Test Fest:
Manuel Ashman interviewed

by Mike Retter

Showing a finished film to an audience for the first time can be a nerve-racking experience.. So imagine how showing a rough-cut might feel. Well that’s the concept behind Test Fest, created by filmmaker Manuel Ashman, which looks to be a highlight in Adelaide's 2019 cinephile calendar..

What is the thought behind showing unfinished films to a movie-going audience? Are you blurring the line between cinema and focus-group?

The film-making process can go on for months without any feedback outside of your inner circle of collaborators and friends. Emerging film-makers are still developing their own style and processes, having some feedback from outside their inner-circle can give them confidence in the direction of their editing and storytelling. For an audience, it will be a very unique cinema experience. It’s a particularly social way to involve an audience in the creation of a film, I guess you could call it a really large focus group.

One of Australia's premier auteurs once said that even the most experienced producers don't know how to watch a roughcut, let alone a regular audience.  What are you anticipating and what kind of precautions/preparations will you be making to set the right tone for this event?

Watching a film is an experience, one that varies from person to person, from film to film. If we keep in mind that story is the universal language it is easy to understand how any audience members’ feedback could be useful. Often filmmakers and others who are close to a production can become so abstracted by all the elements that go into making a film that it becomes difficult to see the story that is actually showing on the screen in front of them. We understand that these filmmakers are going out on a limb, exposing themselves to criticism and suggestions. Our moderator and the filmmakers will be introducing the films and clarifying what feedback they are looking for. For the most part, they are interested in the audience’s comprehension of the story. Not every film will have a Q&A at the end but we will have questionnaires going around on clipboards and accessible via our website. 

Are there any films programmed that are made to be particularly interesting because of their rough-cut status?

The two projects I am most excited to see how audiences react to are Andrew Ilicic's Bushranger (working title) and the first 20 minutes of a TV-pilot called All's Well, an international indie co-production between first time producer/writers Amy Goddard, Jonah Ehrenreich and Madison Skyes. Amy being Adelaide-based with Jonah and Madison being from New York. Both these projects present a strong tone and clear thematic ideas in their rough cut stage, so it will be interesting to see how the audience interprets the story telling in particularly the pacing. Bushranger displays influences of slow cinema in its exploration of a father and son traversing the outback in an 1800s setting. I am curious how an audience respond to the slower, deliberated pace of this film. With All's Well, it will be interesting how the audience receives the odd humour and the chaotic personalities of the characters in the show. The show continues to explore the current trend of TV comedy, combining influences from the sitcom format and cinematic dramas into something fresh and contemporary.


Bushranger, directed by Andrew Ilicic


You are from Flinders University, that principality upon the hill ... Many come out of Flinders with a lot on knowledge, maybe even a good graduation film, but seem to be so institutionalised that they cant carry on as an independent filmmaker or independent anything ... Creatively paralysed .. They seem to need other institutions or bust ... Why is this? Test Fest does seem to be an exception to this and I wondered how much this concept was intended to be a bit of a circuit-breaker in that context ..

The creative paralysis is definitely something I have experienced and seen happen to others. It comes from one source - expectations. In my experience it can comes from the pressure people put on just one film, resulting in them burning out. I also think it comes from a complacency and a lack of exposure to the greater world, resulting in a misleading idea of where you are at as a filmmaker. For me, the best part of starting a film-making course at university is realising that you are not alone in your passions and ambitions. Upon leaving university it is a bit like having your dad telling you that you can't live with him anymore and on top of that he won't be paying for your phone bill or car repairs any more. Reality is unreasonable sometimes. I think while you may graduate university with a lot of knowledge and skills, and even if you are blessed with talent, unless you have been making films on the outside, you are still a beginner at that. And that's the reality of it. 

I guess the idea of Test Fest, like many other film festivals, is to remind you that you are not alone as a filmmaker, that there are others, writers, musicians, all kinds of artists out there; and that being part of an independent scene is exciting because it can be whatever the artists involved make it, not something defined by institutions. At this point, I'd like to thank all the institutions that have supported Test Fest so far, especially the City of Adelaide!


I think while you may graduate university with a lot of knowledge and skills, and even if you are blessed with talent, unless you have been making films on the outside, you are still a beginner at that. And that's the reality of it. - Manuel Ashman.


Bushranger, directed by Andrew Ilicic

Film editing is often the invisible aspect of film-making .. But it’s usually considered as the place where the film is truly made .. Will there be any special focus on editing, editors their craft etc in this event?

The value of the editor and editing process will definitely be high-lighted at the event. Test Fest directly focuses on the editing specific feedback questions and filmmakers' and editors' introduction of their test screeners.

The idea of the test-screening or focus group goes back to people like Harold Lloyd in the silent era, who would even monitor the heartbeat of the audience to tell how they were feeling from moment to moment ... How will feedback be gathered and what kind of interaction do you have planned between the audience and the filmmakers?

The event is structured as a social event as much as a screening, so there will be opportunity to speak directly to filmmakers. Our main avenue for feedback is a short 5 question survey. It is short and the questions have been written in consultation with the filmmakers, they are mostly interested in story, ideas and themes the audience connected with. The questionnaires can be accessed via the website or on your smart device. Additionally some of our Test Fest volunteers will be walking around with clipboards for those who don't have a smartphone or can't read through the cracks on their screen.

Details about the Event:

Test Fest
6pm Friday, 11 October
Queen’s Theatre
Playhouse Lane & Gilles Arcade, Adelaide 5000
Tickets are $25, or $20 for under-18s and concession holders (contact testfestadelaide@gmail.com)

Website: https://testfestadelaide.com/


Mike Retter is a film director, of the indie feature Youth On The March, creator of the zine "Cinema Now", and the Podcast "Meat Bone Express", and part of the Port Film Co-op

Published October 7, 2019. © Mike Retter 2019