This short film is a project that’s been in operation for years, and only last weekend has it finally come to a close, returning to the place from whence it came. It begins in Brisbane, in July of 2014 when a good friend of mine Angus Robertson witnessed THE SINGLE GREATEST MOMENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. His facebook post described a mysterious stranger standing up the tyranny of a racist bogan hijacking.
The post enjoyed incredible success online, being shared several hundreds of times and accumulating several thousands of likes on Facebook. At some point it was screencapped and posted to Imgur (where it now has 17 million views) and then to Reddit (where it was the highest rated user generated post of all time for several years).
So when it when QPIX (a local film production platform) had received funding from Screen Queensland to create a slate of short films by emerging filmmakers, I approached Angus about making it into a short film. I submitted a draft and pitch document with local Producer Caitlin Johnston with the hopes of being shortlisted. Out of the two hundred or so submissions from around Queensland, The Bus Knight was chosen for production funding. Unfortunately, shortly before our planned shooting dates (and after a few rounds of script drafts) the funding was pulled, QPIX was shut down (story from the Courier Mail) and The Bus Knight was iced.
Six months later however, a new program was announced to fill the void — Screen Queensland’s RAWnerve initiative. Now engaged with other projects Caitlin connected me with Producers Sam Ashford-Rowe and Brenton Pinsent (pictured, centre) from Sway Pictures.
We pitched the project again, this time aided by the fact that we knew what worked and what didn’t when it came to securing funding. Focusing on a strong social message and ensuring that the comedy of the situation came through, we were shortlisted for development along with two other projects The Alpha (directed by Josh-Atterton Evans) and The Great Champ Fernley (directed by Josh & Thomas Calder). We went through an intense script development process, mentored by writer Stephen Irwin, where we had do a round-table reading of each draft followed by feedback. Rinse and repeat four or five times and that’s how we got the script we shot — but not the film we finished with.
Meanwhile the producers ran a successful Pozible campaign to match the funding provided by Screen Queensland — a requirement of the course to develop our fundraising skills.
Over about 4 days in September of 2014 we shot the film. It was a really great shoot, predominantly at night (so 5pm – 5am most days) and mostly all in the one location — a bus parked on the Griffith Nathan campus. For the technical jargon;
We shot on a single Sony F5 with cinevised Zeiss ZF primes in Slog2 in 2k. We used an A7s I for some cutaway shots (intercut perfectly) and for a profile mid 2 shot for space restrictions. We also used a Movi for the tracking shots down the isle of the bus, and then again on a slider going across the seats to give us some fun tracking shots that we could pan/tilt on. We lit the interior of the bus with kino bulbs that we installed in the fixtures and then just filled it where necessary. The DoP Brian Lowe (pictured) and I really loved the sodium vapor lights at the location and the horrible green bulbs of the bus stop, which we couldn’t change so we built that into our colour palette. By the end, the orange and green look really grew on me. Happy accidents etc.
4 days to shoot a short film like this is actually quite long, and that was mostly because we shot a more than we used in the final cut. Working with editor Matthew Sawyer our goal was to be make it as punchy as possible — we ended up cutting out quite a fair chunk of the script. Some of the scenes before and after the main confrontation felt necessary during the scriptwriting process, but in practice didn’t add enough to the core story to make them necessary.
During the edit, our producers ramped up the publicity for our fast approaching ABC2 screening. We had attracted a fairly strong following online and in the local community, which gave us a really strong television screening.
Over the next 2 years (I can’t believe it’s been that long) we managed a successful festival run, picking up awards at Capricon Film Festival, Brisbane Backyard Festival, West End Film Festival and Screen It Festival on the Gold Coast. We also got official selection for St Kilda Film Festival in Melbourne.
Last weekend we released the film on YouTube, where it currently has about 18k views. We pushed it predominately via Reddit, picking up the most traction on /r/Filmmakers and /r/Brisbane, but also making it to the front pages of /r/Videos and /r/Australia.
One of the interesting things that emerged is how differently people can interpret the original story. Some imaged it to be much more straight and mundane than hyperbolic and ridiculous, some thought it was set during the day, some thought the main character should’ve been a salt-of-the-earth outback type. What drew me to interpret and direct it this way was the origin of the core of this story — ‘fighting without fighting’ from The Art of War by Sun Tzu. There were some questions around the authenticity of the story because of this, but it’s actually a fairly well practiced idea in most forms of martial arts. But to me, the question of whether or not it actually happened, or how, is irrelevant — Stories are stories.
Because of this Eastern influence we looked at some Akira Kurosawa films for the blocking and composition as well as the stylistic references; and then hyperreal comedies like Trainspotting for some of the effects and visual comedy. The whole story is a showdown, a bluff of bravado and all about how terrifying strangers can be, so we wanted the film to reflect that.
At the end of the day though, there are a million ways to direct a story and no one way is correct. You’ve got to pick your interpretation, your tone and your style — and then shoot the shit out of it.