Our latest ‘FOCUS ON’ feature interview is with Australian Writer, Director, Actress Clare McCann. McCann talks to us exclusively about her latest project Benefited.
Hi Clare, thanks for chatting with us today.
Thank you for your time. It’s lovely to connect with you today.
Can you please tell us a bit about your latest movie Benefited?
Benefited is a drama that centres around three main characters. Dity [Clare McCann], who has just learned she is pregnant but to a past abusive love, Will [Cristian Borello], who is only 15 but is already learning how to break into houses, and Ray [Ryan Bown], who wants to overcome his violent past so that he can become a father. Benefited is set in Australia and is a compelling nonlinear story looking at issues our community and the world are facing now in epidemic proportions. Benefited deals with domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and the lack of safe housing support available from those trying to escape these situations.
What prompted you to write this script?
I wanted to generate more awareness about adolescents and young adults’ issues in an attempt to enact societal change. Statistics of domestic violence, drug, and alcohol abuse were increasing at alarming rates. I had heard too many stories and experienced too many things to ignore the problem and not try to do something to change it.
You wrote, directed and starred in the film what was it like juggling the three roles?
I’d written, directed, and starred in theatre and short film productions before, but doing it for a feature film was a dynamic learning experience where I got to hone my skills, balancing each creative role. I love each part of each role and relished the opportunity to see my complete vision come to life.
Taking on three roles and working with such heavy subject matter, did you find it was easier or more challenging to move between the roles on set?
It’s definitely more of a challenge than just rocking up to set with your acting preparation done and waiting for the call of action. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t as much fun though – I rather enjoyed the lack of waiting around on set as I was always busy doing something; Whether it was helping set up the scene, signing off on off hair and makeup, prepping an actor or watching back a shot. At the end of every day, I’d be totally drained, but with some sleep, a nice coffee, and a great team behind me, I was ready to go again each new day.
Another crucial crutch was planning to leave the most emotionally and physically charged scenes to the end of the day wherever possible.
What do you hope audiences take from your film Benefited?
I sincerely hope that anyone suffering from any facet of domestic violence reaches out for help and gets free from that situation. I hope the warning signs are made clear for victims of abuse and those around them.
With everything happening regarding the pandemic, research indicates this is a time where domestic abuse can be most prevalent. Your film shines a light on domestic abuse and other societal issues. Based on your knowledge and experiences, how can a greater community respond to this issue?
I’m a firm believer that there is a significant problem with how government housing is operating. Government housing is essentially creating ghettos lumping all their properties in one area, often with numerous apartment complexes. Government housing is made available to people who are struggling after surviving domestic violence, battling mental issues, living with disabilities, or being released from prison. Sending a survivor of domestic violence into a struggling community like this is not a safe and supportive situation from someone recovering from the effects of abuse. Survivors need a support network around them that inspires them to live and live better. In certain parts of Europe, there are some excellent housing support systems where one house in each street and one apartment in each complex is made available to someone who requires housing support. I believe the aforementioned European method is a much more positive and effective way to help integrate vulnerable people back into the community. Doing things in this way would reduce crime and the cycle of abuse that is only picking up pace. The most shocking of all is that countless housing shelters are full and that women and children escaping violent situations often are made to enter a share house filled with recovering drug addicts and recently released criminals. How can we encourage someone to leave their abusive partner when to them it looks like they are jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and that it’s better the devil they know.
Another way we can help is to be aware and have a zero-tolerance policy to anyone showing signs of controlling someone in their relationship.
Tell us a bit about the filming process, from casting, to filming on location?
We spent about 4 weeks in casting and filmed around 30 days across 4 months. We shot in Western Sydney right in the heart of a government housing ghetto area and on a large property in Scotland Island.
You’re working with a talented cast and crew, putting forth a topic that is incredibly serious what did you as a group undertake to put yourselves in the headspace to tackle the topic?
The entire cast and crew of Benefited were amazing people who each were really passionate about the subject matter. Each day, each scene, we’d take a look at the space and the paper and get to the heart of what the reality of this was and what artistic mediums were available to us that we could use to translate this moment best. Every day, everybody brought it, and you’d look around the room, and everyone shared the passion. We all had this purpose for being there, and it was quite profound to be a part of it. Ryan Bown (who plays Ray) and I, along with stunt choreographer assistant Scottie Witt spent time training for the physically violent scenes.
Whenever I felt tired, I only needed to google the latest statistics or news stories to find a heap of passionate energy to carry on with.
What was your most memorable moment on set?
Being in a scene with my son Atreyu was my most memorable moment. He was only 5 at the time and practised so very much for it. He did so well, and I was so proud of him, afterwards he caught the acting and filmmaking bug. He was calling out “quiet on set”, “sound rolling”, and “action” for weeks, ever since he’s made a bunch of his own little movies and been cast in a TV series and a couple of commercials. It’s nice to share this passion of ours together and we nerd out on films all the time.
If you could describe the film in three words, what would they be?
Beautiful. Ugly. Danger.
We’re quite passionate about the creative arts in Australia and the importance of boosting it. What are your views on the significance of creative arts during schooling and furthering it as a career?
I think greater importance and support needs to be offered to students from lower socio-economic areas. I think it’s a mistake that formal drama studies aren’t focused on in schools until grade 9. Drama helps people find the confidence to be who they want to be; I was always the performing arts nerd and feel like it helped me in many facets of my life. If you want to take an arts career seriously, you need to work your way up and strongly advise university education.
Who or what inspires you?
Selfless passion and dedication to doing something well inspires me. Being a voice for someone unheard is one of the most important things a person can do. Overcoming pain and trauma and finding the strength to be kind and patient are qualities I admire and resonate to.
What advice do you have for filmmakers, writers and anyone trying to get their story across in the entertainment industry?
Invest in yourself, invest in your education; if you invest in yourself, people will better recognise the value in your voice. Take in all the constructive feedback, but at the end of the day, hold true to your vision. If this is what you love to do, do it for free until you become so good at it that you are inundated, and then you will find people will want to pay you for it, and then one day, you’ll be able to charge whatever you like for it.
Are you working on any other projects?
I have been pottering away on some unique and significant historical drama feminist pieces. A feature, The May Queen, a TV series, A Go Go, and another Irish story I cannot yet mention are stories that the world is going to love and are each about to go into pre-production with some world-class teams.
What do you hope to explore next?
I have a feminist historical drama saga I am working towards. I have recently been developing this project in a Sundance lab. It’s a powerful historical moment that every female needs to be aware of.
Thank you so much for your time Clare.
Thank you for taking an interest in Benefited, and remember to be gentle to yourselves and each other.
Benefited is available on demand from the 28th of August 2020 on Google Play, Fetch TV, Prime Video, Xbox Video & Youtube Movies. Visit http://www.cherryproductions.net for more information.
There’s no place for Domestic Violence. Help is here: Contact 1800 737 732 1800RESPECT.ORG.AU