Blog Description

A low budget sci-fi/horror feature film written by AWGIE award winner Stephen Mitchell, directed by Ian Dixon with editorial by Stephen Cleary. The film commences shooting in 2015 and will be shot in increments over the course of a year.

scary trees

scary trees


In a remote Australian forest, nine year old Sarasi races through the darkness of her isolated family home. Somewhere she can hear the screams of her one-year-old sister Nayana and the vicious, snarling attack of their once-loved family dog Tripi.

Outside, her mother and older sister lie dead - killed by a mysterious force that imprisons Sarasi and Nayana inside an invisible perimeter with no food, no power and no-one to help them. Cut off even from sunlight in a never-ending, preternatural night, can she withstand the terrors of the dark and combat her starving dog? Will she keep her baby sister alive? Does she have the strength to become the savage survivalist she needs to be?

And what of the deadly perimeter? What - or who - has brought it into being? What if escape is right under her nose, but demands a brutal choice no child should ever have to make? What if, outside, it is not just the lives of two children at stake...but everyone's?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Low budget is not high budget on a shoestring

People make low budget feature films for two reasons: as a stepping stone to making higher budget films, and/or for the freedom of expression that lo-bo allows. Of course, 'freedom' depends on how you look at it. Lo-bo operates within obvious constraints but so do financed films, mostly to do with justifying or recouping investors' money. And in both cases, these restrictions aren't necessarily the death of creativity but the wellspring. Even so, vast resources and endless technical capability can make film-makers lazy. Where is the ingenuity of Georges Melies, or the subtle off-screen suggestiveness of Fritz Lang or Hitchcock? Lo-bo demands their inventiveness and relies upon a more idiosyncratic form of cinematic narrative.

My director buddy Ian Dixon and I have a long relationship that goes back to high school in the 80s. Over the years, we have collaborated on four main projects - 3 theatre plays as part of a collective in the mid-nineties, and a half-hour film for SBS at the beginning of the 2000s. There is no doubt that our film ambitions have been focused on traditionally financed projects but we both have a genuine love of lo-bo and its possibilities. Last year, Ian introduced me to Stephen Cleary, whose astute understanding of what makes lo-bo unique in its conception and development was eye-opening to both of us.

Stephen's view is that lo-bo films do not tell stories that financed films could tell better. They tell stories that can only be told within the parameters of lo-bo's freedoms and constraints. An example is 52 Tuesdays, shot on one day a week for a year.

The idea for The Perimeter germinated in a few weeks workshopping with Stephen at the end of 2013. His crucial suggestion that lo-bo starts not with an idea but with your available assets - out of which you construct an idea - in effect set us to reverse-engineer a story to suit the actors and locations and shooting possibilities that we already had access to.

We built our story on two critical assets: Ian's house in the Dandenongs and his new baby daughter.

Now, maybe horror isn't where everyone would have ended up with a gorgeous innocent baby as your central figure, but we did. Maybe we watched Eraserhead too many times back in the 80s. I have two daughters who are now no longer babies and, while occasionally horrible (mostly to each other), they are not in any way horrific. In the end, we also added another older child to the story in the belief that we knew enough children between my own and those of friends to cast that role. Oh and we put in a dog. Because Ian has a dog.

So, we've found ourselves with a project that works mainly with children and animals (thank you WC Fields) in a genre that throws up all sorts of tricky welfare issues for these young people, whom we don't intend to expose to the sort of disturbing content that the film will ultimately expose our adult audience to. Doing it with no money is starting to look like the easy bit.


  1. The Perimeter: does it really need to exist? Isn't the Australian Bush Perimeter enough?

    1. Instinctively, I say, yes! the Perimeter must exist and no! the Australian bush is not enough. But I have to ask myself, why? And I'm not sure I have a good answer.

      Three films spring to mind. Nicholas Roeg's 'Walkabout', Peter Weir's 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' and Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'.

      'Walkabout' was the quintessential reimagining of the Australian landscape (shown through the mediation of Roeg's incredible cinematography and David Gulpilil's character) as not a dead heart but a bountiful, living one that is nevertheless alien and threatening to the children of the story. The landscape is numinous and mysterious but it serves a cultural and societal dicourse which is very different to The Perimeter.

      'PAHR' does utilise a very overt invocation of 'magic' in the form of a mysterious devouring force at the heart of the landscape. It is never explicitly expressed through special effects but it very much exists in the realm of the story.

      Similarly, 'Stalker' eschews the cinematic tropes of sci-fi but nevertheless tells a story which belongs utterly to that genre. The landscape of The Zone in the story is mysteriously deadly, dreamlike, and completely wedded to a sci-fi backstory and yet not until the final moments that it offers an unequivocal expression of the 'magic' which imbues it.

      So, where am I going with this? These three examples all seem to suggest a direction AWAY from overt sci-fi constructions. And yet they are all on a continuum. 'Walkabout' is the furthest away. It is not sci-fi and there is no 'magic'. It is embedded in the real world, albeit in a dreamlike and impressionistic way. 'PAHR' is sci-fi and 'Stalker' even more so. 'The Perimeter' seems to me to exist on that trajectory, a step or two towards a more overt expression of the 'magic' in herent in sci-fi.

      To remove the perimeter as a real, existing force (regardless of how overtly or not that you depict it) and replace it with simply the hostility of the natural environment means telling a very different story. One that is missing...something. I can't quite put my finger on it, I admit.

  2. I see from the time stamp above, that Stephen was posting this at the very same time that I was teaching my multi-media class in Cultural Studies: this week's topic was violence and its effects. In fact, the "dangerous psycho-logic of media 'effects'" (Vine, 2005) was an article the class considered. Curiously enough, there was a distinct lack of post-modernist nonsense justifying the act of violence as just fun, although this is a strain of argument that exists strongly under post-modernism. Case in point: Tarantino’s refusal to even acknowledge the question of violence in a recent interview.

    For the main part, I saw serious young minds tackling with a genuine problem and using their cultural studies investigations to do so.... So how then do I justify the degree of violence and horror that "The Perimeter" portrays?

    Firstly, I would take the Kantian argument that anything we see in films is already a result of aesthetic judgment. This, in a medium famous for visceral and emotional responses such as cinema, taints our ability to see the image on its ‘natural’ terms. Nevertheless a Kantian view puts the violence in perspective as an aspect of an argument or discourse, perhaps even a polemic, which deals with the unnamed horrors within all of us.

    But then again, the Freudian (1985) argument that we all have Thanatos (death drive) and aggressivity in our nature also comes under fire (pardon the pun) in this questioning process. How can we claim these concepts are indeed universal? Surely we are looking at a genre (horror), which aligns our strategic thinking in a particular direction. i.e. We are viewing an aesthetic document, which contains an idea of the mind rather than actual violence. We must consider, however, that people get very angry about the portrayal of violence in film. We must also consider that, despite Tarantino’s refusals, there is not a filmmaker in existence who can take the issue of on-screen violence lightly. It is our moral imperative to take it very seriously!

    Personally speaking, how do I justify the violence I am about to mount on screen and still hold my head high in class with all these investigative minds and within a family, who all wonder why I have such a compulsion to do so. I have no glib answers, except to suggest that it is not a compulsion, but a choice: a choice to investigate the human psyche in symbolic terms and in no way an aggrandisement of actual violence. Indeed, what interests us in this film is the degree to which grief for the loss of our childhood resonates within all of us. As Stephen points out above, it is a choice, which emerges from a few scant creative tools: a forest, a house, a baby and a dog… In any case, I hope as preparations for the film continue, some serious discussions can occur on this blog.

  3. Been so busy finishing the grade and SFX design for INTERFERENCE that I have not had time to blog for THE PERIMETER.

    I won't even mention the technical issues re this blog, which really stem from my being born in 1966 : an era when computers were all made from woodblock print and powered by horse-drawn cart.

    Here's quick update:

    1) Camera tests went for four days and the (skeletal) crew bonded beautifully. We also learned that chatting about classic horror films within inches of the DOP while he tried to line up shots was probably not conducive to workflow. I had to step up as A-hole director at this point and ‘crack the whip’ (as one crew member put it): a move I prefer not to do.

    2) Having originally suggested to the writer (Stephen Mitchell) that we could begin shooting with only the first 40 pages (which he delivered diligently), I then reflected and decided I could not handle a story version incomplete when initiating production. This was an issue of balancing an entire feature film in my mind (and one I had not written (my last feature, CRUSHED, I knew intimately because I had written it)). Further, I recognised that I was ignoring industry wisdom learned of the last 20 years: ‘Never go on set with an uncompleted script’. Sure, the low-budget form demands flexibility and laterality in approach (Cleary, 2013), but only in as much as it manifests a good film. So I encouraged the writer, Stephen to complete the draft. This has proved arduous for the poor feller as he is a professional copywriter inundated with work and two teenage daughters who demand parenting (don’t they realise we have a film to make!) Stephen is currently slaving away to deliver the next full draft (version #8, I believe), so I am standing by to script edit again.

    3) Raising funds for my wife’s brilliant PhD film BIG GIRL (oh and full time teaching in a film school) has taken priority at this time. I gotta confess, I’m nervous that it will all come together by the time the weather returns in the Spring.

    4) My boss, Darcy Yuille (also our 1st AC for the first week of shooting), has made some brilliant suggestions for integrating course structures in and around the shooting of this film

    5) Two excellent funding opportunities have presented themselves, which I will say no more about until I seal the deals. Not point in claiming what we do not have yet.

    That’s all folks, Will get back to regular updates soon.

  4. Still cogitating what it means to direct your own child in such a disturbing film. Noting that both child actors will always be safe and not delivering the more disturbing material - that's up to the adults and the environmnet around them. The parent in me remains more vigilant than the film director. this is a dilemma, becuase I have always been of the mond that the director must be obsessive in the pursuit of excellence.

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  6. After a day interviewing excellent filmmakers at the Open Channel Generation Next Conference. I am re-inspired to keep the momentum up on The Perimeter. I just supplied a stack of editorial notes to my poor writer and he is drowning is Ch-ch-changes. i believe these changes necessary if we are to maintain that critical interest and stakes raising between midpoint and act two turning point. In all this I am asking: Why put all that effort into making a feature film without genuine distribution channels and a script that we have confidence in. Wish Stephen Cleary was here... but i feel confident that the changes are necessary for Draft 8 to emerge... Thankfully the writer agrees.

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  8. Well with all the excitment generated about the film and its potential through online funding/distribution, with all the madness of re-writing which took a massive toll on Stephen and quite frankly I don't know how he kept going (especially since I harangued him contantly with ch-ch-ch-changes to structure, affect and even genre). I guess we made it through to an excellent script by sheer determination... and, on Stephen's part, talent. But where to from here?

    The problem with blogging is that it takes away the creators' right to work their thoughts out privately - which, for me, is vital. I question the wisdom of making mistakes in public view. Experiments should be tried, risks taken as with the form and scope of The Perimeter, as with the discussions and passions and pathways, which has created The Perimeter as it stands. But what about that need to be public about them? Is blogging really about sharing process? Or is it just about giving the impression that the process is public - when all that amounts to is a convincing disguise for the real process? Hmmmm....