Behind the Scenes with Mantra

Check out our latest behind the scenes video with the super talented hip-hop artist and all around good guy Mantra. This is our most extensive video update yet, and Mantra takes us through the process of creating some of Play It Safe's original music, the relationship between improvised music and acting, as well as the music video for his track "The Fear" which was created by the core creative team behind Play It Safe.

Piano Lessons with Nathan Liow

From the beginning of Play It Safe's development the idea of authenticity has been really crucial, and so it's very important to me that we portray the events in the film as accurately and realistically as possible. In the film's second act, Jamie (the film's protagonist, played by the very talented Nick Kato) gets a job as a piano teacher and we spend quite a lot of time watching him work at the music school. I knew early on that this was something we had to get exactly right. I want all the musicians and music teachers out there to feel like we have done them justice and portrayed the realities of their day to day work accurately (and hopefully with pathos).

To help us out with this, Play It Safe's composer Nathan Liow (who also happens to work as a piano teacher) has been taking Nick and myself through some of the basics. We had our first lesson late last year, and we had our most recent one a couple of weeks ago.

These lessons are great fun (I usually get to pretend to be a 5 year old student), and it's been fascinating to learn more about teaching music to children.

One highlight of our last lesson was an impromptu piano solo from Nathan just before we finished for the evening. I feel really lucky to have witnessed such an intimate performance, and it made me more excited than ever about the performances that we are going to film for Play It Safe. Nathan will be playing a lot of the music in Play It Safe and, judging by what I heard then, he will be bringing something very very special to the table!

Here's some photos from our last lesson / catchup:

Screenwriting: From Inspiration To Final Draft (Part One)

For the past twelve months, Chris and I have been developing the script that has turned into PLAY IT SAFE. As the project now approaches the production phase, we occasionally remark with wonder that, "Hey, we're making a movie!" Though a lot of work remains - really, the bulk of it - to get to the finishing point, reflecting on the project's humble origins to the broad, collaborative task it has now become is quite inspiring.

Filmmaking Commandments: Four Simple Rules To Help You Write A Script

In my last post, I talked about the main aim I had when I started this project. To put simply, I didn't have a particular vision or idea I want to realise. I just wanted to make a feature film! When Jack and I agreed to write the screenplay, we both knew that realising that (seemingly simple) and was going to be very challenging. Neither of us had written a feature length script before, and we both enjoyed procrastinating as much as the next writer. To combat this, we decided to set up a bunch of commandments or rules to help us along the way. We decided upon four main commandments to keep us on the straight and narrow, and then gradually added a bunch of other guidelines to help us with specific areas.

Aims: What Are We Trying To Achieve?

Over the next few months I'm going to do my best to not only keep you updated with our progress as we begin shooting Play It Safe, but to also fill you in on its development during 2011. The first step in charting our journey must be a discussion of the aims I had when I set out to make Play It Safe.

As I famously exclaimed to my co-writer Jack White one night back in early 2011: “If I’m doing things then I want to be doing them, not like not doing them!” In some ways this eloquent statement sums up what Play It Safe has been about from the beginning. Namely, I wanted to make a feature film!

After years of making short films and then music videos I needed a change. In late 2010 I decided to take a risk and make my first feature film. I also decided that I wanted to get it done as soon as possible. There were a few external factors in this, but primarily I just wanted to force myself to get it done. I'd heard many stories about films ending up in development hell, just gestating for years and years. I didn't want to go through that. I didn't have a concept that I was precious about and would give up anything to realise. I just wanted to direct a movie. If someone handed me a great script that I could direct on a micro-budget, then I would have just done it. Unfortunately that wasn’t really an option for me, so the next best thing was to just do it myself.

I love (and also loathe) writing, but it wasn't (and still isn't) my primary aim to work as a writer. I wanted work as a director. I wanted to make films. And any kind of screenplay that Jack and I were going to write needed to feed into that, regardless of how much we might want to write about explosions and dragons and all those other awesome things. I needed a screenplay that I could shoot as soon as possible! I wasn't interested in developing a spec script that I would probably never be able to sell or get funded.

That's what I meant when I said “If I’m doing things then I want to be doing them, not like not doing them!” I certainly could have put it better, but that sentiment has guided everything we have done since then. It might be fun to imagine a grand epic, but if it can't be realised with the resources we have then it's not a road we can go down. I've mentioned before that working with limitations can have a lot of benefits, and this has definitely been true with Play It Safe so far. Our focus on practicality has forced us to be really creative, and consequently I think that the final film will be a lot more nuanced and interesting than if we just threw in a few CGI dragons and explosions. (Although I guess you guys will be the final judge of that.)

That's all for today. Coming up soon will be the next stage: Defining some commandments that were essential in creating the screenplay.

Quick Update: Workshopping With Spencer & Script Draft Three

Okay, just a quick update for today. (I'm trying to get into the habit of making short updates regularly instead of putting them off because they have to be long and detailed - we'll see how it goes.)

I just wrapped up a day of workshopping with Spencer that went really well. On the one hand, workshopping can be quite challenging - both for the actors, and for myself as the director. However, on the other hand, it's hard to call something that's this fun "work"...

2011 End Of Year Update

With only a few working days left in the year, I think it's high time for another update on Play It Safe (especially since I may not get another chance to post again before January). So much has happened over the last few months, and I've really wanted to blog about it here regularly. Unfortunately, a documentary shoot I was on a couple of months ago caused a pretty serious flareup of my tendinitis and I haven't been able to type properly since then (consequently I'm actually writing this post using DragonDictate voice recognition, which I hope to review in the New Year). I'm about to head off for a couple of weeks of R and R before we start production early next year. Fingers crossed this will give my arms some more time to heal and I'll be back to blogging every week or so next year.


I’ve read stories where people like Kevin Smith recall seeing Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” and then they thought “my god, I can make movies too”. The film that did that for me was “Mutual Appreciation”, directed by Andrew Bujalski.

I first saw “Mutual Appreciation” at the 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival and it was an absolute revelation to me. I’d never seen anything like it. I found the stories interesting, I was fascinated by its naturalism, and I felt like for one of the first times I was watching characters who I could really relate to. They were doing and talking about things that I did myself. How to be a young artist. How to make it. Growing up and finding your way in life. I saw “Mutual Appreciation” and something clicked. It was as if someone had suddenly given me permission. I felt like I could now make the kinds of movies I wanted to, and maybe here was a way I could do it.

The Screenplay: Collaborating

One of the best film-related decisions I’ve ever made was enlisting the help of my good friend, Jack White, in writing the screenplay for my first feature film. Without him, I really doubt whether this film would have ever gotten made.

In my office I’ve got whole boxes filled with drafts for novels, novellas, screenplays, all sorts of crap, that I start but never get around to finishing. A lot of this stuff hangs around for years. I might pull it out every now and again to have a look, but I usually end up shoving it back in its box despondently. It’s a pretty terrible thing to see the result of years and years of work in such a scrappy state and know deep down that most of it is never going to see the light of day.

Embracing Limitations

I believe that learning to work within limitations is an incredibly important part of being a filmmaker. On many (if not not all) projects it is simply a requirement. In addition to this, however, I believe that it can actually be a very big help to the creative process. This is something I learned early on in my film career and I still believe it today. Some of my best work has come out of the technical or logistical limitations I had to work with. So with every new project, instead of cursing the limitations and restrictions I face (even though sometimes it’s mighty tempting) I do my best to actually embrace them.