Film Grad, Simone McGennisken wanted to try something new...

So, she decided to re-write her major project 'Copy Boy' into a stage musical for the 2019 Short and Sweet Festival. We caught up with Simone to find out a little bit more about the differences between shooting for screen and shooting for stage and how working closely with actors during her course helped build the skills to make it possible. We also had a chat about some other new, fun projects that she has been working on...

Tell us a bit about ‘Copy Boy – The Musical’.

Copy Boy was my directorial stage debut for the Short and Sweet Festival; an annual competition that hosts 150 x 10-minute plays over 8 weeks. I decided to get involved to broaden my directing experience and try working with theatre actors, the stage, and live lighting/sound cues for the first time. Since growing up with a strong background in music I asked the festival director if there were any musical scripts available and ended up submitting my own work Copy Boy.

You wrote, directed, and composed this production which is a massive accomplishment.  Where did the idea for ‘Copy Boy’ come from and how long did it take to go from an idea to being on stage?

Interestingly enough Copy Boy The Musical was actually my Major Project in 2014. I wrote and shot it with a great group of people but due to script issues, the story didn’t quite hold up in the edit room. So when the opportunity arose to try this story a second time I jumped at the chance. The music in the short was always good, but I ran out of time to perfect the script with all of the logistical problems of shooting a screen musical – choreography, writing music according to the singer’s vocal range, creating a shot list for a dance sequence, lighting for movement, re-writing lyrics for story, the list seemed never-ending. So by the time Short and Sweet came around, I was quite confident this would be a much smaller workload since I no longer had to work with cameras, and the script was 80% done. Turns out all of those logistical issues are replaced with different ones for the theatre - I spent 5 months on the stage version and we were still changing things after opening night. I think as long as you keep your ears open to constructive feedback and allow your fellow creatives to collaborate with you, you’ll learn everything you need to. I can’t say I didn’t come out of this experience without a bruised ego.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced whilst putting this production together?

Similar to my film school experience, it’s very difficult to run a project of this size essentially alone. I had an amazing choreographer that took a huge amount of the workload but at the end of the day I had to organise 8 people’s timetables to fit into a weekly rehearsal schedule, re-write the script to a play, change the songs to suit the new singers, write new songs because some of the short film ones no longer applied, arrange a rehearsal space, advertise all of our publicity which included shooting and editing a promo, learn how to write a technical script and decide on the live lighting cues, record all the music and sound cues and IT GOES ON AND ON. I have to say though, the hardest part was definitely teaching music and dialogue changes, then making more changes immediately after rehearsal, then teaching THOSE changes at the following rehearsal. It was a constant cycle that didn’t stop until our second last performance. 

As part of the cast is 2018 acting grad Linda Chong. What was it like working with a fellow JMC Alumni?

We had over 40 actors/singers/dancers apply for Copy Boy and our decision-making came down to vocal and acting ability, and Linda was such a stand-out for us. She has this dynamite voice that bleeds with soul and pain, but the way she speaks is so soft and sweet. I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped when she started her audition! She treated our unpaid production professionally from start to end, contributed creatively, and really went the extra mile to make her role stand out. I had so many people ask about her after each show which is a testament to how hard she works. Linda's not one to rely solely on talent to get by, it's honestly her work ethic that ultimately impressed me the most. 

What other projects have you been working on besides ‘Copy Boy’?

In September 2017 I directed and DOP’d a short documentary in Thailand which Michelle St Claire and I are now editing. In June 2018 I came on board as director for a web series called Chikas - a comedy about two high-achieving Eurasian women ditching the corporate world to pursue the creative arts - which just had a huge launch party at the Golden Age Cinema. I think diverse casting is incredibly important and I really enjoyed being able to incorporate my own cultural experiences into a show.  My next project is probably going to be a vampire musical podcast. For now, however, I need sleep. 

How do you think JMC prepared you to take on such a big project like ‘Copy Boy’?

Shooting the short film version was to this day one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The school taught me so much about discipline, that you get out what you put in, and that organising the logistical side of filmmaking (pre-production) is just as important as your production week. Without the prior opportunity and experience to put together a musical with JMC, I’m certain Copy Boy wouldn't have come together the way it did for the theatre festival.

What advice would you give anyone thinking about studying film?

If you’re obsessed with storytelling and you can’t bear the thought of living a life where you don’t get to create content, if you’re prepared to work 7 days a week doused in copious cups of coffee and fight for your stories to be heard, then film is the greatest thing you’ll ever become a part of. It’s fulfilling, it’s cathartic and so, so, so much more fun than a desk job.

See 'The Making of Copy Boy' video below!