Crunchy Gravel is an award-winning student film about unrequited love. In the process of planning the film, filmmaker Mattie McLeod was inspired by watching countless costume dramas, includingPride and Prejudice.
“I came up with the plot of a feature film,” she said, explaining that her ambitious ideas started spiralling out of control. Realising that she’d never be able to recreate Netherfield Ball on a shoestring budget, Mattie started hacking away at her screenplay, deciding to structure the film around a letter. “Letters were so important back then and were in every costume drama i had ever seen so i went with that,” she said.
In her original screenplay, Mattie had a very clear idea how the film should end. “I had the final scene to my film all in storyboards up there so I just decided to make the end,” she said. “That’s always my favourite part anyway.”
“I did a ridiculous amount of pre-production,” she said. During the pre-production phase, Mattie frequently ran ideas past her mother, who studied film at the Victorian College of the Arts. She recommends seeking advice from your parents and teachers. “If you have a parent who’s a know it all because they studied media or film or whatever, grit your teeth and listen to them because they’re usually right and they’ve been through all this before,” she said. “Also listen to your media teacher. They have seen it all before and witnessed every mistake possible! They are there to help even when it doesn’t seem that way. They want you to do well it makes them look good.”
Despite her ambition, Mattie was keen to keep the production manageable.
“I wanted to keep everything to a minimum,” Mattie said. “Filmmaking is hard so the less dialog and fewer actors you have chances are there wont be so many mistakes, which means fewer takes and a shorter shoot.”
“I still did a crap load of work,” she admits.
For the shoot, Mattie did a great deal of organisation, sourcing a camera that would allow her to shoot shallow depth of field.
Casting was another important consideration. Mattie realised that working with her friends on such an important shoot might be difficult, so she went looking for others to play the main roles in the film. In the end, the lead actress dropped out shortly before principal photography, forcing Mattie to cast a close friend in the lead role.
“She was very talented,” Mattie said. “But the poor thing was seventeen and I was making her kiss a thirty year old.”
Although casting the film was difficult enough, Mattie also had to organise a horse drawn carriage. Fortunately, she came across Horse Drawn Cab & Cowho were both accommodating and enthusiastic about the production.
“It was surprisingly easy,” she said. “They just let me go through and pick out what I wanted, no fuss.”
Mattie also spent a great deal of time scouting for locations, realising that the success of her film would rely heavily on its setting. “When I found Montsalvat, it was like all my prayers were answered,” she said. Despite a lot of phone calls and organisation, it turned out that the location welcomed amateur photographers and had no problem accommodating the shoot.
During principal photography, Mattie used shotlists and a shooting schedule to ensure everything ran smoothly. It was so well organised that the shoot actually finished early. During the shoot, Mattie called on her friends and family to help out, acting as caterers and production assistants. This assistance turned out to be invaluable. “Have extra people around to entertain the actors and go fetch stuff,” she said. “You’ll be crazy busy and you don’t have time. Make sure you also bring food for people who are helping you. Actors are being super nice by giving up their time to help you out, so make sure feed them and keep them happy. You may want to work with them in the future.”
When it came to writing music, Mattie called on her friends to help out. “I was very lucky to have lots of musically talented friends,” she said. “My friend Maillie wrote all the music and then she recorded it with my cousin Louis in his bedroom.”
Despite the stress of shooting a film, Mattie encourages student filmmakers not to stress out. “It just wastes your time and energy,” she said. She also recommends auditioning actors and having backups if something goes wrong.
“If you can film all the footage you need at a location before moving to the next one,” she said, stressing the importance of shooting schedules. “You don’t want to be going back and forward all day it will really hold you up.”
Between her lead actress dropping out and the camera battery dying every twenty minutes, Mattie thinks the production of her film was a bit of a shambles. “The organisational stuff nearly killed me,” she said. “I was catching up on other school work for about a month after i finished!”
“Get ahead in the your work for other classes before your film gets too out of hand- I wish I had done that. keep your story simple- I wanted to do a musical number about exams, I had written the song and everything (it was awesome if I do say so my self) but to execute it properly just wouldn’t have been possible for my level of skill, or resources at the time,” she said.
Mattie now studies at Swinburne University and takes every opportunity to be involved in film production – whether she’s writing, acting or directing. One of her current projects is a Sailor Moon fan film that’s already attracting considerable talent and attention.