Gutter Poetry

by Bryce Reimann

The making of Hard Yakka (dir. Bryce Reimann, 2017, 100 mins, Australia)

(l to r) Jay Saville (actor), Bryce Reimann, Georgia Temple, Robert Douglas.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with images and the nature of storytelling. My passion for filmmaking and cinephilia started in my teenage years, when I viewed Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) in the early hours of the morning. This is when I discovered the concept of auteurism, and Tarantino’s humble beginnings working in a video shop resonated with me, as I was currently working at a Video Ezy in the sleepy regional town of Nambour (Queensland). I quickly devoured the DVDs in the foreign film section, and seeing all sorts of strange, wonderful images led me to want to create my own expansive filmic worlds. I attended Griffith Film School but was never able to get any of my own directorial projects up. This is when I knew if I seriously wanted to make films that mattered, I would have to do it myself independently.


In my first year of film school, I discovered Harmony Korine’s masterpiece Gummo (1997), a film I vehemently hated upon my first viewing. Nevertheless, the film continued to weigh on my mind, and upon a second viewing the surface level ugliness dissolved away, leaving an empathetic portrait of a forgotten community expressed in the most unconventional yet beautiful way possible. Gummo is now possibly the biggest influence on my writing and directing style.


(l to r) Angus Kirby (assistant director), Bryce Reimann, Samuel Kitchen and Robert Douglas.


I met similarly minded independent filmmakers Samuel Kitchen, Robert Douglas, Georgia Temple and Angus Kirby at film school, and in 2016 I approached them with the script for my first feature film, Hard Yakka. I wrote the 40-page script in a frenzy, like I had to exorcise a demon from within me. At the time, I was watching a lot of what is referred to as “Contemporary Contemplative Cinema”, and was obsessed with filmmakers Lav Diaz, Pedro Costa and Lisandro Alonso. I love these filmmakers because they interrogate the past, and create complex worlds that exist within and beyond the frame. This is something I wanted to achieve in my own filmmaking. I chose to shoot the film in black and white, as I didn’t have the budget to shoot in colour and make the aesthetic acceptable to my taste, plus I liked the way the black and white immediately puts the viewer in a different, strange world. I decided to shoot in the 4:3 aspect ratio as I liked the verticality that this offered my images. Watching the films of Pedro Costa and John Ford informed this decision. I saved up $6000 from my video store job, and we set about making the film over a two-week period.


I played the unnamed lead role myself out of necessity, as this was my first time directing and I wanted to make sure the performance was exactly as I imagined in my head. I got the idea of a young homeless man travelling through semi-rural Australia from a homeless man I met while working at the video shop. I could sense a great sense of hurt within him, and I empathised with his plight as I got to know him well. I wanted to create a deadpan surreal road trip film that shied away from giving the audience concrete answers, but rather hinted at a past of economic struggle and substance abuse. I am immensely interested in people who have lived through hardship, and my job as a director is not to judge, but simply observe and document with the camera. This should serve as an antidote to the leering pornography of many highly praised “independent” films that secure studio releases. I like to think that in Hard Yakka, the source of the blame for the brokenness of my characters is not singled out as one person, but rather every character in the film is implicit in some way. This allows an elevated sense of moral complexity to come forward from the film.


Georgia Temple


I had created a shot list, but as filming progressed we found ourselves experimenting more and more, often letting spontaneous inspiration lead the creative voice of my team. My cinematographer, Samuel Kitchen, has a very gifted eye, and when I was stuck with how to shoot a scene I would let him go and create the shot himself before reviewing it and making changes. He understood the aesthetic I was going for very well, and always knew how to reconcile the unique Australian environment with the performances to create the desired mise-en-scène. Collaboration in terms of the image was not just restricted to Samuel and myself. I would ask for feedback regarding the image from my sound team of Robert Douglas and Georgia Temple, as they are similarly visually minded, and this led to several exciting improvisations on set.


I didn’t lock the script down either, as I wanted to stay spontaneous during the filmmaking process. This led me to rewriting dialogue the night before/morning of the day’s shoot, and this created a more organic process of filmmaking which I enjoyed enormously. This also allowed me to craft the film carefully day by day, making changes based on what I was feeling from the day before shooting. I was able to do this because we mostly shot the film in order of the script. The non actors of the film worked well with this process, and I would often encourage them to draw upon their own memories to influence improvised dialogue and performance. Filmmaking should be a participatory experience for everyone involved, and every opinion should be heard.


(l to r) Samuel Kitchen, Bryce Reimann.


My sound team of Robert and Georgia are integral to the success of the film. For inspiration for the sound recording of the film, we looked at the all encompassing sound design of Lav Diaz’s films, as well as how Robert Bresson uses sound that exists beyond the boundaries of the frame to create a lived in world. We attached a microphone on top of the camera to get that directional, all encompassing effect, and a manned boom mic to get closer to the performances. I chose to use several trap songs on the soundtrack of the film, as these songs deconstruct and reconstruct concepts of masculinity from an often economically dark past, which is a theme that Hard Yakka explores. These are the sorts of tracks you would expect a young delinquent type to blast over the speakers of their Nokia phone on the train for all to hear. This is how I got the idea for the opening scene. These songs also convey a painful sense of longing that creeps through the constant references to substance abuse and braggadocios money talk.   


Shooting Hard Yakka was the best experience of my life. I love the freedom that digital cinema tools offer, allowing me to work with my crew low key and on the go while constantly reinventing myself. This is an exciting time to be an independent filmmaker. I am currently working on my second feature film, Foul Trumpets, which focuses on two brothers who concoct a plan to rescue their mother from a cult in an imagined future where Australia is suffering under the pervasive rule of a fascistic ethno-state.  


See also: A Bit o' Hard Yakka

Bryce Reimann is an independent filmmaker from the Sunshine Coast.

Published June 20, 2018. © Bryce Reimann 2018.