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Anne Richey — The Weatherman’s Umbrella

Posted on January 29, 2015

Anne Richey on rebuilding a community.

I first visited Marysville in 2008 when I attended the Australian Screenwriters’ Conference. It was a gorgeous little town, with lovely shops and tree-lined streets tucked into a valley surrounded by forests. I didn’t have time to explore, but if I had, I would have soon found the waterfall, the lolly shop, and Bruno’s Sculpture Garden.

On the 7th of February 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires carved its devastating path across Victoria. Marysville was one of the worst-affected communities; most of its buildings were destroyed and 34 lives lost. In Melbourne there was no smoke, and we wondered if the state had remarkably survived the 47 degree temperature and howling gale without a fire. Then the news started filtering through. I checked the internet, hoping against hope that everyone in Marysville and the other towns affected were okay. As I did so, images of Bruno’s Sculpture Garden appeared.

IMG_2234Lily Morrow and Jacob Vulfs: Sarah, the Blind Man and the Blind Man’s Son hide in the huge hollow tree in the background of this shot.

I kept returning to these images over in the next year, wondering if there was a story there. As I didn’t know what had happened to the sculptor or the garden, I didn’t take it any further. Then by accident I noticed an article which said Bruno’s garden had reopened. I decided to visit. I’m sure Bruno thought I was crazy, but he gave me permission to write a feature film based on the characters in his sculpture garden. I set to work on The Weatherman’s Umbrella.

When the Weatherman puts on his boots it gets frosty,
when he puts on his scarf it gets windy,
and when he puts on his hat it gets warm.
The problem is, the Weatherman’s lost his umbrella.
Without an umbrella, there will be no more rain.

Young Sarah is dropped off at her great grandfather’s house near Marysville. She expects to spend her time eating, playing on her computer and watching television but when it turns out that none of these things are possible, she sets out to find the shop. She soon becomes lost and encounters a number of strange people in the forest. There’s a scuba diver looking for water, a blind man guided by his young son and a strange guard wearing a top hat. Sarah is determined to reach the shop, and it seems that nothing will stop her — not even the quest to find the Weatherman’s umbrella. Without her help though, it might never rain again.

Over the past five years, the focus has been on rebuilding and regenerating the town. It currently has about 200 residents, including the kids. My aim was for the project to be fun, to have nothing to do with the fires, potentially bring a tourism boost to the town, and bring the community together to make something.

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Daryl Hull and Gizmo: Daryl plays the part of the Weatherman — a man with the ability to change the weather depending on what he chooses to wear.

Once the script was ready, conducting a stage reading seemed like the best way to start getting to know the people who would like to be involved, and to familiarise other locals with the project. I wanted to make sure that there were no problems with the content before we started filming. The project was added to the crowd- funding website, Pozible and a little over $2000 was raised, largely through friends and family. Although this process was difficult, it gave us the ability to conduct the reading to attract some media interest. It ended up being more money than we needed for the stage reading, so the remainder was used on the film later on.

Audition flyers were deposited in local shops and at the primary school. After the auditions were held we were close to the right cast numbers. With some prodding, a few more adults joined us, including Gordon Lyall, a friend of Bruno’s from Melbourne who is an Elvis impersonator and first aid trainer with an impressive background in theatre. He’s playing Harris.

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Cassius Trudinger, Anna Fraga, Amy Morrow, Heide Trudinger: The diver and diverlings are looking for water.

We conducted a few read throughs, then performed the stage reading at Crossways Inn in Marysville, with John Wood (Blue Heelers) as the Weatherman and screen industry veteran John Flaus as the Great Grandfather. It was a packed house — standing room only.

During this time, I was also working to find a great crew to help make the film. Esteemed cinematographer Don McAlpine (Wolverine, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Moulin Rouge, Breaker Morant) was just one of the highly-credited people keen to work on the film, but unfortunately despite the calibre of the people involved, we were ineligible for funding through Screen Australia and Film Victoria. I’d written 16 feature film scripts by that stage and it had been five years since I was last able to apply for anything at all.

IMG_2612Lily Morrow, Bill Mitchell, Cameron Giovanetto, Christina Weiss, Jacob Vulfs and Chris Muir: Behind the actors is the house in which the poor people live.

Determined not to let this setback deter me, I called a meeting with the local people keen to be involved and we agreed that we should just go ahead and make the film rather than waiting for the guidelines to change. We had no budget and no professional crew if we took this path, but we did have a script and lots of enthusiasm. Because of all this, the film is being made on a profit-share basis, so if the film makes any money, it will be shared between the people involved.

Although Don McAlpine was willing to work for nothing, he lives in NSW and as we were filming on weekends, it wasn’t going to be viable. It was going to be a hard ask for any professional cinematographer to commit such a large and scattered amount of time, so I went out and bought a Canon 70D and a Zoom sound recorder.

Unfortunately John Wood’s schedule didn’t work for the film as it had with the reading, as he was performing in a play. Luckily local musician, photographer and visitor centre volunteer Daryl Hull was able to step into the role of the Weatherman. He had narrated the stage reading. The delightful John Flaus remained on board, playing the part of the Great Grandfather.

The film was made with the philosophy that anyone who wanted to be involved could be involved, and fortunately the numbers worked out perfectly. It should be added that some of the grouped roles were written to expand or contract as needed.

IMG_3059David Vulfs and Eddy Bourke: The Demon and the Demon’s Apprentice.

The hardest decision was in choosing the lead character — Sarah. It needed someone who would be completely committed to the task as the eleven year old appears in almost every scene. We held an audition, and Lily Morrow was terrific, although she did have some very serious competition from the other girls keen on the role. Lily has a terrific singing voice and has hosted a cooking show in South Korea as well as performing in other acting roles.

We started filming on the 16 of February 2014. Lily’s father Bruce Morrow took on audio recording duties, while David Vulfs became assistant director. David is the father of Jacob Vulfs who plays the Blind Man’s Son, the other major child role in the film. In addition to playing the Weatherman, Daryl Hull has also written a theme song for the film, and is providing additional cinematography, along with Bruce. Daryl shot the only footage from within Marysville once the fires had passed. Other local musicians are also providing music. There’s certainly a lot of talent in the area.

While filming, I very quickly discovered that incidental lines in the script were imbued with additional meaning by the people in the town. The burnt out pot in the Scavenger scene at the start was the only thing left of Jane Fraga’s house. Local Chris Hobbs’s wooden meteorology box appears in start credits. It inexplicably survived the flames while everything around it burned to the ground. The jar used for the water was found on the block of land which once held Daryl’s grandfather’s guest house.

IMG_2108Teake Trudinger, Lucy Bourke, Micci Soriano, Noah Vulfs, Benjamin Fraga, Asher Sims, Hayley Fiske: These seven children run the lolly shop in the film.

As we had no budget, we sourced props from op shops, costume shops and cupboards, and bought the much-needed umbrellas online from a Victorian retailer. Many of the props ended up being better than we could have wished for. Daryl had a multicoloured scarf which was ideal for the Weatherman. I was initially thinking that the beanie which makes it snow would just be a normal beanie — until I saw the amazing one offered on the day of the shoot. The chest for the Weatherman’s weather accoutrements was the one which David’s ancestors had used when they immigrated to Australia.

We were also keen to include local products where possible. The honey is the local brand, as is the wine on the counter in the Great Grandfather’s house. The lightning rock came from Crystal Journey in Marysville. The filming of the Scavenger/Bearded Man scenes needed a pile of junk, and I was initially thinking that we could just get everyone to bring along some junk and then take it away again — but then I was reminded that the people had lost everything in the fires and didn’t have junk anymore.

The locations include the waterfall, Bruno’s Sculpture Garden and gorgeous tracks and other locations. When we needed a portal in one of the scenes, we found that one of the houses we had already arranged to use contained a fireman’s pole on the back deck. Fallen tree? Easy! Huge hollow tree? Easy! A house an old man might live in? Easy! A tiny house with a hobbit-sized door? Easy! Luck was everywhere.

We were also fortunate to be able to use the Marysville lolly shop for two major scenes. Seven little kids all dressed in brown are running the lolly shop in one of the scenes, and Sarah is tricked into buying lollies. This was one of the most chaotic but fun scenes that we shot. When customers entered the shop, the kids were all mustered into the lower room where they would spontaneously start singing.

IMG_1399Gordon Lyall: Harris guards the Weatherman to make sure he doesn’t lose anything else.

On another occasion, we were trying to shoot an exterior scene but there was a dog barking, a chainsaw and a motorbike all at once. We waited for about half an hour until finally — silence. We started shooting and then I heard a strange snuffly sound. The Weatherman’s dog (my dog) had fallen asleep under the tripod and started snoring.

As a result of the film, many of the cast and crew involved have been inspired to start screenwriting, learn cinematography, or take acting or musical theatre classes. Our young star Lily Morrow has recently been accepted as a competitor in K-Pop Stars, the South Korean singing competition incredibly popular throughout Asia. She’s just one of the amazingly talented people in the area. Hopefully their participation in the film has helped inspire them to follow their dreams.

We are now in the final stages of the shoot. We only have about three days of filming left to go. These will be filmed when Lily returns from Korea. One of these scenes involves Bruno Torfs, the sculptor, sitting in a nest playing with his mobile phone.

IMG_0985Lily Morrow, John Flaus, Jacob Vulfs: This photo was taken on the day we shot the scenes involving Sarah’s Great Grandfather.

My personal learning curve has been extreme. I’ve been learning how to edit, colour grade, match audio and video and how to direct. None of this would have been possible without the support of the people involved, and I will always be grateful to them. They’re delightful, open-hearted, fun, generous and kind people, and I’m proud to call them my friends.

The project has brought people together to create a film of their own, showcasing their amazing skills and helping to form connections within the community. After years of hard work rebuilding, the film project involved doing something just for the fun of it. It also provides a new topic for tourists to enquire about, rather than the locals constantly reliving the fires through being asked about their experiences. I hope that the film has helped people to look forward into a positive future.

In retrospect, although I would have dearly loved to pay people for their participation as we worked, I’m glad that the film worked out the way that it did. If we had just filmed for a month and had then gone again, the impact would have been far less than shooting one day each weekend for many months.

IMG_2189(TOP ROW) Sharon Bourke (chief kid wrangler), Bruce Morrow (audio recordist and co-producer), David Vulfs (assistant director), Jacob Vulfs, Chris Muir, Lily Morrow, Daryl Hull (additional cinematography), Lisa Nolte (co-producer), Teake Trudinger, Lucy Bourke, Micci Soriano, Noah Vulfs, Benjamin Fraga, Asher Sims, Hayley Fiske. All are performers in the film apart from Sharon Bourke. The background shows Marysville’s Thousand Hands — with the handprints of those who helped to rebuild the town following the fires.

We’re aiming to stage an outdoor play version of The Weatherman’s Umbrella in Marysville in April 2015, with the audience following the action along a lovely forest track with magical events happening along the way. More information about this will be revealed on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/theweathermansumbrella) and website (www.theweathermansumbrella.com) soon.

In the last few months, I’ve also been approached by cast and crew who would now like to make a sequel, another film, a television series or a web series. Our next steps however are to complete the shoot and post-production, as well as find a distributor to help get the film out to audiences. If need be though, we’ll distribute it ourselves. Video On Demand is a wonderful thing.

Anne Richey studied at RMIT University.

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