Journey of Making “Ward of State” – part 4

Ward of State Post-Production to Premiere

Following the shooting of the film there’s a huge section of making a film which includes post production elements such as:

Editing, sound design, foley, composition of the score, recording the score, the sound mix, colour grading, conversion to DCP format, poser design, printing, distribution, promotion of the screening, ticketing the premiere, testing the DCP, and showing up with a few hours sleep to the premiere.

  Jane Wallace and the edit: 

Initially my plan was to edit the film myself, like Pulse, because editing dance is essentially another choreographic layer. The person who edited the film must understand dance. When I realised that I was going to be too busy with my live work SlowDive occurring at APAM, and that the scale of Ward of State was significantly greater than my little film “Pulse”, I decided to hand the project over to Jane Wallace.

Jane Wallace was a former full time Tanya Pearson classical ballet student, who later trained in Germany before going to QUT to pursue contemporary dance.  Jane eventually moved into editing and into graphic design. Jane edits a lot of commercial film, and she also mentored me when cutting Pulse (my first dance film development first project at the Brisbane Powerhouse).

The edit was a massive job – 250 hours plus. I would visit Jane weekly to see how things were progressing. We would make a few changes and Jane would keep going until our next meeting. I learnt a lot from watching Jane edit and the creative decisions she made in weighing up which shots to choose (eg, best cinematographic shots versus best choreographic/ movement shots)

 Susan Hawkins and the score:

In the beginning stages, Susan played me some of her work that she thought I might like the vibe of for the film. I worked with some of the compositions as background “vibe’ of choreography, but I deliberately did not want to choreograph to anything specific initially.

Jane and Susan worked in an interwoven way. There is no dialogue in Ward of State. Because it was not choreographed to any music, and because we were recording sound on set, all of the movement was performed in silence.

This meant that every take was slightly different in pace and Jane had to find a rhythm in her edit from the movement (another reason why the editor needed to be a dancer). At about the same time Susan started composing to Jane’s edit in progress, but not locking down the exact pace.

Where footage had not been edited, Susan would use the wide shot to take her music cues from, however it was more handy for her to work with the cut version so she could emphasise certain sounds in the score to match how closely the movement was cut.  Susan would sometimes then move into composing the next section and then Jane would actually cut to the music. It was a collaborative process that worked in both ways, and that is definitely unique to dance film.

Collusion Music Australia and Jonas Hill:

Collusion Music Australia played Susan’s composition, which was recorded and mixed by Jonas Hill and then handed over ready for the final found mix. But the Foley, and atmosphere had to also be added.

Sound Design: Sound design was an eye opener, but I learnt so much about sound in the final stages of Ward of State. Sound is essentially half of the film. The score was sounding great, but it’s a dance film, and it also required all the film aspects such as Foley, and atmosphere.

When you make a dance film (or even a regular film) it’s not just about marrying the dancing and cinematography. The other important ingredient is sound. Under the umbrella of sound there three very important things to include. I have to thank my brother (who is a film director) for his mentorship here.

1. The score We had that under control to a point, but as I mentioned above, as Jane’s edit changed (using sections from various takes), the score also needed to change. This worked both ways as Susan would compose a section, and Jane would try to cut to the score, but then a change in the edit would see a change to the score. It was  a collaboration between the editor, and composer in this regard.

2. Foley Sounds of actual things occurring such as the sound of the dancer hitting the floor when they fall, or the sound of the curtain dropping. This is a whole job on its own. Three weeks prior to the premiere of the film (the week of my show Flaunt), the person who was engaged to do the sound design decided it was not for him to do, and left me with a USB with just a hand full of recordings. I tried to find someone to pick the job, but there was not enough time, so I had to learn quickly!

Using sound from “in-camera” and from my iPhone! Every sound was layered into Final Cut Pro. The meant editing out the sounds of talking on set, and matching the live in-camera sound from camera 2. The main camera did not record sound. I also had to access the sounds recorded on my iPhone – which I recorded for reference of choreography! It was strange because at the time, I had a hunch that I would need to use these files for reference, but I certainly didn’t think it would be for doing the sound design myself. I ended up actually using some of the sounds I recorded on my phone because the quality of the microphone is better than in the film camera. However, there were still sections where I had no sound to reference. Rehearsal footage did not sound realistic, so that meant trying to re-create the sounds. I was out of my league here.

Re-creating the dance for Foley with Kara. I had been recommended to work with a Foley artist called Kara who came over to Mill Street Studios and recorded the dancers performing the movement. It had been many months since the shoot, and the dancers would have to re-learn the choreography. Furthermore, lead dancer Richard Causer had been back in London for many months at this point, so dancer Gabe Comerford kindly offered to learn Richard’s movements. Fortunately, Libby McDonnell was in Brisbane, and Libby and Gabe re-in enacted some scene while we recorded the sound in 5.1 digital and 2.1 with Kara. We had a few laughs over this process as Gabe did his best to impersonate Richard (even down to his voice).

3. Atmos: All films require atmosphere to enhance the mood in places. This is not left to the composer or to the Foley artists. It needs to be done by the sound designer. I had to be that person. I was able to access a database with lots of available atmos. From here these were layered into my timeline, and listened to it over and over again as I tweaked it. The project at this stage then looked like this:

Final Mix The final stage was the final mix which occurred at Cutting Edge in Brisbane as i needed to have the sound professionally mixed and mastered. That meant setting the levels of the score, Foley, and Atmos. At Cutting Edge, they also fixed the placement and treatment of some of the sounds I had layered in, and placed effects on certain sounds.

We re- recorded some of the sounds that didn’t sound right including the “slops” sounds of the meals the convent girls ate. Rosco’s left over curry was perfect to achieve these sounds.The final master was exported at 24fps and 25fps because I was going to need both frame rates for the film.

Colour grade:

Before the edit and sound could be put together, the final edit had to be colour graded. Colour grading is the process of altering and enhancing the colour of a motion picture, video image, or still image, electronically, photo-chemically or digitally. This is to ensure that the entire film has the right tones, and that shot colours and depths match up. For example, the range of depth of blacks might be increased, or a particular hue removed.  This is very involved process of colouring every shot selected. There was over 1000 edits in the 30-minute film and took about 3 or 4 days.

The DCP: A Digital Cinema Package (DCP) is a collection of digital files used to store and convey digital cinema audio, image, and data streams. A DCP is the digital equivalent of a 35mm film print.  It is what you give to a commercial theatre so that they can screen your movie on a digital (also known as “D-Cinema”) projector. Like a 35mm print, a DCP is a worldwide standard.  If you walk into any D-Cinema theatre, anywhere in the world, they can play your DCP without a problem.

Once the DCP is created, it takes time to be “ingested” into the cinema’s projector, so I had to take it to the cinemas a week before the screening because checking it is crucial. Things can go wrong. Fortunately, all was good for the Ward of State DCP.

Screening Ward of State: As expected, there was a lot to organise for the screening. It was much like inviting people to a live show, with a longer list of people to include on the complimentary list. Jane Wallace designed the posters and premiere screening special poster, and we had them printed and distributed. Tickets were sold through try booking. Most were free tickets, but the sales supported the cost of the hire of the theatre for the two screenings.

Adam Tucker hosted the event as well as a brief Q&A at the conclusion of the film. As always, he did an amazing job. Most of the cast was present, as were most of the crew and team.


Over 300 people attended the premiere with 200 in the first screening at 7pm (capacity) and 100 people in the second screening at 8:30 on the 10th of December 2014 at the New Farm Cinemas. Some of my family members (who I had never met) but that who I had connected with through making the project surprised me by attending.  It was very exciting for everyone involved to see the final product.

Recently “CinéWomen” (made comments on Ward of State saying: We have been really impressed with your dance film, and we appreciate the way you capture subtle, unconscious emotional reactions, as well as your refined cinematography and choreography reminding us of Pina Bausch’s Die Klage der Kaiserin.”

The next step was to submit the film into some Dance film festivals and see how it would fare.


Journey of making ‘Ward of State’ – part 2

The journey of making Ward of State

PART 2 – Research and development of the idea.

In June 2012, I visited the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne.  It was suggested it as a potential location for the ‘next project’ by someone who knew I like old buildings.


I’m a terrible photographer, but here are photos I took on my phone when i visited… just to give a sense of the space.

IMG_1997Abbotsford Convent was definitely an eerie place. I was given a guided tour of various parts of the convent , which is now mostly in use by artists and community groups. I wasn’t interested in the newly refurbished spaces, but rather in the older parts that were decaying and that smelt old and musty.


I didn’t know that much about the history of the space when I visited. It wasn’t until I did more research that I became aware of some things that had happened to children at the Abbotsford Convent when it functioned as a convent and industrial school. You can read more about that here:


“The Victorian Government estimates that more than 100,000 children were placed in institutional or foster care in Victoria between 1928 and 2003 and over half of these children were made wards of the State… A large number of Victorian State Wards have experienced ward-ship that has had a profound influence on their health, well-being and disconnection from their families”

 “Most were not orphans. They were removed from their families when poverty, parental separation or neglect resulted in family breakdown, or because their parents were not married, or because they were deemed by social workers and police to be in ”moral danger'”.   – Kate Gaffney – The Age October 29, 2009.


Strange timing:

Strangely timed, the week that I visited Abbotsford, my Mum and her cousin Judith, who have been doing research into our family genealogy, had learnt that my Nan’s Grandmother “Sarah” was a ward of the state in Victoria in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Judith had found the records of Sarah and her brother John. This is Sarah’s record which commenced from 1864 (when she was 8 years old) and details where she were stationed and information about her “sentence”:


sarah buckland3 copy


Victoria had no legislation relating to the ‘care’ of ‘neglected’ children until 1864. Before this date, under the Criminal Law (Infants) Act 13 Vic., No.21 1849, children could be assigned by the Supreme Court to persons willing to undertake their ‘maintenance and education’. The Immigrants’ Aid Society was responsible for the ‘care’ of hundreds of ‘neglected’ children before the 1864 Neglected and Criminal Children Act came into being.

Sarah had spent her childhood in numerous convents and institutions in Victoria (including Princes Bridge mentioned below). Given the timing of this discovery and my visit, I became more interested in making work around this subject matter.

The Immigrants Home was the name early colonists gave to ramshackle buildings on either side of St Kilda Road at Princes Bridge. Over time, the Immigrants Home came to serve a similar function to an English workhouse, operating a night shelter, convalescent hospital and providing shelter for deserted wives, single mothers, and the disabled and ‘neglected’ children. In 1865, conditions at the buildings at Princes Bridge were very poor and unsuitable. An Inquiry described the buildings as ‘crumbling into decay, infested with bugs and so dried up that a single spark might execute a conflagration…’


A lengthy sentence:

I didn’t realise how much like a prison sentence Sarah’s records read (and all children who were wards of the state for that matter). Although the children had nothing to be sentenced for, and had done nothing wrong (neither had their parents in so many cases too), but many were raised to feel as if they had done something wrong – like criminals. This was often reinforced by the institutions where they were placed. But in many of  the worst cases, it was the  institutions, and people who were supposed to care for the children who displayed the criminal behaviour toward the children. In my wider research, I looked at many stories and examples. This is one of the more disturbing stories that I read:

For most children, the  social stigma of being a ward of the state had long lingering ramifications later in life. For a girl to want to become a nurse (in the case of my Nan’s sister), if you were a ward of the state, it was simply not permitted. And that is ridiculous.

In many ways being a ward of the state was similar to having a prison sentence or criminal record. Through my research I’ve learnt that things that a child could become a ward of the state were:

  • Following the death of parents or guardian
  • Following divorce and the mother could not afford to support to care for them
  • On the advice of a local community member (or neighbor)
  • Brought here against their will by extended family members
  • As protection against a family member
  • After having a child out of wedlock
  • If parents were imprisoned
  • For loitering
  • For vagrancy (living in poverty without employment)
  • Children of parents who failed to keep a tidy house
  • For being too attractive and considered at risk of being taken advantage of
  • If over developed for their age & considered at risk of being taken advantage of
  • New migrants would leave their children in institutions whilst they got on their feet
  • They were children of mixed race parents

 I wondered why Sarah was a ward of the state. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Sarah’s brother’s records stated that their mother was in Pentridge Prison, noting ‘a lengthy sentence’.

In February and March I made two visits to Melbourne. One was to continue my research into my family history at the Public Records Office in Victoria, and the other was to attend Dance Massive. I continued to do research while in Melbourne, and I spent a few days at the Public Records office of Victoria looking at the female prison records, trying to find out who Sarah’s mother was.  Some progress was made with that research, but that’s a whole blog in itself.


Old Maps

1871 map

Maybe I have watched The Goonies too many times, but in wanting to know more about my Nan’s grandmother Sarah, I found an old map of Melbourne in the 1870’s and found the street where she had lived for a short while. The reason for the old map was that the cross section of streets no longer exists, so I had to find an older map. The first map I found was an 1850’s map, but it didn’t even have the street drawn in yet. However I found a map from 1871 that had the streets shown as existing (above). It was exciting to spend some time walking around Melbourne and trying to find the street where she was listed as living and to imagine life back then. I have to admit, it was all pretty hard to imagine. A DeLorean with a flux capacitor (fluxing) would have been much easier.

Photo above: the old 1971 map. Photo below: me on my expedition (yes, i used the old map to find the location, rather than an iphone).



Closer to home:

My experience of visiting Abbotsford Convent, and later researching Abbotsford played on my mind a lot. Initially I was interested in my Great Great Grandmother’s life as a starting point for the film, and Abbotsford Convent seemed like an ideal location, especially given the reaction I had to the space there. But as I mentioned in the previous blog, I wasn’t successful in any of the submissions to make the project happen, but I’d kept developing the Ward of State project (in my head anyway), and my research continued.

Closer to home, and not as far back in time, I knew that my grandmother (who I called Nan) had been raised as a ward of the state in Queensland in the 1930’s. It was quite strange that my Nan’s grandmother had been a ward of the state too. But my Abbotsford visit led me to wonder about my Nan’s time as a ward of the state. It was something she didn’t talk about. The ramifications for her and her sisters lasted a lifetime. I also researched the street when my Nan lived before she was a ward of the state. And that was in West End in Brisbane. So much closer to home, and very surreal to think about.

Paralleling this, my ideas for the dance film were evolving to be more about the story of the parents of the girl. I started considering why my Nan’s parents (Emily and Charles) were not able to look after their children/ and why my Nan and her two older sisters were taken. This significantly impacted on the development of the story. I also became interested looking at thing from both sides of the story –  from the children’s perspective, as well as questioning what must have been going on for the parents. I made a few interesting discoveries with researching my Nan’s father Charles Thyer, which I blogged about in an earlier post here:

Compared to my Nan’s father’s story, what I have learned of my Nan’s mother was definitely more tragic and ties in a lengthy struggle with mental illness after the event of her children being taken, which may have existed before that.  Sadly, Emily (my Nan’s mother, ie. my great grandmother) died in the late 1950’s in Toowoomba’s Baillie Henderson Hospital. My Mum recently shared the records she obtained a few years ago. It was a very surreal thing to read, and I felt very sad for Emily.

I wondered how differently things would have been for Emily today with so much more support and understanding of mental illness. To put things into perspective, this is an interesting link about Mental Health in the 1930’s.


Secrets of the past can’t escape Google.

Even the deceased can’t escape the era of modern digitisation! A search on can produce some interesting results. I found some newspaper clippings detailing accidents reported of my Nan’s sisters. The clippings I found suggest that neglect may have been a factor.  But then again, the incidents may have been just typical childhood accidents. But maybe the fact that the two accidents reported had occurred quite close together, as well as the injuries being quite significant, suggests that neglect was the case. That was somewhat sad to contemplate.

I started creating character profiles for Emily and Charles, trying to understand what went wrong. But just like trying to imagine like in the 1870’s, I also found it hard to imagine life in the 1930’s. It’s not that far back. They were just like us, but society was different. There were different attitudes towards lots of things – particularly mental illness.

While I fail to understand the reasons that things happened in the case of my grandmother’s parents, research and other people’s personal stories infiltrated the development of the script. It didn’t seem right to base the entire story on people when I didn’t have the entire facts or know the full story. It’s a bit unfair on them. Below: discoveries of above mentioned news clippings on the site. It was quite an interesting but sad thing to read these because my family has never really had any conclusive information about why my Nan and her two sisters were taken. I wasn’t sure about posting these. But given things were never spoken about back in the day, and  that I’m making a film based on the subject matter, I think it’s an important discovery to mention.


violet thyer 30 december 1927 courier mail copy Violet thyer accident wednesday 16 may 1928

Other peoples stories and additional research:

Adding to this was the continued research with some people sharing their stories. This continued to impact on the project right through to when we were shooting.  And there were also some really valuable resources on the internet and links that were recommended by people. Here are some that were particularly valuable in my research:

The time researching and developing the idea definitely resulted in richer story with greater depth of the characters than if I’d created the project in 2012. All the above research had been simmering away in my mind, and I put together a draft of a story (with lots of pictures and references) that I sent to director Sarah-Jane Woulahan, which she translated into a more  formal script, and helped develop it further.

In my next blog, I will share more about the making of the project!


“Vault” (dancefilm)

Vault was my second dance film project. I have always been interested in the Old Museum building and I wanted to continue making dance films that drew inspiration from the space. 

Superficially, Vault was Inspired by ‘progressive eclecticism’ of the architecture of the Old Museum Building. Vault is also drew inspiration from Patricia Mather’s “A Time for a Museum: The History of the Queensland Museum 1862 – 1886”, specifically some of the people/ characters who worked there. The cast themselves become relics of the space, passing by each other sharing memories of the space them inhabit.

In 1983 I remember my Dad dropping me to the Old Museum after a ballet exam to catch up with my primary school class excursion. I got lost finding my class, and the sense of exploring the building is layered into the abstract narrative of Vault. 

Dinosaur Mural by M. Oakden

In 1983 I remember being fascinated a painting of a dinosaur on a wall. It wasn’t a graffiti job, but rather looked like a painting by child. I wondered why it was on the wall of the museum. Filming Vault in 2012, I was keen to see if the dinosaur painting was still there. It was!! Furthermore, I noticed that it was signed by M.Oakden. The name Margaret Oakden appeared in Mather’s “A Time for a Museum”. I was able to get in touch with Margaret Oakden and ask her about the painting. Margaret Oakden worked at the museum from 1972- 1980 as a staff artist who would prepare prints for marketing by the museum. Margaret informed that that in her son had won a drawing competition and was invited to do the dinosaur mural. Mystery solved.  

Some behind the scene images of the Vault shoot by Gemma Blake and Frances Hannaway:

Cast: Michelle Barnett, Jake Kuzma, Frances Hannaway, Matthew Overberg

Cinematographer: Kevin Holloway
Director: Piia Wirsu
Edit: Claire Marshall
Score: Jason Chin
Lighting: Simon Cool and Daniel Endicott

Some stills from frame: