Sarah Cabanilla’s film ‘Three for Five’, produced by fellow JMC graduate Jordan Lowe recently won the judges and the people’s choice awards at the Sunshine Short Film Festival, walking away with $6000 prize money.
With a love for all things creative, but no idea where to take her passion, we sat down with Sarah to hear her story.
I've always wanted to be a writer. Since I was young, I've identified myself as a story-teller - whether it be through lyrics, song, script, film, art, novels - I've always been more drawn to the creative side of things.
For me, getting into film wasn't one of those sudden moments where you do something like watch a movie that changes your life, or have an unexpected epiphany. It was a very gradual process of realising a dream, turning the dream into a goal, and then turning the goal into a reality.
After high school finished, I felt a lot of pressure from my family to take on a practical, realistic job, but I still wanted to write and create, so I made the decision to go into journalism. In my mind, that was sort of the middle ground - it was practical, like my family wanted, but I still got to write. Eventually, though, I realised it wasn't something that made me happy. My cousin was already going to JMC, and after going to a screening of his film, he encouraged me to take a step towards film. At my old university, I had taken a film class, and it had opened my eyes up to how rewarding it is to study something that you actually love, so with this on my mind, coupled with my cousin's advice, I made the decision to change schools. It was this decision that helped me realise my passions. Opposition to the idea from other really gave me drive to just do what I wanted to do, rather than continuing to let outside forces define the way I wanted to live.
Film is the platform where I can express myself best - I was never good at writing lyrics, and I was average at drawing, and I had neither the patience or vocabulary for long-form novels - but with film, creating and expressing is so easy. Film combines all the creative things that I love, lets them tell their own individual stories, puts them together and creates something bigger.
My Journey Here
I got to create so much at JMC. For someone who's always had a passion in writing and film, dropping out of a major university and coming to a film school was probably the best decision of my life. I had room to grow creatively and so much time to create while studying there. My number one favourite thing about JMC though, was the fact that I got to meet so many like- minded individuals. Creating and learning alongside people who are on the same path as you is one of the most fulfilling things I could have asked for. It was very easy to fit in and find common ground - something I've had trouble in the past with - even amongst people who were completely different to me, personality wise. A lot of the people I met while studying are still people I work with to this day - and would like to keep on working with. Everybody is so different at JMC, but when you get to meet people with the same amount of drive, passion and ambition, it helps both you and your creations grow.
JMC is a really good school for the practial side of film - so camera work, editing, lighting, producing - the stuff that's really, really good if you want a technical job in the industry. I'm a person who leans towards the more creative side - I'd like to be a writer and director (but mainly a writer), so my favourite classes were the ones on theory. Screen Writing classes helped me learn and perfect structure, and Genre Studies, International Cinema and Pop Culture gave me a lot of insight on what goes on behind the minds of creators. My teacher Georgie really shaped the way I thought about writing, and the way I approach making film. Her classes gave me more understanding of how to tackle themes and stories with new perspectives, and opened up my mind to ideas and techniques I hadn't thought of before. I really got to learn about where my influences came from, and why I liked them so much. I think it's really important for creators - especially writers and directors - to learn film theory, because it can really increase your understanding on what makes a film good and what makes a film bad, outside of a technical mindset.
My Award-Winning Film
'Three for Five' is a light hearted short film about an unsociable fruit vendor, whose comfortable isolation is abruptly interrupted when unwanted company arrives in a broken-down car. It's a mix of drama and comedy, about friendship and empathy, that touches on race, identity and self-esteem.
I wanted to write a film for Tropfest - the theme that year was pineapples - so the idea came about when passing a fruit stand on the side of the road. I didn't end up writing it until after Tropfest had finished though, which worked out for the better, as I was able to write it without the restrictions of a theme.
When it comes to making shorts on an extremely limited budget, I like to write simple, character based stories where the drama comes from character development and character interactions rather than an event or the environment they face. This is where the concept came from - placing two characters in an isolated location is easy to film, but also a great starting point for conflict. The characters I wrote are based on exaggerated, clashing sides of my personality: I am cheery, loud and easily excited, but the other side of me is guarded, self-conscious and forever in the process of self-reflection. Stories of polar-opposites who have to learn how to get along are some of my favourites, because they are so human, but also can be super fun - and my overall goal is to write grounded films that also make people happy. This was kept in mind when writing 'Three for Five'.
I also wanted to touch on my identity and experiences as a Filipino-Australian, therefore grounding the basis of the film's conflict in the misunderstandings created by everyday racism. I wanted to show a relationship between the sceptical Australians who have been hurt by discrimination, and the Australians who have always meant well, but are still learning how to express it. My idea is that if we all just listened to each other, rather than trying to fight each other on minor offences and silly differences, then we could all finally understand where the other is coming from.
Winning was actually pretty shocking to us - we were so sure that we weren't going to take home anything, because some of the other films on the night were very well executed. Honestly, I'm still a little gobsmacked, but I'm also very grateful to the cast and crew, and over the moon that we have something like this under my belt. It's given me a lot of encouragement to keep writing and keep creating.
We decided that we would split a portion of the prize money amongst the cast and crew. The rest would be used to host a screening, and film some more stuff. I have an idea for a TV show pilot that I would like to make, and now that we have a budget that's over $500, it finally feels like something achievable.
My main advice would be to create as much as you can while you're studying. Once you finish school, you have to start worrying about finances and jobs and funding, and all of the other adult stuff that you don't really have to focus on while you're at school. While you have the resources available to you, do as much as you can. Write all the stuff you can write, make all the stuff you can make, and use your teachers to help you perfect your craft.
Don't take their mentor-ship for granted - its something you will realise is very valuable after you finish studying. Right now, there are no teachers to guide me, and a lot of the time I wish that I had asked more questions and taken more notes. Also, please don't undervalue the classes on theory. They really helped me understand how to write characters, how to apply more meaning to plot lines, and how to avoid exposition and cliches. I have a firm grasp on theme, and am able to understand and take from international films without needing subtitles. They really expand your film world from what you know, and from what you think you know, to incorporate new influences, ideas and ways of thinking that can better your work. Also, meet as many people as you can, from other classes, trimesters and departments. The friends you make can end up being your life long colleagues
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