The true story of a young runaway caught up in the city’s darkest vices…
A shy young runaway finds himself forced into sex work at the ‘Wall’. At nightfall he stands awkwardly on the street amongst the hardened, older hustlers. A man in a car close by watches his every move.
The boy’s only respite is a quick break on board an outreach bus, which drops by once a week offering hot drinks and free internet. He is allowed to get on and use the computer but must not speak to anyone or make eye contact.
The Youth Worker on the bus takes a genuine interest in the boy, even though his attempts to befriend him are continually rejected. As he watches the boy deteriorate over a series of weeks, the Youth Worker becomes ever more desperate to break through to him, before he spirals beyond the point of no return.
In the considerable aftermath of THE OASIS, the Shark Island team was continually strategising how to keep the issues surrounding youth homelessness raised by the film on the political and social agenda. Ian had been inspired and haunted by many of the tales he heard during the making of THE OASIS — and had aspirations to create a drama film based on some of the stories which could not be told in the documentary.
When I flagged my interest in creating a piece based on Captain Paul Moulds’s gripping story of a boy working The Wall, the notion of two films with their own poignant social messages flowing on from THE OASIS, was born.
The script for Ian’s film, POLLY AND ME, was woven out of the fragments of many stories he had heard from girls and youth workers at Oasis, about the chaos of their early lives. It had the potential to put a human face to many of the often unspoken issues surrounding child abuse and neglect. My script for WALL BOY is loosely based on the story of a young runaway — a tale I first heard from Captain Paul Moulds. The story had fascinated me for years, it was like a Hollywood thriller — with social relevance! I initially wrote it out in a very basic skeletal form. I fleshed it out into a more human story by embellishing and fictionalising all the details concerning the kid and the Youth Worker. The script was written to maximise the story’s dramatic potential.
The amazing opportunity to bring WALL BOY to life on the screen was something I jumped at. Not only was it a ripping yarn, but also had the potential to foreground issues for youth at risk about running away from home, street predation and the value of outreach services in the darkest parts of the city. With a comprehensive education and outreach campaign following in the footsteps of THE OASIS, this film alongside POLLY AND ME had the potential to reach young people, the community, and organisations working with youth alike.
With the support of Shark Island Productions, a fundraising call to arms was written and distributed to a select group of progressive individuals and foundations known to support socially conscious film and documentary. Our partners in the making of WALL BOY were The Paradice Foundation, Matana Foundation, The Turnbull Foundation, Wolanski Group, Bob and Margaret Rose, The Calvert Jones Foundation, Eureka Benevolent Foundation, Nelson Meers Foundation, Macquarie Foundation, Goldman Sachs Foundation, Melbourne Community Foundation and Nokia. These partners all believed in the film’s social purpose and the impact it could have.
Shark Island generously provided a creative home base for the film, and all the personnel and facilities for producing, production managing and editing — Ian Darling, Mary Macrae, Susan MacKinnon, Sally Fryer and I reunited to make up an awesome core creative team.
Nicola Daley had the visual side of the film nailed even before the shoot with hours of collaborative shotlisting, location checking and photographic storyboarding. Since the film was shot entirely at night this involved us creeping around many seamy parts of the inner city in the dark, absorbing the vibe and the aesthetics, and figuring out how to light for a realistic look.
Mary Macrae was the goddess of logistics who wrangled all the location permissions, catering requirements, traffic control strategies and every other bit of organising required for a difficult week of outdoor night shooting. It’s possible she even secured us good weather that crazy week! Rain would have brought us undone. Mary also assisted me in the casting process during which we were lucky enough to come across and secure Ben Wood, Keegan Joyce and Danny Adcock all of whom felt so natural for their roles, there would barely be any need for direction. Terry Serio who also featured in Ian’s film Polly & Me played the pimp (far too convincingly!) and provided yet another link between the two films.
Our production assistant Sarah Moulds among other things, helped scour Salvo stores for costumes and recruit extras from Streetlevel Church. Susan MacKinnon was meanwhile busy getting great support from Anthos Simon from EFilm/Deluxe (who really believed in the message of the film) as well as processing all the cast/crew/financial grants to make the film a reality.
After John Titley the 1st AD expertly plotted out the shooting schedule in minute detail, the game was on. As anticipated the six night shoot was exhilarating but exhausting. Filming on location in such a notorious spot with a film crew, lights, and trucks did annoy a few locals and there were some resulting casualties. Reg, who runs the Street Connect bus in real life was acting as our onsite chaplain to soothe any disgruntled passersby, and was attacked while stopping an unknown assailant from rampaging through our ‘set’. The Pimp’s car, which I had borrowed from friends, was broken into and smashed up, and needed to be towed away and repaired. Moments of hilarity included Ian Darling having to play the client in every ‘pickup car’ that cruised past — he often disguised himself by wearing a Shark Island Productions cap!
Overall, the shoot was a long tough slog for everyone, slaving without respite through the midnight hours in the open air often til 4am. That every shot was accounted for is a tribute to the prowess of John Titley, Mary Macrae, Nicola Daley, our accomplished actors and all the other skilled technicians who operated with maximum stamina and efficiency right up til the end of the last weary night.
The edit for the film started swiftly with Sally Fryer all fired up from being on location at the shoot and keen to weave the scenes together. Together we cut a rough assembly in a short week following the map provided by the script — and then the creative process really ramped up. Having worked together on THE OASIS we were used to tough edits, but whipping this little film into shape proved a real rollercoaster.
In the end, every last shot, even outtakes became useful coverage and the construction required a lot more ingenuity and craftiness than I had expected — luckily Sal had her wits about her! The resulting piece while largely faithful to the original vision, is a completely different film to what I had expected to create!
Felicity Fox, our composer, revisited the dark headspace of THE OASIS to create the music for this film. She wrote deep bass lines and unsettling eerie guitar and synth elements to enhance the feelings of suspense, treachery and darkness, which pervade the story. Complementing this, Brooke Trezise designed a full soundscape of night to make the images and the places depicted in the story feel real and three dimensional. Both soundscape and soundtrack mixed by Sam Petty at Efilm, ultimately give the film its power.
In conclusion, making WALL BOY was possibly the sharpest learning curve I have experienced in recent years — exhilarating and terrifying in equal amounts. The final film is a collaboration to the utmost detail and I’m eternally thankful to all its passionate and generous contributors without whom it could never have come to fruition. Packaged together with POLLY AND ME, the film will certainly fulfil its social purpose but the artistic appreciation remains to be seen and ultimately lies with the audience!
Sascha Ettinger Epstein, Director
During the 2 years immersed in street life for the making of THE OASIS, both Ian Darling and I heard many shocking tales of struggle and survival. There was just so much powerful material that couldn’t fit in the documentary.
In the considerable aftermath of the release of THE OASIS, the Shark Island team were strategising how to keep youth issues high on the social agenda and realised there was still a wealth of stories to be told that could further captivate audiences and call them to arms.
Ian set about writing a short script inspired by many stories from tough lives at Oasis and I did the same. The story that had always fascinated me was Captain Paul Moulds’s tale of a boy forced to work at The Wall; it was like a Hollywood thriller — with social significance!
We believed our short stories would make great dramatic short films and also have a potent social purpose — to keep youth issues in the public eye in the wake of THE OASIS. The plan was for the films to be packaged together with an education and outreach campaign, which would continue to raise awareness and understanding about youth homelessness.
What are the main issues that come out of the film?
During our time making THE OASIS, we saw first hand how fast vulnerable kids can fall prey to the darker vices of the city and how important it is to have services out there intercepting them. Wall Boy’s story illustrates this powerfully.
Teenagers frequently run away from their problems at home and end up with much bigger, more serious problems out in the world.
Wall Boy’s story is a real life worst-case scenario of what can happen, and its graphic depiction on screen will hopefully shed light on the very real and imminent danger, often life threatening, that young people face when they naively enter the world of the streets.
The film also demonstrates the grim reality of youth homelessness and the true value of intervention services in turning young lives around. It reaffirms the importance of outreach workers having a presence in the darkest, most dangerous locations of the city.
The trajectory of youth homelessness and its attendant over-representation of drugs and risk of physical harm is well documented. WALL BOY puts a human face and story to the statistics.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve?
In terms of social outcomes, we’d like the issues thrust into public consciousness by THE OASIS documentary to stay on the radar or be reignited. By combining WALL BOY with POLLY AND ME we hope to have created a new platform from which to launch awareness of youth issues, to educate the community and policy-makers.
We also hope that with a comprehensive outreach and education strategy the film can have an impact on young people. For those at risk of running away from home it may even act as a powerful deterrent and motivate them to choose other options.
Finally we would like the film to serve as an effective fundraising tool for the Not For Profits working with youth at risk to promote their more progressive outreach and intervention programs, such as the Street Connect bus (featured in the story), which takes technology/internet to the streets.
And if it works as a story, it’s a good thriller!
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Our main hope is that after watching the film the public won’t be so hasty to judge young people on the street, or write them off as deviants and delinquents. There is a story behind every face, usually a tragic one. Breaking down misconceptions is the first step towards creating a society that cares about its citizens no matter what predicament they are in.
Similarly we want people to be aware of what goes on in their own backyard, in streets they may walk through every day. When you know and understand, it’s a lot harder to turn a blind uncaring eye away from social problems.
We also want people to appreciate the amazing work outreach workers do and to realise the powerful potential of progressive programs such as the Street Connect Bus. In a world where technology is ever evolving, having basic access to the internet can be a lifeline for some people living on the street who are already disconnected from mainstream society.
Why didn’t you tell the story as an observational documentary?
This film would have been impossible to tell as a documentary as we would never have had the access to the people involved in the story. The Wall is a dangerous and clandestine world where lives are at stake. The filming of such material would also have been a moral and ethical danger zone!
How does your documentary background influence the making of the film?
Given that WALL BOY is based on a true story we wanted the film to have documentary sensibilities so that influenced everything from the script to the style. We really hoped to harness some sense of authenticity in every element to give the film credibility.
The three years we spent working on THE OASIS amounted to invaluable research into aesthetics, language, the real texture of life on the street. In terms of style it was shot handheld in the actual locations that all the events took place and with actual street people as extras. The bearded twins, Alan and John, for example, are regular users of the bus so we recruited them to be in the film.
What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking?
The shoot was really hard as we were out with a crew in the middle of the night in one of the darkest areas of the inner-city and not all the locals were particularly accommodating or sympathetic to our needs. Needless to say there were a few casualties: Reg, who runs the StreetConnect bus in real life but was acting as our onsite chaplain was attacked and the Pimp’s car which I had borrowed from friends was broken into and smashed up to name but a few hiccups. On a more mundane level, everyone was really tired working 6 nights in a row, but all came through as real Trojans! The fact that we got it all done was a tribute to John Titley the 1st AD, Nicola Daley the DOP and all the other skilled technicians slaving together through the endless night.
What surprised you most in the making of the film?
Having mostly worked in observational documentary, where things are largely shot on the fly, I was very surprised how hard it is to make ‘fake’ set-up things seem real, random and observational! Also the level of detail you have to go in to, to make things feel right in a film is phenomenal. Every thing in every frame has to be accounted for which requires a lot of people working hard towards one united vision.
How did you go about writing the script?
The story had fascinated me for years and I initially wrote it out in a very basic skeletal form. After an initial reading by the Shark Island crew I fleshed it out into a more human story by embellishing and fictionalising all the details concerning the kid and the Youth Worker. The script was written to maximise the story’s dramatic potential but as Captain Paul Moulds explains, The Salvos would never literally ‘abduct’ a kid as depicted in the film.
Can you describe the pre-production process?
So much work goes into the planning of a drama shoot — paperwork, casting, surveying and photographing locations, securing locations, shotlisting, hunting through Salvo stores for costumes (thanks Sarah Moulds!), getting crew on board, rehearsing the actors, endlessly thinking through the story and attending to every detail of it. Hard work for everyone involved, especially Mary Macrae the production manager/line producer who was queen of the logistics! Once John Titley the 1st Ad used his expertise to draw up a detailed schedule for the shoot, there was no turning back!
How did you prepare the actors for such an experience?
Our first outing after casting was finalised was a night out on the Street Connect Bus where the actors got to look around and serve real street people coffees. It was a good thing to acclimatise them and familiarise them with the locations and the people. Then we had a few days of rehearsal and talked through the script and went into depth on the characters. Thankfully Terry Serio knew a lot about the real world of the story and grounded everyone in the truth of their role, which was invaluable. Danny Adcock is a seasoned professional and had played a similar role in The Removalists. Ben Wood and Keegan Joyce did their own research watched relevant films and documentaries (like THE OASIS) and developed their own ideas about their characters.
Where was the film shot and over how many days?
The film was shot over 5 1/2 nights mostly on location at The Wall in Darlinghurst and on board the Street Connect Bus.
What medium was used and what decisions did you make about the style of the shoot?
We used Super 16 film, and since we wanted the feel to be as raw as possible DOP Nicola Daley shot it all handheld with reasonably simple coverage — no tracking or cranes or anything fancy. The aim was to make it feel observational, like we’d just dropped into this dark netherworld. Being out on the street at night in such a precarious location we felt having a minimal crew was paramount to the success of the shoot. Yet even with minimal fuss it still felt like a massive crowd of technicians with big lights labouring all night! Even so, the efficiency of the all those technicians meant that we pulled the filming off in the given time – a miracle in itself.
Does the editing of fiction differ from documentary?
Fiction editing is still creative but unlike observational doco, it has a script to follow and every shot has been shotlisted to make up the pieces of a giant puzzle. It seems to come together quite quickly following this map, but then all the flaws become glaringly obvious and you have to find a way around them — which is where the edit gets really creative! The editor Sally Fryer was ripe for the challenge. Our shoot turned out to be very economical, with nearly every shot (including ends of action) used in the final film!
What did you want to achieve with the sound and grade?
The grade really helped to add mood and atmospherics while the sound design meticulously constructed by Brooke Tresize made the film finally feel 3 dimensional. The world of created sound is so rich and every little detail makes the setting of the film feel real and intimate.
What decisions were made about the music?
The music delicately composed, recorded and arranged by Felicity Fox, was intended to maximise the suspense and foreboding at various points in the story. Lots of deep bass characterised the darkness of the world the boy inhabits.
How was the film financed?
The team at Shark Island Productions; Ian Darling, Susan MacKinnon, Mary Macrae and Sally Fryer became the film’s tireless workforce. It was a reunion of THE OASIS creative A-team!
They set about creating a new funding model for the short film, and approached a select number of philanthropic foundations and individuals, known to support the power of film in bringing about social change.
Our partners in the making of WALL BOY were The Paradice Foundation, The Matana Foundation, The Turnbull Foundation, Wolanski Group, Bob and Margaret Rose, The Calvert Jones Foundation, Eureka Benevolent Foundation, Nelson Meers Foundation, Macquarie Foundation, Goldman Sachs Foundation, Melbourne Community Foundation and Nokia. These partners all believed in the film’s potent social messages and the impact it could have.
Susan MacKinnon the co-producer also managed to secure support from Anthos Simon at Efilm, who also believed strongly in the project, which enabled the film to have first class onlining, grading and mixing.
What is the education and outreach plan, and how will you measure the success of the film?
The education and outreach plan of WALL BOY and POLLY AND ME will follow in the footsteps of THE OASIS documentary. We intend to partner with foundations and organisations including Oasis Youth Support Network, Inspire Foundation etc representing youth at risk to maximise the educational potential of both films through hosted screenings, and further awareness campaigns. Targeted distribution to schools will allow the films to reach a wide teenage audience.
SALVO OUTREACH SERVICES
Sydney: THE STREET CONNECT BUS
The Street Connect bus featured in the film is run by Reg Hierzer, a Salvation Army Street Chaplain based at Oasis. With the help of his volunteers Reg takes the bus out onto the streets of the inner city 2 nights a week. Other days he takes it to Western Sydney and the Central Coast to help youth at risk.
Reg was given the Street Connect bus as an empty shell and singlehandedly built up all its inside facilities which now include free phones and an Xbox as well as laptops with wireless internet connections. He recently took the bus on a road trip to help the Salvation Army corps in Townsville. The bus is sponsored by Nokia.
Melbourne: THE 614 BUS
The Melbourne 614 AXA Youth bus is a coach fully refurbished into a mobile youth centre on wheels with wireless PCs, an Xbox, a plasma, 3 surround sound systems, hangout couches, chess tables a mini kitchen and a private counselling room. The AXA614 Youth Bus is designed to be a safe place off the streets for Melbourne’s homeless and marginalised youth.