Images provided by Jacob Cerin
By Jacob Cerin
Good for Nothing Blues is an indie crime-comedy Perth feature directed by Alexander Lorian. Jacob Cerin interviewed Alexander about the film. The Blu-Ray to the film can be purchased at smallvoicefilms.com.
The film follows Calvin, a young man lost in life and his dole bludging mates, who, after a surprise $200,000 lottery win, find their dodgy investments going astray and embroiling them in a web of debts, drugs, gangs, and cops.
In this interview, we dive deep into the production of the film and Alex’s creative process.
J: Could you give a rundown of your film, as brief or long as you want to make it?
A: Well, can I just ask, how would you describe the film? If you wanted to give a basic synopsis or summary of the film. I’m just doing this to mix things up because I have explained it a lot, and I wanna see how someone else interprets it.
J: So, the film is a crime-comedy. Shit hits the fan. It’s like a web of cause and effect for a bunch of dole bludgers who hit the lottery jackpot, and it shows how they handle this money, and what they aim towards. It also has a side plot of romance. The story escalates into an absolute shitstorm, which I love. The characters can’t handle what’s coming to them.
A: I just wanted to hear someone else trying to tell the basic idea. I’d just say there are two sides: the crazy plot element and the story about Calvin’s emotional development, feeling like he doesn’t have a place in the world. Calvin wants to be a good person, but he doesn’t know whether he is.
J: Calvin’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s so gullible and succumbs to his friends’ ideas. He’s a twit sometimes.
A: I wanted to focus on thinking about where people should place responsibility. What do you do if you’re supposed to contribute to the world, but you’re genuinely kind of incapable and have nothing to offer? What should we do to help these kinds of people, and what do they need to do to help themselves?
J: It doesn’t get answered. I don’t think.
A: Yeah, and I tried to position the different characters as different routes that Calvin could take in terms of their perspectives on how to deal with their situation. We’ve got Gary, who’s sort of this “fuck the world” character. You’ve got Hank, who’s trying to give him a purpose, albeit a very toxic kind. Then Avani is this straightened up person who Calvin is aspiring to be. Mr Rees is all about survival of the fittest, rolling over everyone if you must.
J: The film is such a thoughtful and intelligent comedy. There’s so much humour coming through the actors, who are terrifically cast, and their interactions with each other.
A: There is a lot of Big Lebowski inspiration, trying to get that quick pace back and forth. I don’t think I got up to the Big Lebowski level. That’s what I was going for. It’s incredible how they [the actors in Big Lebowski] did that. The way they bounce off each other feels like it couldn’t have been scripted, but it was. If you read the script, it’s there, line for line. This one was 95% scripted.
J: The film has so much happening, but it flies. The film is two hours and ten minutes but is lightspeed in pacing.
A: I’m glad that you feel that way because you don’t find a whole lot of comedies over two hours. You can find some that are about two hours. The Big Lebowski is two hours. Knocked Up is two hours or something like that. Generally, it’s just rare to find long comedies, so I was a bit worried about that. I can’t see why a comedy shouldn’t be that long. What’s really holding them back? Apart from the amount of time people typically want to stay before going to the bathroom. That’s an Alfred Hitchcock rule.
J: Since it’s finished, how do you feel about the final product?
A: I feel genuinely pretty good about it. There are a few things I wish we could’ve done but couldn’t for budgetary reasons. There are a few things that we cut out, which I think is partially good because it makes the pacing a bit better. But also, there’s like little character details that I wish we had in. Just like little things.
J: Could you give us a walkthrough of creating the comedy? Was it more in the acting or the writing?
A: There was a bit of improv, but the vast majority is in the script. It all comes from trying to make sure the comedy arises primarily from the characters. It can’t just feel like your joke was there for the sake of having a joke. It needs to come from the characters’ personalities and motivations at that moment. I think that’s the harder type of comedy to write and probably part of why this script took me years to write.
J: It started from 2016 through to 2018, right?
A: Yeah, and a large part of the reason it took years to write was plotting because I froze on it for like six months. I was like: I don’t know what to do next. It is about making sure that the comedy is always true to the character and comes from a genuine place and is layered. It’s got to be about what the character says and how the other person reacts at the same time. I can’t remember any examples, but there was a lot of stuff where there’s the main joke, and then there’s another funny aspect to it, if you know what the character’s thinking about, or their past, or something earlier in the scene.
J: What was the impetus behind the film? Were there experiences in your life that led you to the story for Good for Nothing Blues?
A: Well, the core feeling of the film is very much based on how I felt in my first few years out of high school, but different to Calvin’s situation because I’m not that much like Calvin. I also had family stuff that wasn’t good. Straight out of high school, I was going through depression. I couldn’t seem to land a job anywhere, and I was just feeling very isolated in the same way Calvin was. That was the general vibe of that environment, feeling lost in a world where you don’t belong. I’m the opposite in some ways. I’ve never used drugs or alcohol in my life. I could see someone who didn’t have that sort of purpose and was maybe less stubborn than me, sinking into drug use as crutches. I think the first concrete thing in the entire story, like concrete plot elements and visuals, was the ending. I was listening to a song called “Clothesline Saga” [by Bob Dylan]. I didn’t get it into the film because that would’ve cost me like $15,000.
J: Yeah, maybe not, maybe next time.
A: That would have been the original ending song. I’ll just bring it up. [As he plays it] It was recorded in a basement with some friends. This isn’t a professional recording. It has this excessively mundane feeling. He’s talking about hanging washing on a line and then taking them down the next day. Then his neighbour comes and gives him this random gossip, and he’s like: “Oh well”, and leaves. That’s what the song is about. It makes you feel tired, and what’s the point in anything, you know? It’s just day to day stuff. That was one of the first things I listened to. I imagined some basic ideas for the characters, like that moment where Calvin gives up at the end, sees the shoes hit the ground and says: “Maybe later. It’s hot today”. Then this song plays. Aside from very vague character outlines and the feeling of the film, that’s like the first vibe, and I had all these pictures in my head. Like a backyard overgrown with weeds, full of empty beer cans and an old rusty washing line. Empty city streets with junk everywhere. A world that’s been given up on.
J: This film is like a physical manifestation of that song?
J: This coming question sounds obvious but was your process more open at the start, and then you narrowed it down along the way? It wasn’t too specific at the start, but more like a gist?
A: Yeah. It was sort of like amorphous and vague ideas that sublimated into more concrete forms. There was, of course, a conscious attempt to think what could make this fun and interesting because the basic idea isn’t that funny. It’s sort of dreary. The comedy can come out of it, but to make it a really fun film, I wanted to add a lot of twists and turns, so I did consciously think about that. Then some things took me six months of not writing to figure out; trying to think of an element that would add more confusion for the characters.
J: Knowing that just ruins the way we see the film forever.
A: Occasionally, the plot was literally written as I was writing. Later, I forgot that Calvin should be a year older after his birthday party. Avani says: “You’re only twenty-two” when he should be twenty-three. There are a couple of numerical inconsistencies in the film.
J: You’re consistent with the years in terms of the technology in the film. I remember that on set, there were no new iPhones used on camera.
A: We tried to, but there were a few times we forgot the right props, so not everyone’s phones are the same in every scene.
J: This film felt homely, with its use of Australiana. The film’s environment is not what I expect to see with its idiosyncrasies. Finally getting a chance to see and hear Maylands and Kings Park on screen is like: What on Earth?
A: I remember, when I was in TAFE, I saw a feature film called The Reckoning, which had the Perth skyline, and I was like: what? You just don’t ever see it, but why can’t you have distinctively local things, like local culture and stuff? In trying to make everything universally palatable for the US and international audiences, you lose something because you make everything sort of generic everywhere. Part of what I think is interesting about international cinema is seeing the unique cultures. Even if they’re not crazy different. Seeing the little idiosyncrasies of different places. I know people laugh at it because it’s a silly version, but look at Fargo and its Minnesota-isms, for example. It wouldn’t be the same film if it was some random place in America or New York.
J: It’s endearing because of its little quirks and stuff. What was the general structure of the shooting, location-wise?
A: Not enough. That’s where I fall short. It was somewhat structured. We organised solid blocks for each of the apartment locations, but a lot of it was organised no more than a month before it happened. Most of the film was shot over two and a half months. We had to finish it sporadically over the rest of the year. It was sometimes five days before, seeing if there was availability. The thing that made it harder, but probably also better in some ways, was trying not to step on anyone’s toes. I get why people do it, and it makes sense, but I don’t want to be forcing people to take off six weeks of their life when they need to be working to do a film. I try to spread it out a little bit, so it wouldn’t mess with their jobs. It’s good in a way, but it makes it harder to plan because you’re trying to plan around other people. That adds lots of factors that can mess things up. I sometimes don’t plan as far as I should, and then there are things I thought I planned, and then a few days before I am like: “Shit, I need this and this and this”. Or three days before, I need to find a new sound person, but I’m also doing other stuff. Then it gets to like two days before, and I’m like: “Shit, I really really need a sound person. I am really desperate here.” If I was more proactive and more willing to impress upon people’s time, then I might have had a better time sorting it out [laughs].
J: Were there any elaborate rehearsals?
A: We did six days, maybe even seven, days of rehearsals to make sure we wouldn’t be wasting people’s time on the shoot day. We made sure we had much of the performances nailed down before we shot. Obviously, I still have to be directing on the day, but it’s the difference between doing ten to fifteen takes and two to four takes.
J: It was quite efficient and on schedule, based on what I saw while on set. People just knew their mark, and it was like clockwork. Did you storyboard?
A: Nah, I didn’t storyboard. I’m a bad illustrator, but I did do a shot list with specific instructions. There’s an advantage to being your own cinematographer. There’s a disadvantage, sometimes I lose some of my directing focus, but the advantage is that I know exactly what it should look like, how it’s meant to be shot and cut, which makes things easier. To keep things going fast, I don’t have to communicate that to anyone, you know. I probably want to get a cinematographer for my later projects, but it has to be someone who gets that I have a way I want to shoot it. I know it doesn’t sound conducive to how you’re supposed to generally shoot films. I still want to basically have my own shot list in my head. I want a cinematographer who goes with what I want to shoot [laughs] because I’m very visual, extremely visual in my brain.
J: What would you say was the toughest stage of production?
A: The toughest stage is pre-production. But pre-production was happening all through production. The toughest stage for me is anything when I must coordinate people, write stuff down, and do planning that is not directly connected to filming. Logistics and paperwork. I don’t like doing that. I much prefer production. Editing’s good, but when I’m filming and on set, that’s where I feel I could be forever, you know. I really need to get a producer for the next one to handle that other stuff for me.
J: I remember on set the actors putting on props. Bryce Fenwick, who plays a leading role, was your props and effects guy.
A: Bryce really deserves credit as the second-most important person on the crew. He’s a very helpful guy and was passionate about the project. He took on so much. He’s really the second-in-command of the project.
J: Bryce was running around on set, making all the posters.
A: Yeah, he did heaps of stuff. Sourcing them. He even made Calvin’s birthday jacket.
J: He was so willing to talk and answer all my questions about stuff. The crew was a very open, positive learning environment. It was good energy.
A: We try to keep it happy on set. Nobody likes a miserable set. I think you want no more than fifteen or twenty people on a film set. Anything more than that is overkill, unless you’re doing one-hundred-and-fifty extras or something like that.
J: With regards to the props, they were all very detailed. The film doesn’t focus too hard on these props, like the bowling trophies and rock band posters that detail fictional names.
A: You want to fill the film with as much detail and realism as possible. You don’t want anyone to look at it and see some different name on the trophy. It pulls you out of it. It’s also nice to have little Easter eggs and stuff. You get to learn Avani’s last name if you want. All the main characters have last names, which you can see if you look carefully.
J: Is this the first feature film you’ve shown in a film theatre?
A: The first in a proper big theatre, like Luna, yeah. I have shown others in a theatrical-type venue, but not like Luna. The first one was at a UWA lecture hall, which has projectors, speakers, and other stuff but nothing high quality. The next one was at a theatre in South Perth, the Mill Point Theatre. It’s more like a stage theatre, but they’ve got a projector as well. I was always afraid to take the leap to get Luna because it was $1800 to hire. I was like: “I’m never gonna make that back”. I’m not sure if I would’ve for Subject 36. Maybe if it was in a proper venue, it would’ve had more prestige. I don’t know. I totally underestimated how well GFNB would do. It cost me $2000, including a few extra expenses on the night, but we still made $5000 on top of that. Don’t charge $12 for tickets because people think your movie is only worth $12. At the time, I thought the opposite, but everyone else thought: “If it’s $12, it must be a shit movie.”
J: The film feels really cinematic. It looked, flowed, and sounded good on the big screen. Was the experience on the big screen a key point of consideration in the creation process?
A: I don’t know if it makes a difference, what size the screen is. We just want it to look good when you’re viewing it. However, I must give credit to Diego, our sound editor. After Bryce and I, he put in the most time. Quite a few months of work into nailing down the sound edit, and we had a 5.1 mix. He’s done a really good job.
J: Narration, depending on the film, can be either like vegemite or chicken salt. What was your approach to narration? I noticed there was more narration in the first part.
A: The narration is heavier in the first half, I guess, mainly because it’s a very efficient way to communicate information without having to spend too much time, doing the slow character development, before the action starts. Also, with narration, I wanted it to have a sarcastic, sardonic angle to it, which added a bit of humour. This is a very formal, classical narration, but there are dry jokes in there, adding a layer of irony to the sense of self-importance of the characters. The narrator in Barry Lyndon [a 1975 historical drama by Stanley Kubrick] was the main inspiration for this, along with maybe the Arrested Development narrator.
J: Do you have a favourite character?
A: I like the way they interact together. I like their connections. I like Calvin’s character stuff the most, but he’s not the funniest character, and I know that. He’s the emotional vehicle for the film, whereas some other characters are funnier than him. It’s just hard to decide.
J: Tell us about the music in the film.
A: The music was a big thing for me. The music was an integral part of the feeling and personality of the film. That Bob Dylan song was the seed that got me thinking: “I know what I want to do for this film.” I wanted the music to reflect the mood. It’s mostly inspired by folk and sort of sixties blues rock, and I wanted to have all these tracks with a lethargic, hot summer feel. Benjamin Whit did the music, and he did a great job, creating songs that were different but inspired by those pieces. Same sort of spirit, but also with his own touch that was quite unique. In the end, I think the film has got 15 or 16 original tracks, almost all of them by Benjamin Whit. There’s one or two by Miguel, Diego’s brother. I think the soundtrack makes the film.
J: How did your filmmaking passion take flight?
A: I used to make films when I was a little kid, like seven to ten. Then I sort of fell out of it for a while. Obviously, they were stupid kids’ films, but they were kind of funny. When I first got out of high school, I tried to do computer science. Didn’t get anywhere with that. I was bad at it and couldn’t focus in class. Then I did graphic design and began leaning towards more art stuff. I never thought I’d do film because I was like: “Aw, it’s too difficult to get a foothold in it, and there’s not enough work.” I was right, but I am very passionate about it, so I just made that decision eventually. I was like: “I’m not getting anywhere. I’m just doing stuff that I half care about. Why not just do something I fully care about?”, you know? So that’s what I did in 2014. Towards the end of 2013, when I knew I was going to TAFE, I made my first short. It was okay, not very good.
J: Did you see at your career’s beginning a particular genre or character type you’d like to specialise in?
A: I didn’t want to be restricted to a genre. I wanted to be able to do any sort of story in a way I thought was best for it. I don’t like to be restricted. I think there are a lot of things you can try out. I really enjoyed making a comedy. I’d love to do that again, but it’s got to be appropriate. You can’t just say: “I wanna make another comedy,” and try to come out with something around that. The inspiration has to be there.
J: Are you aware of any work traits? You’re a detailed worker, I know. Are you at all spontaneous?
A: In the writing process, I don’t like to overly structure it. I sort of get it in my head and run it over while I’m driving around until it becomes more concrete. Then I sorta work on it a bit more, structurally. In terms of shooting, though, I guess everything’s pretty well organised, generally. I try to make sure I know exactly what I want, and it’s totally clear in my mind before the shoot. That makes the shoot days go smoothly. I do sometimes have to pressure myself to make something. I can’t just wait all the time, or else you’d never get anything done. And just watching other things, listening to music, reading and stuff to help those ideas congeal.
J: Do you reckon you’ve begun to cultivate your own film grammar?
A: Hard to say. I like to shoot on sticks. I don’t like to be handheld very often. That’s something. I don’t know if that counts. I guess it’s about timing. Making sure that you have gravitas at the right time, you pause at the right time, and you have it fast at the right time. It’s hard to say, specifically. If you wanted to analyse the styles or something, I dunno. It varies from film to film. GFNB had a lot of group shots and a lot of wide angles. Subject 36 was different because it had surveillance-type shots on long lenses and isolating characters. It’s what suited the story.
J: Any artists in general who inspire you?
A: Bob Dylan, Stanley Kubrick, the Coen brothers. Those are probably my three biggest influences. Music is a big thing for me. Generally, George Orwell is a very insightful writer, and George R.R. Martin. I don’t read a lot [laughs]. But those are definitely writers that have influenced my thinking.
J: Would you ever re-examine what you presented in GFNB? Be it those types of characters or themes. It’s quite an open film to interpret, with nothing too explicit being said anyway. Certain directors like to explore the same ideas many times, but from different angles with each film. Do you see yourself not really looking back and just going forward?
A: I’ll probably look back on the film. I mean, I might change my mind about certain things. I’m not sure, but in terms of keeping things open-ended, there’s a quote from Kubrick that I really like on that. “The most effective way to communicate is indirectly. If you simply tell someone something, it goes about skin deep. But if you give them the parts, they need to work it out themselves, then that’s something that’s a lot more lasting and a lot more deep-hitting.” Like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, if Kubrick just says the aliens come to Earth in a big spaceship, and they come to the apes and say: “We are gifting you with the power of intelligence,” and then they leave, or something like that. That’s not interesting. You get to see this mysterious thing happening, and you’re working out what it all means. I might explore the same themes in different ways in the future. A lot of the themes are quite universal, like belonging and purpose. So yeah, absolutely, I’d come back to those. In terms of a sequel, no sequel. I don’t think the film works with a sequel.
J: You explained your impetus before, but is there a certain purpose you wanted to aim for with the film?
A: Obviously, I want to entertain people. I want people to enjoy it. I guess I wanted to make something that would get people thinking. One of the great things about art is that it doesn’t have to be an essay or something with some specific point. If you can get people to feel and connect and think, then that can get people to discover more about the world and themselves, which they hadn’t before.
J: Film is used as a pedestal to consider things rather than a conclusion. Not to make people think a certain thing, but to make them, simply think. Where you go is up to you.
A: Yeah. And I wanted to make something more local-feeling. Hopefully, it can bring a little extra credit to the Perth arts scene.
J: Any Perth filmmakers you look up to?
A: I found Ben Young very inspirational with Hounds of Love. I guess the other guy would be Jeremy Sims, who made Last Train to Freo and Last Cab to Darwin. It’s pretty inspiring seeing him. He’s obviously gone on to be a big successful Australian director and makes great movies.
J: What’s your proudest part of the film?
A: That’s a hard one. I don’t really know. I guess the proudest thing is just that people enjoyed it, and I didn’t have to make too many compromises. I made the film I wanted to make.
The Blu-Ray to the film can be purchased at smallvoicefilms.com.