Making a feature on a dime with Pawno’s Paul Ireland and Damian Hill
Malcolm Kennard and Mark Coles Smith in Pawno.
Actors turned filmmakers Paul Ireland and Damian Hill met doing a play with storied character actor John Brumpton (Romper Stomper, The Hunter).
In Pawno, the pair's first feature as director and screenwriter respectively, Brumpton plays the owner of a Footscray pawn shop and Hill his employee.
Hill started writing the script during the course of the play's run, and afterwards sent it to Ireland, who agreed to direct it.
"Over a three year period we kept developing the script, cutting it down, making it tight, and raising the finance to make it independently", said Ireland.
The film was financed entirely by private donations, a process which "took a long time, but we got the right people in the end", Hill told IF.
The screenwriter-star describes the gradual evolution of the script as a process of winnowing.
"We went back and forth with the characters for ages. We cut out a lot. It was probably looking a bit more like a play originally. Paul pulled it apart and particularly played with location, opening up the space."
Ireland did so chiefly via the walk and talk, filming scenes with two homeless characters (played by Mark Coles Smith and Malcolm Kennard) on the run.
"Our street characters, Pauly and Carlo, are kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a chorus", said Ireland.
"[In the script] They were on a bench, watching the world go past and commenting. We made them travel, so we got more of a feel for what Footscray's like."
The production leased a shop in Footscray for six months, outfitting the interior themselves, and started filming late November of 2014.
"It was in Barclay St in Footscray, which has got another four or five pawn shops in it, so we were in the right place", said Ireland.
"It was a huge big space: we had a production office in there, we had catering, wardrobe, makeup, green rooms."
Young DoP Shelley Farthing-Dawe was enlisted in part because he came with his own camera, "which helped us with costs", said Hill.
The film's best-known star is Maeve Dermody (Beautiful Kate), Ireland's first choice from day one.
"I always identified her as Kate because of the qualities she's got", he said.
"She's very pure as an actress and very natural. It was great to play her against someone like Dam because he's got a rough, beautiful edge to him."
The duo produced Pawno themselves, with The Dressmaker's Ian Kirk on board as executive producer.
"We had mentors rather than anybody helping us", said Hill.
Lawyer Bryce Menzies did the legals gratis, and the film's main investor was one couple, friends of friends of the director.
Says Ireland, "I went and met them and we got on, and they gave us a lot of money, and then they got some of their friends – they're very rich – to invest in it as well. They helped us out with loads of stuff. They hired cars for us, they payed for Maeve's flight to get down to Melbourne."
Over the course of a short rehearsal period followed by a four-week shoot, the filmmakers had to be creative off-set as well as on.
"We got an apartment on board for Maeve", said Hill, "through a building company."
The developers were looked after with social media nods, as well "a couple of little product placements in there", said Ireland. "We tried Mercedes (laughs). We tried everything."
The production wrapped a couple of days before Christmas, and Christmas eve was spent ripping the shop down.
Pick-ups followed in January, followed by two months in the cutting room and a sound mix at Sydney's Deluxe.
Hill's list of personal items and family who feature in the film is exhaustive: "Paul's car's in it. My car's in it. My step sons are in it, my oldest daughter's in it, Paul's son is in it, my girlfriend's in it, his wife's in it, my sister in law's in it."
"It's a family affair."