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BEN YOUNG Flickerfest interview

Flickerfest is back! The Academy credited and BAFTA recognized short film festival touches down in Perth as part of it’s Australia wide showing this week. From March 1-4 the Camelot Outdoor Cinema will be the home of many of the best Australian and International short films of the past year. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to writer and director Ben Young (Hounds of Love), about Flickerfest, and one of the short films playing this year, Mrs McCutcheon – which Ben was co-writer on.

How much of the obvious John Hughes’ influence was written into the script for Mrs McCutcheon?

None really. That was all John Sheedy (co-writer and director). The concept of the film was something he gave me – I want a boy who goes to school wearing a dress, will only answer to the name Mrs McCutcheon, and I want it to end in a dance. He gave that to me, and I went off to write the script with all his notes, and developed it with him. The John Hughes influence wasn’t something I was thinking of, but something Sheedy had in mind since the beginning.

So OMD’s If You Leave wasn’t going through your head for the final scene?

No, it wasn’t. I suspect it was always in John’s head. This is kind of liberating for me. I usually direct my own material, and I would have done it differently, not that I would have done it better.

What was the inspiration for Mrs McCutcheon?

John had the idea, and I think it came from something in his life. He had a friend’s son who wore a dress to school and only answered to a female name. It was just a conversation at Frisk Bar, over a few rums, and it grew from them.

You’re dealing with some pretty complex and potentially dark themes here, but the film comes across as light and colourful. What was it like finding that tonal balance?

Very good actually, because I was really pushing those scenes. I’m very interested in those personal themes, and the darker the better for me. That was the direction, wanted to go in, and John wanted to keep it light. The balance came from my sensibilities and John’s.

What’s the reception for the film been like?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Its taken out a couple of awards both locally and internationally, and screened at so many festivals that l can’t keep up with them.

Do short films offer a unique opportunity for film-makers?

Above and beyond all, it offers a great opportunity to practice your craft. In teaching at the moment there’s such a emphasis on the technology that we use to create films, and that is constantly changing and evolving. The one thing that doesn’t ever change is story and character. They’re at the heart of every successful film . Short films really give filmmakers an opportunity to understand what it is to tell a story outside of the bells and whistles. Anyone now can make a beautiful looking film now, but not everyone can tell a beautiful story. A short film really stands as a business card for directors to say “I understand story and I’ve got something to say”. It’s a great opportunity a newer film-makers to understand their craft and show they can tell a story.

How important is Flickerfest in that regard?

The best thing about Flickerfest is there’s a huge audience. A lot of people see your film, and as a result you get a lot of networking opportunities. For an example, I had a film I’ve written and directed five or six years ago called Something Fishy at Flickerfest, and Susie Porter was on the panel. I got to meet Susie Porter afterward and she connected to the film. As a result of that, when I asked her to be in Hounds of Love, she was prepared to be in my film because she knew who l was and had seen my short.

Ben will be back in Perth for Flickerfest, and will be working on post-production for Extinction (starring Micheal Pena) which will premier on Netflix later this year. Later this year he’ll start production in Victoria on his next feature film A Man With No Enemies, written by Shaun Grant (Snowtown, Berlin Syndrome, Jasper Jones). He also has a possible TV series in the works with Zak Hilditch (1922, These Final Hours). All of which promises a lot to look forward to. 

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