derrick duan
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2020 April, first month of self-iso, mostly have been working on the script and casting for voice actors. 

COVID took over in March and VCA shut on the 24th. So I packed, kissed goodbye to the studio and set up a temporary space at home to write -- writing was never going to be a problem, and I told myself not to worry too much about the actual production until mid year. Nevertheless the thought of not being able to shoot my film has been constantly droning at the back of my mind throughout the month. I distracted myself by writing heaps, setting up a pinboard to visualise the plotpoints, and zooming screenwriters I knew to ask for feedback on the story. The script has come a long way since I first started.

I mostly needed to establish the main character’s personalities and motivations. He is a passive character, and in this story things happen to him, and we understand him as a character by seeing how he reacts to the incidents.

It was important for me to understand why he behaves the way he does from early on. I established his--

Flawed Belief
    1. No one can help you but yourself;
    2. In light of (1.), unloading your problems is pointless and will just burden others;
    3. Expressing your emotions/feelings = you are weak/you are unmanly;
    4. Emotions will go away if you leave them long enough;

Irrational Fear

    1. Being a burden;
    2. Being seen as weak/unmanly;
    3. Abandonment

The Coping Mechanism
    1. Stoicism;
    2. Help others when you are too broken to fix/not worthy fixing;
    3. Diversion, deflection, silence, escapism;

The Result
    1. Inability to express (negative) emotions;
    2. Putting on a facade for others;
    3. Inability to accept help;
    4. Eventually leading to emotional outburst [climax]

Because it is a short story (and I always have the tendency to overcomplicate things), I wanted to keep each scene economical, and to make sure they all serve a purpose. The first 3 drafts ended up being over 10 pages long, and it was definitely an unrealistic length for my grad production.

So I laid out the scenes beat by beat, separated in columns by the characters, and tried to map out the emotional subtext and the drive behind each action. I also got rid of/combined locations and minimise the amount of sets I’ll have to build later on. The result is a 8-page long script, with 5 characters and 4 locations (lmao). It’s at a point where I personally think I can’t shrink it any further withouting cutting back any of the emotional content; maybe I can cull back some of the dialogues.

In her feedback Tess broke the story down pretty well:
·      The neighbour scenes show him trying to connect and The Man resisting and ultimately submitting.
·      The father/son scene gives insight into The Man and how he was probably taught to deal with emotions.  E.g. Boys don’t cry.
·      The bathroom scene shows the man is compassionate and how communicating can help him heal, yet he rejects it.
·      The wilderness shows the man feeling safe yet getting lost in his grief.
·      The scenes with the man on his own show his inability to cope alone.

Still, the current script presents an enormous challenge. I think I’ll take it on by doing the following:
    1. Minimum lip syncing. The 2 main characters will obvious be on screen the most, especially the Neighbour. Her lip sync will be the trickiest. For the Man, in certain parts of the story his face is actually covered by the ferns, thus no lip sync required. I also plan to keep the non essential characters off screen -- first of all the Voice is the bathroom: he is literally a voice, and we don’t see him speaking because he’s hidden behind a bathroom stall. We never see his face. Similarly inside the elevator I’m considering to have the Father and Son O.S. too, only hinting at them via silhouette/out of focus etc. Not sure about this yet, storyboarding should help me investigate this further.
    2. Minimal sets. Not sure how I’m gonna do it yet, I need to get on top of set designs soon. Same with character designs.
    3. Reusing props.

Some ideas I need to develop further:
  • The sense of clausetrophobe ie the moving walls and the plants
  • The inability to speak, to see, to sense

Conversation with Rob about performance: what characters are doing while they talk; doing something with they hand while talking can also be a good way to should deflection.

I’m definitely after realistic performance, so it could end up live-action-y. But I’m hope the contrast of realistic dialogue vs. the crazy stuff happening in the background could help.

Another ‘distruptive’ thing Rob suggested was to, at the end of the bathroom scene, have the Man open the stall door only to find that there is no one there. It’s definitely an interesting but risky thing to have, and I have thought about it many times. Because in my head the side characters could totally just be the Man’s imaginations; he goes about his day with the Neighbour and sees all those people that are just his mind manifesting itself.

‘It’s almost like a debate with himself.’ Rob put it quite well. It’s true. He could open the door and no one’s in there. By adding that one extra scene would push the story in a different direction, an exciting one I hope.

May, 2nd month of iso.

I moved on the 22nd of April so it’s been pretty hectic. Now we are finally settling in (this amazing new place, so much space and actual windows, with sunlights?!?) things are getting back on track.

So just to briefly talk about the casting process so far.

It’s been an interesting month casting. I obviously had no previous experience casting whatsoever, and it seemed pretty daunting.

I definitely wanted to try for VCA talents first. I knew Amy found her voices last year via emailing the coordinators for the theatre/acting people, and putting up posters around campus. The latter was a no-go for me now, and when I asked for contact deets for the performance kids Rob hit me up with the link to StarNow which was a professional website for actors. I was pretty overwhelmed just by the sight of it.

I wanted VCA kids mostly because I’d feel more familiar with them and feel more comfortable meeting up, discussing about the film and also giving them directions. But I supposed once I get out there in the real world I’ll have to deal with StarNow anyway, so might as well get out of my comfort zone right now. So I put up a listing and invited a bunch of people to apply.

So yeah, like, whoa, it’s been a couple of weeks since the listing was up. I have 200+ applications and my inbox was completely flooded lmao. Fun times eh?

I thought everyone deserved a chance so I went through all the profiles and messaged them individually about a possible demo, and sent them a few lines to try. It was extremely taxing mentally. For a week straight all I could think about was the voices and the notes from the actors.

But I reckon it was probably worth it. At least I got a large sample pool of voice talents to choose from. I was very glad I had a good file management system in place early on so I didn’t have much trouble keeping up with the demos and indexing the shortlist. I eventually narrowed down to about 3 people each character.

I had a couple actors whose voice I really enjoyed and wanted to cast them but they were quite flaky communication-wise. So I passed them on.

I also found myself paying extra attention to appilicants who were passionate and enthusiastic. Some sent nice, heartfelt messages, some put in extra effort mixing the demos with sound effects, some offered multi takes on one line and played around with their approaches to the emotion subtext (and a couple actually made me seriously reconsider the beat of the scene) etc etc. I prioritised these applicants, and just in general felt good about them, even though their applications might not be successful. It was just a great example of how enthusiasim could help you stand out from the crowd. Anyways.

Yeah so, it was smooth sailing for Father, Voice and the Man. Now I pretty much know whom I will cast for which. I’m keen to get them on zoom and see how they confront each other. I intentionally chose voices that contrasted each other in terms of tone and level of aggression. Interesting to see how that plays out.

I still have trouble casting for Neighbour. mostly because I was undecisive about what I wanted. I was looking for a perfect blend of casualness (bright, brisky, candid) and concern (genuinely looking out for the Man, probing for answers). I might have a chat with some potentials. I feel super stressed right now.

So hopefully on this weekend a remote script reading can happen. It pisses me off we can’t do real life readings bc of COVID (and potentially no access to recording booth later on︎) but it is what it is. My internet at the new place is still down right nonexistent. Barely making do with mobile data and zoom sessions so far have
been quite unbearably slow and glitchy. We’ll see how this weekend goes.

The script reading happened today.

The past couple of days leading up to this have been quite interesting. I was anxious about it, of course, partially because our internet is really shit, partially because this is such a out-of-my-comfort-zone thing. I just didn’t know how it would go.

So I’ve been going down to shops, getting second hand furnitures, buying more plants, sewing, making collages. Kept myself distracted and spent a lot of time in the sun.

Today was a rainy day. Woke up to the loud splashes outside my window and the first thing I thought was, oh shit, the rain is gonna make the internet worse. So I got up and spent the morning sewing a bag lol. Then clock ticked to 1:40pm and I started a zoom chat and sent the link over to my actors.

Daniel, who I intended to cast as the Man, hoppped on soon after me and we had a nice chat about the script the and production. He was such a friendly dude. Very humble but enthusiastic. Then Lola came on and we kicked off at 2.

The zoom session actually didn’t go as bad as I thought it would, connection wise. The delay was definitely there and occasionally it got really bad. But for the most part we were able to get they lines across. Some parts of the script where one character interrupted the other didn’t quite work, but the rest had no issue. Daniel and Lola did a very good job, and after a few takes and some directions I chipped in, I was really happy with the flow.

Same with David. A little tech hiccup at the start but Danial was pretty patient. In no time I had the two of them engage in a reading where both gave all they had and the entire performance was emotionally punchy and powerful. There was no need for extra direction from me, I thought it was brilliant already. We wrapped up pretty soon after that.

After we finished I sent each one of them an email offering the role, and now having a remote script reading done, I’m super excited about moving on to the next stage for the production, and to get them on the ground and actually record face to face in the studio. It’d be awesome.

I feel incredibly relieved and reassured right now. Casting took a month but now it’s finally over, I’m very happy with the talents I’ve got.

So a round of applause for Daniel Francis as the Man, Lola Brady O'Sullivan as the Neighbour, and David Webb as the Voice. Daniel will also play the Father, but I’ll worry about that later down the track.


the plotpoints on a pinboard The board was set up real nicely in my Barkly St place before we moved. Now the pins are all messed up and some are missing.

I would love to thank those* who have read my script so far and offered amazing feedback:)

Rob & Paul



*names are not in order