Writing the Winning Short

It’s that time of the year: filmmakers are writing, casting and crewing for the next edition of the world’s largest short film festival Tropfest.

Cherie Lee spoke with this year’s winner Genevieve Clay about her film ‘Be My Brother’.

Where did the story idea come from?

It was the main actor. When I first met him, he recited Shakespeare. It was his goal to be an actor. I met him doing a documentary that was following a whole group of people with Down syndrome that were trying to achieve their goals and he was one of those people.

Did the concept develop as you were writing?

I kind of had it straight out from the start. I knew what the ending would be and I knew that through him winning a stranger over it would impact on a relative, so all I really had to do was work on the dialogue, making that as natural as possible.

How many drafts did you go through?

About ten.

Did you plan the whole thing around the twist?

I got the idea for that particular twist when I was on a train myself and I saw this young man who had an intellectual disability putting silver stars on this woman, just a random stranger. It was so beautiful, he was making her laugh and she was enjoying herself.

I thought to myself ‘what if one of those people on the train that feel offended and maybe awkward by his behaviour was actually related to him and through seeing this young woman embrace him gets changed by that?’ So I thought that it would be really interesting to explore.

I think for a twist, you can’t just base a whole film on a twist, it’s got to say something. It can’t be as shallow as just a surprise or a joke because then it becomes like a gag film. It’s got to have some meaning.

What is your driving force for telling stories?

I love creating. It’s fascinating to go into a cinema and turn around and look at everybody absorbing a story. The media is so much a part of us, much more than what we think. I just want to put out good ‘food’ because we consume it, we take in visions and we take in what we hear and we consume films, we consume media.

There’s a lot of ‘junk food’ out there and I want to tell stories that will feed us well: that make you feel good, make you think and challenge you. Even if I make a film that isn’t quite happy I want somebody to walk away and be impacted on a certain level.

Are you a writer or a director?

I’d always say I’d do both. I love writing scripts and I love writing a script knowing what it’s going to look like as I’m writing it, seeing it in my mind and then seeing it from that writing process through to the finish is a very addictive. It’s very satisfying when you see people enjoying it and it impacting them so I’ll always be a writer/director.

How do you get over writer’s block?

I just write. Even if it’s bad, I’ll just force my way through it. I watch films. I watch things to inspire me. It’s like you run out of oil or something. You’ve got to feed your creativity. So I’d say to writers, go and hire out your favourite films, see something that’s going to inspire you to do it. I find that I get most inspired and motivated after I’ve seen something I go, ‘Oh that’s awesome’ and then just sit down and write.

Have you pitched to any production companies?

Yes I have I have a project in the works at the moment and I’m just getting through the rounds, which is very exciting.

Is there any specific advice you give to screenwriters?

I think everyone can write because we all speak, we all have a story that’s worth telling. It’s just about honing those skills. Watch films and pick apart the dialogue. Why is that dialogue working?  If you want to be a screenwriter then begin by figuring out your own story think about what your experiences have been and what do you want to say? I think the best scripts say something.

And some advice for filmmakers in general?

I’d say you definitely just want to keep working at things. If you really want to make films, you’re going to get criticised sometimes and some of your work isn’t going be great and you’ve got to be prepared for that. You’ve just got to push through anyway and say, ‘that film doesn’t define my talent’. Experiment with what you’re doing, don’t be boxed up.

Get people to watch your work and make criticisms. You’re not going to make something great on your first go and even your first draft is not going to be that great. You can’t think that you’re some freak genius even though you might be, you still need people to mentor you and talk to you and say ‘this is working and this isn’t’ and don’t be offended just take it on board.

I have some great mentors for ‘Francis and Annie’ my latest script. I had to keep going back and back and back. And lastly, just suck it up. It’s cutthroat and disappointment is the biggest killer of dreams and the only person that’s going to stop you from getting where you want to go is yourself. If you can just suck it up and keep going no matter what the disappointment is, you’ll get somewhere.

Genevieve Clay is a Sydney based writer/director who currently works at the Australian Broadcastng Commission. She has made over 18 short films including a documentary that will be released at the Sydney Opera House in October. She is the youngest director to ever win Tropfest.

1 thought on “Writing the Winning Short”

  1. Just when I’d lost interest in Tropfest, “Be My Brother” won and made me a believer all over again. Touching without being cloying, short without being shallow and with an unexpected turn (to call it a twist would be unfair) that makes you reassess the whole story. She’s definitely a talent to watch…


Leave a Comment