James Arrow is passionate about making moving pictures. Most people are passionate about something; something they love and could talk about for hours while their family and friends
doze off nod politely. Yet most of us don’t find a way to make that passion something we get to do with the majority of our time. Most of us are forced to squeeze our passions into the leftover time we find around the shit we gotta do to earn a crust. As a founding member of his own production company, Rusty Shutter Films, James is determined to make his work, and what he loves, one and the same.
And the clever bastard is pulling it off…
Once upon a time, James’ dad brought something magical home from work that would change the life of his young son forever. It was a
mystical enchanted amulet Video 8 Standard Film Camera. It was love at first sight.
Before they knew what hit them, his unsuspecting family was starring in super hero themed epics, and remakes of ‘The Jerry Springer Show’.
Luckily for him, James’ family proved very supportive and patient in those early days while honing his craft. Watching those films back, one can sometimes sense the ‘reluctance’ of the cast, as he roped in everyone from his younger brother who was barely old enough to stand, to poor unsuspecting family friends who would visit the house.
‘I’m a pretty obsessive person. So when started playing with that camera, that’s what I did every day. I drew storyboards for films instead pictures normal kids draw. I read books on film making instead of Dr Suess or whatever.’
As well as having the support of his parents, who always encouraged him to pursue his passion, James’ grandfather was also on board behind the scenes in the early days. He was a set builder for local theatre productions, and was always keen to help his grandson on whatever creative project he’d dreamt up that week. Even today he still helps with the production company, lending the Rusty Shutter crew generators and vans. Back then he would hand-make swords and guns for the children to use as props.
‘I once asked him to make a mace, and he brought back the most scary looking piece of artillery I’ve ever seen! He actually scared himself with that one; big metal spikes on a chain!’
James grew up about as far from Hollywood as you can imagine. For this quiet kid from Bathurst, New South Wales, a small country town in Australia, attending a school that didn’t even offer a fully functioning drama class, film making wasn’t exactly a typical career choice. But once he’d discovered life behind the camera, there was no turning back.
‘As soon as you hold that camera and you realize that there is so much that goes on behind it, and find out how many different elements go into making a film, it gives film a whole new meaning and perspective. For me, it added a whole new level of entertainment and escape.
‘A big influence on me was the Disney cartoon version of Peter Pan. I was given it for christmas on VHS, and one time I accidentally let it run after the credits. After the film there was a featurete of how to make the film. I must have watched it 100 times. I would fast forward the cartoon just to watch the ‘making-of’. I discovered that I loved the process of creating a movie as much as the movies themselves.’
Cut to: Adult James Arrow and a bunch of like-minded individuals, sitting in a lounge room, staring wistfully at a 50 year old television camera…
‘So I went to university in Bathurst, the town where I grew up, as I couldn’t really afford to just jet off to film school in Melbourne. It worked out really well as the random networks I made there have formed the partnerships that I still work with to this day. I’d made a film in high school with the help of an awesome English teacher, Mrs Armstrong. But mostly I’d just taken Drama and Music classes as an excuse to skip school; I could always say I was in rehearsals for one or the other if anyone asked. Even when I started uni it was unlikely that I’d become a film maker. If I hadn’t met people like Tom Druit who was a couple of years ahead of me I might not have even finished First Year. Those guys took me under their wing and encouraged my passion for film and learning new techniques.
‘After 2 and half years of uni I dropped out of the course because it was getting too theatre based, but by then we had this little collective of mates who were keen to push our boundaries in film making. I love collecting old film stuff, and I had found an Arriflex 16S, which is a television camera from the 50’s, and it worked!
‘So I wrote a piece specifically for it, called ‘Boys Will Be‘. Trouble was, it was going to be such a massive learning curve, as no one really shoots on film any more, and we were poor uni students and every frame is worth more than $1, and there’s 24 frames for every second of footage. But with a whole bunch of amazing community involvement and support we got film off the ground.’
‘Basically Rusty Shutter Films was formed out of this group of people. We all push each other. We figured that as we weren’t really learning film, and there was no film school around, we’d made our own. If you want to get into film making, find some mates that will push you to master the craft in a supportive creative environment.’
Rusty Shutter Films shoots promotional content and video for businesses, music videos for bands and whatever else comes their way, and then from time to time they make short films and other exciting projects that seem to find them. They’re constantly trying to do something they’ve never tried before, be it using new shots or different equipment, in the idea that ultimately they’ll be confident enough to make something ‘big’.
‘Everything in between is part of the skills building process.’
As this story goes to print this attitude has payed off for James and the Rusty Shutter crew. As well as working on a few big commercial shoots, they have just won a grant from Australian television station SBS where they have been commissioned to shoot a pilot for a new series.