The RISE Canberra Podcast

Sebastian Chan and Monica Penders - Podcast 6

August 10, 2020 Jen Seyderhelm
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Sebastian Chan and Monica Penders - Podcast 6
Chapters
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Sebastian Chan and Monica Penders - Podcast 6
Aug 10, 2020
Jen Seyderhelm

Welcome to the sixth RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with film maker, producer and writer Sebastian Chan from Vorfreude Pictures and Monica Penders, CEO of Screen Canberra. Sebastian's innovative series The Red Thread debuts on Instagram on August 17 as part of the Where You Are Festival. Monica speaks of the devastation that COVID has wrought on the film and screen industry plus ways in which Canberra is adapting via projects like Sebastian's and other initiatives.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, on till September.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the sixth RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with film maker, producer and writer Sebastian Chan from Vorfreude Pictures and Monica Penders, CEO of Screen Canberra. Sebastian's innovative series The Red Thread debuts on Instagram on August 17 as part of the Where You Are Festival. Monica speaks of the devastation that COVID has wrought on the film and screen industry plus ways in which Canberra is adapting via projects like Sebastian's and other initiatives.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, on till September.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Welcome to the RISE Canberra podcast produced by Events ACT. Rise Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events. Finding new ways to connect audiences with experiences made right here in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists, and businesses. You can find out more at risecanberra.com. Each fortnight we will be in conversation with Canberra creators and getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. I'm Jen Seyderhelm. And in this episode, we'll be talking with Sebastian Chan filmmaker, producer, and writer and Monica Penders the CEO of Screen Canberra.

Sebastian Chan:

Hello, I'm Sebastian Chan from Vorfreude Pictures, and I'm a local Canberra and filmmaker producer writer and Director.

Jen Seyderhelm:

What did you want to be when you grew up Sebastian?

Sebastian Chan:

When I grew up, I was always interested in acting, so that's kind of how I got started in the arts and my interest in film making really grew from there. I love kind of being on stage and collaborating with other actors. And I think the thrill of just being on stage and being in front of an audience was like, what really drew me to it. Cause I was always a shy kid and it gave me an opportunity to kind of break out of my shell. And my love for theatre kind of developed into a love of film and working with actors and forming and creating plays and screenplays and how I kind of merged into film making.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It's about 50 50 in the acting world from what I have experienced half are introverts and half a while to extroverts. And it suits both personalities at equal measures. And for a lot of the introverted actors, the film making process is really appealing as well. Did you find that for you as well?

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah, I think so. I think it was more the fact that I just didn't like seeing myself on screen and I was like, Oh, I can't do that. So I've got to find something I can do. And I just, I think I was always good at creating this world, these stories for my neighbors and my friends to inhabit. And I was kind of always calling the shots and I think for me, yeah, I was that mix of introvert and extrovert. It kind of matched the director or the producer role because you needed for all different types of skill sets on a film set. So yeah, I was kind of drawn into that and almost out of necessity as well. There was no one really kind of out of Uni trying to make films like I was, so it was all right, if no one else is going to do it, I may as well give it a go.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And this brings me to the next point because there's obviously lots of people who are making films, but the ACT as a film making hub is something of a new development. So how long have you lived in Canberra for?

Sebastian Chan:

I've lived here my whole life. So I've kind of seen it progressed slowly to where it is today and 10 years ago, I think Screen Canberra's just getting off the ground and there was almost nothing here before that. And since then we've got a $5 million production fund from the ACT government and a whole lot of support for emerging filmmakers. And I think I was just really lucky to come up through that time as well. So he does obviously the local government bodies here in Canberra had some great programs, but it was also in my cohort at uni, there was just so many great filmmakers I collaborate with. And at that stage, you're not quite ready for production funding. So you kind of band together and you make what you can. And Canberra's really good for building a foundation for film making and art skill set in general. I think.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I think so too. And I love that. You've just described it as such because every filmmaker has to start somewhere. You don't start with a major film the first time round, you start with small things and build up through your resume, et cetera. And what I'm finding now is camera's always been a great place to start the process, but now Canberra is getting to that point with a reputation strong enough that you can really become and make really interesting films and different types of films here. And that has been, as you said, last 10 years has been a big change.

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah. Oh yeah. Without a doubt. I mean, you've got huge productions coming in now, but I think going back to starting somewhere. Yeah , there's very few filmmakers out there that have kind of had their first film. That's been a huge hit, huge success. So I guess I'm in the other category where I've had a plethora of short films that have not really gone anywhere, but it's all been a learning experience and gradually kind of building up alongside the industry, which is great. Like you said, there's so many big productions coming in now and there's a lot more opportunities for emerging filmmakers in Canberra today to get attachments or be involved in some way or another. So I think it's a really exciting time to be a filmmaker in camp at the moment.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So what I hadn't realized when I came to find out more about you, Sebastian is your connection to some films that I have seen and I've really gotten a lot out of. So I want to ask you about Bus Trip. How did your involvement in Bus Trip came about? Because that little film left quite a marked impression on me.

Sebastian Chan:

So Peter Rosini, and his mother Maria, I've worked with them a few times and some other short films and Peter has an intellectual disability and Maria is a great disability advocate and we've always wanted to do a film that we could really showcase Peter's skill set as an actor. And I kind of went into that process with him and mind and creating him that lead role. And how can I bring out his nature? He's loving, caring nature and, and challenge him at the same time. Because with every film actors always want to challenge themselves from actors want to challenge themselves. And I kind of wanted it to be like a, at first, like some sort of musical cause he loves musicals and stuff. And after a bit of feedback from my peers, I turned it down a bit and it became a bit more of a gritty kind of realistic kind of film, but still have that fantasy element. And that's what I love about it. So it's got both those worlds and, and yet it's, it's done really well since it's been made. And I think everyone involved was really happy to be a part of it. It's done well for the disability community here in Canberra, I think.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Would you say that that was the one that was the turning point for you?

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think so there had been some other local filmmakers that had done it all in that competition. So I'd always looked at that competition as like, if I can do something that gains a bit of traction there , I can kind of move on to the next thing like my peers, but I had no idea it would be, it won best film in the Australian category and it sent me overseas to LA for four weeks and it was a mind blowing opportunity and I'd like to think I took advantage of it to try and reach different networks and kind of talk about the film and yeah. And it was a great reaction. I've received this great reaction here and I think it's been playing in schools and stuff. So yeah, I think it really opened my mind to what is possible when you have a great story to tell.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I could not agree more. And in fact, the name of your film company, I'm to try and say it

Sebastian Chan:

Okay , Vorfreude Yeah . That's pretty good.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Please say it again for me.

Sebastian Chan:

Vorfreude

Jen Seyderhelm:

It means the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future stories. What a beautiful description for film making.

Sebastian Chan:

I couldn't agree more. I think so. I mean the word itself is it's a German word, but it's been adopted into the English language. So in a lot of ways that kind of represents who I am as a person. And if you put your mind to it, you can really achieve anything. That's why I like to think anything's possible. If you put your imagination to it.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Let's talk about this COVID experience because almost all areas of the arts industry we've been discussing this throughout these podcasts. The games industry is one of the few that sort of been not as a ffected, but film, actors, everything to do with it have been almost crippled because you can't make a film with social distancing, especially if the message is the antithesis. So how have you been affected?

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah, it's been super difficult, I suppose. Like most people in my industry, everything has been put on hold and we've really had to resort to development where we can writing and preparing the project when everything clears and we get the green light to go ahead. That's good for me. Cause I do write bit for other filmmakers. Some people don't necessarily do that. So it's been a tough position for a lot of people. I know, but there's been lots of ingenuitive ways. People have been still being able to make films like, you know, the webcams and phones and stuff. And there's some really clever films coming out now around that lockdown idea of still creating, but being safe about it. But yeah, there's guidelines out there. And I think the industry is slowly moving towards a workable solution that keeps everyone safe, which would be really good for everyone. So creatives, we're always going to find a way to keep creating. So it's a good challenge to have.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And you've definitely done that too with the Where You Are festival. And I know you're not going to want to give too much away about The Red Thread, this close to the release date, but just broadly, because this is a first and this is really exciting. And as you said, it's indicative of adaptation to the needs of the situation. But tell me about The Red Thread.

Sebastian Chan:

The Red Thread, like you said, is Canberra's first Instagram TV series and it's an eight times three minute web series following Matt. Who's a young man who kind of has a strange dream. He wakes up in a parallel universe as an older version of himself and his life. Isn't quite what he wanted it to be. So in present day, he wakes up and he's like, well, I've got to change this. I've got to make things right again, first and foremost, with the love of his life, Sarah . So he goes about trying to reconcile that relationship with her. It's essentially a 24 minute film cut up into three minute episodes over eight days. So I really try to use the Instagram platform to tap into that younger audience. It is a bit of a coming of age film and people's attention span, especially younger generations than not great for a long, long projects . So it's going to be really good to see how it turns out considering the Where You Are Festival is all about experiencing events on your own time from your own home. And I think this is a great opportunity to showcase that for The Red Thread.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So you were just talking about using the platform to relate into that younger audiences as well. Have you seen this done anywhere before?

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah. Yeah. What inspired me was another series from some fellow filmmakers called the out there, which kind of established that format and they did so well with it that the idea was so great that I thought this is why hasn't anyone else really done this. It's such a good idea. So I kind of went into it with that Instagram process in mind, how to create a story that keeps attention span, but it's not too long. And three minutes per episode, you have to have a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. And how do you do that on a low budget scale as well? So I'm always trying to push the boundaries a little bit, trying to experiment. So each of my projects, I'm always trying to reach kind of the next bar up, I suppose you could say. So I think this project definitely achieves that, but also it's amazing what we can achieve in such a low budget as well.

:

Did you write this as well Sebastian?

Sebastian Chan:

I did. Yeah.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Okay. I know like everybody else I have to wait to find out, then you can't tell me anything more than that, but for people who want to find out or want to watch, when can they watch it and how can they watch it?

Sebastian Chan:

It premieres on the 17th of August 12:00 PM on the Instagram, The Red Thread_Series. So the first episode drops then, and then every day for the next eight days, it will have a new episode. There's going to be a lot of shareable content, a lot of ways to bring people in. And essentially it's based on an ancient Chinese proverb. That's what I was inspired by. But really I think from the writing perspective, I've kind of drawn on my own fears and desires and stuff.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Can I ask though, if I come in at say day four, can I go back and catch up at day four on what's happened? I'm feeling very old here, but like I know with Instagram stories about 24 hours and they finish . So if I miss the first day, will it remain?

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah. Yeah. So the idea is that the Instagram page itself is like its own platform, its own channel. So the idea is to watch from the bottom up episode, one will be at the very bottom. And then as it releases, episode two to eight will be kind of from the bottom to the top. And yeah, you can always go back to the first episode and watch it through the best way to kind of engage with it will be from the very first premiere date, but obviously it's on demand after that. And someone can come and look at it in a year and see it, the whole series all at once.

Jen Seyderhelm:

But you know what I love about it right now is that for me when I was a kid growing up, because we couldn't just find things whenever we wanted, we had to wait a week for a new episode or something like this. And what you've done is created that desire. So you've got your cliffhanger each day and the person's got to wait for the next day to find out what happens next. And we don't do that in TV so much. You can get a whole series in one lump. So there's no buildup, there's no anticipation.

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah, that's it. And I think I kind of wanted to go back to that idea of building up that tension of, Oh, what's going to happen. Well , I have to come back and find out. So I think that's why it's going to be best for as many people to see it as it comes out over the week. But it's kind of all one film cut up into pieces. So you can kind of see it where it's going once it's been posted as well, which is cool.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So for you, for people who are listening today, who are sitting there and you yourself know you wanting to be an actor, I want it to be an actor when I grew up, I wanted to do all of that sort of stuff, like you. Someone who's listening to you right now, what's the best lesson you've learned through this evolving from actor into filmmaker process.

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah, I think it's probably to realise everyone has their own experience that they bring to the process. And you can't really assume someone is confident enough to bring that without having a safe space or some people can kind of seem like they have a big ego, but really I think most people in this industry are really passionate about telling heartfelt stories and they want to be involved in making something beautiful. So I think just being aware of different experiences and being willing to listen and communicate and share your ideas without kind of treading on anyone's toes , if that makes sense,

Jen Seyderhelm:

It makes perfect sense. And actually, as I was watching you say that your facial expression said so much about how working with people and particularly working with actors. And as you said, working with actors, who've got different life experiences that bring to the table. We do, we put in your story and because you've written this film too , you will have imagined it all coming out one way in your head, but it's amazing when someone else often, I'm sure you're going to agree with me. They bring to the table something that you would never have considered, but actually works better.

Sebastian Chan:

Definitely without a doubt. And I think that's, what's so beautiful about the collaborative film making process is that there's so many different individuals involved from off on onscreen as well. That sometimes you can't really predict how you pleasantly surprised that it works out, but sometimes it's even better than that than you can even imagine. And that's not really something you can plan for either sometimes happens in the spin any of the moment. And if you can capture it on film, it's there forever. So that's why I'm drawn to that process of capturing that moment forever. And yeah, everyone just being in that one moment and making it happen and making it work.

Jen Seyderhelm:

That's great. And one of my favorite all time film stories is from center of a woman, which is an Al Pacino film from the early 1990s. And he's blind in the film and he has this dance sequence with, I think it's Annabella Sciorra as the female actress. And they did the first take. And he got to the end of it and everybody just went, that's it. We can do it a hundred more times, but that was it that first time around and you'll know that that's you often sit there and think, gosh, that first take felt really good. But to have that come out on a film is really unreal .

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah. That's it there's moments that you never really know how that's going to happen till you get there on the day. And magic happens. You just pinch yourself that like, wow, we got the sunset, we got the cars driving past or the birds or whatever. And sometimes it's comes in pure luck, but sometimes it's a risk and it pays off and you have something that's really worth it .

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. So what's your hope for our post COVID future for you?

Sebastian Chan:

I'm working on a feature film. So I'd like to potentially get into that. It's a horror thriller based on the Baba Yaga tale of Eastern Europe. So it's very contained so we could do it in a house, but I guess I'm just waiting to see how the COVID restrictions pan out for everyone. We're just kind of waiting to see. And I mean, it's more time to develop it really. And I'm not complaining because you can always be doing more drafts or be doing more storyboards, whatever it is, you can never plan enough for a film. I think there's always more to do

Jen Seyderhelm:

Well before we finish today because we only touched on it. Since I've discovered the red thread, I just love the Chinese proverb. So the red thread is an invisible red thread that connects those destined to meet despite the time the place, despite the circumstances, the thread can be tightened or tangled, but never broken. I love that.

Sebastian Chan:

Yeah. Yeah. It's so beautifully poetic. And it just says a lot. I think about human interactions in general, like it kind of encapsulates our fears and our desires all in one place. And that was a huge inspiration for the series itself. And for me, it's about second chances as well. Growing up in that kind of your young twenties, late teens, you're always kind of second guessing yourself thinking I've got to get this part of my life, right. Or how's the rest going to pan out. So it's that fear of having a regret, I think, which is totally fine to have, but at that age, everything's amplified and big choices are lying ahead. The love of your life. If I'm going to move city , do something else in my life. Sometimes though things are just meant to be. And I think that's kind of what the red thread is outlining there.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I agree with you Sebastian , but I've got to tell you it doesn't change into your forties, those situations at all. All of those threads and thoughts are exactly the same. I really enjoyed having a chat with you today and I cannot wait for next week and I'm going to be one of those people who's going to hang out each day waiting for the next part of the episode . Thank you for your time Sebastian.

Sebastian Chan:

Thanks Jen. Appreciate it.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Sebastian Chan .

Monica Penders:

Hi, I'm Monica Penders and I'm the CEO of Screen Canberra.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Monica I understand you were actually born in Canberra.

Monica Penders:

I was, yes. I was born in Canberra. They actually knocked down the hospital and built a museum in my honour. I like to say,

Jen Seyderhelm:

I like that, but you left shortly afterwards and it's been a world wide trip since then.

Monica Penders:

It certainly has. I was born here and spent the first year of my life. And then my dad was transferred or got a job at Queensland University. We moved up to Brisbane. So had most of my life up until about 25 in Brisbane, then Sydney, then New York, then I was making a film. So I was in Budapest and London and then went back to New York and the GFC had hit and I thought, I need to get me a job. And this job came up at Screen ACT. I thought it was, I thought, what's screen act? Screen ACT. I did what everybody does. There's a film industry in the ACT. And I thought, Oh, that's great because my parents are there. My dad was getting old and I applied for the job and I got it , which was really exciting. And I came back. I thought, Oh, I'll be here for two years, 11 years later, I am still here,

Jen Seyderhelm:

But also still in the same role and reading about you. It started out as a one person gig. And I mean, I've been in Canberra for five years and I've seen what's happened in screen industry in the last five years. So let's go back 11 years ago and it must've been sort of nothing when you started out.

Monica Penders:

Well, look, we've always been very strong in factual, like in documentary, et cetera. And like Wild Bear, which was Bear Cage back then was the really the biggest company employed the most people. And we had a very strong factual bent, but my interest always has been also in drama and, and Canberra as a location is amazing. So it was fantastic when we were able to start getting some of these big dramas up like The Code and Secret City, and now Total Control to show other people what we have to offer here from a location point of view, and that we are so much more than just Parliament house up on the Hill. The feedback from overseas particularly has been wow. Canberra's amazing. It looks amazing. And it does. We are very lucky and cinematographers go gaga because the light, they just absolute love the light.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I had this chat today, actually about Sebastian Chan and they asked me, Oh, what's Sebastian's locations? Can you tell they're in Canberra? And I said, it doesn't matter anymore. It's such a beautiful place that there's so many things that will now all of a sudden draw people to Canberra who don't realise how beautiful it is here.

Monica Penders:

Well, interestingly it was a Sydney morning Herald and no, I did not pay them though. I would have been happy to pay them who wrote Canberra, who would have thought? What a sexy city. And I was like, yes, that was based on Secret City and how beautiful it looked on screen with the Lake and the light and everything. So that's, it's not a very big secret to us, but for those coming from the outside, it is. And I think some of the other things that make it an incredibly fantastic location is the fact we have no billboards. We have no visual pollution. When you think of it, we don't have it, besides right now, some of the election ones are popping up, but they're not permanent billboards. And that is a really big issue in other cities and States, they have to cover them up. They have to get permission. There's a lot of visual pollution, which we don't have. And also there's no air pollution as well. So that's why we also have this beautiful light. We're high . We have that clear mountain air, but we don't have any pollution. So all of those factors together give us those beautiful crisp winter days. It might be a little bit too crispy today and tomorrow. It adds to making it a very attractive place to film.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I have a question I have to ask you so that I don't get to the end of this and forget. So as a radio announcer, as soon as you work in radio, you can never hear music the same way. As a writer, as soon as you write your own book, you can never read a book the same way. Can you, Monica, watch a film impartially?

Monica Penders:

No. Oh, look, I think probably a good thing to say is if I'm starting to analyze it, there's something wrong. If I'm not swept away in the moment and I'm starting to say, Oh, that was interesting, why would that then there's something structurally wrong or there's an inauthenticity. Even if it's a zombie movie, there's an authenticity within that world. If I'm starting to question it and ask questions, or why do they did that? Then I realized then there's something not quite right. Something hasn't rung true. But I have to say during COVID times, my Netflix, Stan , all the streaming through the roof and my Nordic serial killer tendencies have, have increased dramatically to go to French serial killers now. And other, other rather dastardly shows. But yeah, I can be critical, but I try not to be. People actually said to me, when I first started making movies like, Oh, you're going to want to make these really deep sort of documentaries. And I'm like, no, I go to the movies to enjoy myself. You know, I want to go and forget that the world exists for the two hours on particular. When I go to the cinema, I don't want to be thinking about life. I want to be able to go in and just have that escapist moment. So I used to watch romantic comedies, I'd watch Indiana Jones type films and things that you could just really go and forget that weren't in your realm of sort of, of life to enjoy and to escape.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Well, I feel the same and romantic comedies have been getting a absolute onslaught in my house at the moment, just because it is that removal from this world we're living in. Now, the arts, there's adaptations you can make to working with COVID and Screen Canberra worked very closely with the AIE. The games industry has gone gangbusters. COVID it has been wonderful because...

Monica Penders:

Everybody's at home on the screen. So the need for content has increased dramatically. And of course, in the games industry, it's often a few guys in the room with the, I remember asking them once, what support can we give you? They said money for pizza, money for electricity. This was like early on, Oh, young guys. And I just thought that was hilarious because they just go about their business. It doesn't really matter what's happening outside in the light. The film industry, however, has been very, very heavily hit because whereas a game and we're talking about the smaller games. But once again, I think with games, you can spread the work over multiple locations. You can have that social distancing. People can really work from home and still be actually producing something. That doesn't work with screen. One of the things that are worked on with Screen Australia, the other State Agencies and AFTRS was the COVID safe protocol document, which is like a 40 page document on how you can actually potentially go back to production in this COVID world. What are the things you have to do? Even things like the way we used to feed people on set, it'd be like buffet. You can't do that now. So then you have to have individual portions. Everything has to be disposable. So the waste goes through the roof. I mean, it's scary, scary stuff. And that's, if they go into production, I'm wondering what's happened now in Melbourne. Like I know that Wentworth and Neighbours had gone back, but now there's this curfew. I'm not sure what's happening.

Jen Seyderhelm:

There is so much in that that's changed. And funny. You mentioned the waste too , because these are all the parts that I'm still not used to. And even with, how can you make a film with a connection between two people? If those two people....

Monica Penders:

Must be 1.5 metres apart. I love you. I want to sleep with you, but I'll have to do it from over here from 1.5 metres. We've talked about that a lot, the intimate scenes. How can you do that? Just like with the sport and they've done the hubs, some of the suggestions have been, everybody goes into quarantine for two weeks. Actors, you take over a hotel, all the actors, all the crew, anybody who's going to have face to face contact. Yes.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So I'm still trying to get my head around all these things that are now becoming our new normal. And when this started to erupt the one thing that I really recall was the Tom Hanks moment where Hanks was here, there was going to be a fantastic film. He was going to be part of it. He got COVID and effectively the ripple effects of that, even though he's the loveliest chap in the whole world is that the screen movement was the first cab off the rank in the explosion of COVID. And since then, I think people have kind of, not forgotten, because we're all watching Stan and Netflix and all this stuff. But I don't think we realise how much everything's stopped.

Monica Penders:

Yeah. I think for about three months worldwide, there was no production. Everybody shut down everybody. Then some have gone back in, but in America everything's shut down again. What a mess over there, unfortunately for them. But fortunately for us now what's happening is Australia is becoming a location of choice because we're relatively COVID safe. But now of course, everything has happened in Victoria, but that might be good for us in that we might get some, if it does go ahead, that we've got all these productions coming in from America, because remember the Federal Government put in over $400 million into enticing overseas productions to have jobs going here. Well, of course that means they take all the big studios and then the smaller productions kind of go into the studio. So they need to go somewhere. So we will welcome them with open arms, you know, in Canberra. Yeah. The Tom Hanks sort of situation. That was a real eyeopener and we're all going, Oh, that's dreadful. He's brought that over the poor thing. He'll get better. Not realising of course, that, that was just the beginning of the situation. And yes, the film industry has been completely and utterly decimated. There's no other way to, because it's not just film and TV. It's people who doing corporate videos and advertising. That's the core of many people here in the ACT. It's their core business is doing that. And then on the side they do projects I really want to do, which take a long time to develop and to get up. But they keep themselves alive by doing corporate videos, advertising government work and all that just dried up as well. Yeah.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And I think there's a lack of realisation too, about to make anything, any kind of film, short film documentary, or whatever that we watch it and we love it and it's gone. But the whole process of that end product from the first inception could be five years.

Monica Penders:

Try 10. And it's over and done within two hours. And so when you binge a TV series and you watch like six episodes or something back to back , and I have been known to do that many a time. So that's say six, maybe seven hours worth of content. Now things are turning around a lot quicker and particularly TV, but you are looking at five, six years worth of work that you've just consumed in about six hours with hundreds, if not thousands of jobs to make that happen. And a heck of a lot of money, a big problem of course, is that there's a big backlog of things to be made and they can't be made. So things are going to start repeating on our TV screens because there's no new content or very little new content.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I want to speak about you. One of the beautiful things about Screen Canberra is that it has a wonderfully female bent to it.

Monica Penders:

We do,

Jen Seyderhelm:

Which I love. But you personally, my experience of you is that you've always been available to the student, who's got that first little dream of making a film one day, to anyone. You will make time and you'll have a chat with them. And then I also know you take that home with you and you must, it must be so hard right now, knowing so many people in our local industry. And you have, yes, you've been given a little pot of money. We'll come back to that.

Monica Penders:

Yeah, but it's not, it's heartbreaking on many levels. I think firstly, for a long time, particularly the Federal Government, they just didn't understand how many people are actually affected by this, in the industry. And it is an industry. It's a creative industry and that's something I work very hard and work closely with Screen Australia and the other state agencies to get that profile up. This isn't about a nice to have. There are more jobs in the screen industry than there are in coal and gas in Australia. So we are looking at a lot of jobs and of course with the Federal Government support during this pandemic, the job keeper, majority of people in the screen industry did not qualify because they A don't have their own company or B you don't work for a company you freelance and therefore they fell through the cracks. So not only was there no work, there was no support or very little support for them to survive. And that's really hard. And like creativity, arts, all of those, which some people may look as fluffy, other things that make us human things that make us intelligent. I think it was Churchill who said during the Second World War, when somebody who suggested cutting money from arts to go towards defence and his comment was, well , what are we fighting for? And I think that's just so true. So that's one part of the argument. The other pile of course is the fact, yes, we are an industry. We are creative, but it's an industry we are professional. Can you imagine if there was no streaming? If there's no content? The mental health of people who are stuck at home would just be going down so bad, note to self, stop watching serial killer movies and start watching Bambi or something.

Jen Seyderhelm:

But it's also an interpretation, for me, that's also critical. That is what the documentaries and whatever are there for, to give you a perspective that is outside your own.

Monica Penders:

It's about exposure. It's about increasing your world and your world experiences because you can't be a African Hunter. You can't be a drug addict who's done well. You can't be a detective who solving a mystery or whatever those docos are. And there's some amazing ones I've, I've actually found my doco intake has increased dramatically as well. And factual is fantastic. And we do amazing factually . We've got some amazing, like I said, Wild Bear, but then there's Rob Nugent. Sebastian Chan, who you interviewed, I think is my cohort on this particular program, he has done some wonderful short form docos, but it is heartbreaking to get back to your original question. It's heartbreaking to see people struggling so much to see these particularly younger companies that have started up and were just finding their sea legs in having good corporate clients, building that client list. And then having that just ripped out from underneath them. That's really hard to see. So I am always available to talk. I always have been, I think mental health and our industry is always a concern because once again, in the creative industries, I have been called killer of dreams. Many times. I have a tee shirt. Because you're telling people that their dream, their idea is doesn't have legs or they need to make changes. So there's always that vulnerability when you're putting yourself on paper or your dream project in front of people and you don't get the feedback that you want, that's really tough. And on top of it, what's going on now, the mental health and the screen industry is a huge issue.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I find it interesting with the dream killer because also at the same time, and I've actually read you saying the same thing yourself. It's about learning from your mistakes. And if you really think you've got a special idea, it's having the guts to be able to keep following it through. Despite often they're just setbacks. It's not a no, you know, the door is open, but you've just got to find a way to get through it. And that's the guidance that someone like you provides rather than the killing of the dream.

Monica Penders:

Yeah. I mean, it's, it's hard. And then when, if someone says that to me, then, you know, straight away, they're kind of emerging. They're just starting out. Or the other comment I get sometimes is like, well, nobody's going to make any changes to my work as a writer. I'm thinking , uh, whilst you're in your bedroom and you're writing, yep . You have total control. The moment you show it to somebody else or you want somebody to make it, your control at each judge gets less and less and less till the extent that it's actually in production, a writer has almost zero input at that stage. Zero. So that's really hard. So it's a really collaborative industry. So you have to have a certain type of personality, I think, to be able to work. And it's a high pressure. It's such high pressure. I was speaking to somebody today who did make a film. And he said , Oh , I don't want to do producing again. I said, Oh, I can remember being in the middle of Moonacre in Hungary with 150 or 200 crew going, yeah. I don't think I want to be a producer anymore. Unfortunately, I had to keep going at that stage. People who do it all the time, I just don't know how they do it. They're amazing because it's high stress. High stress. That's why I say that you should never be a producer and a director together at the same time.

:

And never be in a relationship with that person. Exactly. As well, particularly yes , yes.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Money and the dealing with the different people, personalities, energies, et cetera. You had a quote that I was reading the other day about yourself, learning from mistakes. And the most critical thing is being able to, it's my biggest failures that have driven me to learn and try again. Yeah . And I imagine in the people that you meet, you can probably almost immediately pick that person who you're like, I know that person's going to be okay with the critique, with falling over and being able to support that kind of person in the industry for you. What's been the biggest lesson you've learnt?

Monica Penders:

Biggest lesson? It was Moonacre. It was making that film. I hadn't even made a short film before that. And I went to university. I did, my undergraduate degree was in film, but that was 1983 I started, and the technology doesn't even exist anymore. And so here I find myself in Hungary, a Warner Brothers Film, producing. I wasn't producing on my own, but it was myself and my business partner at the time being in over my head was an understatement. I had no idea what I was doing. None at all. And even before the cameras started rolling, it was just the most stressful. I used to have really long hair. My hair was falling out. I had to get it cut. Oh , I should write a book about the whole experience. I think I would call it Couches I Have Surfed On, a diary of a first time, independent film producer. I mean, I was sleeping on couches. I was couch surfing in a foreign country. Like not in Hungary , but in London. And I think the good thing I did was surrounded myself with people who did know what they were doing and I was able to listen and I was able to learn from that. So yes, that's what I got out of it. I think, yes. The whole experience was terrifying. The lesson I got out of it was surround yourself with people that, you know, it's a collaborative team effort. Communication is absolute key. And also I think be careful who it just, what you were saying before, be careful who you were partner with. Don't work with friends because they will not be friends with you. By the end of the experience. I counseled that a lot. You need to be professional. You need to be upfront. You need to be kind, but as a producer, sometimes even though you want to be kind , you can't, you have to say no to certain things. Yeah. I mean, that was the experience that I learned from that. And I said to somebody, Oh, I've said this a few times. I'd like to produce again a big film just to prove to myself, A, I can do it. And B I really don't like it.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I was going to say, I thought, perhaps even that experience would have put you off film for life. But I suspect film is like music and radio. For me, it is an addiction. And every time I think I'm clean, I come back.

Monica Penders:

Yep . Just like the Godfather, it pulls me right back in. Absolutely. And I mean, I, this job, as I say I've been at it for 11 years and I was a one man band when I started with, I think the whole budget was like $170,000, including my salary on cost for an office, $50,000 worth of grants. It was tiny. So we've come a long, long way. We've got five full time staff. We've got the $5 million investment fund from the ACT government. Canberra is seen as a location of choice. I feel like I can hold my head up with the other State agencies. Whereas when I first started, I didn't have anything really to talk about, but I feel like we are a force to be reckoned with. And in fact, Graeme Mason, the CEO of Screen Australia said to me about a year ago, he said, geez , you guys are kicking above your weight aren't you? Yeah . Because we had Secret City, we had Total Control. We were doing all these things, which was just fantastic. So we'd like the little engine that could, which I think is what Canberra's about as well. We just do it. And then also people go, Oh wow, that's happening. And our pod program is just going gangbusters. We've taken the whole thing online, but this idea of market focused development, which is what we're talking about. And that's the big gap that I've seen all over Australia is the fact that people have an idea, but have no idea who their audience is or what their market is. And without that you have Buckley's chance of getting your film up. Yep . And so what we've done successfully is brought market and that's in, if it's in with TV, it's TV producers. So we've had Matchbox and Goalpost, Fremantle Media, and like all the absolute top notch producers in the country come to Canberra and have one on ones with the participants. And we do it with over six months. So you're writing, you get homework and this sort of whole process of having something that's tangible at the end has worked out so well. And so proud of my team on how they've developed that now in this COVID environment. And we've got 26 people doing it online at the moment and it's going really well. And, it was last year, we had participants from Singapore and from New Zealand as well. So we're doing something that's really great. And I think it doesn't matter if you have any experience at all, it's something you can do. So we have people who've never picked up a pen to those who have agents in LA in the same room and you're learning from each other. And I think we're really forcing that collaborative and be used to getting feedback, but used to be able to get feedback and give feedback really important. Yes.

Jen Seyderhelm:

This applies to so many other arts industries as well because you , you do, you make something. And I think we've all walked in the shoes where we think, this is for everybody! Everybody's going to love what I made.

Monica Penders:

Yes . What's the audience. Everybody!

Jen Seyderhelm:

Absolutely right. Once you've got harnessed who it's for what it's for and what is its point of differences. And this is the thing that's coming out of COVID now, because while we can't, even at this point in time, see a future where we're going to be back to normal people are coming up with new film ideas and new ways of doing film that can still work in this format and we're doing it here.

Monica Penders:

Yep . We are. Something that John De Margheriti already is looking at is the LED sort of green screen idea where you can actually be doing a complete virtual background. One of the discussions I've been having is a documentary approach to feature films, much smaller crews. So then you're getting away from having too many people in a small area. One of the things I'm really interested in is how can we approach production differently? I think the days of the huge crews and huge casts are a long way away again, because of the physical distancing, I think the type of films that we're making as we were sort of joking about before will , how can you have a love scene when you must stay 1.5 metres apart, or even a fight scene? How do you actually do it? One of the ideas is that you quarantine everybody for two weeks in a hotel, they can hang out with each other and then you make your film and then you can get around the intimacy, the 1.5 metres But I think that means much smaller crews . I think it means different types of stories. The scale of them would be different. One thing that's really great about the screen industry is that we are innovative. We have to pivot quite often because technology has changed. Like I said, when I started learning about film and TV at university, there was something called the U Matic three quarter inch tapes, magnetic tapes. And there was no such thing as nonlinear editing. And the one computer in the university took up the whole room. There was no email or mobile phones each year. It changes. There's something new like GoPro cameras and drones, how that's revolutionised the industry now. So what's going to be that next innovation and is COVID actually going to push us to be more innovative.

Jen Seyderhelm:

But ironically, on the other side of things, what I really really want to hear more about right now is connection between two human beings. And that is fundamental from whenever you are, watching films, that connection. And that really matters to me. And it really matters to me in this situation, how different people are adapting personally. And that is what also excites me in terms of some of the things that are coming out from here of different ways of exploring that. You've also got, the closing date in a couple of weeks time, you've got Made in Canberra too .

Monica Penders:

Yep . The Made in Canberra really is trying to fill that gap for people who are professional in the industry. And they've had a significant downturn for this particular initiative because it's coming from the CBR screen fund. And that is that professional level fund. We do have other funding that like through the arts fund that will open a little bit later in the year. And that pod is open to anybody who wants to do it. And we do give other grants out. And it's not necessarily for those who are at that professional level, but this Made in Canberra initiative is very much about trying to help them stay afloat because they're employing people.

Jen Seyderhelm:

The other thing I found very interesting in this talking about our local grants and things that people can do often, the grant is like, it can be for dance. It can be for music, it can be for this, and then there's screen. Yeah . And it's a different category altogether. Whereas we're all in this arts sphere together.

Monica Penders:

We used to be in there and we used to be in that general arts fund. It was the big, yeah. The big arts fund that was once a year Screen used to be in there. And then I think because I came along, all of a sudden they're getting inundated with screen projects, going, Oh, you should go for arts funding or you should go for arts money , and then going well , you can look after that then. So, so thanks to ArtsACT, they've actually taken out a finite amount of money out of that pot. And then we organised the assessors and the assessment program. And I think that's actually worked really well as it is with all of the different art forms. It's already hard to compare how to compare a dance to a music to artists. Then you've got film, which is another beast altogether. I think it was actually was a really good idea because it takes out the outlier to a certain extent and we can look after them more effectively as a group and then less competition in the other area with film in there as well.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I also feel like it's reflective of just how much you've done for the screen industry in Canberra. Because as you very modestly said, along here, you've started with a one man band and it's now a entity that is recognised where people are coming from outside of coming from Sydney and Melbourne to come to Canberra to be part of what we have here. And that is pretty impressive.

Monica Penders:

Oh , thank you. I can't take all the credit. I've got a great team. And also I've got a great relationship with the government. They have been super supportive from Andrew Barr all the way through to his team. And also ArtsACT have been, from Minister Ramsey to the team, ArtsACT have been fantastic. And I think it's really important when you're in this kind of role to be able to have those really sometimes hard conversations about things too, because it's about partnership. And I think it's also understanding what our role is. And probably to some extent out of all the arts or creative, I mean, we would potentially employ the most people if we were really up and running. I'm not saying it's any more important. I think all art forms are important, but we're also bloody expensive. In terms of like a low budget feature film is $1.5 million. It does take a lot of work. It's super important. It takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of other people's money. So the other thing I've been really working on is trying to get that level of professionalism up there because people just don't understand how much a film costs to make or a TV series is even worse. I mean, TV series is like now nearly $2 million an episode, if a high end TV drama, I think, you know , having those relationships with the government and also with all the stakeholders, as much as you possibly can, is really important. And it's just being able to have those honest conversations about what the needs are and also what the opportunities like. I'm really proud to be on the CBR brand board. So talking about raising the profile of Canberra, how do we do that through the brand? How do we do that? So I spend a lot of time talking to the people on that panel, which is fantastic. It's representative across fantastic industries in Canberra. That's really exciting, but also just funny opportunities. Like I saw something on Facebook, I think it was in the Ukraine where they had a concert. So fans booked out rooms in a hotel that had balconies and the concert was downstairs. So I sent that to Jonathan Kobus, who's the Head of Tourism and Events and said, Oh , that could work in, and I used the wrong word. I said, well, we've got a cluster of hotels. And then someone said, maybe cluster is not the right word. I mean, okay. a group, a grouping, a a , you know what I mean? So plus there was definitely not the right word to use. It's a good cluster. It's a nice cluster, you know , but those kinds of things, and that's why we're so lucky here in that we are small and you can have those relationships with people. And like, once again, that's doing music, it's not to do a film, but I see anything that can link us together as a community is really important that anything to do with arts is important. And just a plug out here for Gordon Ramsey , the best Arts Minister I've ever worked with. Engaged. And when you have that leadership of that top piece and that top role that makes your job so much easier, I'm very, very lucky with the Government and their support and their availability. Like you said, that was, I'm available to people, but they're available to me, which is important. I'm going, Hmm. Bushfires, COVID, film. Uh, I understand the priorities

Jen Seyderhelm:

You're right. Then they have made themselves available to listen. And coming back to what we actually said at the very start of the conversation. Sometimes you can't do anything. All you can do is listen, but that must be hard for you too , because then you take that home.

Monica Penders:

You do take that home. There have been cases where I've been exceptionally concerned for personal safety and I have intervened, whether it was getting shopping for somebody or whatever. And I think we are part of a community we're A Canberra, B screen or creatives, art. And I just think it's really important to keep your eyes open particularly now. And just go with your gut. If you feel like somebody is not doing okay, you, what's that saying, are you okay? Asking that question. And we have had a situation where somebody moved away from Canberra. I still can't believe it. And he committed suicide. And that, that just brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it. I mean, he moved away, but his name will never be forgotten. Mal Cumpston and he came to every single pod, every single thing I did, he was always there with that lovely smiley face and those beautiful blue eyes. And to think that he was so down, that that's what he did, just breaks my heart every single time. So, and I said, not on my watch, that's not happening again. And like I said, he'd moved away and he'd lost contact. But when I heard about that , I was like, Oh my gosh, I guess it's trying to work out everybody has a bad day, but what's a bad day. And what's a really, really bad day or continual bad days. And you can just get that feeling, probably more than I should be speaking on radio. But like, I think it's just important that mental health is such an issue in any industry. It is more heightened in ours. Sue Maslin who produced the Dressmaker, did an amazing documentary called The Show Must Go On about mental health and the screen industry. So that's really good to watch because I think once again, it spills over into other areas more so than I think other industries, because we are putting our heart and our ideas and our dreams out there for people to see.

:

Someone else in one of the other interviews, I think actually summed it up the best I've heard about not being able to make. Full stop, whatever you're doing. And they were saying it was like a blockage and that blockage a ffected every other facet of their life c ause they couldn't make. And that's what to me the arts is. Yep. That's a beautiful, beautiful way of saying it. And hence I am crocheting myself to death whilst I'm watching serial killers. Was it Madam Lafarge from A Tale of two Cities? She would be knitting things out of the hair of the aristocrats. I feel a little bit like that at the moment, but it's true. And I'm like, I kind of couldn't really crochet, but now I can. I've made footstools. And my , my nephew's Teddy bear was falling apart. So last night I had to make an emergency poncho. And a hat for the Teddy bear. Most women will be trying to sneak shoes or handbags into the house.

Monica Penders:

I'm trying to sneak wool into the house. And my car at the moment is full of Bunning stuff and wool because I don't dare bring it into that house.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Monica Penders CEO of Screen Canberra and closet crocheter. Hi, my name is Monica. I have an addiction. I think I put up on Facebook a photo. I had all of the wool just in a pile, I thought I've got to sort this out. And I have a little cabin that I built as my she cave. I thought I'm going to go to the I'm going to sort it out. And then when I saw the little light and I saw, I had hundreds of balls of wool and I took a photo, I said, the first step to recovery is admitting you have an issue and people going, what's the problem. I'm like, yeah. There's about 200 balls of wool there, I dunno , I just keep buying it.

Monica Penders:

So it's lovely. It's pretty. It's cool. So yes, we all have our little thing, but yes, CEO Screen Canberra and closet crocheter.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I think we'll just leave it on there . Everyone who just catches the end of it will be like.

Monica Penders:

what the heck are you talking about?

Jen Seyderhelm:

But no one further question. What's your hope? What's your hope going forward from here? I'm not even going to say, I'm just going to say when things improve, because they've got to.

Monica Penders:

Yes, they will improve. But my hope of course is that we can get productions up again, that we haven't too many people. And I mean that in all sense of the words , either through their mental health and they just go, I just can't do this anymore. I can't be in the industry because that's, it's just too stressful through to companies that go under or people that go under and say, I just have to get a nine to five job. So my hope is that we able to pick up on production. And my hope really is that we are able to get some studio space so that we can really start enticing people, more people to come and shoot here because we're great. We're great. We're used to working fast. We're used to working smart. We're used to work in cost effectively. We have the ease of locations, beautiful scenery. I mean, what city in Australia, can you be an airport five minutes later at the Parliament House and five minutes the other direction in the sheep paddock? You know, I mean really. So that's the thing that people love about Canberra when they come here. Oh my gosh. It's just so easy. There's no traffic. So we've got all these great things. We're just going to kick that up, to get some space and to be able to use for studio. And that just means an old warehouse. So I'm on the hunt for an old warehouse or something that we can use to film. And then I think we'll be able to entice a lot of people from Sydney and Melbourne, or maybe just Sydney since Melbourne shut its borders, but you know what I mean? So from wherever, from Queanbeyan And I will sit there and crochet while they're doing it, I'm taking orders for footstools. I made about 25 of them. I don't know what I got to do with the damn things.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Okay! That was Monica P enders, who is the CEO of Screen Canberra. But if you want a foot stool.....

Monica Penders:

If the screen industry doesn't work out for me, I'm, I'll be able to live doing crocheting and building things from Bunnings

Jen Seyderhelm:

Alrighty. (Laughs) Make sure you check out the rest of the RISE calendar online at risecanberra.com, where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE news page. And keep up to date with the Where You Are festival, which is on until September. The RISE Canberra podcast is produced by Events ACT with support from Talking Canberra 2CC.