Journey of making ‘Ward of State’ – part 1

ward of state by Bob Dobson


 PART 1 – From funding rejections to a Pozible Campaign.

Jump back to the end of September/ beginning of October this time last year. I had just received 3 Arts funding rejections to make the Ward of State dance film. Back then the project focused on the story of the girl rather than considering the story of her parents, and I had planned to make it in Melbourne rather than Brisbane. Rather than doing the usual thing that I do – which is to do more funding applications to try to make the project, I decided I needed to address some health concerns.

Over the year, (2012) I’d been experiencing a lot of pain that had been increasing painful. I was taking a lot of painkillers to get though the day. I guess I was just trying to keep up the rat race of what I do. It has been said that dance training builds high pain thresholds. But by the time I took myself into hospital, my appendix had burst before they could remove it, and there was a few other nasty things found too. Needless to say, October to December was pretty much a write off with two hospital stays (6 days, and then back in for 10 days), and a few months recovery at home. As the doctor said, my case was the worst he’d seen in a surviving person. He said I was very lucky to still be alive. I wasn’t going to dispute that.

Here’s a photo of a drawing that I sketched at the hospital showing my perception of time there (sense of humor in tact). I used this drawing on a thank you card that I gave the doctor. It was probably the strangest card he’d ever received, but he had a sense of humor thankfully.



I was also allowed out of hospital in time to attend my showing of my Pulse Dance Film at the Brisbane Powerhouse in late November. I had joked that I’d be sporting my hospital gown, cannula, drip and doc martens if necessary. But thankfully that wasn’t the case. Pulse was nominated for an Australian Dance Award and made the final four shortlisted nominations in the dance film category. I attended the Awards in Canberra this year, which was a very exciting event to attend. For me, it was significant to have been shortlisted among some of the most respected people involved in dance in Australia.

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Pulse was a creative development that I made at the Brisbane Powerhouse in May 2012 with support from a small grant from Ausdance Qld.  The idea sort of just sprung to life as we made it.

What started out as an idea to redevelop some movement and record it, grew into a artistically shot piece. My brother Grant Marshall and his partner Jane Wallace kindly came on board to help.  Grant and Jane watched the piece choreographed in the space, listened to my ideas and then made suggestions. It was shot it on their 5D and 7D cannons.

Informed by images of the Brisbane Powerhouse when it functioned as an industrial power station,  the dancers, movement and costuming were all inspired by these old images that I researched.  I particularly liked the photos of the  turbines, and the sleek mechanical look of  the powerstation.

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Dancers were: Libby McDonnell, Miranda Zeller and Anthony Trojman.

Making Pulse was definitely was an interesting process and ignited my interest in making dance films inspired by history and/or from building with interesting history. I realised how much I enjoyed researching spaces, and how much of thrill it is to explore a building. I also learned how important it was to learn to edit my own work – as a part of the choreographic process. Jane Wallace and Grant Marshall encouraged me to do this, and gave me some pointers and tuition. My plan from here was to continue to edit my projects and to develop these skills on each subsequent project (with someone to mentor me or guide me if need be).

You can view a cut down of Pulse here: Pulse cut down


In August 2012, I made Vault at the Old Museum building in Brisbane. Again, the project was a result of research into the building and its history. Vault was definitely a step up from Pulse in terms of time and planning, and looking at it from a short film development project rather than worked out on the day. However, it was still quite simple – being contained within the one location.


Dancers: Michelle Barnett, Jake Kuzma, Matthew Nguyen, Frances Hannaway, David Jimenez.

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3rd Dance Film:

After making Pulse and Vault, I knew that the 3rd dance film was going to be a bigger step up. When I had the idea to make a dance film about a girls who were wards of the state, (after researching my family history and visiting Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne) Film director Sarah-Jane Woulahan was the first call. Sarah-Jane ‘s area of interest is narrative films, and she also very much like period pieces (particularly from the 1930’s and 1940’s).  But given the funding rejections in 2012, and my health, the Ward of State project was pretty much shelved. I thought it would be something that I would come back to in 2014 or 2015.

Deciding to focus on live work – Slowdive

I needed to reduce my workload for the sake of my health. So I decided to just focus on one major project for 2013 – to remount my Slowdive (immersive live dance work about nightclubs ). I planned to remount this in September 2013, and planned to time it with some other industry events occurring then. Unfortunately Slowdive was not successful in being included in the programs I’d hoped, but I was still determined to remount it because there was a demand for it.  I had also spent quite a lot of time editing footage of the original Slowdive footage – to use for promotional and remount purposes.

Initially Slowdive was going to be presented in a nightclub until the Brisbane Powerhouse became an option as a potential venue. My preference was the Powerhouse for many reasons. This was a bit of a waiting game, and unfortunately, the Brisbane Festival had first jibs on the Brisbane Powerhouse.  So when the Brisbane Festival decided they wanted the venue, it meant going back to the nightclub location options that I had originally penciled dates with. However, a long string of let downs continued and even the previously negotiated nightclub venues closed their doors to me. Despite my best efforts, every avenue failed. I was frustrated as time was running out. I had dancers flights booked and fees negotiated.  Was I worried? Yes!


My instinct was to hold off on the Slowdive show and bring the next project in the pipeline forward. And the next project was the Ward of State dance film.


There was 3 major problems and risks with making the last minute decision of ceasing production on Slow Dive and moving into Ward of State:

1: The film was going to cost about twice the amount of remounting the live work SlowDive.

2: I had a very short time frame to fund raise it and

3. The development time would have to cross into the fundraising time. This is without a doubt the biggest “don’t” for anyone with any form of common sense. It was a huge risk to take. But I had to give it a go, and give it my best.

Pozible Campaign:

A lot of people told me I wouldn’t succeed in reaching the fundraising target. Some said I’d not be able make the project with such a short preproduction timeframe. But the dancers originally engaged to do SlowDive believed I’d be able to make it happen. As the Pozible campaign continued, it became evident that it wasn’t just the cast and crew who wanted to see the project happen. There was tremendous support from friends, family, industry, peers, audiences of my live work, and a few people I didn’t even know. The experience of the campaign had some  highs and lows. The suspense of reaching the target, some scary days with no contributions, some day some incredible surprises with large amounts of support from out of the blue were all a part of the rollercoaster ride. People would often share their personal stories. That was very special. I was elated that the Pozible target was met a week before the deadline, and that it even exceeded the amount.

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