by Faruq Oyekan
No, don’t be fooled! This is not a documentary about greased up muscular guys, or ramped steroid abuse.
Despite what its title suggests Muscles, a short film by up and coming director Edward Housden tells the story of two siblings. A girl who wants to become a professional body builder, and her younger brother.
New on Vimeo, but not new to the festival scene Muscles, is a must see short film for those who love a story with a great message, and even greater visuals.
The main character of the film is a young boy by the name of Richard. Richard is a prepubescent child suffering with his masculine identity. While his older sister Millie, is a young woman who is ready to embrace masculinity and the world of body building. For young Richard, his sister goal him with a conundrum. The very masculine identity he wishes to acquire is unfortunately being attain by his sister. This leaves Richard with feelings of inferiority and femininity.
The acting in this film is phenomenal.
The character of Richard played by actor Den Kamenev will pull you in to the film, and leave you feeling just as lonely and inferior as the character he portrays.
Max Bergh, the actress who plays the sister, and the aspiring body builder does a fantastic job also. Her performance will leave you feeling emasculated even if you are a man or woman watching the film through a computer screen.
Scenes with no dialogue do a beautiful job at conveying emotions and presenting moments of immense symbolism and underlying themes.
Like with any good short film, Muscles will make the viewer anxious and hyped for the director’s inevitable leap into feature length film. Not many directors can make you feel for a character in an hour and a half, so Housden’s ability to do so in a mere fourteen minutes is outstanding.
What motivated the creation of this short film?
I got the initial idea when I was driving around Melbourne. I saw a poster for a Body Building competition and had this image in my mind of an innocent child's face with the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I went home and did a little research and found it was actually a real thing. There were quite a number of really young kids with this body building obsession, which seemed quite disturbing to me. I switched the body building character to a female, now making her the masculine one in the family, and the young boy became somewhat lost a confused, and the film started to take shape.
Do you have any prior experience in film making?
The film was my graduate film from the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia. I had a made a number of shorts films and music videos before Muscles, but this was my biggest undertaking at that point!
Was the film's premise inspired by any real life event?
The premise wasn't directly inspired by any particular real events, however smaller, subtle moments in the film are. The filming itself also did offer up some great real moments, such as donkey's outburst at the end, which was unplanned, and the opportunity to film guerrilla-style at an actually Body Building competition, which I think brought a lot to the film.
Wow, I would've never guessed that the Body Building competition was filmed guerrilla-style. That whole sequence really meshed in with the film's whole feel. What made you decide to film it that way?
Well I had always wanted to include a sequence at a Body Building competition into the film, but as it was a student production we had strict brackets in which we had to shoot our films. When I was scheduled to shoot there wasn't going to be any competition, which was quite disappointing. However, due to some technical issues, we had the opportunity to shoot some pickups, and luckily that landed on the same day as a competition in Melbourne. We did have permission to shoot in there, but only had small team - our actress, the DOP, camera assistant and me - so was pretty guerrilla. We had no control over what was going to happen in there. I had an idea of the kind of things I wanted to shoot, but didn't really know what we would find, so we just went in and went for it. Being a student film, the budget was very tight, so to recreate something like that would have been quite impossible for us. So we went renegade, shooting quite doco style, but on film. Being in the real environment, with real people and actual competing body builders added so much character and authenticity to those scenes, I'm so glad we got to do it
It sounds like that donkey gave you lots of trouble. In your opinion what was the hardest part of making this film?
Well you know what they say… children and animals. Of course we had both. The donkey was ok, but we were trying to get a sound out of it all day, just even to record some wild sounds and it wasn't giving us anything. It wasn't until right at the end of the day when we shot the last scene with the donkey that he finally let loose!
Any other interesting onset stories?
Well the film did have a fair few production issues, things weren't going our way - technical issues, loosing locations at the last minute, you name it - but we were determined to continue on! It was often a case of one step forward, two steps back. We dubbed it: 'Muscles, the film that keeps giving!' It's actually amazing it even got finished at all... But thankfully it did! It was a lot of fun too, and it was of course a huge learning process
I felt that the children in the film gave an excellent performance. What was the casting process like?
The casting process was quite complex. It's kind of one thing to write about young body building girl, but finding her was of course a different story. I had approached all sorts of more unusual places - circus schools, gyms, gymnastics clubs and so on, and hadn't had too much luck. Eventually we found Max Bergh through a casting agent. However she had also been a swimmer for Australia in the under 16s competition, so she was quite muscular! We had also found Den Kamenev who was great for the young boy and they were a really perfect match for brother and sister.
I've noticed this film has played a lot of festivals, how has the reaction to the film been?
The reaction was quite overwhelming really. As I mentioned, Muscles was a student film, this was a few years ago now, so for the film to premiere in Official Selection at Cannes Film Festival was an amazing way to kick off the film's festival run. Going to Cannes was my first real festival experience, and obviously it's such a huge festival, it was really quite epic! I tried to get to as many of the festival screenings as I could, it was great to see the film with different audiences.
So anything planned for the future? Any projects you'd like to share?
I'm now living in London and have been busy working in music videos and commercials, but I'm writing and hope to have a new project happening soon
Any advice to fellow filmmakers?
Don't be afraid to go renegade, and always being charming if you get in trouble.