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Keogh Newsletter

- 30 Jun 2015
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BEHIND THE MAGIC               

“It must be so exciting and glamorous to work in the film industry.” That’s the reaction I regularly encounter when asked what I do for a living.

Often I nod in the affirmative, recount an interesting tale about a particular shoot or a quirky individual on the film set and that satisfies them. However, if I were to reflect on my chosen career, “exciting and glamorous” is probably not how I would describe it.

 Picture this: an intimate moment between two lovers at dawn. Mist swirling gently and the sun rising just as they lean in for a breathtaking kiss.

Or this: trudging through snow drifts, a troubled youth passes through a wide, beautiful landscape, miles from civilisation and almost concealed by falling snow.

Or even this: a cramped room, dimly lit by flickering candles, five conspirators crowd around a table and, with a few hushed words, discuss their plan.

These scenes are not out of the ordinary, they could belong to any thriller, drama or romance. They’re simplistic, beautiful and sparse on dialogue. They may appear onscreen for mere seconds but can be pivotal to the story. Surely, something so simple and scenic would be exciting and fun to shoot, a person outside the industry might think. Well, let me reveal what it takes.

A team of 50 starts at 4am, hastily setting up in the dark. Tension is high, there’s one chance at the shot and a layer of clouds is revealed as the sky brightens. Problems are dealt with quietly, panic avoided. Suddenly a break in the clouds and the imminent rising of the sun means all systems go: artificial mist brought to a level of dreaminess, actors on marks, “we’ll shoot the rehearsal!”, silence on set, roll cameras, act! The beauty, intimacy and romance is captured and the perfectly timed, breathtaking kiss at dawn is done. One shot. Easy…

A shrewd camera angle means a snowy wilderness, miles from civilisation, can be achieved at the local ski field. Convincing onscreen, it’s just another piece of movie magic. The youth’s silent trudge comes after a long day for everyone, the chill is bone deep and any location charm has long since faded. A blizzard, perfect for the scene, causes anxiety as driving snow lands on expensive equipment. A quiet curse as, once again, sub-zero temperatures cause camera batteries to fail just as the call comes to roll. Watching intently, everyone silently hopes for a one-take wonder. The youth suddenly trips in a snow drift, the shot is ruined. “Reset!”

Housed in a studio, a small, dark set is a hum of activity. In amongst carefully created chaos, five conspirators sit while half a dozen crew members, crammed into a tight corner, become too closely acquainted with bulky cameras. Studio lighting and the crush of bodies and electronics quickly heat the room beyond bearable, and flickering candlelight, so atmospheric onscreen, is completely disorientating. With five characters, coverage is essential and the shoot time lengthy. Once onscreen, what took a day will be pared down to a few short seconds and any discomfort on the set cleverly disguised. Magic.

There’s nothing really glamorous about the film industry. Hidden behind the scenes, a huge amount of people work incredibly hard to make beautiful, tragic, thrilling moments appear effortless onscreen.

So why pursue such a difficult career? Simple, it’s the teamwork. A dedicated crew, each working to the best of their ability, makes early starts, long days, cold weather, cramped conditions, and stressful moments not just bearable but, and perhaps surprisingly, incredible fun.

And the very good teams make a world of difference. Everyone is professional and knows what they are doing, everyone performs their role with as little fuss as possible, and everyone is prepared to go beyond their own unit role and pitch in and help elsewhere whenever it is required. And it often is, because film shoots can be full of unexpected moments.

Overall, a good team means a quicker, more efficient shoot and a much better chance of meeting budget. And a good team usually means a far more convivial place to work.

So the presumed glamour of a film set is a myth, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.   –  Romilly Spiers


PITTER PATTER                   

The Million Paws Walk, the RSPCA’s national community fundraiser, comes around every year. But this year Kaylene Brown, Keogh’s executive assistant, did something different; she got the whole household involved.

Kaylene and Bella rose before dawn to get to the Million Paws park in time to act as volunteer assistants. Her partner Toby and his son Zach arrived at a far more civilised hour for the sponsored walk with the dogs – Hodge and Baxter are their two young boxers.

Everyone was a winner. The family got an extended day out together, the dogs got a long walk in the park (and plenty of other dogs to sniff), and the RSPCA received a worthwhile contribution to its fundraising effort. About 80,000 people and 45,000 dogs participate in the event each year; it is held around Australia – in big cities and small – and it is the animal protection group’s prime means of raising funds.

Kaylene is an ardent animal lover and a regular volunteer at her local animal shelter. But she was delighted to get the whole family involved on the one big day for dogs, particularly Bella, who now appreciates that “donating your time is just as valuable as donating your money”.



The Secret River is a beautiful but brooding television series, full of foreboding and escalating menace. It is a dramatised exploration of first contact between white and indigenous people on the banks of the Hawkesbury, just north of Sydney, in the early years of colonial settlement in Australia.

Despite the initial signs of two alien cultures trying to accommodate each other, the tensions over land use build and build and eventually explode into an orgy of violence. The ABC mini-series climaxes in a dawn massacre of the Dharug clan of Aborigines as the settlers try to drive them from the Hawkesbury district.

The story is adapted from Kate Grenville’s acclaimed – and disputed – novel of the same title. The novel is very loosely based on the Hawkesbury experiences of her great-great-great grandfather, but both her story and the screenplay are fiction; they distil and concentrate some of the brutal facts of a century of frontier confrontation into one location and one drama.

Most of the story is told from an array of white perspectives – from the prejudiced views of Smasher Sullivan to Thomas Blackwood, the settler with a close personal insight into Dharug customs. The main characters are Will Thornhill, an ex-convict who has a chance to build a life far beyond the imagination of his London roots, and his wife Sal, who gradually realises that the indigenous people “have been here forever”.

The cinematography is cool and moody, and the story is confronting. It certainly isn’t everyone’s mug of tea (and damper) but it is thoroughly recommended for those willing to engage. The two-part series is now available on iView, the ABC’s on-demand channel.   - RJS


Communication is a process of listening as well as speaking.    William A. Abbott

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