New Aussie musical bursts into song on the big screen.


Irreverent and satirical feature Emo The Musical has burst into song on the big screen, releasing in Australian cinemas on 4 May. 

Since winning a special mention at Berlinale in 2014, the coming of age high school musical has been adapted to a feature and expands on the blooming love between two contrasting characters, while touching on issues of self-identity and tolerance. Written and directed by Victorian filmmaker Neil Triffett and produced by fellow Victorian Lee Matthews, Emo The Musical was supported through Film Victoria's development and production programs and was one of six MIFF Premiere Fund films in 2016.  

Film Victoria chatted to Neil about his debut feature, his career and his future endeavours.

Emo The Musical develops the story of your short film of the same title. Was this the original plan or was this developed after the short won a Special Mention at Berlinale?

The short was simply intended to be a standalone piece that was different to anything I had tried before. However, I really fell in love with the characters and, while editing the short, began thinking about ways it could be developed into something bigger. When Screen Australia gave us completion funds to finish the short film, Lee Matthews, the film’s producer, sent me off into proper writing mode, and we had a rough draft by the time we were in Berlin. So the Special Mention at the Berlinale helped propel that draft into receiving development support from Screen Australia and later, Film Victoria.

Considering your filmography, Emo The Musical stands apart in style and genre. What inspired you to make a musical?

My shorts had been more serious in tone, dealing with social and class issues, but hopefully they always exploited humour and genre to look at issues differently. I think EMO is a continuation of that, the only difference being in how overtly humorous it is. The musical form allowed me to talk about ideas I was interested in but in a way that was accessible to audiences.

What’s the core message you’re aiming to get across with this movie?

EMO is a story of tolerance and accepting difference, but I’m always afraid saying that will give the impression the film is preachy or patronising. We cover an enormous amount of issues, from peer pressure, young love, homosexual oppression, the public school system, but the film works hard to keep the tone light and deliver its message in an entertaining way – even when some really screwed-up things are happening.

Can you talk us through your industry placement experience ? What did you gain during the process? How will it help you in your current and future endeavours?

I was lucky enough to get an attachment through Film Victoria and Every Cloud Productions on the TV show Newton’s Law. I shadowed three directors as they went through the process of directing their episodes and I was able to see how each worked. I focused a lot of my time in pre-production because that’s where I felt I’d gain the most insight into the TV process and see the director’s episode preparation. Having just finished EMO, it was a great chance to put my own process into perspective alongside other peoples, and go back to thinking about directing skills and communicating with crew. It’s opened up my understanding of the TV process, so I’m more prepared to tackle a TV project in the future.

Did you grow up aspiring to make films? Who were your role model filmmakers?

I grew up wanting to be an actor but was tricked into doing media by a crafty college teacher. When I got into VCA, I spent most of my time catching up to the films the other students had seen. I made a lot of short films trying to be Jane Campion. These days I gravitate towards filmmakers who mix tragedy with humour; Adam Elliot is always a go-to for pathos, and internationally I love Alexander Payne and Hal Ashby – Harold and Maude is my favourite movie.

What are you currently working on? What are your upcoming projects like?

I’m back writing and, despite how much I want to leave high school, I’m working on a black-comedy / horror set in a high school about a kid who tells lies. It’s kind of The Usual Suspects meets Lord of the Flies. I’m also developing a low-key sci-fi concept about beautiful people, which I hope will be in a presentable state soon. I’d love to do another musical but good musical ideas don’t rock up on your doorstep every day.

Do you have tips or advice for other young filmmakers?

I’m conscious I’ve been lucky, so I don’t want to give the impression it’s easy to get up a first feature. Making shorts helped me, and I always tried creating work that was different to that of others. You have to try and fail at a few things until something sticks, and should be aware of what other people are creating and how they’re doing it. Also, as a filmmaker whose path has been tied to that of a Producer (Lee Matthews produced my VCA short, the EMO short, and now the feature), I think it’s important to work with people whose skill sets are different from yours and can contribute in different ways, especially since the industry can seem so unfathomable when you’re first starting out. Any fellow-travellers can only benefit you.

Emo The Musical opens on 4 May 2017.