Pages in the 1990s. It turned out that the ad ran for about 7 years and is listed by many advertising industry sources, as one of the most recalled, locally produced TV ads of all time. The famous spelling out of the G-O-G-G-O name became a catch cry and embedded itself into popular culture. It reintroduced many, including myself, Robert and others to the brand and to a model called the “Dart” which wasn’t even seen in the original ad.
I persisted with approaches to Tommy and Joan and finally learned that Bill and his wife Alvia were good friends and could make an approach on our behalf. Tommy and Joan agreed to be part of the project and visited the D’art car as Robert continued to paint it. Their interview was one of the most entertaining and very personal interviews I have ever recorded. As famous actors, they have had plenty of incredible experiences both on-screen and off. The interview revealed a great deal about their personality, their vulnerabilities and insecurities. Their honest recount of the making of the ad is both hilarious and incredibly insightful.
By this stage, I was working on a rolling edit that was about 6 hours long! There was still a massive job to locate any stock footage I could find of the Goggomobil Dart and that of Hans Glas, original Goggomobil sedan cars, as well as their agricultural equipment and motor scooters. Tracking down the original TV ad for Yellow Pages and gaining permission from everyone involved to use it was also very difficult. The ad had been embroiled in a court case which probably hurt everyone involved. Luckily, through my ad agency contacts, I was able to track down the original master, which was hidden away in a storage vault in Melbourne. Through a contact found by Jeff Brown, we were able to secure footage of Goggomobil manufacturing in Germany, through BMW, which bought the brand. We also approached the National Film and Sound Archive (NSFA) and searched their records of Goggomobil footage but found very little and what they did have was prohibitively expensive to use. I still find it incredible that our national archives would charge such a large amount of money per second of footage for an independent project when they really could provide so much material to filmmakers to utilise in nationally important stories … but that’s another matter entirely. My son Angelo put out a search via social media, while Jeff tried to locate images through his motor vehicle community and we were able to obtain some fantastic images to help populate the film.
There were so many other elements needed by this time including the need to film interviews with art experts such as the former National Australia Gallery director Gerard Vaughan, writer David Thomas and Robert’s art dealer, the late Lauraine Diggins. These interviews opened up great conversations about art on anything other than canvas, street art, nose art, other forms of public art and the value of art on a car as the canvas. I really wanted to explore why Robert’s creation was different to the Holden Sandman murals, hot roads with flames, the hippie vans of the 1960s, or even the BMW art car series which featured such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Ken Done. The question why we don’t personalise our cars with art these days became a focus.
We were finalising the project by early 2017, the same year the car manufacturing industry in Australia was also coming to an end. I began to see the D’art project as a mini memorial to the car industry since Bill Buckle was there designing cars at its beginning and here we were producing this project at the industries end. To support historical aspects of the car and its industry, Jeff Brown put me in touch with his community and I was able to interview Bill Hemming, who runs the Elfin Heritage Centre, and Paul Faulkner, another avid race car collector.
As Robert struggled to finish in time for the car’s unveiling, I struggled with the enormous amount of footage and the unenviable task of cutting it down. Finishing the film became my focus after the car was finally unveiled. I conducted a few wrap-up interviews and filmed the finished car driving in a field of canola, very near the Ford proving ground in Victoria, because it suited the colour scheme I was after.
Now the daunting task of finding the money to finish the film with music, a sound mix and a colour grade began. I wanted the film finished with a DCP master so that it could play in cinemas. Months past, before finally a few generous individuals could be found to help finish the film. I am forever grateful that these individuals stepped forward to help provide the funds needed to polish and deliver the final documentary.
If it were not for my family, Bronte and Angelo, my sister Katrina and her husband Simon, my very good friend James Carter, Bill & Alvia Buckle, Lauraine Diggins and the Brown family, I don’t think I could have finished it. In total, I spent over 3 years making the film and it spent another year sitting around due to bushfires, pandemics and ‘a difficult film industry’. So, I am now very grateful and extremely excited that it has been officially accepted into The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in 2020.
Could this film have been funded and handled differently? Sure, but that’s in hindsight. Recognising that a documentary is even viable is half the battle. As I mentioned right at the start, as a filmmaker, making documentaries about a contemporary event, it is impossible to tell whether a project is suitable for funding and development until more is known about it. By that time, many things are already set in place. Unveiling a story such as D’art is certainly complex and ties together a complicated web of stories, but that is life. It’s never simple and never that obvious until it is.
Melbourne Documentary Film Festival runs 30 June – 15 July. More details here.
Cinema Australia would like to thankKarl von Moller for taking the time to write this very insightful article. We hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we did.