Making Homespun: A deep dive with writer, producer and actor Bec Bignell [Exclusive!]

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Bec Bignell. Photo by Ange Coote.

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Homespun – a brand-new web series about a dynamic duo who give the bush image a facelift in a shed show that raises the town’s exposure and a few eyebrows – will have its world premiere at CinefestOZ Albany next week.

Here, writer, producer and actor, Bec Bignell, takes us on an incredible deep dive into her career, her process and the making of Homespun.

Produced by Cockatoo Colab, the 7 x 12-minute scripted web series looks at the shared experiences of city and country; asking whether loneliness can be just as brutal when you’re living close together as when you’re living far apart.

It explores how team values and operations exist in a modern context outside ‘professional’ corporate office spaces within a shed or paddock. It considers what it means to stand up for what you believe in and looks at what it means to truly embrace your voice.

Over 100 regional Australians from all over the country have been involved in this collaboration which was filmed in the Great Southern Region in WA.

Following the CinefestOZ Albany screening, physical screenings will occur in regional communities and at some exciting metro festivals across the next two years.

Grace Rouvray and Stephanie Baine in 600 Bottles of Wine which is currently available on Netflix.

The beginning of Bec’s filmmaking journey

I’ve always been interested in story telling. Growing up on a farm allowed me to develop a very active imagination as my parents encouraged creative play, and we were always outside in nature which is inherently creative.

I’d create poems when I was doing farm work like burning stubble, tree planting or rock picking – pretty mundane jobs if you don’t come up with something to make the time pass more quickly!

I was also inspired by the fascinating people in the community, many of whom are natural story tellers, and sharing stories is part of the country experience – whether that’s done in the isle of the local supermarket, on the back of a ute at a footy game, across the bar at the local pub or at one of the many community events!

I studied a double degree in Media & Entertainment and Communication & Cultural Studies at Curtin University in Perth which I loved as I got to explore many different facets of story telling such as performance, creative writing, journalism, film and TV.

I think the combination of different skills I was able to hone and the areas I was able to explore coupled with the fact that being from the regions has meant I’ve always had to find a different way of getting my foot in the door, has meant that I’m the kind of filmmaker that is involved in and enjoys many different parts of the industry.

Some people claim you’re not as credible or legitimate a filmmaker if you don’t remain confined to one role – director, writer, producer or actor – as your experience is diluted so you’re not eligible for ‘expert’ status. However, coming from the country means I’m used to wearing multiple hats and trying different ways to get things done as we don’t have the same level of access to many things, so we just have to constantly solve problems, and adapt.

This means assuming multiple roles as a filmmaker is natural from me and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. One of the greatest joys of creativity is that there are limitless ways to tell a story and multiple perspectives we can learn from that can influence the ways stories are told and shared.

One of the greatest joys of creativity is that there are limitless ways to tell a story and multiple perspectives we can learn from that can influence the ways stories are told and shared.

I’m also not driven by the idea of reaching a goal or outcome that is achievement focused; for me every project is very much about the adventure undertaken to make it and is driven by the intention regarding why I’m making it so I don’t refer to things like awards or industry validation to qualify what I’m doing, benchmark where I’m at or justify whether what I’m doing is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

My fulfilment comes from the holistic experience of creating something and for me, the story itself is the sum total of all the energy of everything and everyone that contributed to the creation of the story world from the ground up. I love that I get to experience diverse areas of the robust film crew organism and I love that every project I work on is vastly different – for example 600 Bottles of Wine is a series about inner city Sydney women and Homespun is about outer city country women – however, the thread that connects all the projects I create or work on, is that I’m always driven by authenticity and I’m not restricted to thinking that there is only one way to bring a story to life.

Instead, I draw on all the different parts of my personal background and career which has spanned acting, writing, journalism, digital content creation, partnerships, producing, marketing, events and brand, and I allow the different skills I’ve learned to shape a different way of creating and distributing that is unorthodox but very hands on and dynamic.

I’ve worked in a range of different roles in the industry from within a broadcaster (at the ABC in Sydney) and also as an independent producer and most recently I was fortunate to work on Blueback for ArenaMedia in Bremer Bay in the role of Associate Producer and Regional Production Manager which was an amazing experience!

Every job brings a new set of challenges, ideas, people, scenarios and insights that expand my thinking and as long as I’m always learning and propelling myself out of my comfort zone I know I’ll remain curious, inspired and creatively motivated!

Bec Bignell and Homespun co-star Celeste Clabburn.

The origins of Homespun

I first devised the concept at University in a scriptwriting module where I paralleled a corporate city world and the world of a shearing shed.

When I started working in the media/film and TV industry professionally I observed that there was a lack of regional participants working in the industry, and also saw that there was a lot of factual content about regional Australia but regional scripted fictions were largely underrepresented or if they did exist they regularly portrayed regional Australia in a really stereotyped manner as they were primarily created by city people.

This incentivised me to return to the seed of my university project and start developing Homespun. I decided to create it as a web series because initially there wasn’t a strong enough appetite to get it up in a traditional format. I knew that creating it in a web series format would give me the opportunity to get it made and show the potential of the project, much like a prototype.

It meant I could showcase a different way of looking at the regions, as led by regional people, in an entrepreneurial and financially viable, unique way and hopefully Homespun will activate imaginations and show Australia what regional people are capable of.

I also developed a platform Rural Room to start canvasing ideas, develop an aesthetic and draw together regional creatives who might want to be involved. As a by-product Rural Room has become a highly successful platform in it’s own right, and we now represent a nationwide network of regional creatives THE RURAL ROOM MEDIA STRINGERS, many of whom were involved in bringing Homespun to life. 

I designed Homespun so that it would encourage regional creatives to have the confidence to tell their own stories and step out of the shadows to be seen. I’ve always lacked confidence coming from the bush as you have a bit of a late start so you can feel a bit green from an experience point of view.

I’m hopeful that Homespun will be aspirational to regional people wanting to get into filmmaking and creativity – no matter what age. Creativity allows us to connect to our emotions and express ourselves which is something that I think we should really encourage within regional Australia as there can be a tendency to suppress emotion and present in a stoic way.

I’m hopeful that Homespun will be aspirational to regional people wanting to get into filmmaking and creativity – no matter what age.”

I also think that the perpetuation of regional stereotypes has meant many country people relate to the romantic portrayal that has dominated in mainstream media, but in my experience there is so much more colour, nuance and texture to the regional experience and regional people. Homespun is very much about giving people permission to see themselves in a different, modern, and more authentic manner. 

The series itself is not your conventional story or format, it’s very much influenced by its digital origins and has some very vibrant interstitials that break up the traditional linear narrative trajectory. I wanted to create a regional story that was heroed by women but I didn’t want them to be fixated on pursuing a romantic relationship – I wanted them to be chasing ambition.

It would have been easier to write a bush romance, cobble together some dramatic moments and throw in some conflict but I wanted to experiment and try something unconventional and the web series formats allows you to mess around with structure and explore new ways of telling stories.

Homespun is a very dynamic world – it’s jam-packed full of colour, joy, energy, it pushes boundaries, it’s an extremely visceral experience and there is much heart that stitches it together. We even worked with WAM (Western Australia Music) to punctuate and eventuate moments with an abundance of music from WA regional musicians who WAM celebrate and promote through their regional recording program.

More than anything I wanted to create something that was genuinely collaborative – something that included regional people and spoke to regional people. I also wanted to extend the story beyond the one of the ‘drought stricken farmer’; that story is an important one but it often dominates at the expense of the tales of regional resilience, innovation, creativity, enterprise, community and culture.  

On the set of Homespun.

Incorporating biographical elements into Homespun

There are biographical elements in the story, certainly the experience of corporate city life contrasting with country life is largely influenced by my experience.

I find the differences between the country and city worlds fascinating as I’ve experienced both worlds and I wanted to put them side by side to show where the worlds intersect and where they are separate. I worked as a rousie in our shed over our annual shearing period growing up and I loved the energy of the shed – it’s gruelling, sweaty, physical work but it’s such a vibe…the buzz of the shears, music pumping through an old stereo that’s rigged up on a stand playing a constant stream of classics, the camaraderie, the work ethic.

Even though the language was bad and we were covered in sheep shit the environment was a lot less dirty than some of the office cultures I’ve worked in that are very clean and clinical on the exterior but filthy underneath, so this juxtaposition was something I wanted to delve into.

I also wanted to bring the female experience of farming and corporate work to the fore and in Homespun all the major characters in both worlds are women who are excelling in spaces that are generally represented in the mainstream by men.

Even though the language was bad and we were covered in sheep shit the environment was a lot less dirty than some of the office cultures I’ve worked in that are very clean and clinical on the exterior but filthy underneath, so this juxtaposition was something I wanted to delve into.

The role of gender within the regions is something I’m familiar with due to personal experience; it’s something I’m passionate about and I’ve had the opportunity to dive into the topic as an Associate Producer on the web series Visible Farmer which highlights Australian women on the land doing incredible things.

The delicate situations of succession is something I also personally understand and the plight of George (the character I play) is ultimately based on personal experience – constant rejection and excruciating self doubt – both things I know well!

While the approach George takes, and her actual character traits are largely different to me, I created her to mirror the actual mission I champion which is to visibly see a modernregional Australia, connect with regional Australians and allow regional people to tell their own stories in a way that is not necessarily pretty or romantic.

I wanted to put many different regional people side by side (not just farmers) and push the envelope in terms of how regional people are portrayed to show that regional Australia is progressive to city people, and to also challenge regional Australians to see ourselves differently, reminding people that we don’t need to conform to the regional stereotype that have been created for us. 

Behind the scenes of Homespun.

Working with Homespun’s non-actors

The experience of using non-actors was completely fulfilling and invigorating. Growing up in the sticks I saw many people who had so much talent and I observed that some people had more opportunities presented to them due to privilege and this privilege elevated some and held others back.

This was certainly the case with creativity.

Unlike with sport where many of the kids who were good at footy would get talent scouted, taken to the city and given amazing opportunities, the kids who had a lot of promise in the arts and creativity didn’t have the same opportunities presented to them and a lot of them ended up throwing in the towel or getting the creativity stamped out of them if they didn’t want to relocate to city centres to pursue their creative ambitions.

The tyranny of distance still means a lot of the creative talent is overlooked given casting agents are predominately city based and people don’t frequently venture out to the regions to discover the creative gems that are hidden. The Internet and virtual operations have certainly increased discoverability but for people in very remote places the accessibility is significantly hindered so Homespun is intended to showcase the level of creative talent that does exist outside the city and that’s why the use of non-actors was crucial. 

The non-actors were brilliant to work with, they listened intently, learned all their lines perfectly and were so open and engaged deeply with the experience. I met Homespun director, Socratis Otto, at Sydney Actors Collective (an acting school founded by fellow West Australian Chum Ehelepola) and his approach to teaching was something I really admired.

He’s got an incredible ability to work with people of all backgrounds and levels of experience, and he is extremely generous with his mentoring and nurturing. His humility, his ability to empower people and the way he makes himself so accessible and doesn’t let his ego put him on a different level to others is inspiring and his heart, soul and innate creative spirit oozes out of him in a way that is contagious to all around him.

Growing up in the sticks I saw many people who had so much talent and I observed that some people had more opportunities presented to them due to privilege and this privilege elevated some and held others back.

He has been an intrinsic part of the project and his guidance was critical in releasing the performances of the non-actors as he established genuine trust and respect with them from the get go. Homespun is a very low budget project that was shot in two weeks – we didn’t have any significant rehearsal time as we couldn’t afford it and so the work Socratis and the non-actors did together was truly astounding given not only did they not have traditional performance training but they also had never been in-front of a camera or on a set before.

All the non-actors were salt of the earth, grounded people and this translated beautifully on screen as they’re comfortable in themselves and didn’t put up walls – they just embraced the opportunity to perform and their performances are very natural as there is a truth to them that is completely transparent.

They were so willing to be vulnerable and take on the challenge – it was remarkable to witness.

We also had some of Australia’s most highly esteemed actors such as Heather Mitchell, Claire van der Boom, Bridie Connell and Emily Rose Brennan who provided support and guidance to the non-actors through out the shoot. It was a really special experience having the combination of non-actors and established high profile actors as it created a real sense of community among the cast; everyone enjoyed meals together and a lot of fun banter – it really took the hot air out of the actor hierarchy that often exists and everyone involved, no matter what level they were at, took the opportunity to learn from and support each other and relish in the experience.

We also had non-actors who are performers in other areas such as Celeste Clabburn of The Sunny Cowgirls, Sam Smith of The Beefs, Macassarese Ambonese Australian artist and dancer Yola Bakker from the Pilbara, multi-faceted performer and NAIDOC artist of the year Elverina Johnson from Yarrabah – their participation was really exciting because it provided another opportunity to show the way that creativity is transferable and can exist across different mediums.

The idea of including people who are ‘non-actors’ and who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in the film and TV industry was a really important part of this project as it serves to remind people that storytelling should not be exclusively reserved only for the people who have had the privilege of access.

Behind the scenes of Homespun.

Filming Homespun in rural communities

The rural communities of the Kojonup, Broomehill, Tambellup and the surrounding areas in the Great Southern went above and beyond to support the production.

Given I grew up in Kojonup I’m closely connected to the community and I’ve always felt very supported by people in the region. Additional to being involved as characters in the series, people in the town were extremely generous with accomodation, locations, catering and assisted when we were resourcing things for the film such as props and costumes.

Brendon Boyle, the head shearer who manages the team of shearers featured in the series, was supportive in a multitude of ways including by providing a vintage caravan that we set up for costumes and props. Rosie Henderson, a regional creative dynamo from Esperance was the art director and her resourcefulness was unrivalled – she scoured local op shops and worked with local people to create the magical aesthetic of the Homespun world in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

Another local team member, Sophia Armstrong from Ballingup was a key reason the community integration was so successful – she is very down to earth and was the perfect person to support the experience of the local people given her regional background and understanding of country communities.

Rosie Henderson, a regional creative dynamo from Esperance was the Art Director and her resourcefulness was unrivalled – she scoured local op shops and worked with local people to create the magical aesthetic of the Homespun world in an environmentally sustainable manner.” 

We worked really hard to ensure the set was inclusive and welcoming for all regional people and we also made sure that the experience wasn’t one way – we wanted it to be reciprocal whereby the city people within the crew learned just as much about country life and the local community as the country people who received an education about the world of film and TV. 

It was very intimidating and overwhelming to undertake the project in my hometown as I was so conscious of doing a good job and remaining true to the spirit of the community – I felt a lot of pressure. However, I was so fortunate to have people such as old friends from school in my court to lend a helping hand and advocate on behalf of the project.

The community was so supportive that The Great Southern Development Commission, the Shire of Kojonup and the Shire of Broomehill-Tambellup even went to lengths to back the project when we required additional funding for post production because they saw value in what it represented to regional creatives and were prepared to endorse the innovation of the project. 

Behind the scenes of Homespun.

The response so far

The response to the trailer has been huge! We had over 10k views in three days and it continues to generate significant interest organically.

We’ve had a lot of people say that they really like that it’s fresh, fun and different – which is really encouraging as it means the audience are open to a new way of seeing regional Australia. I’ve also had people say that they’re really glad to see a story that is cheeky and irrelevantly takes the piss out of the city for once, instead of the reverse.

I suppose in some respects it’s a right of reply for regional people who have frequently been the butt of jokes; depicted as bogans, yobbos, hill billies, in towns where all the conversations happen at a pub and the diversity of all the moving parts of regional communities remain on the fringe.

There are still references to tropes, cliches and symbols that we love to align to the country however there are also new ideas, faces and voices that inject a spirited energy into the regional portrayal. The trailer picks up on all this and the fact that it has resonated is really exciting, not only because it might hopefully help bring city and country together but also because it also demonstrates the potential for audiences to understand what the Homespun project is all about.

One of the things I’m very interested to explore is the way we share stories with audiences – I think we can sometimes be inclined to over-service the story information we spoon feed to them and the way we do that is pretty formulaic from a narrative point of view.

I think audiences are a lot more literate than we give them credit for, for example in the digital space audiences openly embrace different ways of viewing stories that are quite abstract such as short form, micro, interstitial, user generated, and multi-media stories which are hugely popular on different platforms online.

In Homespun I’ve designed the structure to keep audiences alert and encourage them to actively participate in the experience – it’s not the traditional journey they might be used to embarking on. Instead of projecting a linear narrative at them, I’m hoping the relationship with the audience is more than a mere transaction; I hope there are nuggets within the series that make them go away and think.

There are very small details that have been carefully embedded into the Homespun world that the acute viewer will uncover if they’re up for the challenge and willing to dig deep. 

Behind the scenes of Homespun

Releasing Homespun as both a web series and a feature film

THE POSITIVES

Releasing the series as both a web series and a reversioned long form feature, whereby the web series episodes have been stitched together for screenings, enables us to coordinate the regional screenings in physical spaces, which is of particular value in regional towns that don’t have the luxury of cinemas.

Our program of regional screenings gives us an opportunity to activate regional spaces such as town halls or shearing sheds and share the model of Homespun with regional communities in the hope that they will be encouraged to create and share their own fictional, scripted stories. 

I think the group screening experience is really special and it’s something that inspired my own desire to be in the film and TV space. I’ll never forget the first time I watched a move (Beethoven!) in a cinema in Perth, surrounded by people eating popcorn and munching on choc bombs.

For a little girl from the sticks the cinema experience was exhilarating, and my nostalgia for that group movie experience is still very palpable and drives my determination to make that physical, in-person cinema experience more accessible in regional communities.

At the same time, I’m also very supportive of the web series format as it democratises audience experience because it gives people in far away places access to content they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see or engage with, and gives people who would usually be excluded from participation in large scale story telling a chance to have their voices heard so releasing the series in both ways enables me to straddle both experiences.

THE CHALLENGES 

There is no denying that audiences are conditioned to adopt specific viewing behaviours in different environments which means they arrive to the experience with certain expectations that can be hard to overcome.

Adapting a web series to a longer form experience can be clunky because web series are designed to move quickly and hook audiences at critical points to hold their interest firmly given their are so many distractions in the web world that can make the audience lean out of the series.

Given the structure of Homespun has been deliberately influenced by its digital origins it may be slightly unsettling to the audience member who is wanting to be satisfied by the kind of traditional narrative that is common to the cinema experience.

It may mean people are overwhelmed by the pace and the bulky nature of the highly dense, detailed story world because they can’t go back and refer to details in the same way that you can rewind or fast forward when watching something on a SVOD or FVOD platform.

Like anything new there is risk associated with how it lands – there is a chance that people will decide that the uniqueness is too different for it to be enjoyable and they may not be willing to draw on different audience behaviours to immerse in it so it may go slightly misunderstood.

However, I’m willing to take that risk as creativity is very much about taking the leap of faith and pushing out into the unknown and I’m resigned to making myself extremely vulnerable so we can edge out into new spaces and see what happens!

Behind the scenes of Homespun.

The world premiere at CinefestOZ Albany

Vulnerability is a good segue here as that’s exactly how I feel about screening to an audience in Albany!

I’m terrified, excited and extremely self conscious! However, Albany is a perfect fit given it is a Great Southern story and CinefestOZ Albany have been extremely supportive of it so I’m thrilled that it will get to have its first screening in such a fitting community. 

Homespun will screen at CinefestOZ Albany on Friday, 30 April. Details here.

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