FROCKUP is very excited to premiere Melbourne filmmaker James Ruse's short film "Main Drain". The film is a celebration of the bizarre and much-loved Melbourne edgeland that is the Moonee Creek, and is a testament to the absurd era we're living in. Made with funding from Arts Moreland, Ruse has crafted a film that captures the nonsensical nature of urban life with unique humour and homegrown charm.
Hey James, thanks so much for speaking with us, we really loved this film. First of all, could you briefly describe what "Main Drain" is about?
It's a short absurd comedy about an out-of-towner’s (Fiona Harasty) search for a lost bird. The film is centred around the infamous Edgelands of the Moonee Ponds Creek where Fiona encounters a motley bunch of locals through a fevered journey.
How did the film come about?
It came out of spending a lot of time on the creek through 2019/20. I responded to an Arts Moreland Covid relief grant, and at the time like most of us I was spending lots of time walking. I was living near the Moonee Ponds Creek and on my walks I started to picture bizarre little characters and stories. It was all birthed from personal experience, but it came into fruition as I meditated and did research on the creek area.
There’s a very distinct sense of place in this film, and the Moonee Ponds Creek features almost as a character in itself. What were you trying to convey there, and how did your experience of lockdown influence this film?
Walking amongst nature when you live in the city has become an idyllic refuge from the chaos of the outer world. But the Moonee Ponds creek has a more Edgeland quality to it, it's kind of like an ugly by-product of urbanisation. Yet it still gets utilised and treated as a bike-path, walkway, recreational area, and the nature and wildlife adapts, and grows around it. I think the area had a distinct feeling to it, much like an abandoned structure, but the world has continued to grow and build around it. So in this exact time in history where there are few places where I could imagine strangers meeting in public, this area felt like a better place than any to set a film in.
You’ve mentioned that the concept of Edgelands are a crucial part of this story. What are Edgelands, and why did you want to explore this idea?
Edgelands have been coined as transitional spaces, somewhere between urbanised utilitarian landscape i.e drain ways or freeway buffers transiting into a lesser developed natural landscape like parkland or farmland. It has a strong distinct feeling, it sort of feels like you're not supposed to be there, like it's not built for us to feel welcomed. Yet it has a natural quality to it like the ghosts of its natural past still linger. You can see the curves and contours of where the original creek would have carved through the landscape, but it's covered in concrete. Often there is talk around developing these areas into more conventionally beautiful places. Although I'm all for naturalisation in regards to making better habitats for wildlife etc., I think we must consider that these areas have become their own unique form of nature. Some plans I've seen involve cafes and boardwalks that are supposed to create a more harmonious transition from urban to nature, but there is an element of hiding the true nature of urban life. These areas have naturally developed their own unique ecology that reflects the grotesque reality of urban life. To beautify it would be sort of like dressing a wolf in sheep's clothing. I think that's something we constantly grapple with as a society, we want to care for nature yet with modern life comes an element of destruction. It's just kind of the reality of where we are historically, we're not going back to hunter gatherer lifestyles (just yet). I think the lost bird storyline was kind of the metaphor for me, where we want to let nature run its course but at the same time we're trying to sculpt and manipulate it around our needs.
You used a lot of improvised dialogue throughout the film, what motivated this?
Well mostly out of hating to write dialogue. I guess it was a continuation of the methods I'd been working with on my last film. I come from an editing background and when I edit documentaries I find the narrative in the post-production. So in my last film, as an experiment, I went in with basically nothing but a character and a location, then found the narrative in the edit. This time I decided to write a more detailed storyline without dialogue, my next film I'll probably try to write a proper script. It's all been experimentation in process and trying to find my own style or voice.
Were there any creative influences that you found yourself drawing from in this film? How was experimentation used in this film?
I guess the whole improvised approach was a little inspired by Larry David, I'm a massive Curb fan and I'm always amazed at the sort of comedy he gets out of situations. He's a true sitcom comic in my mind, his comedy really arises from the situations and characters rather than punchlines or one-liners. Although my film is not a conventional comedy I did take a lot from that approach of situation and character first, and let the comedy arise from there. Michael Bilandic was a filmmaker I was thinking about a bit through the project, his films Happy Life (2011) and Hellaware (2013) have this great DIY quality to them, with outlandish plots and characters. I also got Rachel (my DOP) and Fiona to watch Scorsese's After Hours (1985) before we shot, although it looks nothing like our film I felt it had a similar narrative shape to it, and had that underlying feeling of a fever dream that I thought could help us when shooting. I was really into the heightened characterisation style in Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) which i had Fiona watch to help build our sort of unhinged tone
What was it like trying to make a film during a lockdown, I imagine it wasn’t a normal process for you?
It was and it wasn't, I was shooting outside with a skeleton cast and crew. I originally planned to shoot over a weekend that got cancelled due to a snap lockdown, but I moved it by a few weeks and was able to shoot it during one of our few lockdown-free weekends. I was actually pretty lucky, I was able to only move dates once. The whole project sort of came out of lockdowns and I managed not to be hindered by them too much. I did want to do a little more shooting once I was editing but haven't been able to. No filmmaking experience is normal generally, so you roll with the chaos and try and make it as fun as you can because it probably shows on screen in some way or another.
What’s next for you, have you got any projects or ideas on the go?
Not too sure, I'm editing a few different things with other filmmakers which have been on the backburner for a while so I hope to get them finished over the summer. I've been mulling over some projects that I might start planning soon, but nothing concrete as of yet. I want to work with more actors, and writers, and I hope to get more into scriptwriting. Probably try and make something a bit more personal, less experimental, but still true to my style.
Check out James' other work at: https://vimeo.com/jamesruse