I have spent my life learning the art and craft of telling stories in the visual medium of the cinema. I am now focusing and sharpening my craft with an MA in film directing so that I can tell the stories I am passionate about. The Stranger is a short film. A 10 minute suspense drama with themes of rural drought and mental ill-health. It is my masters film at the Australian, Film, Television & Radio School. I hope it is the first of many.
Story in a nutshell
When a stranger arrives at an isolated farmhouse in the middle of the night, the farmer’s wife is convinced he is a murderer. In the light of day, she is forced to confront her fears and prejudices.
Farmers Margaret and John are in bed late one night when a stranger knocks on the door. Whilst John feeds the man downstairs in the kitchen, Margaret begins to imagine the mysterious man might be a threat. When she discovers the stranger is afflicted with a mental illness, she assumes that he is dangerous. The Stranger camps outside the house and Margaret spends the night sleepless with fear that he will come in and attack them. Her fear hardens into dismissiveness and she want s John to ‘get rid of him’. The next morning Margaret finally meets the stranger. Faced with his youth and vulnerability, Margaret realises she could not have been more wrong. Overwhelmed with compassion Margaret finds her humanity.
Why this story
I think it is important that films have something to say about the world we live in. Films that entertain first and foremost, and have emotional resonance, but are also thought provoking and have a social or political conscience. Films that reflect the zeitgeist and create awareness or in the case of The Stranger, empathy and understanding.
To me mental ill-health and it’s ramifications are very personal. It has affected my friends and my family and yet remains a somewhat tricky to negotiate subject with a lot of stigma attached. Mental ill-health is a catalyst in The Stranger but when I wrote the story, I decided to focus not on the character who has lived experience with schizophrenia but to write about a couple who meet him and how they react and respond.
The idea for The Stranger came from an anecdote in an old paperback novel I picked up randomly from the shelf. The theme grew as the script evolved. Prejudice breeds fear which stops us from seeing the humanity in others. The story is about is how we respond or react when confronted with someone who is behaving strangely and obviously contending with a mental illness episode. It recognises our uncertainty and delves into the fear of the unknown that we project. Our instinct is to turn away. To disengage. Uncertain and uneducated, we resort to the well-known stereotypes and pop culture caricatures that the media, film and TV often perpetuate – That people with mental illness are unpredictable, frightening and potentially dangerous.
This film will engage the audience through its drama and suspense. Late at night, our imaginations can get a hold of us and take us down dark and frightening paths. By taking the audience on a journey of suspicion and suspense that ultimately proves to be misguided and prejudiced – I hope to encourage them to reflect on the how easy it is for us to misunderstand, make assumptions and to get someone so wrong. And to help dispel the notion that all schizophrenics are inherently violent and dangerous. Generally, people who have psychosis are kind, altruistic, and sensitive people, who are no more likely to be dangerous than anyone else. Our fear of the un-known, fear of someone different, can easily become discrimination – And with that we lose our humanity.
Style and Tone
The Stranger is a small film with a big heart. It is a quiet and reflective film, a very beautiful film, but it is driven by an underlying current of tension and suspense. We bow respectfully towards Film Noir, with a nod to the thriller genre but then the film has an emotional twist and ends on a very different note. Ultimately it is a story with emotional resonance and a sense of moral grace.
The Stranger has a complex and delicate balance of tone that encompasses unsettling drama – sparse and tense – with dry humour and a razor’s edge between entertainment and social critique.
Shot in a contemporary Classical Hollywood Cinema Style in terms of continuity of time, action and editing, the visual composition and lighting is subtle. The invisibility of cinematic techniques will give the audience an immersive and authentic experience. Striving to overcome or conceal the two-dimensionality of film it is strongly centered upon Margaret and her POV.
The film’s look and feel are mysterious. Creepy with lush and disturbing sounds and visuals. Tension and suspense build through the night with Margaret’s psychological journey, imagining the worst with suspicion and fear, only to be vanquished in the light of day with her transcendent emotional catharsis.
Mental health statistics. At least 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness during their lives. And that’s just anxiety, mood disorders and substance addictions in people aged 16 – 85. Add in young people, schizophrenia, eating disorders, personality disorders and more and the figure is far higher. At least 20% of adults are affected by mental illness every year.
Stigma. Film and television exert a powerful influence on community attitudes towards mental ill-health due to their broad reach and appeal. The Stranger is a sensitive, engaging and powerful film which will counter negative portrayals of mental illness and mental health problems and create a positive portrayal of mental ill-health that will help demystify negative stereotypes.
The Stranger – Facts, figures and fundraising
Pre-production: March – April 2020
Shoot: May 2020 (Sydney and regional NSW)
Post-production: June-September 2020
Completion: October 2020
We are currently raising additional funds to make this film. We already have half the budget in hand. We have a great script and passionate, clever, creative filmmakers attached. But in order to make this film stand out in the crowd, we need great production values and excellent actors. Hence, we are looking to raise an additional $15.000. Money raised will go towards location fees, actors fees, catering and accommodation.
If you wish to get involved and donate to our campaign, you can click on the link below and it will take you to our Australian Cultural Fund project page. All donations are tax deductable. Your generosity of spirit in supporting The Stranger will help launch the careers of a number of screen creatives, in particular that of myself as a writer / director and that of Nate Heinz as producer. We hope that it is the first of many socially conscious films we make together, films that are both entertaining and thought provoking.
All investors will be given a credit on the film and invited to the first official screening and party afterwards. We intend to submit it to international and national film festivals and for it to have impact distribution.
To donate funds to this project please click on this link