He was a boy. She was a girl. You know how the rest goes.
Except... you probably haven't seen anything like what My Best Friend Is Stuck On The Ceiling ("CEILING") has in store!
CEILING is a short and sweet film by Closer Productions that made its debut in 2015 and has since made regular appearances to much-appreciated audiences across film festivals within Australia and beyond (Adelaide Film Festival 2015, Sydney Film Festival 2016 - DENDY Awards Finalist, Palm Springs ShortFest 2016). Juggling a painfully hilarious and accurate friendship between Connor and Rach, the short film offers a lighthearted moment for its viewers to revel in a courtship gone wrong.
In anticipation of the release of the short film CEILING today (May 12, 2020) on YouTube to make those #ISO times a bit brighter, I was fortunate enough to have a Q and A with Matt from Closer Productions - have a read of our exchange below:
Tema: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, Matt? Matt: I'm a writer, director, and comedian based in Adelaide. I've been working in the screen industry for the past decade and for the last eight years, I've worked with local collective Closer Productions. We make feature films, including Sundance award-winning 52 Tuesdays, documentaries, and television, including the ABC's F!*#ING Adelaide and SBS's The Hunting. I started at Closer as a production manager on 52 Tuesdays, became an assistant to the producers at the company, and eventually moved into development, where I worked on the writer's rooms and as a script producer for The Hunting and as a staff writer & screenwriter on F!#ING Adelaide and our upcoming ABC comedy YES, CHEF. My new short film is a sci-fi comedy called System Error, which was recently selected to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. However, this festival has unfortunately been postponed due to COVID-19.
I also dabble in stand up comedy you might have seen me on stage at Rhino Room, Cranker Comedy or at the 2019 Fringe with my show Matt Vesely and George The Robot Perform A Very Normal Stand-Up Comedy Routine.
Short films are tough you want to find a story that works completely within a very short time frame, but still has enough in it to engage an audience with its characters. Initially, the film was called My First Date Is Stuck On The Ceiling, but I was encouraged by great script editor Peter Templeman to give the story more emotional stakes by making the two characters best friends, and the story about a possibly unrequited love between them a painful (and funny) situation many people can relate to.
Tema: What inspired you to come up with the concept of your film My Best Friend Is Stuck On The Ceiling? Matt: I've always been attracted to characters that mean well, but fail miserably. This is probably because I've always felt like whenever I've failed miserably at something love, friendship, filmmaking, countless games of Halo 2 I've always meant super, super well. Like, I try real hard, you know?
Anyway, I like comedy. I've done stand-up here in South Australia. I really admire stand-ups in dramatic roles and I have a really hard time not being flippant about my life. But, in truth, my # 1 love has always been science fiction. I was a Star Wars kid, an X-Files teen, and an Akira university student (with less exploding limbs). So my main hope was to find a way to combine those parts of me the emo-loving sarcastic loser with the eye-in-the-sky sci-fi dork and create something that was warm, funny, and surprising. Using genre to dig into very real human emotions is something I've always admired and strived for. On a practical level, I wanted the film to help demonstrate my voice as a filmmaker, which I think is a voice just slightly left of centre. Still approachable, relatable, and enjoyable but with a kinda upside-down perspective of the world. I hope audiences see a bit of themselves in these characters, and enjoy the sincerity of the work.
Tema: Without giving too much away, what is the basic premise of the film? Matt: CEILING is a (literally) uplifting romantic comedy with a science fiction twist, as the concept of the "nice guy" gets turned (literally) on its head. Connor, secretly in love with his best friend Rach, has gotten her an amazing birthday present something that's sure to knock her off her feet. But he gets a lot more than he bargained for with this gift and so does everyone in the café in which the two friends have decided to meet in. Get ready for love, lolz and flying debris.
Tema: What were you envisioning when you were putting together the illustrious cast of the film? Matt: I was a huge fan of the Josh Thomas' ABC comedy series Please Like Me. I really liked Tom Ward's performance in the show as Josh's hapless best mate, and decided to reach out to him directly. Sometimes these things work there's never any harm in asking, right?! Tom was up for it and came over to Adelaide with a really dedicated mindset. He was super passionate about giving his character (Connor) everything he had, which was really inspiring to see. Tom's a very talented writer as well he wrote for Please Like Me and also wrote ABC's new show Diary of an Uber Driver, so it was great to have him work with the dialogue to find his own voice through it.
We auditioned Erin James, and had seen her excellent work in the feature film The Little Death (for which she was nominated for an AACTA Award). You've got to check her out in the film she plays a sign language video-call translator for a man with hearing impairment who was wanting to use a sex line. She's amazing. Erin is a music theatre performer by trade, and her physical training came in very handy, as you'll understand when you watch the film (spoiler alert!). Erin is also such an engaging and funny performer who can effortlessly light up the screen and she developed such a great rapport with Tom.
They're supposed to have been friends for years, and they only met the day before we started shoot, so it was pretty remarkable to see the development of their rapport for the purpose of the film. We would do exercises by ourselves away from the crew each morning before starting the shoot. I would give them a situation "you guys have just gone to see a band together, and are riding the tram home. Connor loved the band, Rach hated the band. Go!" and they would improvise for ten minutes. Banter and bullshit. And as soon as that banter felt real, we'd go back inside to shoot. Great fun.
And then there's Nick Nemeroff, the waiter. Nick's a friend of mine, a Canadian stand-up, and the role was supposed to be pretty limited. But Nick improvised a lot of absolute gold, and it all made it into the film ("grab a bristle" is all Nemeroff). Nick was so funny I ended up writing the character of George the Robot from my new film for him.
Tema: How long did this project take to get to its finished stage and how do you feel about the whole process of filming it all in Adelaide? Matt: I was writing the film for about 18 months before we started shooting. That seems crazy for a short film, but it goes through so many iterations and small projects are constantly being put on the back-burner, while you do your actual work as you wait for financing to fall into place. We shot for four days, and then post-production took a little over six months. We were super lucky to have Kojo on board, a local post-production and visual effects house, who did the film's amazing visual effects. The effects are subtle but it requires a huge amount of work to get to a point where you're not even thinking about it being an effect. The film actually premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival way back in 2015, and has spent a few years doing festivals around the world and sales overseas, including to Japanese TV! And we're now excited to having its YouTube premiere with Short Of The Week, so everyone can finally see it. Short films end up having a long and winding life.
Tema: How did you get involved with Short of the Week and can you please tell us a bit about that initiative? Matt: Short Of The Week is a curated site that hosts some of the world's best short films (now releasing more than one a week!). It's so important to find a partner to release your work with, rather than just trusting the viral internet gods to help people see your stuff. That never goes well. SOTW has got a dedicated audience who are passionate about shorts and we were super stoked when they selected our film to host on the site and on their YouTube channel. It's quite an honour!
Tema: How has COVID-19 impacted on your ability to roll out your works (including this film) for your audience? Matt: We were gearing up to travel to New York for the premiere of our new short at Tribeca, and then COVID-19 happened. It was obviously very disappointing, but of course the right decision, and in the grand scheme of the world, seemed like a very small problem to have. But, I think it's starting to hit home for everyone more and more that all of our plans and hopes for this year are going to have to be adjusted dramatically. Having said that, the lockdown has also highlighted how much people love storytelling, especially in stressful times (I've played a ton of The Witcher 3 on my Playstation, it's so good!). Stories keep us sane. It has also highlighted how lucky we are to have online platforms to share our work. Even 15 years ago, it would have been a lot tougher. But it's been fun focusing on finally launching CEILING online! I'm excited (and nervous) to be able to share it so widely all at once!
Tema: What are you hoping for the film and its ethos to resonate with your audience when they watch it as part of the Short of the Week initiative? Matt: The film is a little slice of very sincere, warm comedy. To be honest, I just hope people feel for the characters and enjoy the ride. It's escapism, but it's lovable escapism about real emotions. It's (literally) uplifting comedy, and I hope it provides a little spark of joy in a pretty trying time!
Tema: Why do you think it's important for people to support the arts? Matt: It's been completely heartbreaking losing things like theatre, live comedy, movie theatres and live music over the last few months, and I can't wait to have them back. We have all turned to books, television, and video games to help us get through this crazy time. We have all loved watching our favourite bands and singers stream live performances from their homes (not just actors pretending to be singers, we don't love that so much). Covid-19 has, if anything, brought into sharp relief how important art is to our lives. We've gotta fight to keep it alive, because it's truly what makes life worth living, I think. Art is everywhere.
Tema: Is there anything else that you'd like us to know about you and the film?
***Disclaimer: This response contains spoilers and is best read after viewing the film.***
Matt: On a low budget film, visual effects are often something you assume you won't be able to do unless you're one of those wunderkind Sam Raimi types. So, when I pitched a film about a levitating chair to my producers, I was expecting to be told to quit day-dreaming and go write something else but I remember, vividly, Sophie simply telling me "we'd work it out." And we did!
We worked closely with Marty Pepper at Kojo here in Adelaide, South Australia, who has an incredible team. Our Stunt Coordinator Reg Roordink and his rigger Clint Dodd set up a chair on wires that we could lift into the air, and then Marty and the Kojo team painted out those wires in post. Seems simple enough, but when they tell you they've had to rebuild Erin's denim jacket in 3D to create an accurate plate, you realise just how complicated an essentially invisible effect really is. Doing the stunt on the day was nerve-wracking for me particularly lifting Tom upside-down, 15 feet in the air and I was terrified about what this stupid idea I'd had years earlier had gotten us into. But our team was incredible, and there was definitely a moment on set where I sat back, looked at what was going on around me, and couldn't believe how lucky I was. It was REALLY HAPPENING! My ideas were REALITY!
We edited for so long with the wires still in, that when we saw the first completed shots, my mind exploded once again. We simply couldn't believe it - Erin and Tom were flying! VFX requires a dedicated team of hard-working, extremely skilled people but wow, it can be rewarding. My focus as a director, however, was always on character and performance and I'm really proud of how our VFX don't dominate the film, but (literally) lift those characters in such dynamic ways.