Filmmaker Series: Damian Harris
Hey Leah! Thanks for having me on board and I’m really getting a buzz about reading everyone else’s filmmaking stories.
I’m Damian Harris and I’m a filmmaker from Melbourne. Born and raised in Melbourne. When I say filmmaker, that is the definition that we all have come to know as writer/director/producer. My wife Christine and I started Elfenshot Films to give our filmmaking a proper face.
What initially got you into filmmaking?
I’m in my 40s, so I’m from the era when secondary schools had the big VHS cameras in the AV department. I’d negotiate with teachers to do my report as a filmed piece, although the quality was never the best!
I started to get a bit more serious about filmmaking after one of the units at university a few years ago had a filmmaking component. I got a real buzz from turning a concept into a finished film, but honestly, it was the passion that actors have for character that also got me hooked. Nothing beats having an actor tell you about a character that you wrote.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
I’m getting more and more into Nordic Noir storytelling, and want to mimic that style in the future. If anyone knows Melbourne in winter, they’ll know that the scenery lends itself to it! As far as individuals go, I like the way that Clint Eastwood goes about his filmmaking - not that I particularly agree with his political views. Roger Deakins and Shane Hurlbut are my favourite cinematographers, both from their individual talent and their willingness to share their wisdom.
Probably the biggest influence is Francis Ford Coppola. We have watched the Godfather trilogy dozens of times, as well as Apocalypse Now. Each time, we watch the Blu-Ray commentary immediately after. Listening to all of the filmmaking issues as commentated by the director in real time is worth ten times the purchase price of the Blu-Ray.
How important is film as a medium and art form in the world, today?
There’s a new generation of Netflixers that will agree with me when I say that it’s paramount. There has been a shift from the 120 page script to the longer form, six-episode story. This is something that the UK has done very well for a while and I think the world is catching on.
Do you have a set process when making film?
It all starts with the story. Early on, I was worried about just making something and was trying to force it, but unless the story is worth telling, it’s not worth worrying about.
Now as we have been at it for a while, the stories are coming a little more easily. We’ve gone from lighthearted pieces to stronger dramatic themes. We draw inspiration from current events and try to see how they affect individuals.
We also enjoy the nuts and bolts of collaboration with a whole host of likeminded individuals who enjoy filmmaking. Some of our crew members have gone on to professional careers in film and TV and that’s the biggest blast for us.
What has been your favourite film to work on and why?
We’ve made four short films so far (Diffraction, Narrators, The Trebek Technique, and Apprev.) Our first short film was a lot of fun because everything was new and we were so green!
Apprev. has definitely been our biggest production. It is also having a successful run with film festivals so I’d have to say it is my favourite.
Which genre do you enjoy working in?
I like the black comedy style, which is the majority of where our efforts have been focused in the past, but Apprev. has proved the value of telling a story with a stronger theme. The stuff that we are writing now all has more of a theme to it.
Is filmmaking your primary source of income?
Filmmaking is an amateur pursuit for us, but that is not to say that we are not looking to make the best films that we can. As our productions get bigger and we work towards feature number one, we understand that the professionalism also has to increase, which means an increase in expenditure on cast and crew.
Keeping a lid on the budget is probably going to be where a lot of the creative effort goes on the next thing that we make.
Up to now, filmmaking has been a weekend activity. Shoot days are always on weekends, as we can’t expect people to sacrifice any more than they are already. We really do have plans to change this for the future, and obviously a feature film with around 15 shoot days means that we are going to need professionals through the week.
What is your definition of success?
Of course it changes. Early on, getting a film into a film festival was huge. Our first two films were not accepted to any. They were smaller efforts and I was more concerned about getting them online than doing festivals but it’s always hard to open the ‘Judging Status Has Changed’ email that we are all too familiar with.
I will have succeeded when my filmmaking does not leave me out of pocket.
What advice can you give our readers, should they wish to pursue filmmaking?
I’m going to be boring and say what everyone else says - quite honestly if you want to make a film there is nothing stopping you. Just make sure that whatever you make, you’re not boring!
Okay, so maybe a little bit of money is what is stopping you, but you’d be surprised. You’re obviously going to need a computer more than anything else. A second-hand Canon DLSR will set you back hundreds of dollars, not thousands, and some of the other kit is also relatively inexpensive. You don’t need to go over the top when you’re starting out.
YouTube is full of people with filmmaking advice, and most of it is good. I think I’ve watched every episode of Film Riot. There are free editing software packages and tutorials on how to use them.
The more you practice your craft, the more people will want to be involved. There is always someone who wants to help.
If you want to become a filmmaking professional, then that is a different story, and usually involves around $40k being spent on film school.
Do you ever suffer from creative burnout? How do you combat it?
As this isn’t a profession for me, this isn’t really an issue. I just know that you can’t force a story. The things that we write are all stories that ferment, and when the inspiration comes, get out of its way.
What projects are you currently working on?
Oooh. Keeping with our Nordic Noir influence, we’ve got a suburban thriller feature that on its second draft called ‘Real Companion’. It’s quite dark and has freaked out a couple of the people who have read it so far.
We’ve also got Ridgeway, which is a six-part TV series set in Melbourne about an unscrupulous detective.
Both projects will require a much bigger budget than we have had to date so for the moment they remain ‘in development’. We are working hard on the Real Companion script all the time.
What are your hopes for the future?
I want Elfenshot Films to keep making films. I don’t want to say that that will culminate in a feature, because I also don’t just want to make one feature! The best part about being a filmmaker is that when a story that we feel needs to be told arises, we are in a good position to make it happen.
Lastly where can people find you?
Are you a filmmaker? Want to be interviewed? Please get in touch and fill out your contact details; https://www.leahsolmaz.com/contact