Fresh out of uni, myself and my co-creators all had plenty of ideas and oodles of enthusiasm, ready and rearing to go on as many projects as we could muster. However we quickly realised that making films costs money, something we didn’t have much of at the time. Applying for grants was competitive, time-consuming and quite frankly boring as hell. We were impatient and wanted to see what we could dream up on a non-existent budget, calling in favours and bribing volunteer crew with the promise of lasagne and garlic bread. I set myself a challenge; to write a script with one on-screen actor in one location and make it shootable in a single day.
Call Connect is a short film about a young female helpline operator who takes her very first call in a crisis centre. She hasn’t even completed her induction yet when the phone rings and, unattended, she assumes she must answer. The caller on the other end of the phone line is a suicidal man who she must then try and connect with over the 16-minute phone conversation that follows. The film is shot in a single take, slowly moving in on the operator as she, somewhat clumsily, tries to change the mind of a man convinced that he should kill himself. We were blessed with two incredible actors, Caithlin O’Loghlen and Brendan Rock, who helped me to workshop the script until it felt like a natural conversation. Josiah Allen, co-director and creator, also aided me in combing out any lumps of artificial-sounding dialogue. In the end, we were left with a very simple film, with no tricks or frills, only the beauty and the sadness of human interaction.
After seeing the film, I have had many people ask me if it is based on an encounter of my own, perhaps a conversation I have had before. The truth is no, it is completely fictional. I certainly cannot claim to know anything about depression, or even crisis centres. However, I do certainly know a thing or two about feeling completely out of my depth. After completing my university course and being forced out into the big wide world, I was suddenly riddled with feelings of inadequacy. I felt like an imposter, like at any moment someone would realise that I am totally useless and kick me out. Any past successes I put down to blind luck and I was quite convinced that I was merely impersonating a screenwriter. Call Connect was a film that was born out of my fears and insecurities as a budding artist, as well as a deep loathing for writing grant application essays.
Coming to Austin Film Festival was a brilliant, albeit last minute decision that in itself provided some good material for another script. Five days before our hastily booked flights out of South Australia, Josiah and I realised that my passport had expired and that I also needed to apply for a visa waiver to get into America…oops. However the real challenge of the journey presented itself when we arrived in Dallas to have our final flight cancelled due to an unprecedentedly horrendous storm. In fact, all flights leaving the airport had been grounded and we had no luggage, no phones, and nowhere to stay. We befriended a lovely couple from Arkansas who were in a similar boat and ended up splitting an Uber to get to Austin. Yes, a three-hour drive at 9pm through torrential downpour in an Uber. Our driver, wherever he may be now, deserves some kind of medal.
When we finally arrived in Austin we were completely blown away by the atmosphere, the panels, the screenings, the people, the parties, the barbecue…I couldn’t quite believe that our film was playing in a festival of this scale, so you can imagine how elated I felt when we found out that Call Connect won Best Narrative Short! Josiah and I were welcomed into what felt like a big Austin family, where people took time to come and introduce themselves and patiently attempted to decipher our thick Aussie accents. We had gone from brainstorming a cheap idea in our living room to shaking hands with the creators of Game of Thrones and listening to creative advice from the likes of Shane Black and Meg LeFauve. Honestly, between my sincere shock and extreme jet lag I think I spent the entire week just walking from panel to panel with a deranged grin on my face. It was truly a whirlwind experience that I will never forget. I can honestly say that the recognition that we received from Austin Film Festival has given me something solid to hold onto, a real piece of hope that I can draw on when I’m feeling like a screenwriting-imposter. It has given me confidence, which is perhaps the most valuable prize you can receive as a young creative.
Since Austin Film Festival we have shot and are in post-production of another short film, a quirky little drama/thriller number called The Recordist. I hope to (hopefully soon!) return to Austin’s warm embrace and once again experience the film festival in all of its barbecue-sauce-covered glory.