Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) – The Side Entrance – Interview

It has been described as the “anti-festival” and heralds itself as the “wildest” and “most controversial film festival”.  Created by Aussie filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft, the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) was established as a bit of an, ahem, raised middle finger to the Melbourne International Film Festival. MUFF supports emerging Australian talent in both feature and short film categories.  Filmmakers don’t have to exhibit shiny perfect camera skills or a fat filming CV to have their work screened at the festival. Films are sometimes accepted solely on the strength of an idea or the intense passion exhibited by a filmmaker. But perhaps MUFF’s biggest claim to fame is it’s no holds barred approach to film topics. Nothing is too controversial or confronting. No subject matter is off limits. MUFF is said to provide a “relief from the unending assault of political correctness and the mediocre watering down of the arts” – Wolstencroft, director statement.

MUFF enjoyed its 14th year last week.  To be honest, I had never heard of MUFF until a friend of mine had his short film accepted into the festival.  The film, The Side Entrance won a sweep of MUFF accolades including Best Screenplay Short (Seamus Ryan & Michael Taylor) and Runner Up Best Short Film. Basically, The Side Entrance was a bit of a hit.  I spoke to Seamus Ryan who co-wrote and acted in the film.  Ryan is a lawyer by day and an amateur filmmaker by night.  He won Best Male Actor in a Short Film and really credits MUFF for giving emerging filmmakers a chance to get their work out there in front of audiences.

The Side Entrance is a funny and outrageous little short film about two guys who miss their friend’s mum’s funeral and try to cover their tracks.  Check out the film – here but beware the strong language on this one folks. Enjoy!

Interview with Seamus Ryan – winner Best Male Actor in a Short Film and Best Short Screenplay

Tell me about how you got the idea for the film and who wrote it?

Michael (Taylor) and I had been involved in some low key short film making at uni but, even though we kept talking about having another go one day, we hadn’t written anything in years. One day we caught up for a beer on a Tuesday after not having caught up for a while and decided to designate it as our writing night every week there and then.  The idea wasn’t a difficult one – it’s based (very loosely) on a real life incident.  We had it written in about six to eight sessions.

What were you trying to achieve with this film?

To be honest, all we wanted to do initially was do something creative outside of work. We thought about filming it ourselves but things took a real step forward when Michael convinced Enzo, a mate from work who was studying film-making, to direct it.  Enzo had some mates who needed to beef up their portfolios so we quickly established a crew, which allowed us to focus mostly on writing, producing and acting.  The cost of the equipment (which we didn’t have to provide ourselves but have since purchased for future projects) has dropped dramatically since we were last involved in film-making.

How did you find out about the festival and how did you get involved? 

We always knew about MUFF.  In a lot of ways it’s the anti-festival festival.  Richard Wolstencroft, the founder and director of MUFF, is a firm believer in genre films and ideas being more important than perfect execution. The festival has garnered a strong reputation over 14 years. It was the festival that James Wan (Saw) and Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) first exhibited their work.

We submitted the film but to be honest weren’t all that optimistic about our chances.  When you’ve watched the footage 100 times over in editing you lose all perspective about whether the film is any good or not.  We were just about to film our next short and had almost forgotten about it when we received confirmation it had been accepted.

How did you feel about all those awards?

Frankly, to be made an official selection was reward enough for us.  The reaction at the screening was great (it was admittedly a fairly friendly crowd).  When we attended the awards on the last night we thought we’d be an outside chance if there was some sort of crowd favourite award (there wasn’t) but when we won best screenplay for a short you could have knocked us over with a feather.  If there was any award we could have picked that would have been it. Then came best actor and runner up best short. It was a massive shock.

Having any sort of award at a festival like this, which has credibility, makes a big difference. We’ve had a few people contact us about other projects and one of the other filmmakers, who won best guerrilla film, received a message from James Wan who had won the award about 10 years ago.

What do you think of the festival?

We love the festival.  The reality is that some other short film festivals have become so professional that a lot of filmmakers we spoke to have become pretty discouraged about their prospects when other festivals feature films made by professional directors and featuring TV stars.  MUFF gives up and comers a real break and has a fantastic atmosphere. While we were quite amazed by the quality of some of the shorts, if the idea is good enough it will get a run even if it’s not expertly made. It’s important to have a festival like this to give people a start.  Richard is still a filmmaker himself and believes in getting interesting work out there.

What’s next?

We’ve filmed a far more low-key follow up which was as much about learning more about the other aspects of filmmaking (filming, editing etc) as anything.  We’ve starting writing a third film which we’ll be filming over summer.

***

So Melbourne movie buffs keep an eye out for MUFF around this time next year and support some local emerging talent.  It may have you squeezing your eyes shut with fear, bursting with laughter, or squirming rather uncomfortably in your seat (perhaps an understatement) – but that’s what this anti-festival festival is all about.

MUFF winners - The Side Entrance - Runner up Best Short Film, Best Screenplay Short and Best Male Actor in a Short Film (Seamus Ryan).
MUFF winners – The Side Entrance – Runner up Best Short Film, Best Screenplay Short (Seamus Ryan and MIchael Taylor) and Best Male Actor in a Short Film (Seamus Ryan). From left, Seamus Ryan, Amy Antcliffe and Michael Taylor
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