Interview with Stuart McBratney – Director of ‘Pop-Up’

Local filmmaker and PhD candidate Stuart McBratney’s latest project is the movie Pop-Up, a triptych of stories about people affected by a single event. Owen Harvey caught up with Stu to ask him some questions about movies and studying at UON.

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Can you pick a single film that got you into making movies?

When I was 7, I saw The Empire Strikes Back in a cinema. At the moment the snowspeeder flew beneath the legs of the AT-AT in a point-of-view shot, I had an epiphany; I was going to make movies. Decades since, I’m still working towards it. My taste has evolved over the years, but the goal remains.

What is the main reason you are doing a PhD at University of Newcastle? What’s it about?

There’s always been a part of me that’s wanted to take my studies further, but I was working full-time in advertising for many years, so the timing wasn’t right. A few years ago I quit my job to focus on running a business, which gave me the freedom to pursue my own projects. I enjoy learning new things, and I like to challenge myself, so when the PhD opportunity arose I jumped at it.

My thesis title is Pragmatism and Bricolage in Microbudget Feature Filmmaking. I’m developing a model for making films on very small budgets, by studying production diaries of filmmakers who’ve had success in this field, and by reflecting on my own experience making a movie. It’s a “PhD by creative work”, which in my case means the production of Pop-Up, a comedy drama featuring three interweaving stories, set in Newcastle and Transylvania.

You’ve used crowdfunding on your latest film as well as other projects. What are the biggest advantages or disadvantages of this?

I raised about a fifth of my budget from crowdfunding. The rest was funded through the production of TV commercials and web promos. The good thing about using Pozible or Kickstarter is that it helps you get the ball rolling. I suspect that most people with a few hundred Facebook friends should have no problem raising $10K.

But unless you’ve invented something amazing like a new type of butter knife, or you’re a celebrity such as Zach Braff, those much-touted figures of millions of dollars won’t materialise. Strangers will rarely fund your work. You will get your money from friends and family.

Running a successful campaign is a full-time job. It requires personalised emails sent every day, and reminders, and more reminders, to hundreds of people. And sometimes you’ll feel like a beggar. But hey, if you have a burning desire to make something, do whatever it takes.

What is your favourite Australian film? Favourite film you’ve seen recently?

I will always have a soft spot for The Castle. When I have friends over from overseas, I’ll show it to them, as it’s a great introduction to Aussie sensibilities. It was also made for a relatively low budget, which is an area of interest for me. I also think Lantana is a great Aussie movie.

Recently, Her has been my favourite. It struck such a perfect balance between drama and comedy, and somehow made its premise utterly believable. I hope one day to make a film as beautiful and compelling.

What is something people may not know about you?

Perhaps the variety of jobs I’ve done over the years. I’ve been a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, a pizza delivery guy, a shopping centre spruiker, a mailroom sorter, a Work for the Dole project co-ordinator, a tutor, and have even walked around shopping centres dressed as a giant apple!

You’ve worked on hundreds of TV commercials in your career. Do they present as much opportunity for creativity and experimentation, or are you more likely to treat them as something that pays the bills?

It’s a bit of both. I’d hate to get to retirement age and look back having only made commercials, as I’d feel I hadn’t contributed anything to society. But the actual process of making them is precisely the same process as making a movie, just on a smaller scale. So every commercial job is an experience that makes me a better filmmaker, and for that I’m thankful.

Best advice you’ve been given?

I was really lucky to have met one of my heroes when I lived in Berlin, director Wim Wenders. I’d tagged along to an exhibition of his photography, and he was there in person. I worked up the courage to speak to him, and he was gracious enough not to brush me off, though I’m sure he’s pestered by aspiring filmmakers daily.

He told me about his friend who’d made an entire feature on the Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera. Shooting only 100 lines of resolution, 16 frames per second, and in black and white, it’s about the lowest quality format available. But he said that it was a beautiful film. His advice was not to get too hung up on technicalities such as resolution, because ultimately the only thing that matters is to tell a great story.

What is your guilty pleasure?

If you’d asked me this a couple of weeks ago I’d have said triple choc Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or maybe thin and crispy pepperoni pizza. But I’ve recently decided to eat better, so I guess these days it’d be rice paper rolls and pho at Saigon Feast, Hunter Street. It’s the best Vietnamese in town, and believe me, I’ve tried them all!

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Pop-Up will be having a ‘Special Preview Screening’ at Tower Cinemas on King St, Newcastle on October 4. This event includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette, and a presentation by writer/director Stuart McBratney, so don your cocktail attire and join cast, crew and supporters on the red carpet for the film’s very first screening at 7pm sharp. Visit the film’s website or Facebook for more info, or tix.yt/popup to buy tickets ($15 for screening only). This film has not yet been classified and it contains adult themes and coarse language. Images sourced from Facebook.