Interview with Stranger Films
It was with a movie-like twist of fate that Genevieve Larin and Tony Walsh first began working together. Having both studied at the Queensland University of Technology, Tony was in his final year of film production when a script supervisor was needed for his honours’ project. After a mutual friend was unable to partake in the production, Gen attended the meeting in her place and was instantly taken by Tony’s passion and sheer vivacity. An undeniable chemistry, the partnership proved a winning combination, with fate striking once more in the form of repeating clients, all of whom unwittingly paired the two time and time again. After a culmination of film projects, it seemed an obvious decision for Tony and Gen to make their partnership permanent, creating what is now known as ‘Stranger Films’, a boutique production company based at QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA).
Young, tenacious and extremely passionate about all things film related, the Stranger team has flourished, with a portfolio of work that includes producing content for renowned companies such as Vice, Hasbro, Match Box and Advance Queensland. As QUT’s go-to for all things video, Stranger has solidified their reputation as one of Brisbane’s most trustworthy, quality driven production companies.
We spoke to the duo about their journey from film graduates to successful business owners, their thoughts on the industry, and why they think Blade Runner 2049 is the most visually ambitious film of the decade.
You’re both quite young! What made you decide to start your own company rather than work for someone else?
Tony: After I graduated from Film and Television at QUT I didn’t have a big idea of what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to be in the film industry.
Gen: I’d decided I wanted to work on film sets as a script supervisor. I freelanced as one for a while.
Tony: I freelanced as a camera operator and filmmaker, and generally just did that for four years. At the time, I was also tutoring at the university part-time in film production. When Gen and I started working together, we found it difficult to work from home and eventually found our way to CEA.
Gen: We’d originally been working from our room. One side was the office and the other was a bed. It was really hard to be productive and the internet was terrible! As we ended up securing more jobs it seemed more practical to get a dedicated space. Oh, and to get out of the habit of wearing pyjamas all day!
Tony: It was very much an evolution that came out of necessity. I quit my job tutoring after two years because it was all becoming too much to juggle. We teamed up with a guy called Brian Lowe, who’s a cinematographer from Griffith Film School. It was from that we collaborated together to make a film called ‘The Bus Knight’, which was a story about an unnamed man standing up to racist bullies.
Gen: It was with ‘The Bus Knight’ that we came up with the name ‘Stranger Films’ as the protagonist was referred to as ‘the stranger.’
Tony: I liked that it was a noun and adjective, which is nice. We also liked how the content we had was very centred on the creative industries so we needed a name that sounded interesting and a little bit dark and weird.
What does an average day look to you, if an average day exists?
Gen: Editing life! So much editing!
Tony: It honestly depends on what we’re doing. An average day could be spending all of our time filming at a location. We don’t shoot every day though; it could be once a month, a few times a week, it changes a lot. Most of our time is spent editing and doing research and development. I look for technology we can implement into our shoots to ensure everything is fresh and up to date. It’s the best way to stay above our competitors.
Gen: We don’t stick to any given structure. We’ll come in and work until something is finished, which may take until the early hours of the morning.
What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced? Have you ever made a really costly mistake?
Gen: We’re incredibly careful, and backup everything. Every single item of our equipment is insured. Ultimately, we ready ourselves for the worst scenarios possible. I think it helps that we had realistic expectations going in, and no desire to be grandiose about anything. Our goal wasn’t to be the biggest production team in Australia so we spend our money wisely.
Tony: Exactly. We’re not your classic example of a startup as we didn’t have an idea that needed funding. Stranger Films is more of a service type business and both Gen and I have approached it that way to ensure we don’t take in much debt. All equipment has been bought over a long period of time which has helped us to grow organically. We take things like backing data and equipment management and insurance very seriously. If a production company loses an asset they’re in big trouble.
We needed a space where we could safely store equipment which is exactly what CEA offered. Having swipe access, locks, and security cameras provide that much-needed security. I’ve heard horror stories of people traveling interstate and leaving their equipment in the car as they’ve ducked out to lunch. Fifteen minutes later and it was all gone. None of it was insured. You’d think that losing thousands of dollars’ worth of assets is trouble enough but that’s only part of it. A client’s data is potentially worth more, as a lot of money is poured into film projects. It only needs to happen once for you to get blacklisted.
Do you notice a lot of things in movies now that you’re in the industry? Is it possible to watch anything without dissecting it?
Gen: It can be really hard. I worked as a script supervisor and a director’s assistant so I was, and still am, very big on continuity. An example would be watching a scene of someone drinking a glass of water on one line, and it not lining up properly in the next shot. Another major one is the 180-degree rule, which is all about the spatial relationship between characters. Tony is very picky about what we watch. It makes us so angry to see a bad movie.
Tony: I like it when something like Blade Runner 2049 comes along because you can really take it apart and dissect it. It’s films like that where you get to see the real peak of filmmaking. It’s a once in a blue moon film because it’s a Hollywood production with big stars and it’s effectively a Hollywood arthouse film. Movies like that are rare, especially as it’s a science fiction, which is a genre that has never won best picture. The themes and storylines they’re exploring provide a very deep commentary on the human condition. It’s with these mind-blowing film techniques that they’re able to communicate a character’s nature, whether it be with a colour palette, camera framing or even use of weather. As a past film student. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those movies that just leaves you breathless and makes you go ‘Damn, that was beautifully made!’
Goals for the future?
Tony: Our short-term goal is to grow the business financially and make sure everyone is making a good salary. Which in the arts is a big challenge!
Gen: You guys do this for fun, right? We’ll pay you in food…and exposure!
Tony: We also want to expand the content we’re making into broadcast, so our aim is to get into potentially making documentaries and selling them to networks. The end goal would be to get into narrative content and make our own shows, which is essentially every filmmaker’s goal. We want to do it our own way though, and without having to ask for funding as that can get in the way of creative control. Being able to create something that we’re passionate about that is also commercially viable would be the dream!
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