So, myself and two friends decided to have a joint birthday party at a club in Sydney. Trish was due to film that same night with Prince Hubertus and mentioned she may pass by to say Happy Birthday! Three hours into the party and my mobile phone goes “I’m 5 minutes away darling, can I come in with the film crew?” So they did!
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We were now on the home stretch. Just one more day/night shoot with Ms. Karr and it was a wrap! Don’t lose it now, everyone stay focused. I wanted a couple of shots of Trish walking down Darlinghursts’ Oxford Street and a re-enactment of that first meeting from where this all began, The Colombian. But first, since Trish lives in a different ‘time zone’ to me, I decided to capture the electric buzz of Sydney by night. Mark and I jumped in a cab armed with his Canon 5D Mark III, a box of lenses and a seriously absurdly expensive tripod. It would have been remiss of me to make a film in Sydney and not include its harbour. It has all been done before of course, but at night? So while Trish prepared her makeup and hair, we photographed every landmark in a 5k radius. The Canon 5D proved perfect and we had no trouble matching later in post.
With some truly awesome pictures in the can, we returned to Oxford Street around 10.30pm. In an attempt to minimize hassles over release forms, we posted a notice on social media for a Trishy Dishy rent-a-crowd and everyone, including Trish, was waiting for our return. The shoot went brilliantly and we wrapped bang on midnight having captured the insatiable vibe that Trish leaves in her wake wherever she goes.
I told Trish to go home, get a good night sleep and we’d be at her place at 08.30 for the final stroll in the park with her dog Kandi and her husband Johnny. Too easy!
I knew something was not as it should be the moment I pulled up outside Trish’s. Mark as usual was already setting up. I could smell sausages cooking on the BBQ, wafting down the street and I could see their front patio obstructed by large, full, black bin liners. This was not usual! Clearly someone had been up at the crack of dawn ensuring the house looked immaculate. But why … we weren’t shooting at the house! The ever-chirpy Johnny warmly welcomed us at the door beckoning us towards the rear spotless patio, where enough sausages had been cooking to feed the crew of Ben-Hur. “Where’s Trish?” “Want a drink, beer, coffee, tea?” “Coffee, thanks, where’s Trish?” In typical Aussie fashion, “all good, she’s just walked in” “Just walked in!!” Okay, sure, we were a tad early, it was only 8am but Trish had only just now returned from the previous nights shoot. I knew right then, if Trish’s head hit that pillow, I was doomed.
Not sure what a bull racing up the stairs in a china shop would actually look like, but I reckon my impersonation wasn’t too far away! Trish’s head was about to hit that ever-so comfy, beckoning pillow when I yanked it from reach, suggesting, very calmly, that she shower, apply fresh make-up, put on something casual and meet us downstairs as soon as possible, for a nice relaxing walk.
Frankly it was the fresh make-up request which irritated Trish the most. For she had spent a small fortune hiring a professional make-up artist to apply expensive eyelashes on her for the previous nights shoot which she didn’t now want to take off. But this of course would have caused me obvious continuity issues. Fresh make up it was then.
I had mentioned to Johnny, time allowing I’d like to grab a couple of shots of him with the children. Well … time allowed, in fact it was two hours!
Unlike the good old days of shooting a film from scavenged s16mm or 35mm ends, this was only ‘memory space’ so I decided we may as well set Johnny up, cooking his already overcooked sausages and just let him chat. One word: awesome! Johnny talked of how he and Trish had first met, the parties, the breast cancer, the religion, everything. And it was gold.
Revitalised, refuelled and gear packed away, Trish bounces down the stairs looking remarkably refreshed. “C’mon you ****ers, let’s finish this film.”
We’d deliberately chosen a grassed area alongside the harbour wall, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. En-route Trish allowed her dog Kandi to run free. It didn’t occur to me to suggest a change of wardrobe. Why should it? We’d already done a wardrobe check back at the house and all I required was a shot of Trish and Johnny walking lovingly beside the waters edge. But I failed to plan for every eventuality!
There we were walking along just chatting about the previous night’s shoot when all of a sudden Trish yells “Kandi” and we all turn to see what appears to be the tail of a dog disappear over a large sandstone wall. Yes, that was the day Kandi decided to see whether she could swim! But why not a pond, a swimming pool? Why did Kandi have to choose the Sydney Harbour? “She can’t swim” yelled Trish. “Johnny, you’ll have to jump in after her.” “Are you kidding me!” Without even hesitating, Johnny throws himself over the wall and into the cold, deep water below. He grabs the dog and hands her up to a panicked Trish. Kandi was fine, shaken, but just fine. Johnny on the other hand, clambering back over the wall … was completely soaked! Bloody good swimmer mind, but soaked!!
Now we could have returned to Trish’s for a change of clothing but we were, by now, already some 4 hours behind schedule and Johnny in his customary, cool, calm, collected manner was game to just carry on. What a sport! The shot worked well and the only thing anyone might actually notice is that Johnny’s slightly darker than normal jeans!
A stressful day/nighter but it was indeed a wrap.
After 9 months my film’s wrap was in sight. Just a couple of final set up’s and I’d be out of Trish’s hair. Filming had gone well, so I saw no reason why this should be any different!
It was Trish’s birthday – an excellent opportunity to get her friends on film. We needed a big birthday cake of course … and Trish being Trish wanted a massive … Penis cake! Where the hell was I to get a sponge cake in the shape of a penis? I tracked down a couple of local bakers. “Hello, I’m Steve Rogers, I’m the director of a film called ‘Witness My Journey’ and I’d like you to bake me a 2ft sponge cake in the shape of an upright penis. “You want me to bake you an erected penis?” “Yes, please.” Needless to say the first baker hung up on me, but the second, clearly having a far better sense of humour, rose to the challenge. No pun intended!
The cake was delivered to my home and frankly, was outstanding. It was truly a work of ‘icing’ artistry.
From here, things went downhill. The taxi journey to the venue was without question one of the most stressful I have ever encountered. I couldn’t blame the taxi driver as he executed every manoeuvre with perfection. None of this care however was enough to prevent my penis cake from melting and thus drooping to one side. Peeping through the top of the box revealed a cake more akin to the Leaning Tower of Pisa than an upright penis! Leaning we could deal with but then … plop! “Oh no, please no,” I could feel one entire side of the cake had collapsed against the side of the cardboard box. This was not a good sign.
We arrived at the venue, heart pumping. My wife and I carefully carried the partially-collapsing penis into the foyer where we were immediately met by Trish’s husband, Johnny. Now Johnny is one of those cool, calm and collected types, but he immediately detected something was not as it should be. “It’s the cake, it’s collapsing.” Johnny, a builder by trade, takes one look at the penis, “we need to underpin it.” Johnny sets off for anything he could use to stabilize the cake, whilst my wife went to buy some icing-mix.
In times like these you don’t need a smart-arse, but there’s always one, and a friend suggested he had the answer “a couple of dozen Viagra tablets should do the trick! Yes, thank you Tim.
Unfortunately we couldn’t save the penis cake, the damage was too grave, even for Johnny’s building skills!
Thankfully, DP Mark had remained focused on the job in hand and was set up ready to shoot the ‘nurse act’ performed by the very talented and stunning Ms. Tessa Williams.
Now this act involved copious amounts of Ribena, better than fake blood apparently, so a large plastic sheet was placed on the floor to protect the carpet. My wife who was trying to keep guests from scuffing up the plastic sheet began to enjoy a round of applause, clearly being mistaken for the act. But where was Tessa? With a cleared performance area, my wife ran off in search, finding her back stage “you’re on, everyone’s waiting for you” “but where’s my prosthetic hand?” “You have a prosthetic hand and you’ve lost it?” “Yes, I can’t go on stage without my hand.” No, of course not, thought my wife, whilst trying to see in the dark corridor what a handless arm actually looked like. But then she noticed, Tessa had two arms and two hands! “No, it’s a prop hand … I’ve lost my prop hand.” “Can’t you improvise?” asked my wife. “No, it’s part of the act.” So, imagine there’s my wife, running around, asking everyone if they happen to have come across a spare hand? This missing hand was finally located on the back shelf of the bar.
The act was amazing. Check out the opening scenes of my film, this was the only bit I could get away with. Wanted to keep this PG!
Witness My Journey enters its final online stage.
Excited by the rushes from the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade I was dead keen to crack on with my film. Faced with so many great story lines I knew it would be a challenge: Jehovah’s Witness; clubbing; breast cancer; ageism; relationships. I allowed, to a degree, the action, the characters and the events to dictate the film’s journey. Constantly considering how I was going to mesh everything into a building, flowing plot. So I planned to film at every available opportunity. Yes the parties themselves. But also behind-the-scenes Mardi Gras prep, and Trish at home chilling with her family.
It was about a third of the way through filming that I brought on board my first editor, Paul Dinnerville who began putting together a rough assembly edit. Since we both worked on Final Cut v7 it proved easy sharing ideas via project files. There was no doubt bringing Paul on board this early proved crucial. Paul was impartial, less precious, more objective. I was becoming too close, wanting every shot, every emotion, every character. Paul soon put a stop to that!
If this first, albeit crude, cut proved anything it showed we needed something to bond the scenes together. A ‘God-like’ voice [be it Trish, me, a friend or a professional VO artist] wouldn’t be enough on its own. What we needed was an extensive controlled interview with Trish from start to finish, which cameraman Mark referred to as ‘his slab.’
Our ‘slab’ interview comprised a two camera setup on tracks. Mark ensured we had full coverage handling the Master Shot, whilst his colleague Dominique Flanagan provided 2nd angles and cutaways. We rolled cameras and just talked. I intentionally made it informal, relaxed, not like a conventional Q&A but more a private conversation. I was hoping to gain a deeper insight this way, get more of the raw emotion out of Trish.
By day’s end we had 4 hours of footage, from Trish’s past life to her present family, from discovering she had been diagnosed with breast cancer to promoting her first Hot Kandi event. Yes, I had notes based on research, an order, some sort of structure but I allowed the interview to flow without interruption. This style of IV later proved time-consuming since real conversations rarely have any chronological order. Points are forgotten then remembered, so the chat goes backwards and forwards. Those of you who have worked this way before will be only too aware of what’s coming next. Yep, this exposed a number of continuity issues. Some were overcome by means of cutaways but many weren’t. This also exposed a number of holes. But I decided to worry about that later. The key was to lay down a narrative which not only answered questions but also served to drive my story forwards.
With 50 minutes on the time-line it became obvious which pictures I needed to ‘show’, rather than ‘tell’, my story. I discovered anything longer than 2 or 3 minutes on the same set-up, even with different angles, was too long. I needed more pictures … a lot more! It was during this time that something became obvious – other peoples perspective to either endorse or provide an alternative experience. Yet this presented a slight problem. I quickly discovered, whilst many were supportive of this film, some preferred not to be interviewed since, not knowing me, there was some suspicion as to what this film was really about.
It became abundantly clear, if I were to gain the respect and trust of these people I had to join them! Oh the sacrifices of being a filmmaker!!
So at home that night I told my wife to put her dancing shoes back on as despite being in our mid and late 40’s we were going clubbing again. Being a former Moulin Rouge dancer my wife took took the news rather well.
And here’s the surprising thing, I can safely say some of my most recent and fondest friendships have developed from meeting folks at these events. People, many, like us, with kids, who don’t sit at home watching TV but after 10 – 15 years of marriage continue to go out partying as a couple. This entire experience was so interesting from a relationship prospective I’ve decided to dedicate a short blog on this very subject later on.
Trish Karr / Joan Rivers interview – Mardi Gras 2009
Trish had three weeks, but I had three days to get organized if I were to take advantage of the behind-the-scenes prep for Trish’s Mardi Gras float. Unsure whether this idea would have the legs of mass popular interest, this was too good an opportunity to miss so I decided to get the Mardi Gras shots in the can and re-evaluate.
Had I been in my native London this would not have posed any issue. I could have crewed up with reliable talent and expertise on the strength of a single phone call, but I was in Sydney where the industry is far smaller. No Dean or Wardour Street here! It’s all over the place. I literally jumped online in search of experienced cam op’s & DP’s. I contacted a few and was immediately struck not by their creative interest but keenness to lock in price first! There was one exception, Mark Camwell of iCam Pictures. Funny enough Mark’s rates were right up there on the top tier! I would have saved money hiring one of the other guys, but I immediately warmed to this Mark Camwell. Yes, he had bills to pay, a family to support and a mortgage to service like the rest of us but with Mark it was about the creative input first, financial remuneration second. I liked that.
On meeting Mark for the first time, over a coffee in King’s Cross, just two hours before Shot 1, Take 1 my instincts did not let me down. Of course I still needed to see any rushes – but I was of the mind, I had found my cameraman. That said I had to set the tone of how I work, just to make sure. Whilst by no means a guerilla filmmaker, not in the illegal sense [unless you happen to include racing around Paris clutching a bag of replica weapons on a low-budget action feature … pre 9/11 of course! But I do like to shoot on the run. I’ve always worked with film, 8mm, s16mm and 35mm, and it took more than once for Mark to get me to slow down “this is video we can afford a greater shooting ratio.” I soon adjusted.
Whilst a doco I storyboarded every potential shot.* I once worked with Hollywood veteran DP Gene Talvin who taught me always to cut a film on paper/in your head before shooting a single frame. This was a valuable lesson. Later I worked with DP Gordan Hickie who once told me “I like working with young directors without money, since anyone can make a movie with finance.” **
Our first set up was to capture Trish’s dancers rehearsing. This was my first exposure to the colourful, fun, vivacious characters attracted to the Trishy Dishy way! I then wanted to capture the transformation of the truck, from arrival to what later proved both a public and organisers favourite, but then how can you fail – 20 glittering tasseled dancers all dressed in pink.
On the day of the parade itself we encountered our first production hiccup. Apparently media passes do not permit directors or anyone without a camera to accompany the floats! My entire project now rested in the hands of Mark. We’d got along well but only worked together for two hours. Would Mark actually deliver the shots I needed? Was he capable in that short time of knowing me, to get inside my head and provide the vision I had envisaged?
An antagonizing two days later we sat down and viewed the not-so rushed rushes. I needn’t have concerned myself – it was awesome!
*Film Directing Shot by Shot by Steve D Katz [awesome storyboard examples]
**Rebel without a Crew – Robert Rodriguez [inspiring]
Guerilla Film Makers Handbook – Chris Jones & Genevieve Jolliffe
The beginning – Blog #1
Ok. Let’s start at the beginning.
I first met the remarkable Trish Karr, aka Trishy Dishy, back in 2008. She was parading conspicuously at the entrance of The Columbian Hotel in Sydney (a thriving bar on the renowned Oxford Street strip) brandishing a dazzlingly pink umbrella and accompanied by two ripped (shirtless) guys. Subtlety clearly wasn’t her style. “I’ve arrived darlings”, she announced to anyone who cared to listen. A man next to me spoke in astonishment. “Who the f..k is that?”. Who indeed. ‘That’ in fact, was Trish, rapidly becoming a well-known partygoer in the Sydney club scene. And that encounter in 2008 was the beginning of the bizarre and unpredictable journey, which culminated in this documentary.
I began seeing Trish around town, each time discovering that, invariably, there was more of her to discover. I was in LA at the time when I received news; Trish had been admitted into hospital to undergo a severe breast cancer operation.
It was some weeks later I caught up with her and whilst not fully recovered, Trish declared she was going to start organizing her own parties. (I guess many people who undergo experiences such as these re-evaluate their lives, dreams and desires).
Whilst unfamiliar with party promotion I have a number of years experience of film and theatre production and figured I might be of use. This was the turning point in our relationship and we met frequently to discuss venues, themes, budgets and sponsorship.
Following the huge success of Trish’s first party held at the stylish Slide nightclub, hardly a week had past before her facebook page was being inundated with requests for more.
The secret of Trish’s almost instant success was her insistence in being involved in every aspect of the operation. I called her The Conductor. For unlike many promoters who simply hire a venue and market the event, Trish’s involvement was total; individually evaluating the specific requirements of each one.
She put herself in the spotlight and lead by example – more akin to a pop star than a party promoter. But that’s what sets Trish Karr apart from the rest.
Some weeks later I met up with Trish and her husband Johnny. We were discussing the success of the first parties when Johnny said “not bad for an ex-Jehovah’s Witness.” Excuse me? What did he just say? An ex-Jehovah’s Witness? What a story that could make. And then came the news from Trish. “I’m going to enter this year’s Mardi Gras supporting Breast Cancer Awareness.” And that was it. I needed no further convincing. Now I had a story.