Producers Ben Ferris and Ulysses Oliver will explore the capabilities of filming on a micro-budget in the next few months as they aim to finish production on five features before the end of the year.
The pair came together to form Breathless Films last year and have since outlined a purposely prolific schedule for 2021.
They are in the midst of working on Craig Boreham’s Lonesome, a story about closeted country lad Casey, who finds himself down and out in the big smoke when he meets Tib, a young gay man with whom he is able to connect, albeit with some challenges.
The film, which is being shot in Sydney, stars newcomers Josh Lavery in the role of Casey and Daniel Gabriel as Tib with Anni Finsterer (Sweet Country) and Ian Roberts (Superman Returns) in supporting roles.
It is the second feature film for Breathless, following Amin Palangi’s psychological drama Tennessine, which wrapped production last month.
In July, the company will turn its attention to Jack Clark and Jim Weir’s Birdeater, a genre-hybrid feature film that explores the rapidly evolving image of traditional relationships and gender roles.
There is also another project to be announced in the coming weeks.
While each of the films have varying budgets, all are being made for under $500,000.
It forms part of a new way of working for Oliver and Ferris, who first met more than 15 years earlier at Sydney Film School, where the latter was a founding director.
They are each established producers in their own right, with Oliver producing short films Amanecer and The Telegram Man, starring Jack Thompson, while Ferris’ credits include Three Blind Mice, Penelope, as well as documentaries 57 Lawson, and In(di)visible.
Oliver said the idea for Breathless Films was many years in the making.
“We stayed in touch and always had this idea of maybe forming some sort of film studio set up that would foster underground filmmaking within Sydney and focus on feature films,” he said.
“We got together last year for a coffee and stepped through what might be required to get things up and running and form a slate of films.”
Ferris said last year’s pandemic also spurred them into action.
“The tap had been turned off on production and we were aware that there were a number of filmmakers twiddling their thumbs a little bit, but also busily squirreling away at developing screenplays,” he said.
“We thought it was an opportunity to reach out and be in touch with them.”
After meeting with nearly 100 filmmaking teams, the pair chose what they believed to be the strongest projects of their kind for the slate.
The films to have been publicised so far feature relationships at their core, with Lonesome‘s Casey and Tib preceded by Tennessine‘s story of Arash, a Persian man who arrives in Australia against his family’s wishes to reunite with the love of his life, Nazanin.
In the upcoming Birdeater, a soon-to-be-married couple invite their closest friends to an isolated country property for a night of pre-wedding shenanigans, only for the evening to take a dark turn when alarming details of their relationship are exposed.
While Ferris admitted some personal bias toward relationship dramas, he said the style of the genre was also well suited to filming on a micro-budget.
“We have to consider the limitations and also questions of feasibility and relationship dramas certainly made what we are trying to do possible in a way that a low-budget sci-fi might not have,” he said.
Oliver said the minimalist nature of the films had allowed them to streamline the production process.
“We’re working with about 10 crew and using a lot of ultra low impact locations, where we basically follow the two leads around, along with a couple of supporting characters,” he said.
“Across the board, it has ended up being about a three-week time period that is the sweet spot for each shoot.”
The release format of the Breathless slate of films is yet to be confirmed, with Oliver and Ferris aiming to use the final months of the year on firming up distribution for the projects.
Ferris said they were interested in exploring sustainable models outside of the regular approach.
“At this stage, Breathless Films is a hypothesis that has instinct and chutzpah, but is yet to be proven,” he said.
“The hypothesis is that there has got to be a way of making production in Australia much more cost-effective without compromising high quality.
“What that then means is that we don’t have to do the bells and whistle blockbuster cinema approach.
“We would love these films to have a theatrical release and we’d like to take them to film festivals, but there are clearly some commercial opportunities for us in the streaming space and that’s what we’re really gearing towards.”