The Australian feature film Exit has its world premiere on Thursday night at the Fantasia Film Festival held in Canada. Genre junky Quentin Tarantino describes Fantasia as “The most important and prestigious genre film festival on this continent.”
Writer Martyn Pedler and director Marek Polgar met when attending a meeting about a new magazine. Martyn made a joke and Marek thought it was funny. This soon led to Marek inviting Martyn to work as a first AD on his new short film.
Martyn had written some monologues for Melbourne bars, and the curator of the Melbourne City Museum decided to make them the basis of a show he was putting together. Filmmakers and artists took different parts of the stories and created artworks for the exhibition called Melbourne and Other Myths.
On the phone from Montreal, Martyn described how the exhibition was about “creating fake urban myths.” One of the stories was about “a cult of people thinking it was a maze and no-one was looking for the door anymore.”
When Martyn and Marek were later throwing around ideas for a movie, Marek commented on how much that particular concept had struck him. Although they were originally going to make it as a series of short films for the internet, they later decided to make it a feature film instead.
Marek was drawn to the idea through the exhibition. He described how there was “a paragraph in the narrative which really held the idea and it takes on a different energy in people’s lives.” This paragraph helped to ground the production.
While Martyn was “definitely the writer” according to Marek, they “feed off each other about ideas.” The script took three years to develop.
Producer Kate Pappas became involved in around 2008, just after they’d shot the first episode and were still planning the segmented online shorts. Danielle McCarthy came on board as a fellow producer in early 2010. Martyn noted that as the film took a long time to make, “different people have come and gone throughout.”
Kate explained that the basic premise is “people searching for meaning and an answer,” but for those looking for the exit, “it becomes an obsession and takes people away from being able to live.”
For Martyn, the film tells the story of Alice and “tangents into other characters along the way.” While their initial idea was for separate stories, “it’s a winding narrative path now.” Alice thinks she’s found the building where the door is located but she’s unable to get into it, and the story explores people’s different approaches to the problem – literal, metaphorical, religious, esoteric, etc.
The film was financed independently and filmed in blocks over three years, and they used the time between each shoot to generate more finances. Although it was “filmed oddly,” it was also a “self-correcting mechanism” as neither of them had much experience in filmmaking and they could reshoot when needed. Martyn had previously done no screenwriting, and it was Marek’s first feature film. Marek calls the learning curve “a cliff face” but “we got there in the end.” Through “incorporating the lessons, the film evolved with us.”
They found actors from VCA and through cold call auditions, theatre groups and the contacts of film people they were working with. Marek found that “The most effective means of finding actors that worked was generally contacts passed on through people we were working with.” The project was a difficult one for actors to commit to due to the extensive production time. Marek calls it “a three year odyssey where they couldn`t change weight or haircut.” The film was shot on a RED camera in Melbourne and Kate described how “it has a really urban gritty feel to it.”
Although there were difficulties, Marek commented that “I think ultimately the project grew off the commitment and passion of the people that believed in it. As trite as that might sound, you can`t get a low budget film off the ground without many, many people sacrificing quite a lot for very little financial compensation. The film seemed to take on a life of its own over the years, and I think that fed back into the commitment of the people involved. So, yeah, it was hard, especially for the lead actress, Kylie, but she did an amazing job over the years, all the principle actors did.”
They started editing about a week before the end of the final shoot block in February 2010. The editor Patrick McCabe had worked with producer Kate Pappas at Renegade Films (where she works in the factual department) on a few projects and she thought he might fit with the synergy of the people involved. He “turned out to be perfect,” she said. He also supervised the post-production work.
Marek described how he and Patrick spent “about a year (minus three months when he took a job editing Offspring) sitting in a room together and piecing together over 3 years of footage. It was a gruelling and wonderful experience. I don`t think editors often get that long to grow into a film.”
He added that “the density of Martyn`s script meant that there were many permutations of the film, many forms that it could take. It took about a year to get it to the point where we felt that we found the film.” They began working on the sound about four years ago with the sound composer, “so towards the end of the edit we started to bring the two processes together. Sound composition then took over full time from about February of this year, and lasted right up until the middle of July before we flew off to Fantasia.”
They were also fortunate to develop a good relationship with Deluxe, and “they really went out of their way to provide talent (Stanley) and time in their colour grade suites to take the film to a very stylized end.”
They were keen to thank Paul Cross, Ian Anderson and Stanley Lopuszanski, as well as Pete Wells and Cail Young at Inspiration Studios.
The question of the target audience resulted in a one word answer from Martyn, “us.” He explained further that they’d previously been working on other targeted genre scripts, but with Exit, they wanted to “make something where we didn’t have to fit it into a box. It was an idea we were interested in exploring. It sits between the more genre pulpy films and art films. The mid-point is what makes it interesting.”
Since it was selected, they’ve been fielding emails from various distributors and Martyn commented philosophically, “we’ll see what happens next.”
Marek said “We made a film that was very personal and not really intended for a specific market out of a belief that cinema has to be a product of close relationships and passion. I think for me, for cinema that I love, that seems to be the primary element. Hopefully there is a market that responds to that sort of filmmaking. But even if there isn`t, to be honest, I feel like 90 percent of what I wanted from this process was achieved in its execution. It would be amazing if there was a response, an audience out there for the film, but the film wasn`t made to depend on that audience. And that`s really what I loved about making something like this.”
Next on the agenda is a script called The Hourglass which they’d been working on before Exit. They’re “hoping to get back to it soon,” according to Martyn, “and hoping for the money to make it.”
Film Victoria helped send them to the Fantasia Film Festival when it was selected and they arrived there yesterday. The world premiere is on Thursday night with a second screening on Saturday.
Anne Richey After four years on staff at Screen Hub, Anne Richey is working on her own scripts, far from phones and daily deadlines.