Interview with director Eddy Bell for Continuance Pictures
“I love the madness of filmmaking! I love the circus of arriving in a location with trucks and ridiculous equipment. Things come out, you collectively pull off this amazing feat and then it all goes back in the truck and you drive away! Then there’s the catharsis that comes from telling a very satisfying story.”
EDDY BELL, filmmaker.
Sydney-based Eddy Bell has an established career making commercials and has several award-winning short films to his name. In talking about his work, Eddy was so keen to attribute credit where it is due, and his well-considered words made it easy to see why people let him walk into their world, to tell a story about them.
“As directors, we are Jack of all trades, masters of none,” he said. “We know a bit about every department: cameras, sound, performance, arts department design. Just enough to be able to make sure that the incredibly talented people you put in the heads of those departments are moving in the same direction.”
What about trying to recreate what’s in your mind, I asked. But he wasn’t having any of it. “I think the concept of a director’s vision closes down the possibilities of what could be from all the talented people you have around you! If you are just focussed on what’s in your head, the possibilities for greatness from other people are just completely diminished.”
Eddy spoke about ‘Giants’, his most recent short film, ‘Giants’ is a story about a family in the Australian outback and what they do to survive a drought. “I came in to see the first cut, and my editor had created that end sequence. I was like: Oh my God, I can’t do this. I can’t kill another cow at the end of a film. But it was so fitting, and it felt so thematically right that I thought well, that’s the film. I often think that films have a life of their own, and that sequence which my editor cut was what it needed to be. That end scene was shot on the first trip. It was right in the middle of the drought, in the worst parts. From that end scene I kept going back out there and reverse engineering this story into that film. We waited for the drought to break so that we could shoot some greener parts. Over a period of 18 months we learned more about the community and what was happening, and it started to shape that story.”
Eddy was in school in Armidale in New South Wales, and has friends on properties out there.
“A guy I went to school with, Stegs, was one of the producers. He’s a school counsellor and he’d never had anything to do with filmmaking before. But I came out and shot this thing on his property and said things like: ‘We need a gun, and a ute, and we need all of these things, and I need a cast! Plus 200 cattle in the yards over there…’ and amazingly he just made all these things happen. So that’s the connection, and the story’s true of his family.”
Eddy’s childhood was split between urban and rural living. “My parents were divorced when I was about one so I always had split homes. My dad had a property up on the North Coast so half the time we had this rural, farm lifestyle with horses and we were grubby farm kids. My mother lived in the inner West suburbs of Sydney so I also had this little skater kid life in Sydney.”
He was even a junior yee-haw on the NSW North Coast Rodeo Bull Riding circuit.
“I would be in inner city homeboy tracksuits, and the guy on the microphone would be saying: ‘and next up on bull number 7 we have Eddy Bell from… Balmain in Sydney!’ So I feel that I can exist easily in both worlds. Inner city, I guess that’s part of the urban filmmaking side, and I obviously feel really comfortable shooting films in the outback.”
In the case of (multiple award-winning short film) ‘Grey Bull’ the story was shaped by our casting process,” Eddy continued. “When I make a film, often I go into a world that I don’t necessarily come from, or I feel I don’t have enough knowledge about. So with ‘Grey Bull’, the process was about understanding immigration in Australia and also getting to know the South Sudanese community in Melbourne.”
The crew attended South Sudanese events for three months, getting invited to a funeral which was a two thousand person event in a grand hall. “We were in there as guests of a family and, as that happened, those actors and the family who are in the film and who are a real family – they started to shape the script, and we would fold in their story and their culture and their tribe. Specific things from their tribe would come back into everything that’s in ‘Grey Bull’. It’s very much shaped by that experience of casting and meeting people.”
Both stories are about families coping with life’s adversity. “We often comment that filmmakers tell the same story over and over again,” Eddy said. “Often my stories are about fathers and sons or fathers and daughters, and about legacy: what do we pass on, of ourselves to the next generation? Incredibly, ‘Grey Bull’ and ‘Giants’ are the same film, just with different humans in them. I don’t know how, but it was not intentional!”
“I think there’s an exciting life for that film, although so much has happened in the world since we made it. We’ve now been through bush fires and a pandemic. The drought seems so long ago! But I think it’s all tied together, all these things happening are part of a changing world, and it will be interesting to acknowledge it with that film.”
Eddy was almost 30 before daring to acknowledge that he had it in him to tell a good story.
“In my twenties I hosted karaoke, went out a lot, set up jumping castles. I never really took myself seriously until I had one of those Saturn returns. I got to the end of my twenties and thought: well, who am I?”
“I had worked on film sets, but nowhere near the camera. I’d been a runner and worked all of the ‘bottom of the call sheet’ jobs on a film set. I did that for eight years before deciding to go to film school. Then I went to VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) as a mature-aged student, and loved it.”
“I’d had just enough life experience and understanding of the world to know how special the experience was, to be able to take three years to study film, sit in a classroom and talk to people. It just shifted things for me, and gave me permission to see myself as somebody who had a brain and a voice, and was worthy of using it.”
Once he found his voice, there was a lot to say.
“Scripts are so intricate, like the workings of a clock! I love the structure of screenwriting and think I put too much in my shorts. There’s so much going on in the theme, the process of distillation is really quite difficult. ‘Giants’ and ‘Grey Bull’ are jam packed, there’s so much going on in my head that may not even register with the audience. I’m hoping in the next stage of my career as I expand to tv and longer form projects that these stories will fit better in the format.”
Eddy is working with Continuance Pictures on a tv series called ‘One Of Us!’. It’s a black comedy which is a thematic extension of ‘Grey Bull’.
“‘One Of Us!’ takes place in a world where an alternative to offshore detention is being trialled and the government is releasing refugees into small country towns. So this particular town is an ex-mining town that is going under. It’s essentially just a motel and a petrol station. The mine’s shut and the town is dying. They take up a contract, and an influx of people from these offshore detention centres come to what is essentially a motel in the middle of nowhere.”
Like ‘Grey Bull’, this comedy is about assimilation and what we ask people to leave at the door when they come to a new country. Often, the previous experience (of new migrants) and what they bring to this world is just, if not even more, interesting and colourful and important.
“‘One Of Us’ is very much in the early stages. I feel really comfortable creating satire around the motel, and the town and the Australians that are welcoming these people into their town. But we need a co-creator who’s going to come onboard and be able to really push the other side of the story.”
Regarding the creative process, Eddy said it’s good to have many projects on the go at different stages of development, to be able to jump from one to another.
“You get to a point where you’re always waiting for a response from people, or you’re waiting for a draft. So it’s great to be able to jump from project to project. For example, maybe I’ve done a draft, and I need to walk away from it for two weeks. So I’m going to go and do something on Tristan’s project over there. Elsewhere we’re waiting for the rights of a book to become available so that one’s sort of parked. That kind of thing.”
Eddy said the emergence of streamers and multiple distribution channels for entertainment, and in his case even the gig economy, is good for creative collaboration.
“There’s this new generation where people are less inclined to be tied down to a contract or a single employer. I want to actually be talking and networking with people all over the industry. If there are multiple avenues of opportunity, then we’re no longer competing with each other for one spot. We’re supporting each other to find all of those opportunities.”
Eddy also said creatives are acting on their own initiative rather than waiting for an invitation to see their work.
“I don’t want to wait around for someone to tell me that it’s okay for me to have a career, this idea of the ‘Hollywood break’ where somebody is going to give you an opportunity and make it happen for you. You don’t have to wait around for an old relationship between a network and a big established production company to give you the green light. It used to be that there were these big companies who were the only ones which dealt with Channels 9, 10 and 7. This has changed.”
“I think there’s a lot of women filmmakers out there who are now saying, ‘Fuck you, I’m not going to be sitting around waiting for you to give me the green light to have opportunity. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to take it.’”
Eddy described being a producer on somebody else’s project at the beginning of the year.
“This was a story about domestic violence, from a girl who had experienced it directly herself. Now, I could never tell that story with any authenticity. But the fact that I had been able to support somebody else’s story (being a producer) meant that there is a bit of personal growth that I could have. I don’t need to be the creative lead on everything that I’m a part of. It’s a privilege to be part of diversity. But I think also at the same time you have to be aware of not dictating the terms of that diversity, and understanding what kind of role you can play authentically in telling diverse stories.”
“I love that Continuance has a similar ethos about wanting to be a part of lots of films being made, and tv, and just making things happen. I want all of these projects to get going, and I want the community that we create here to be making lots of films. So I’m going to support your project, you’re going to support my project, as a team we’ll collectively get things happening together, and we’ll leave the ego at the door. No more, ‘…this is my creative initiative… I’m going to be the director…I’m the writer…’
“There’s this real sense of: Let’s be the generation that makes 60 films, not two.”