By Mark Morellini
Filmmaking may on the surface appear to be a glamorous and easily obtainable career, but realistically with the problems that plague the industry in Australia, developing a fulfilling livelihood in this field can be a long and daunting experience regardless of talent and perseverance.
Julian Shaw is an ambitious filmmaker who has managed to pave himself a successful career in this field. Born in New Zealand and raised in Sydney he attended AFTRS (Australian Film Television and Radio School) and has reached his goal, becoming an award-winning filmmaker.
His latest achievement is a documentary-style thriller, Use Me, seven years in the making from conception, to writing, directing and starring in. The film was produced on a micro-budget and won the grand jury prize at the 2019 Sydney Underground Film Festival, and also picked up an award for editing at the Brooklyn Film Festival.
“The film focuses on a documentary-maker who is named Julian Shaw who happens to be me, setting out to make this documentary about Ceara Lynch who is a world-famous online humiliatrix. She makes men’s fantasies come true; she humiliates them verbally through a webcam and they give her a lot of money. The film centers on me exploring her world and finding out that maybe she’s not as ethical as she presented herself to be.”
It’s very rare that actors use their real names in films, but Shaw explained that he returned to the documentary origins and liked the idea of playing with the perception of reality. “Is this really them? Is this a version of themselves? The way I look at it is it’s our dark sides. I’m not as sleazy and manipulative as I am in the film and I think I’m a more ethical filmmaker but that’s not interesting on-screen. So, I explored what would my dark side be? The whole concept was always going to be this mesh of real and unreal. Audiences will wonder – how real is this? Did some of this really happen?”
Use Me was filmed in Sydney, Las Vegas and Portland in the US and edited in Sydney, which Shaw was heavily involved in. But producing films in Australia is problematic. “I hate stating the obvious problem of financing. Funding has been cut for the arts. But what I think is different about the world now – because you can pick up your mobile and shoot a good-looking film on your phone – people want to see it before you’ve made it. You’d never have to cut a trailer before, but I shot stuff for this film and then cut a trailer even though I’d only shot 10% of the film at that point – I had to bring it to life.”
Shaw explained that independent filmmaking is a little easier in America. “I think there’s more of a history of it there. If they like the project people will jump in on it with deferred fees or low pay. I think there’s more of an indie film tradition in America.”
Use Me has screened cinematically in film festivals and at the Sydney film launch but has been released on non-cinematic platforms such as Fetch and Apple TV for audiences to watch in the privacy of their own homes.
“It’s how the world is now with streaming and all these other platforms. I truly believe in the cinema experience and it hasn’t gone away, I mean look how long it’s been here? To me, there’s nothing like the communal experience. We had theatrical screenings in Portland where you mobilise a niche audience, get them together for a screening or two and I think that works well. It’s hard to release a very small film in cinemas as people will say ‘we’ll catch it on iTunes’ and you have to embrace it as that’s just how it is. Honestly, whether it’s in a cinema or even on a mobile phone if people are watching my film and enjoying it, I’m happy as a filmmaker.”
The film was released in the US and trended on Amazon Prime with much discussion of the film on Twitter, which is probably the best mode of promotion. “It can go viral and people will share that around which is great because a film like ours is very dependent on word of mouth as it doesn’t have stars and it’s about a strange subject.”
Shaw is currently working on an online mini-series and a spinoff from Use Me which explores the whole world of femdom but from a more comedic perspective. He’s also auditioning for roles, having previously appeared in US-based series Portlandia and the blockbuster film San Andreas.
Ultimately where does Shaw see himself in 10 years?
“I see myself making bigger movies in the states and I would love to make more films in Australia. Streaming obviously is the present and the future so making stuff straight for streaming would be great and I can also see myself going back and forth between acting and directing.”
Now available to view on Apple TV, Fetch, Goggle Play, YouTube.