Interview: Tim Barretto

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Tim Barretto on the set of Bassendream.

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Related coverage: Read our Bassendream review here.

Remember the name Tim Barretto. The filmmaker and photographer has been making movies in Australia, Indonesia and India for over a decade, but his debut dramatic feature film, Bassendream, is his most impressive work yet.

Set over the course of one day in the Perth suburb of Bassendean, Bassendream kicks off in the early hours of a Sunday morning on the final day of the summer school holidays. What follows is a tale centred around the innocence of childhood independence interwoven with family drama, mateship and the importance of community and belonging. 

You can read our full Bassendream review here.

Cinema Australia recently caught up with Baretto to discuss the film.

“We wanted to cast local as much as we could. We basically got them to ride a push bike and to kick a football. I told the kids that I can teach them their lines, but I can’t teach that kind of coordination.”

 

Interview by Matthew Eeles

I’m going into this interview not knowing much about the making of Bassendream. But from what I hear, it has been quite the journey to get the film to the big screen.
Absolutely. Ian Hale at Halo Films gave me a kick up the bum last year. So that’s how he got me to finish the film. I was being very stubborn. I wanted the rights to the music before I released it to the public. I didn’t want to release it without this music because I feel like it really helps lift the film. The first shoot was back in 2017. I wrote a few different treatments for a few scenes and characters, and we shot those and it ended up being about one quarter of the movie. I used what we shot then got that 16mm film developed. We watched the rushes three months after I got it developed in Sydney before we drove it to Melbourne because that’s were the new scanner was. We got it scanned and then we watched it. After watching what we had originally shot I didn’t really have a plan for what we were going to do next. I wondered if we even had a movie. I chopped a lot of stuff out and kind of kept the characters that I thought could come again and do another filming session. Some of the kid characters who had direct continuity were picked up one year later. I decided that I had to flesh this story out basically. I love Magnolia. I love the duration of that film, but obviously I wasn’t gonna punish people with a three hour film.

How do you maintain relationships with cast and crew during that time? Do you keep everyone informed about the progress of the film?
So, so much of the film ended up on the cutting room floor. So many characters and scenes ended up there because their stories weren’t finished because actors couldn’t return. We pasted it all together well enough. It’s been a very unconventional way to make a film.

Was there a particular character who ended up on the cutting room floor who you would have liked in the final cut?
There are a few. I’ve gotta revisit the names that I gave them. Lots of the characters in the film don’t have names. Most names are never mentioned in the film. But yes, there are a few bigger scenes and characters and crossover characters that didn’t quite make it, but it wasn’t deliberate. It was more a pacing thing. I was just trying to edit the film with rhythm and flow rather than achieving drama for drama’s sake. I love conventional films, and I love conventional filmmaking. I love all types of cinema. But in my case I wanted my filmmaking to sit somewhere in between conventional and unconventional cinema. I tried to make this film as enjoyable as I can using an unconventional method of filmmaking. 

Tell us about your journey as a filmmaker. Did you study film?
I’ve always made movies since I was very young. I went to ECU under Keith Smith, George Karpathakis, Andrew Ewing and Tanya Visosevic. They were great. I got to be pretty loose. It was a fun course for me. Then I went to Sydney College of the Arts. As soon as I finished that I just made movies with my now wife, Melanie Filler. We made documentaries in other countries because we love traveling and telling unique stories. We kind of went down the documentary path, but I always had a passion for drama. I never felt like I fitted the mould for receiving funding for short films. So I felt like I needed to just skip that in a sense and make features and documentaries. There was nothing that I really wanted to tell in short form. 

Were your studies rewarding for you?
I think they were. They were fine. I didn’t dislike it. I liked it because there was a lot of freedom there. You certainly learn how to deal with relationships. I feel like the best study for me was working on fast paced Australian drama like Doctor Doctor and Rake were I worked standby props. I was head of department on set, standby props, dressing sets and stuff like that. I think dressing sets teaches you a lot about filmmaking. I feel like the biggest thing I could teach young filmmakers is that a set doesn’t have to be real for real sake. Just make it fake and make it work for each shot and move it around. Repeat things. Use the same crowd. No one’s gonna notice. I’m not about that authenticity. You just need to do what you need to do to achieve the best possible shot.

You mentioned your wife, Melanie, who you make movies with, including Bassendream.
Yes, Melanie and I co-produced Bassendream. She ran the show. She’s incredible. She’s probably burnt out now considering how long it took to make Bassendream. [Laughs]. We work really well together. We have such different approaches, but we kind of meet somewhere in the middle and it’s beautiful. She studied film theory. She’s first-class. I fluke filmmaking, whereas she’s so fluent in it. [Laughs]. She’s a genius. 

Tim Barretto (centre) on the set of Bassendream.

I assume you grew up in Bassendean.
I did. My mum grew up there and my grandfather grew up there. So there’s a lot of family history there. My grandfather was born, I think, on the Gilford side but he grew up in Bassendean. He was from a Croatian immigrant family. He went to St Michael’s where my mum went and where I also went. Some of my family still live there. I just felt like that was an accessible piece of the puzzle of movie making that I had access to, in terms of making something that’s affordable and producible. I always try to think about what is around me. What tools do I have? What locations do I have? I felt like I had the whole town of Bassendean. I know enough people there that I could get the keys to this place or that place, and I can use that house and I can knock on the door and I can say, “Hey, do you mind if I just shoot in your front yard?” [Laughs]. It was easy to do and probably why I chose this suburb to shoot my first feature. Somewhere I could be ambitious. Something bigger than like a two-hander that uses multiple locations. I found it liberating as a filmmaker to spread my story out over an entire suburb with a huge cast.

Without getting too personal, are most of the stories in the film based on your own life growing up in Bassendean?
Absolutely. I also put out a call on Facebook, probably seven or eight years ago, asking people from Bassendean to share their stories about growing up in the suburb which really reminded me of what it was like to grow up there. In the film there’s a Spice Girls imitation band and they put on a concert for the town. That was something that my sister and her friends did in real life. And another friend had a similar group called Pop Tarts and that’s what we called the group in the film. My brother did get chased down by the crazy lady in her bra and nickers. [Laughs]. So that’s a real story. My dad did Tai chi around the backyard. I really wanted to keep the kids and the parents in separate worlds. 

You’ve certainly accomplish that.
Yeah, that was the idea of the movie. I wanted the kids world to have a heightened sense of reality and then the parents’ world based in reality. That was my approach while I was making it. I didn’t just want to throw it all out and see what happens. There were certainly some transitions that I wanted the character to have. I relate to so many of these characters personally. I think everyone will find a character they can relate to, if not all of them. My cousin has Down’s syndrome and he set off a football siren at the local football oval one morning, so that’s how I decided to start the film. This character sneaks out in the morning and sets off the football siren and that’s how I decided to start the film.

The 90s was a great decade for Australian cinemas with a mass of hits including The Castle, Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and more. Did you watch many Australian films in the 90s, because you’ve certainly captured the feel of some of them here.
Absolutely. Not that I watched Bad Boy Bubby back then, but I watched a lot of Rold de Heer movies. I found him to be really inspirational as an Australian filmmaker as I was going back and watching his archive of work. Priscilla’s incredible, and obviously The Castle. That was a huge hit when I was a kid. Two Hands was another one. I loved that when I first saw it. It was so exciting. And I hadn’t been to Kings Cross, but it just felt so Australian in that movie. It felt honest. I think Australian films thrive when they’re honest with themselves and they’re not trying to be something else. And I think where we really struggle with Australian film culture is when we try and make a movie for an American audience, or an international audience, where we’re just not being honest with ourselves. 

Was Bassendream always going to be shot using 16mm?
Yeah. Because that’s what would have been done in the 90s with an independent film. Independent filmmakers couldn’t afford 35 millimetre film because it’s just too expensive. Clerks was shot on 16mm, black and white and even cheaper. So I was like, yeah, if I can do it that way, I would do it that way. It also made it much easier from a producing point of view. I think it saved us money, which sounds counterintuitive. But I think it was a cheaper way of making the movie in that we got to bring people on board and get the camera for free. Because you’re shooting it on film you don’t have to produce as much content which is cheaper. You don’t have to light it as much because we mostly use natural lighting. That looks really great because digital can really blow out lighting and you really need a balanced digital film sense. So there’s a lot of things where you can just get around natural lighting which I felt was interesting. And in terms of the kids’ performances I’m like, “It’s a dollar a second, mate. You can’t fuck this up.” [Laughs] And they really responded to that pressure. That might sound like I’m a really mean director, but they responded to that pressure. And there’s also no playback. So no kids could look at their performance. We couldn’t watch rushes either. We just had to keep going rather than stopping to watch the rushes. Some people might find that stressful, but I found it liberating.

On the set of Bassendream.

Bassendream has a killer soundtrack including two West Australian bands, Jebadiah and The Triffids. It must have been expensive.
The soundtrack was the one thing that really stalled post-production. I wanted to be patient with licensing the music. I wanted to contact the artists every now and then. I have a friend who does music licensing and he gave us different angles to use in our approach. Ian Hale helped us contact someone for Paul Kelly’s Dumb Things. I found the music licensing to be like the film festival circuit in that once you get into one, you get into others. We have the licenses for a few years, and then we will reassess. So yeah, it’s not a never ending license. It’ll be something that we’ll reassess and re-evaluate later, but at least we’ve got something for the next few years and that’s really great.

The sound design in the film is genius. Not only has the music soundtrack captured the era, but the sound has too. There are sounds from lawnmowers and fans and birds and cars in the background that all seem heightened to capture the time.
That was a huge thing for us. I’m super proud of it. Diego Espinoza helped with the sound design so much and really lifted it. The film needed atmosphere and I think the version you watched is a different mix to what we’re going to play in cinema. The cricket commentary was also really important. Radios are always on and people are always doing their washing and the sound of the night and the sound of the birds are all real. All of those sounds are recorded in and around Bassendean, so they’re all real sounds from the suburb.

You’ve chosen actors who aren’t instantly recognisable. I watch a lot of films made in and around Perth, so I recognise a few of them from other films, but not everyone. Can you tell us about casting the film?
The kids are mostly Bassendean locals. We wanted to cast local as much as we could. One of the kids came from Albany, but generally most of the kids were Bassendean kids. We auditioned at the Bassendean council hall. We basically got them to ride a push bike and to kick a football. I told the kids that I can teach them their lines, but I can’t teach that kind of coordination. We also cast a young actor names Cezera Critti-Schnaars and she wrote heaps of her own dialogue, which was really nice. Her character needed to talk like she had grown up in Bassendean her whole life, which Cezera had. I didn’t wanna make a challenging film about race or class or anything like that and that’s why I asked her to help me write her lines. And she came up with the amazing dialogue and she was great.

So did she actually write her dialogue into the script, or did she improvise her lines?
She actually wrote her lines into the script, which is why she’s credited as a script contributor. She’s super talented. 

The film is full of interesting characters, but one of the most powerful characters in the film is one you never see. Can you tell us about coming up with that particular character?
I love movies with off screen characters. Characters who you never see. Even characters like Mr. Wilson in Home Improvement who you see, but he’s also a bit of a mystery. There are actually two in this film. The father, who you’re referring too, and the other one in Kathy who is a mother who you never see. But having the father who you never see makes his daughter’s sense of loneliness heightened. I think it makes her step up and become the adult. I didn’t want to make him seem real, but I wanted to make him effective enough to make her lift as a human being.

I think a lot of local viewers are going to get a real kick out of seeing the WA Salvage advert in the film. Where did you dig that up?
We love it. We couldn’t find the production company, but we found Claudio Versaico, the actor, who gave us permission to use it. That’s the best we could do. I really wanted more ads. I really wanted an Anset Australia advert. There’s a really good one with David Wenham that I had in mind. I also wanted the Channel 9 Vitamins ad. [Laughs]. There were certain points in the film where I wasn’t sure how to transition from one scene to the next, so my plan was to throw a bunch of vintage, uniquely Western Australian ads in there.

What are your plans for Bassendream following the film’s world premiere at Revelation Perth International Film Festival?
I want a really strong festival run. That’s the aim. I think the festival circuit is the best place for Bassendream right now. Ian Hale will do some screenings over east through Halo Films. I’m hoping for international screenings as well. It’d be nice. I’ve screen it to some friends from Mexico and Indonesia, people who speak in different languages that don’t understand English, and they get the film. It means it can appeal to a wider audience than we first thought, which is refreshing.

Bassendream will have its world premiere at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Details here

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