Making ‘Rotten Monster’

Rotten Monster is a gritty drama created by James Nolan. The intense story about a boy living with his abusive step-father was selected for Top Screen 2016 and received a People’s Choice award.

James always knew that he was going to do Year 12 Media and that he wanted to focus on film. With this in mind, he spent the summer holidays before the year started thinking about ideas for a moody and evocative drama centring around a teenage protagonist. During this process, he drew inspiration from a number of Australian films, including Animal Kingdom and Snowtown,  admiring the way these films achieve a bleak atmosphere.

“I had to do a lot of drafts,” he said when asked about the pre-production process. “I did about seven drafts of the script.”

James stressed the importance about getting feedback on your screenplays. During the development of his screenplay, James was told that he had far too much dialogue and was encouraged to think about ways he could convey this information visually to make it more engaging for the audience.

All of the effort that he put into planning his film helped him overcome a difficult period of illness during principal photography. Instead of filming over a period of two or three days, he was forced to film a little bit every weekend over a six week period. The difficulties he encountered meant that he had little time to complete the editing of his film. “I will say that the pre-production that I did do, kind of, was the only reason I was able to shoot it,” he said.

Location was one of the most important parts of production. When he was on location, James took advantage of natural light, incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes that were in the house. “The house has a natural very kind of grim feel about it and that’s where I found, kind of, the heart of the storyline was around that location. So when we were filming there, I didn’t want to use any kind of soft boxes. I didn’t want to use anything that could kind of like blowout that natural light that was in the house, that grim light, so i kinda just thought I want to shoot its naturalistic as possible and I want to keep kind of the eeriness of the house as it is.”

During post-production, James spent a great deal of time thinking about the colour grading of his shots. There were scenes were he particularly wanted to accentuate the blue, desaturated look of films like Snowtown. 

“Put a lot of time into pre-production. That can save you. Put a lot of time into your script, into your actors make sure you can find a lot of people that can help you out,” he recommends. “Hone down your script and make it as good as it can be and then that’ll pretty much carry everything else.”