Making my first Documentary ‘Backyard’

The Making of ‘Backyard’ the anti-litter documentary 4.6.2016

When enrolling in the Landmark Self Expression and Leadership personal development course, we were asked to create a community project over a three month period.

Many ideas came to mind, the more obvious ones for me being underwater film or shark conservation. Then one evening when walking the dog in my local park I came across an abundance of litter. This was usual to find at the park and I had always walked past it whinging about the idiots that must have put it there.

I thought to myself, I have been a resident at Tingalpa for three years, and I’ve been coming to this park for two of those. In that time nothing ever changed with regards to the litter, and I realised in that moment my attitude was actually part of the problem. Walking past a problem and whinging about it doesn’t help anything.

And thus my community project was born called ‘In The Bin.’

I decided to create a facebook page which would be a safe community platform for organisations and individuals to share their ideas on reducing waste. I didn’t want In The Bin to be an organisation, but more a collaboration of groups with a common cause.

I decided to use my filmmaking skills to make a documentary  that would unite these groups and individuals across Australia. The film would inspire and encourage people, not lecture them. I also wanted the film to have grass roots feel so people could relate to it, and understand that what they are doing in their own backyard plays a vital role in impacting our wildlife and environment. The mission was to demonstrate this link and change people’s attitudes.

A large component of making this happen was the research involved. Not just the research of the statistics and ensuring the references were all solid, but researching conservation organisations and individuals. Engaging them to participate in the film was another challenge. The first person I rung to engage in my project actually spent 40 minutes drilling me with questions on if I knew what I was doing or not, and how would an amateur be able to make a documentary with no experience?

Initially I felt quite rejected but then realised they were probably just pissed off they didn’t get off their bum and make it themselves, and so I continued on, finding more and more individuals who were happy to get involved.

I was even confronted by a professional photographer who was very annoyed I had asked for contributions of footage or photographs for the project, suggesting I was bastardizing the profession. Again that was a shock and certainly played on my mind but for that one reaction I had dozens of positive ones from local photographers and world famous photographers such as Andy Murch and Becky Kagan Schott who were only too happy to help.

Turtle 1: Taken by Loren Mariani

Turtle 2. Taken by Andy Murch

Manatee. Taken by Becky Kagan Schott

There were many trials and periods where I would doubt myself. I’d look at similar messages conveyed in video on the internet that had just two hundred views and think how could I possibly make this go viral or get the message out there?

There were times when I made rookie errors like deleting amazing footage off a CF card, forgetting the SD cards completely onsite, knocking the tripod during an interview, the list goes on.

I remember this one time I was walking the dog and noticed a huge amount of litter over by some Cricket spectators and I thought, I have to say something. I went over to them and asked them if they could pick up their rubbish as there was quite a lot around them. I got a mixed response. One lady said “it was already here”, one man said “of course we always do” and one man waited until I started to walk away and then snidely commented “why don’t you pick it up?”

At first I was quite mad but when I thought about it and with some coaching in my course I soon realised that I hadn’t actually engaged them at all. Instead what I had done was make them feel bad and lecture them. So of course they made excuses why not to do it instead of seeing the value in doing it.

I started to change my tact. By picking up rubbish in the park other locals started chatting to us and got inspired. They started to pick up rubbish in the park regularly too, even posting about it on the InTheBin facebook page. They also started asking visitors if they could do a clean-up before they left the park.

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The results spoke for themselves. Over a couple of months we noticed more and more rubbish being put in the bins. People’s attitudes were changing and I thought it was a miracle! Certainly one of the highlights of the project was to see how one person making a change can lead to many people changing. The bins were now overflowing with rubbish!

At first I feared what people would think of me picking up rubbish and also had a bit of attitude around thinking well why should I do it? I didn’t litter. But after seeing all the damage litter had been causing to our wildlife I realised that it really didn’t matter how it got there, only it mattered picking it up and literally saving dozens of birds and marine animals lives by doing so.

Photographs above courtesy of Hammy Forrest.

Nick and I came up with this silly game to play and now when we pick up rubbish when walking the dog we call out what animal we are saving by doing so. Plastic straws and bags could be a turtle, fishing line a Pelican, and plastic bottles a baby whale.

One of my favourite memories whilst making the film was meeting Hammy Forrest from Pelican and Seabird Rescue. She was so keen to get involved and I went over to her house and actually got to film a live rescue as they gave medicine to an Ibis that had just been saved.

Hammys place overlooks the water and there was an incredible lightning storm happening at the time, we ended up having a wine on her porch and a laugh and I thought wow, you know this never would have happened had I not done this community project. She offered up thousands of photographs of native birds she had saved from litter and entanglements. It was pretty sad and disturbing to see just how much evidence she had.

She also showed me tubs of examples of all of her rescues. There was everything from fishing line to the tiniest little piece of cotton you’ve ever seen that had been wrapped around a Pee Wees legs. A huge amount was fishing line and hooks and plastic bits and rope.

Photographs courtesy of Hammy Forrest.

Just a wealth of knowledge and passion, Hammy was a true inspiration to me. Completely self-funded she relies on donations, so this is an absolutely worthwhile cause that everyone could get behind.

I remember picking up a water bottle left on a table at Kianawah park and asking some cricketers if it was theirs. One guy replied “you can take it”…I said “no its ok I just didn’t want it to be left here” and handed it to him. Did I look thirsty? Laughs…

It was evident he had a lack of education around leaving things behind. Perhaps they had presumed someone gets paid to pick up rubbish in the park but in actual fact most of the time it is either swept by the wind into the creek or nearby trees or picked up by local volunteers. The council does pay the mower to pick up rubbish and not run it over but too often you see hundreds of little bits of plastic strewn through the grass and of course then there’s the cigarette butts littered everywhere.

One of the best days I had producing the film was on Clean up Australia Day. I had arranged to meet Damien Stone owner of Water 3 there to do an interview. Whilst I was waiting I got talking to two local guys Glen and Gordon who were cleaning up the river in Hamilton, Brisbane on the kayaks. I told them about the film and Gordon gave me a number for his mate Paul who was organising an SES clean up later that day.

I rung this guy I’d never met and asked him if I could film the SES team and they were only too happy to oblige. Two boats rocked up and about 40 SES crew for a debrief. I interviewed Gordon and Glen for the film. They were two amazing locals who really cared for the community, and were literally covered in dirt from head to toe from picking up rubbish all morning.

Gordon said “you should go over there and engage the whole SES team on what your project is about”. I looked over to the massive group getting a debrief and thought maybe not. But Gordon said “if you’re chicken I’ll hold your hand”. That was enough to motivate me as I’m certainly not a chicken. So I waltzed over to this huge group of strangers found a moment to butt in and introduced myself and the project.

That day I really learnt something about myself and what I was capable of, and how easy it is if you put yourself out there to get a real level of engagement and support back in return.

On the flipside one of my biggest break downs during the film was piecing together the solutions segment at the end. I had two interviews, one from Laura Wells from Boomerang Alliance and one from Damien Stone from Water 3 to include and for the life of me I could not get them to flow into the storyline I wanted to tell. I shot a segment of me presenting and did about twenty plus takes and was so frustrated I wanted to get the camera and bash it against the wall because I kept stuffing up the script.

I decided to leave out the interviews and tell my own story of how I had reduced waste by 80% by making a few simple changes around the house during the project.

I had to be strict with regards to content and the storyline. It seemed every person I met had an idea or 10 about what I should show in the film. It could have been a 3-part one hour series but I wanted to keep it to a short sharp 10 minutes.

During post production I had a few technical issues with my computer causing me to lose some work. As I approached the end of the film, in a nervous array I started to doubt myself again. Would anyone watch this? Would they think this was any good? Have I spent all this energy preaching to the converted?

I launched the film on social media on my birthday weekend and within 24 hours it had had four thousand views on facebook, and two hundred shares, as well as endless comments. I was overwhelmed and excited that already there had been such a strong response with little marketing and solely relying on word of mouth.

Since launching the film I’ve had over 2,000 new likes on the InTheBin page and now over 6,200 views on facebook with nearly 300 shares. On Vimeo I’ve also had over 600 views.

Since the launch, local councillor Ryan Murphy arranged a meeting on site with 4 council officials and 2 head of Cricket Warehouse officials to discuss the problem.

It was great to hear that the Brisbane Council was going to be rolling out a project around bin infrastructure in parks across Brisbane in preparation for the potential cash for containers scheme set to launch in NSW and then hopefully other states.

I appeared in the Wynnum herald twice and got interviewed by Spencer Howson on ABC612 radio which was fairly daunting but I think it went well. Here is the audio link for the interview about 36 seconds into the clip it starts.

http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2016/05/short-film-about-littering-already-causing-a-rethink-by-council.html?site=brisbane&program=612_breakfast

Since getting exposure with the film Kianawah park has been the cleanest I have seen it in the 3 years I have lived here. It’s a miracle how far it’s come and really does show that anything is possible. The last week we have been there, there has been nothing at all to pick up! I hope this inspires you, so you can see you can make a difference and clean up your local community too.

The main things I’ve learnt from doing this project are:

  • There are so many people and organisations out there doing great things already to help our wildlife and environment, you just need to care enough to look them up and get involved.
  • Picking up rubbish is easy and it inspires others to keep the area clean and saves the lives of our wildlife. It prevents storm drains from becoming blocked and rubbish from entering the waterways.
  • Apathy is the biggest killer of anything and when humans don’t think they can change anything, or the problem is too big, they simply give up. The challenge is to make them realise that they can make a difference.
  • Perseverance! If I listened to criticisms I never would have been able to produce this film. You have to believe in yourself and just keep going! Never give up.
  • Bringing people together is amazing and you learn so much.
  • Aim for the moon and if you fall short you’ll still be amongst the stars. I said I wanted a million views of the documentary in my course and who knows if I’ll get them, it sounds a bit silly when you say it out loud. But I’ve already been told by dozens of schools that are going to be showing the film to their students which is incredible to think that I’m part of inspiring the next generation. I’ve had people from around the world watching the film and to me that’s being amongst the stars already.

I hope you liked the film and share it in your circles to help spread the message and join our facebook page InTheBin to learn more and share ideas. Below is the vimeo link for the documentary:

I can’t thank-you enough, all the individuals who helped me in the making of this film, everyone who gave me a go even though they didn’t know me, because we shared a common cause.

The huge support from the local diving community, my friends, and Nick I couldn’t have done it without you.

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