07 Dec 2019

Cleaning out the story shelf to revive a special film school project

After seven years of putting his passion project on the back burner, Film Alumni Adrian Powers revives old footage into his latest short film 'Brolga'


During those seven years, Adrian was a busy man - shooting content for huge brands including Google and Qantas, editing a huge number of feature films and winning a bunch of awards along the way. However, during a rare quiet period, Adrian decided to revive the project that he started at film school, with incredible results.

We caught up wth Adrian, filling us in on what made him revisit previous work and how the last decade of experience has shaped the successes he has encountered

Tell us about your film career so far and some of the work you have done? 

I’ve been very lucky — a lot of lovely people have trusted me a lot! I graduated from the school in 2011. My IFSS (now AFTT) short film ‘Scruples’ has screened at film festivals across the globe, including the 69th Venice Film Festival in 2012, where it screened in competition as part of a special collaboration between Sir Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, Emirates and YouTube. That was an amazing experience.

In 2013, I completed work as co-director and editor on the WWI feature 'Forbidden Ground', which was released worldwide (including distribution in the U.S. through Lionsgate Entertainment). I have edited twelve feature films, including 'Skin Deep' (officially selected for the 2014 Austin Film Festival), ‘Rip Tide’ (officially selected for the 2018 Sydney Film Festival and released worldwide on Netflix in 2018) and ‘Dark Place’ (officially selected for the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival).

As both an editor and director, I’ve worked on lots of TVCs, music videos, corporate videos and documentaries, frequently producing content for some great brands like QANTAS, Google and the Guardian. My latest film, ‘Brolga’, premiered at the 2019 Sci-Fi Film Festival, where I was awarded the George Pal Award for Best Director (Short Film). The film was my film school final major work  which sat incomplete for almost eight years!

Tell us about ‘Brolga’ and where the inspiration for this film came from?

‘Brolga’ is an idea that I’ve wanted to put to film for a very long time. I wanted to present a story set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, exploring uniquely Australian cultural implications. The film speaks specifically to the history and power of Indigenous Australian storytelling and highlights the value and importance of listening to the insights of Aboriginal Australian culture. For me, the inspiration for this concept stemmed from a childhood affection for the Murriwarri Dreaming story of the brolga bird, and a desire to echo some of the beats of that story in a re-contextualised setting. 

In order for me, a non-Indigenous Australian, to be dealing with this material, I required permission and approval. I managed to track down Michael Connolly, the Murriwarri elder and artist who had actually provided several of the painted pieces that originally inspired the film, and sought his opinion and blessing. Thankfully, he was delighted by the idea and granted full approval to continue the project.
This movie is about the value of stories. It’s about the importance of culture, and about cooperation in preserving our cultures. It poses the question: if contemporary society were to collapse, and humanity was reduced to its base elements...What roles would stories play? What meanings would they hold for us? How important would they be and how would we tell them? It’s about seeing yourself reflected in stories, and the ways in which they impact , influence and inspire us. I guess it’s actually about inspiration itself, in a way.

What made you re-visit this film after leaving it on the shelf for so long?

Although I was still very enthusiastic about the film, by the completion of film school I had moved on to other projects, and ‘Brolga’ was indeed shelved. There were multiple instances when I considered dusting off the hard drive and reviewing the footage, but other film commitments dominated my schedule. Nevertheless, I never forgot it. Finally, when a small break presented itself in early 2018, I was given the opportunity to properly review and reconsider the material we had shot back in 2011. I was looking to make my mark as a director again, and thought that now would be the perfect time to see if what was already on the shelf could be effectively treated and delivered to fulfil the potential of the project.

How do you think the break between working on this film changed the final edit that has been so successful? 

Reviewing material seven years later was like a breath of fresh air. On every project I feel like having a break between drafts or cuts gives you the chance to reboot creatively so by the time you return to it, you can be delightfully surprised, or you can more easily see what needs to change. In my experiencing of having such a  long break between production and completion on this film, it was almost surreal.

In the intervening time, I had co-directed a feature, co-written three and edited twelve, so I had a much more of an informed understanding about almost every aspect of filmmaking. All that experience allowed me to explore various creative options and cross-examine myself with more precision than I did back in school. The raw material we captured was still very strong (thanks to the great cast, crew and super hard work of fellow IFSS/ AFTT student Tim Tregoning), so the work was in the editing.

I completely re-edited the film from scratch. New project file, everything! In the final cut of the film, there is only a single moment that replicates how it appeared in my original cut. Everything else is new. Having worked as an editor for so long, I think that experience allowed me to elevate the stuff we had grabbed on location. I also recognised a key reason why the older version of the film hadn’t been successful: more worldbuilding was needed. The film required more establishing shots and cut-away material to effectively sell the setting. In mid-2018 my partner Jess and I travelled to Ukraine to visit family friends, and stopped by in Chernobyl. On a day-trip to the exclusion zone, I used my iPhone to capture hundreds of insert shots and landscapes. The best of these shots are included in the film and really help to tie everything together.

What’s next for you?

It’s a very exciting time. My writing partner Caera and I just finished the latest draft of a screenplay I hope to be directing in the next year. I’m about to go into preliminary discussions with some producers about ideas and possibilities for ‘Brolga’ to be developed as a feature too. I also have a fun slate of features lined up to edit, I’m very happy to be busy!

What were you favourite things about studying at IFSS?

I credit IFSS for providing me with so many of the tools I’ve needed to forge a career in the industry, and I enjoy staying in touch with the school and its community. Studying at IFSS taught me not only the practical skills I needed to succeed in filmmaking, but also the true value of creative collaboration and teamwork

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about studying film? 

I will always encourage people to study film, if they’re harbouring the interest. Working in the film industry is hard, long work, and you need to truly love it, have a passion and fire in you that keeps you going. Film school doesn’t just teach you about the nature of filmmaking — it’s also a great place to see if you’re cut out for the outside world! If you get through the journey of film school, and feel invigorated, then you’re ready to take a crack at the big time. At the end of the day, the experience will deeply enhance your appreciation for cinema.
Check out the trailer for 'Brolga' below!
To learn more about studying film at AFTT, click here.