John Polson: Tropman

30 November, 2007
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AMW: What’s your take on how Tropfest has developed?
JP: If you could get in a time machine and go back to ’93 when it started, most people had never heard of short films. Short films were something that film students made. I knew about them because being an actor and aspiring filmmaker it was definitely part of my reality. But even then short films were, in my opinion, often pretty high brow — sometimes pretentious, sometimes basically unfathomable.

But also around ’93 video cameras became more accessible to most people. I made my short at the time on a video camera for about $100, called Surry Hills 902 Spring Roll. I just decided to show it at the Tropicana Café where a lot of the film had been shot, and that was kind of the beginning.

I take very little credit for how it’s grown except I did try and stick with it and try and get the street shut down and the like. It was the filmmakers themselves with all this enthusiasm and talent to make films that people wanted to see. Over the years films got better, we got more of them, audiences got bigger and, you know, the rest is history.

AMW: Are shorts a real bridge to a career in film?
JP: There’s no better way to become a filmmaker, television director, producer, or commercial director than short film. It’s affordable these days. Many of the winners or finalists over the years have cost so little, or sometimes five hundred dollars or whatever. Very rarely have they cost thousands of dollars. It can be a break for everyone involved and I think a smart director can figure that out. That’s what I did. When I was in short films I would go to someone who would maybe have a career as a Second Assistant Director and say, look, I’ll make you the First Assistant Director. Same with the DOP, sound recordist, actors, or anybody else.

AMW: And now there’s the Trop Junior offshoot?

JP: Yeah, over the years we’ve had, from time to time, surprisingly young entrants at Tropfest. We think there’s great potential for a whole batch of new films and new filmmakers to come through. What’s interesting to me is whenever I read an interview by Scorsese, or Spielberg, or a lot of these people who have made careers out of filmmaking, nine times out of ten they talk about how they had a Super 8 camera or an 8mm camera when they were very young. It seems to me that as well as a lot of fun, this is a way to help nurture some legitimate careers in the future.

AMW: Often video is dismissed compared to dance, theatre, or painting in schools. Do you think this could help to change that?
JP: Oh I certainly hope so. There’s a lot of things I love about Australia, one of them is their love and obsession with sport, but if some of that could rub off on filmmaking I think it would be a great thing. I hope this will encourage all kinds of teachers and students to make films together. I think there’s absolutely nothing to be lost from more excitement, rather than just for the dance and art things that we’ve all grown up with. Film is an incredible medium, obviously becoming more and more powerful every day. It’s not all about cinemas anymore. It’s about television, the internet and other mediums.

AMW: How does someone make a standout Tropfest film?
JP: The first thing to do is do it. Not talk about it, not think about it, just get out and do whatever it takes. That separates people who are really passionate about it and people who just want to talk about it.

The most successful examples of Tropfest films are those where the filmmaker is not afraid of their own voice. That’s why people go to the cinema — to hear your story and how you want to tell it, and not to follow the rules. I think that’s something all filmmakers could do a bit more of. When I go to the movies I want to see what someone’s unique perspective on the world is, not just the sort of re-hashing of an old one.

Going back to films I remember, what I’ve responded to is something where you feel like there’s only one person that could make this and that’s the person who made it for Tropfest.

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