In mid-2016, thanks to my friend Vicky whom I met on another film set, I caught wind of an indie feature film being shot in-and-around Melbourne that had put out a call for extras en masse – I’m talking hundreds! – for a major film shoot day. Little did we all know, including the filmmakers, of the friendships, relationships, and community that would form around that one day and their passion project.
In mid-to-late 2015, on the heels of another film that was finally ‘in the can’, Director Leigh Ormsby and Producer Glenn Ellis began crafting a feature film script that had been banging around in Leigh’s head for some time. It was to be a post-apocalyptic zombie film set in Australia called The Last Hope, following the interweaving stories of several main characters. At the time, and in the first few months of shooting, all was well and quiet and quite regular for a film shoot.
How many people on set?!
Then, just over the mid-year hump of 2016, their idea for one big weekend of shooting with hundreds of volunteer actors and extras was finally on the horizon. They spoke to some of the folks who’d been involved to date in order to utilise their enthusiasm for the film to spread word about the casting call. What a snowball effect those conversations had!
With an almost overwhelming response from people across the country that wanted to be involved, the job of accepting practically everyone turned into an actual casting assignment for the team, so much so that they took on volunteer staff to assist in the filtering and hiring of actors, and the turning away of those who didn’t fit the bill.
When the shortlist was created and the information packets sent out to people applying for roles, they hadn’t skipped out on professionalism: it was all well above board, with pages upon pages of documentation describing the shoot date, character profiles, legal requirements, etc. spelling out exactly what they required of applicants. Who says indie films can’t also be professional? haha!
The time has come…
The weekend came around in early August, with two shoot dates at the one location – Saturday shooting a specific group of scenes with a smaller ensemble cast, and the Sunday being the huge day with everyone on board.
I rocked up and parked, thinking myself early, and walked through the gates to the Newport Railway Workshops to be greeted by at least 100 already. The enthusiasm and excitement was palpable, and one could already see the typical little cliques and groups of new friends forming, as tends to happen among groups of extras on set.
I sat off to the side for a while to observe people mingling and arriving, finding their places amongst the crowd and striking up those initial awkward conversations. For myself, I was lucky that I’d ‘met’ someone on the Facebook callout group the night before and we got to chatting after she arrived.
Along come the PAs
Vicky and a few others who’d already been in various scenes for the film and couldn’t be on camera anymore had volunteered to help out during the shoot day, allowing the core crew to focus on filming.
There were at least a dozen hi-vis-wearing folks walking around, guiding extras and checking paperwork, etc. It made everyone in the huge crowd feel at ease as we were all processed through several checks and then wardrobe to confirm our clothing choices.
Hurry up and wait
One of the funniest phrases I’ve ever heard that applies to both film sets and military staff is “Hurry up and wait” – an ironic phrasing, one that only really makes sense once you’ve actually done it.
But there we were, on the other side of the checkpoints, our number slowly growing towards what would be our total; somewhere just over 400 people! What a crowd, what energy! The funniest moment that happened before we started getting shepherded through to makeup was when we were told to ‘dirty up’ our clothes as best we could (for those who were in the massive zombie horde and refugee groups) was when a group of people near a muddy puddle started ‘swimming’ in it to grub up.
I may have thrown a smartarse comment their way to do it, not expecting them to actually do it! Funny how influence can take hold, even when unintentional; there’s a lesson in that involving humility for those willing to listen and not grow pompous.
My first scene
Once I’d changed into my gear for my first scene, I was whisked away from the massive horde of people waiting for makeup and taken to where the main actors and a bunch of the refugee actors were waiting to start.
I was an “LPA” Officer, kinda like a local police / security officer, and was teamed up with Tony. I won’t say what we were doing in the scene, but you can see us here preparing with Elliott while Melody is off with Leigh et al prepping her part in the scene.
NEXT!After that scene wrapped, I was sent off to makeup to get zombified. Apparently I’m good enough to become an LPA officer, but just shit enough to fall victim to someone in the horde. It’s never shown how my character turns, but I like to think that because my character was dodgy already, it involved some level of cockiness and stupidity. 😛
Once I was sufficiently bloodied up, I was told once more to hurry up and wait – they were prepping for the massive scene involving all the extras there that day, and were setting up the scenery and running lines with the main actors in the scene. It was laborious, but still exciting.
While we’re on the topic of laborious, I just want to remark that everyone there that day were so patient. I’ve worked on smaller sets where people bitch and moan about the wait times, but everyone there wanted to be there bad enough that they accepted that they had long wait-times between takes. It was glorious – kudos, people!
Biggest scene yet
When preparations were finally done, it was time to film my little bit just before all the action happened. (Dunno how I managed to get front-and-centre for one of the best deaths, in my not-so-humble opinion, but there we go! Mwahahahaha!)
Filling a 20-25 meter tunnel with 350+ zombies is no mean feat, and then coaching them on how to sprint out of it without falling and trampling each other is next to godly! The on-set trainers and safety PAs were great and made sure everyone was comfortable and ready, and damn if it wasn’t impressive.
I think we filmed that scene for just over an hour, over-and-over again getting many differing angles of all the Horde and main cast, including using a drone for certain parts. Once the main part of that scene was done, a portion of the Horde was shaved off and used for a tighter angle/shot and some more death scenes. It was magnificent. The sound of 700 feet, in a tunnel no less, will forever resound in my mind as one of the most awesome and freaky things I’ve ever heard!
When that final bunch of people had run themselves ragged and killed more times than they probably thought they would, wrap was called for the day and the roar of applause was probably heard down on Williamstown beach and in the CBD!
We all gathered around to hear Leigh and Glenn speak, thanking people for attending and lending their precious time and patience and talents for what is ultimately a passion project for them both, feature film or not.
It’s absolutely incredible to have watched and then participated in this film coming together – the dedication of a core group of maybe 25-30 people from start-to-finish has made this one of the coolest productions going about across 2015-2017. It’ll certainly be one to see on a big screen if selected for festivals.
But wait, there’s more!
Thanks to work, I didn’t get to make it to the wrap party and a couple of the cast birthday parties, but I wasn’t forgotten in the hearts of many whom I’d befriended that day. It’s amazing how connections can form, even in the hearts and minds of people you thought were either too distracted or simply uninterested. I’ve made some amazing friends through this film.
So much so that I got to take part in an extra pickup/re-shoot day, and will be joining a small group in filming two short films to establish the back-story of several characters from the main film. It’s pretty exciting!
The re-shoot day was shot down in Dalyston, just outside of Wanthaggi on Victoria’s south-eastern coast. It was a whole-day affair, involving a much smaller group of people, but being no-less important or intimate that the larger shoot days.
I got to chat with Leigh and Glenn a little more than on the big day, sharing in some special sneak peeks of the films they were working on, as well as just getting to know them a little better. Great guys.
Also befriended a whole new group of people, one of which showed me around Philip Island as I’d never been there before (Thanks Cassy!). Much philosophical and entertaining conversations were had that day – it helped spark a new zest for life in me, right at the start of my time off from work.
For an aspiring actor like myself to have had the opportunity to work on the same project with the same core crew and a varying ensemble cast, this experience has been like nothing I’ve ever done before. It has been life-changing, and has definitely helped me zero in on my goals in what I want to achieve as an actor.
I’ve also watched many of the people involved as cast and/or crew get together and work on their own short films, which is brilliant. It made me question whether I had any stories in me I’d like to turn to the screen, but I’m pretty sure my talent lies in front of the camera or holding an audio boom, not necessarily in writing or directing. I’ll leave that work for others more passionate and act whenever, wherever I can.
Chase the dream, and don’t get distracted.