04 Jul 2018

Helicopters, monsters and emotions: Making my Major work

After two long years of learning and developing his craft, film student Austin Witherspoon is finally on the home stretch!

Austin is currently producing his final major AFTT work titled 'Song of the Siren'  and it is getting increasingly closer to being released to the world. We speak to Austin about the inspiration behind the film, the successes and challenges of making it and about his time at AFTT.

How has your time at AFTT been?

It’s been great being at AFTT. I’m from the U.S originally and came here to study, so I’ve sort of thrown myself off the deep end and travelled across the world to study the thing that I love. It’s a crazy experience. I come from a small town in the middle of nowhere, and it’s incredible to suddenly be surrounded by all sorts of people that have the same passion and drive as I do. Also, the school is absolute chaos (in the best way possible.) Every day I walk through the front doors, there’s movie music playing in the entrance and a million actors running around yelling and doing accents. I walk down the hallway to my class and somebody is walking past operating a Steadicam, and then in the middle of class there will be loud screaming and a bang on the wall from the nearby stunt coordinating class. And none of this is a bad thing at all – you just constantly have that feeling that you’re absolutely enveloped in an ocean of film and theatre, and it constantly gives you that extra little energy boost you need to put towards your own projects.

You’re currently working on your final, major work. Tell us a bit about the project and the inspiration behind it?

My current film, 'Song of the Siren' is about a grandfather and grandson who sail to a far away island cove to hunt and kill the mythological siren. I struggled for a long time coming up with the right idea. It was the night before script lock-off, and I didn’t have anything. When I get really stressed out, I usually get in my car and just drive somewhere. I ended up at Wattamolla Beach. I spent a few hours just sitting on this absolutely magical beach, and during that time I decided I needed to film my major project here. That night I came up with the idea and wrote an entire script. Over the next month or so I kept rewriting that script over and over again. The final incarnation turned out to be a coming of age film with a light sprinkle of monsters. Similar in some ways to my favorite film – Jurassic Park.

What have been the most valuable and challenging parts of developing your final work?

I don’t think there was anything special about this one in particular- if you’re putting your whole heart and soul into your work, I think every film will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life. I spent countless hours trying to cast this film due to pretty intense character requirements. I got incredibly, incredibly lucky when I auditioned John O’Hare and Jack Walton. This film had a lot go wrong. We had a mix-up with another crew and quite a bit of equipment was missing on day 1. We had props stolen on the beach we filmed at. One day, they actually closed down the entire beach because a construction project required them to bring a helicopter in. You just can’t prepare yourself for starting the day bright and early, and then being informed that your entire location is being shut down by a helicopter.

What have been your favourite things about your time at AFTT?

I’ve really enjoyed spending as much time with my class as I have. Most of us became pretty good friends right off the bat, and you can definitely feel that. There’s this friendly competitiveness that has pushed all of us really far, but also this family protective instinct most of us have to help each other when anything at all goes wrong. The tutors have been great as well. One of the best things that happens in the school is when you go in for a private consult with one them, and you end up getting a bit side tracked and having these absolutely incredible conversations about the art of filmmaking.

What are the key lessons you have learnt throughout your time at AFTT?

Oh boy, I don’t think I could even come close to doing all of the lessons I’ve learned justice. I’ve learned the easier way to accomplish a task is usually harder. It’s a bit odd, I know. There’s this saying “If the short cut was actually a short cut, it would just be called the route.” There’s usually a reason why people in the industry do what they do the way they do it. The people who do things the easier way almost always miss the important details, and quickly get overwhelmed with the amount of stuff they’re trying to deal with. Movies are complicated machines. Spend the time to do every small part right and you’ll spend less time afterwards trying to fix your mistakes.

What advice do you have for current students studying film?

It’s so easy to succeed if you care. Don’t be the person who gives up on your own project. Most of the people I’ve seen fail have only failed because they gave up, and pushed everybody else away. You’re surrounded by people who want you to succeed. As long as they can tell that you care, and you’re trying, they’ll help you more than you could imagine. Every film you do will try to break you, it’s your job to recognize that and push through it, and ask for help when you need it. If you do that, you’ll succeed.
To learn more about studying film, click here.