Directed and co-written by Michael Gosden and Tristan Barr, who also star in the film, Watch The Sunset is an unflinching study of the effects of Crystal Meth/Ice on person’s life, and a story about how far a man will go for his family. The audience is pulled into the harrowing tale by the real-time approach to the storytelling. Shot in Kerang in northern Victoria, it had its world premiere at this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival, with upcoming berths at the Brisbane International Film Festival, the Sydney Underground Film Festival, and the Montreal International Film Festival.I spoke with Barr and producer/cinematographer Damien Lipp about how the film came together and the challenges of shooting in a single take.
“We started about 4:20 in the afternoon when the light was just right,” explains Lipp, “and we had worked out that it was about 83 minutes later that the sun was setting, so we knew we had to hit that point… the film is called Watch This Sunset after all”. From early in the film’s development, the filmmakers wanted to play with the concept of time but were originally going to take a different tack. “We were originally going to just cut the film with six or seven long takes. I thought we could get away with doing it in one shot, and follow different characters throughout that” explains Lipp. “We knew it was a huge call, but once we made the decision we didn’t look back,” adds Barr.
Getting ready for that one shot took about 85 people, five weeks of rehearsal, and a small country town rallying behind them. “It felt like the whole town was helping us out, we had lots of people from Kerang donating their time to us which was really heartening. The film moves across the whole town, stopping at about nine locations, so we are just glad we were able to use the town with their full support,” says Barr.Even with the weeks of preparation, the first time the film played out fully in real-time was on the first production day, “it wasn’t until the very first day of shooting that we actually shot the film in one continuous shot” explains Lipp. “Every piece of the puzzle needs to be exact, and if one’s missing or out of place, then the whole thing just doesn’t work,” Lipp continues. “It was like we filmed a play; we just set up the environment and let the actors do their thing. It was a real day, the town was going about its normal routine around us. One time a police car pulled us over in rehearsals. It would have made for an interesting addition to the film!” remembers Barr.
What is it about an Ice afflicted family that drew the filmmakers to telling this story? “The story was based on true events and the characters are based on real people whom I know,” explains Barr, “so the biggest appeal or motivation was doing their story justice, one that is a very raw reality in many parts of regional Australia.” Barr and his co-director Gosden were also front and centre in the whole thing, taking on the roles of Danny and Rusell respectively, which added another personal element and upped the difficulty for the production.
“I didn’t see myself in the role originally when I first wrote the story, but with the production constraints and the way we were already collaborating, we very quickly made the decision that we would both act in it too,” says Barr. “That decision led to us taking more responsibility for the characters. It was sometimes hard to do both roles, but it was largely built into the process. Once the camera is rolling on a one-take film, there’s really no room for a director anyway, so the everyone just trusted the preparation and took their lead from Damien and what the camera was doing. On the shoot days, it was more just about telling the story as the actor and trusting the team behind me.”The method of production allowed the filmmakers flexibility, but also came with some limitations. “We originally had a much larger setup,” says Lipp, “but in the end, we had to shoot with a DSLR and a smaller gimbal because we couldn’t fit the bigger rig through the car doors.” Apart from the technical challenges, the biggest unknown was whether they would even have a film in the end. “We were confident, however, with all the different variables, we didn’t actually know if we would walk away with a workable film. It was definitely a gamble. It wasn’t until the third day of shooting that we even got a usable take!” recalls Barr.
So what is their advice for filmmakers wanting to follow in their footsteps? “Financial support from the film institutions in Australia is pretty slim pickings,” says Barr, “but the more I work in the industry the more I realize money isn’t the be all and end all, money can start to squash creativity.” Adds Lipp, “Just get out there and go make a film. With technology today, it’s possible to do anything.”
After Sunset, the duo aren’t resting on their laurels. “The next film we’re shooting is called 1, where the population of Earth is one. There’s only one human being left, we’ve all been eradicated” says Barr. But will they be repeating the same one-take trick? “It’s not a one-take film,” Lipp is quick to say. “This one’s a very stylised film with long takes. One of the things we’re trying to do is make Australian cinema different, give the audience something that they haven’t seen before.”
WATCH THE SUNSET is screening at the Brisbane International Film Festival on August 30, the Sydney Underground Film Festival on September 16, and the Montreal International Film Festival from October 4 – 15.