I’m often stopped in the street by budding young filmmakers who say "Yahoo, I have this great idea. How can it become a million dollar movie?"

I tell them that their dream can be achieved by sending me $100 then following my simple 2 Step Plan.

Step 1. Get a million dollars.
Step 2. Make the movie.

The other most often asked questions are "Hey Yahoo, isn’t that Yank internet company a rip off setting itself up in Australia using your name?" But let’s not go there.

And "Yahoo how did you get your big break?"

My answer: "It was always easy for me. I was born very rich and lucky.

It seems that every few years, as part of marketing a particular movie, the media wheels out a story about how horrifically tough it was to make and the public buys it as amazing. But anyone who has made an independent feature film from the original idea through all the stages to releasing it knows that "the triumphed against all odds" experience is in most respects fairly typical for the independent filmmaker on each production.

Movies are usually difficult, often insane, constantly challenging and always strangely amusing to make. If you really, really, really want to make one you’ll find a way. If you don’t you’ll find an excuse. Believe it or not the excuse is actually the best result. The obsession required to see a feature through from concept to release is not a rational thing to do with your brief time on this planet. Nor is it something to which an intelligent person should aspire.

But okay let’s just say you are nuts and are looking to live a life where you never have to grow up. Read on.

Making your first feature film is actually impossible. However when you and your creative team overcome that glitch and it’s completed, weird tribes called distributors and critics move in. Then if your movie clicks with real audiences, you’ll be sucked into some sort of Hollywood orbit. It’s a devil of a place where the only religion that really counts is box office. Europe and Asia are completely different and so is your film — they dub it!

Movies are a complicated collision of literature, theatre, music and all the visual arts. It’s an infinite creative universe to explore so why chase conservative options? So far my choices have been pretty out there. Some say too far. They’ve been surreal concepts like "Young Einstein — in 1905 he discovers Relativity in 1906 he invents Rock and Roll" or "Ned Kelly fights for Reconciliation and satirises Hollywood" or "A romantic accident-prone comedy about Aliens and tobacco-addicted-chickens at an egg-shaped Opera House." Find your own specific voice in filmmaking and go for it. Either people will get it or they won’t and that’s what it’s all about.

Oscar Wilde once said, "To find the truth you must invent it." In the case of Young Einstein I came up with the concept on the Amazon river and started immediately writing a screenplay with the then untried idea of rock music and physical comedy colliding with history and physics.

Question - Is completing the script of a feature film important or should I wing it?

Quick quiz - Who played the first Hamlet? Who directed the first Hamlet? Who wrote Hamlet? Did you just score 1 out of 3? Hmmm?

"The play’s the thing." — Hamlet, 2:2

Getting your screenplay right is the most important thing you’ll ever do on your film. From personal experience I can say that you won’t always succeed but at least define early what makes your script unique and therefore worthwhile making.

I had no intention of making an historical dramatised "documentary" of Albert Einstein but rather to explore the spirit of this rebellious, lateral thinker with the clowning sense of humour. It gave me license to create a strange, epic cartoon with heightened characters bathed in a world of science, music and "fantastic realism".

My background was art school, documentary director and surfer with a keen interest in thrilling acts of life threatening stupidity. I decided that since I couldn’t afford to film in Tasmania that I’d somehow start back in my hometown, Newcastle. The Young Einstein I’d written was an innocent apple farmer and pacifist with a sexy mind that impresses the pants off Marie Curie. The actor would have to play this peculiar part, perform all these crazed stunts and the budget required he work for free. No-one else put up their hand so I got the part. I sold my old car to buy a few cans of film and processing, borrowed a camera and mum did the crew cooking. As director I got to vacuum the crew bedrooms, as producer I carried out the garbage.

After filming a few scenes of Young Einstein on 16mm I edited it all up into a crazy 8 minute short which was to serve as the fund-raising template for the feature length movie. Brick wall! My stuff looked and sounded so unconventional to the Australian film establishment that no-one, either commercial or government, would give me a cent to go further.

Eventually hired to direct a short film, I was never paid but they gave me a plane ticket to the St Tropez Rock Video Festival. I smuggled in my rough short of Young Einstein and screened it. A buzz started which began a financing odyssey across the world. In New York, the young executives at MTV were into it straight away. Hollywood studio execs were simultaneously excited and confused by the Aussie irony. I was introduced to an enthusiastic (but dubious) European sales agent. Along the way they tried unsuccessfully to take over the film by suing me for 2 million bucks. What a joke. I was broke, sleeping on the floor and all I owned was a couch with a rat in it.

We’d film the next scene whenever the slightest drop of finance became available. Young Einstein began to look different to anything being made at the time and gradually genuine investors got interested.

Three years after starting, by physically doing everything from raising the finance to special effects, we’d finally cobbled together our low budget film. By staunch resolve we’d kept creative control all the way which resulted in an original movie with a contemporary Australian voice. Released through distributor Village Roadshow, it was their biggest Australian hit. Warner Bros became the international distributor. In 1989 Young Einstein was a worldwide success. Jacques Chirac opened the French premiere and I ended up on the cover of Time magazine under the title "Yahoo! Cult movie star". Very absurd.

The journey of your first movie is not just beyond belief it can be truly beyond satire. There are a thousand weird untold stories in the Australian film industry, this has been one of them.

Yahoo Serious is a director/writer/actor/producer and a Life Patron of Tropfest.

© Yahoo Serious 2001

 


TROPFEST - THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN CELEBRATION OF SHORT FILMS

Tropfest Life Patron Yahoo Serious said "Tropfest is like your best pair of thongs. Raw, honest and your feet can breathe. Australians stampede in droves to Tropfest for the same reason we flocked to The Story of the Kelly Gang in 1906, or Gallipoli in 1980, or Chopper in 2000. Its hunger for the idiosyncrasies of Australian culture unashamedly interpreted in our own, often irreverent, film language. Tropfest is an exultant antipodean antidote to the constant deluge of Americana."

 

Serious Entertainment Pty Ltd 2000. All rights reserved.