Line Producer's Statement
The Oasis, is one of those rare documentaries which observes its subjects over a long period of time - two years in this instance. It presented the filmmakers with an incredible opportunity to study the lives of homeless youths as they struggle to survive in an increasingly unsympathetic urban landscape. As Line Producer, I dealt with producing responsibilities during pre-production and principal photography.
As the Line Producer needs to support the crew during a lengthy principal photography period, from a production point of view it presents a challenge. One has to be practical, and use the production's limited resources wisely. Planning is key, but given the nature of the documentary and its subjects' lifestyle, this was a tall ask. Unscheduled and unexpected events could take place at the drop of a hat. This meant getting clearances and access at the 11th hour, and having to deal with sensitive subject matter, sometimes with people who had little understanding of the film's subjects and their world.
During the course of production it was essential to maintain regular dialogue with directors, Sascha Ettinger Epstein and Ian Darling. Equally, it was important to keep close ties with the Salvation Army's Oasis Youth Support Network and its dedicated Director, Captain Paul Moulds and his team of Program Managers who worked with and supported the kids in their care. It was also important to maintain good relations with the police - who regularly dealt with some of the youths - as well as various healthcare organisations involved in looking after the physical and mental wellbeing of the kids when required.
Line producing responsibilities included: negotiating fees, terms and conditions with crew and organisations involved in the documentary; addressing and attending to all necessary agreements and permissions required to make the film, such as, locations and access; ensure adherence to the budget; asses and address the needs of the production and crew; provide support to the crew; and that the production adheres to industry code of practice and Occupational Health & Safety requirements etc.
The Oasis consisted of a small crew, primarily Sascha and Ian. Following is an overview of key tasks:
- Create, manage and supervise the production budget.
- Plan and generate the necessary schedules.
- Create and execute the various agreements for: Oasis Youth Refuge; releases and locations.
- Obtain the necessary insurances, and ensure the safety of crew at all times.
- Keep open the channels of communication with crew and all third parties involved with the production.
- Negotiate all location access and fees.
- Liaise with the accountant, and be across cost reports. Keep track of and check invoices and payments.
- Negotiate rates with suppliers for stock and gear.
- Trouble shoot and deal with emergencies and keep production on schedule and on budget.
The above items focus on integral duties I undertook as Line Producer. The Oasis is an amazingly special project - possibly the first of its kind in Australia. It was an absolute pleasure working with its dedicated team at Shark Island Productions who lived and breathed the good and bad times of some of the most troubled youths in Sydney.
I started working full time at Shark Island in the final 9 months of production. Isabel was going overseas and I hit the ground running with taking on the Line Producer role. Having been introduced to the film while Isabel and I were working on completion of In the Company of Actors I was curious to see how far the film had come, but also how far the people involved had come. Recognising some faces from the area I live in, I felt a secret bond with these kids that went beyond the anonymous payment for a windscreen wash or the occasional soft drink purchase at a corner store. In some areas it was heartening to see the small, incremental achievements made by individuals, reassuring to know that not everyone at the food van in Darlinghurst was going to be sleeping rough on a wet night, and in other aspects disheartening knowing that for some the treadmill of alcohol and/or drugs had ramped up that bit more.
In the first weeks there was a lot of on-the-job-learning of office routine. I also took on the role of office manager - and I have to thank Michael, Basia and Patricia for their indispensable assistance through transition of managing accounts in and out, timesheets and invoices from casual staff and general accounts queries. There were also transition tasks from Isabel, maintaining the releases for individuals and locations, maintaining stock levels and implementing schedules where required.
Nearing the end of the year and close to the time Ian and Sascha had set for completing filming, Susan MacKinnon began negotiations with bringing the ABC onboard. Working with a national broadcaster introduced me to another layer of contracts and licensing agreements! I also assisted Susan in managing the various legals aspects, coordinating versions of cuts, reading up sections of legislation and providing the salve of lattes when characters had to go.
In this period of time there are also components of the film that are completed off-site. Once picture is locked-off in the edit suite here, the film goes to grade - the fab team at The Lab sit for a few days with Sascha, Ian and Sal, or a combination thereof, and grade the pictures - matching colour temperature and feel between shots that may have originated from different cameras, angles or time of day to assist in the flow of the scene. There are technical aspects like glare or overexposure to rectify, some of the night shots need lifting so you can see what is onscreen for example. The sound mix is a time intense process as well. Mixing location sound with sourced FX (sometimes to add to a scene, sometimes to provide a clean file of existing location sound), composed music and the voices of our characters - a delicate balance of the cacophony of everyday life, but pointing it a little so our audience ears receive the important info and register the rest! (see Sally's Editor's statement). Once the final mix is laid back to the final, graded image, we add the text you read onscreen - thanks to the VooDoo team. This involves many checklists I have found! Detailing the credit inclusions - who is listed where and what contractual obligations we must meet, miniscule detail of correct spelling, obtaining logos and voila, a finished film!
The series of screenings held for feedback were exciting, not having as much of myself on the line, I was captivated by the varied responses we got. The more screenings we held, the more certain that feeling of being able to open peoples eyes to the plight of the homeless became. Ahead of the film launching there are a series of film festivals submissions to make, I coordinate these submissions with Ian and Sascha and Susan - which festivals to go for, which accept rough cuts (the film is not finished for many submissions) staying on top of which are coming up and which may wait till the next round or following year when the film will be finished, but no longer a premiere.
Perhaps my largest task is the coordination of the outreach package - juggling deadlines for web content, design requirements (we have not met a deadline yet!), study guide content and the never ending quest for the right links to provide on the site, is not unlike heading toward opening night in the theatre! Weeks of meetings, scopes to adjust, detail of wording and location of each tiny bit of information on the website. I have immense respect for anyone who writes content and constructs websites! There is no template, everything comes from scratch, it is fine to be at a desk with a blithe "Oh yes, we'll just pop in a paragraph about." until you realise that paragraph has to be written by you!
ATOM are writing and producing our study guide. Peter Tapp the Editor and I will liase about text drafts, design files for layout, the weblinks that the guide can be downloaded from, the final images used in the guide and the print dates. Once DVD duplication is complete and the units are with them, the assembly team at ATOM put the packs together and then distribute through their postal database to secondary schools across Australia.
This outreach requires ongoing input, mostly through the website as the hub, maintaining screening information, the cast updates "where are they now" and enabling the (hopefully many) community screening requests.
Despite focusing on The Oasis and our main characters, so many of the youths depicted are recognisable in any city in the country. The possibility of reaching more of them and the people helping them, through the commissioning of an independent report is a privilege. Generous Foundation funding allowing the donation of that report, a study guide and a film is fast becoming a reality that is sometimes overwhelming. Perhaps not only will it influence the current generation of policy makers but my hope is it will open the eyes of the younger generation, peers of those in the film and on the streets around Australia, to the idea of social change and social responsibility.
There is a transmission date and a report launch and a website to go live, all events that thrill, terrify and excite. Maybe we can help turn the tide on homelessness; maybe it will become apparent there are a great many Paul and Robbin's out in the cities and towns of Australia, and maybe all of them will be given the support and resources they need to turn these kids lives around.