Australian filmmaker Tom Conyers.
At 2012’s Revelation Perth Film Festival, I got the spectacular chance to chat with Victorian Filmmakers Mark White and Tom Conyers. These two, promoting their new flick The Caretaker, were as approachable and professional as possible. So, a couple of years later, I took it upon myself to get in touch with them to chat about their past, present, and future successes. Conyers, the director, was lauded for using Victoria’s searing landscapes to his advantage. Building an influential bottle film, Conyer’s style brought a tight-knit cast and crew together for this explosive genre event. Recently, I caught up with Conyers to talk about the movie, his career, and the places he’s going next.
How did you begin your career in film-making?
I wouldn’t call where I’m at as having a career in filmmaking, more a residual existence, but I’ve always been interested in the craft, from way back as a kid making super 8 movies.
Where did the idea of the caretaker come from?
I was trying to think of a cheap script. ‘The Caretaker’ is basically four people in a room with a vampire. We were able to make it a lot more cinematic than that with great locations, by shifting much of the action to the outdoors, and putting in a few scenes with extras, though. I also wanted to try to bring up issues that aren’t usually the preserve of genre films. To me ‘The Caretaker’ is about domesticity. Whether the house is always a home. Is marriage something that must be sanctified in a church or whether it can exist as an idea between couples. I wanted to look at less salutatory aspects of Australian culture, particularly to do with masculinity. And to invert the idea of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold into domesticity, as anyone will understand who’s seen how the film ends. Even the vampire is domesticated, being let out like a cat at night. One of my favourite plays is ‘The Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen and I think that fed into the film somehow.
Were your inspirations/ideas by the current popularity of vampires in any way?
I wouldn’t say I’ve religiously followed vampires. My favourite vampire novel would be ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu. Very subtle, which it had to be for the time. In terms of vampire films, ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Martin’ are my two favourites. And they’re quite old now. So I wasn’t terribly aware of the current trends.
How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?
It mostly came together pretty well despite great obstacles. I feel I got about 70% of the film I wanted, and the rest I can live with!
What was it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s production?
There was good and bad. The depressing thing is that not only does a vast proportion of the public and critics write off Australian films, but so too do many actors and crew working on them. It means that making an independent film is just one long torturous uphill battle. There were a handful of people we worked with both in front of the camera and behind it who were great, and there have been some really supportive champions of the film since. But Australian films are never going to really thrive till there is better support at home. Which is a shame, because there seem to be independent films getting made all the time in this country but most people wouldn’t know it. I don’t know why the ABC doesn’t set up a channel like the Indigenous one they’ve now got, but devoted exclusively to homegrown, independent content. It might just be that Australian film generally fails because no one gets to see it. The problem with this stupid world where protectionism has been deemed a dirty word, where the market is left to decide what lives and dies, is that instead of the greater choice and lower prices this purportedly offers, instead we are left with monopolies dictating the publics’ tastes with increasingly homogenous and overpriced fair. But that’s how this dumb world works. ‘The market, the market.’ Likes it’s this living thing we have no choice but to be in thrall to.
What were the highest and lowest points of the production?
The food, the mice, the skepticism were the low points. The high point was just the thrill of making a feature film finally, and working with those people who were enthused and doing a great job.
How did you create the visual effects and set designs?
In terms of visual effects, we tried to do as much in-camera as possible and then enhanced things later on computer. But the real impressive computer graphics were done in Brazil by a friend of mine, Verginia Grando, and her team. The sets were put up and taken down and redressed in record time by the producer Mark White and set-dressing duo Jane Cherry and Jessica Moran.
How did everything come together in the post-production stage?
We took a year editing the film. We’d probably do it much faster if we had it over again. But because you’re feeling your way in the dark, you make mistakes like having your sound files in the wrong format and discovering you need to recode them and so on. Plus we had one big continuity problem. One of the actors in the film doesn’t have any costume changes. He’s in the same gear from start to finish. No one was really watching his continuity but the actor bizarrely kept rolling his sleeves up and down!
How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?
I don’t know. I suppose genre films are appealing to the independent filmmaker because people will still watch them even if marquee names aren’t attached. The genre crowd generally seems less snobbish. I’ve seen some really good independent dramas and comedies that just don’t get a look in at all because no one knows any of the actors in them.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?
There are almost no advantages. There are almost an overwhelming number of disadvantages. I’m still trying to think of the advantages.
What is your next project?
I have multiple projects. Whether any come to fruition is another matter. But they are in all sorts of genres and styles. I’m taking to a few people, and there are a few people doing their best to make some of them real, but we’ll see. I won’t believe I’m making another film till the first day on set and it’s too late for investors to pull their money out.
Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?
I think it’s become a lot cheaper to make a good-looking film these days. I starting out making 16mm shorts and the cost of the film stock, processing and telecine was exorbitant. Our whole budget for ‘The Caretaker’ would probably have gone on those three things if we hadn’t been able to shoot digital. But while digital has been a godsend in one way, it also means people can copy your work without any degradation in quality. Making money out of movies for the independent filmmaker still seems like an uphill battle.
Official website: The Caretaker