Shadow Actor Scott Price and Producer Alice Fleming Discuss Bringing Back to Back Theatre’s First Film to Australian Audiences in This Interview

One of the absolute standouts of Australian cinema in 2022 has been Back to Back Theatre’s first film: Shadow. Working as an adaptation of the theatre companies celebrated stage production The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, Shadow posits a trio of activists, Simon, Scott and Sarah, who all have intellectual disabilities, in the middle of a town hall meeting where they’re congregating to discuss the future impacts of artificial intelligence.

Masterfully performed with a searing script that is written in collaboration by the company members, Shadow bounces from science-fiction, to existential dread, to dark comedy, all with a positively exhilarating roving camera that captures the heightened tension within the town hall meeting. Simply put: you do not want to miss Shadow.

In the below interview, actor and writer Scott Price and producer Alice Fleming joined Andrew to discuss the film prior to its homeland launch at the Sydney Film Festival. Shadow won the prestigious Audience Award at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.  

Shadow will be screening at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival on July 15 and 16, before heading to the Darwin Festival in August.

How does it feel knowing Shadow will have its Australian premiere in June?

Scott Price: I’m a bit excited in a bit of a way. I’m just coming to my senses, we’ve made a film, and yeah, we made a film in the midst of a pandemic so I have nothing to complain about.

You’ve been with the production for a long time. Is that right?

SP: Yeah, I have, around about 15 years.

What drew you to working with Back to Back?

SP: So I didn’t always want to become an actor. I always wanted to get into something to do with technology. So that’s my main background. I did some auditions, and I got in. I’ve now become a public figure and I can’t turn back.

Alice, for you as a producer, what was the process of turning The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes into a film?

Alice Fleming: One thing that’s really good to note is that the play is originally co-written by the performers and some other guest writers so that’s a process that takes I don’t know — Scott, what would you say, two to three years?

SP: Yeah, two to three years.

AF: There’s a process of improvisation that then goes on to be scripted. So in some ways, the pandemic happening was a blessing and a curse, but it meant that the ensemble were essentially unable to travel. So we had this really unique opportunity to spend more time than we would adapting it into a film. And one of the really key elements that we wanted to incorporate when we were making our first feature was to make sure that there was as many strong pathways for people with disability on screen as they were off screen. So we ran a really big national call-out looking for people who might be interested in pursuing a role in film and kept it as open as [people] being interested to [people] also knowing and having experience and expertise in that field. And then we paired about 10 people with professional mentors behind the scenes, and we were able to offer 35 places for people with disability on screen throughout the film. So it was a really ambitious project and we, of course, paid everyone. Sydney Film Festival is one of the first places we’re seeing it, so it’s really kind of confronting to be sitting with an audience with your first feature film. But also, it’s really a huge joy to be sharing it, I think.

I can imagine.

AF: I’ve had a long history with the company, not quite as long as Scott, but doing a bunch of different roles. So what an amazing opportunity to be given a script like this to produce into a film. I feel quite terrified for myself, but also it’s really amazing that the company can do that.

SP: It was hard. It was so hard for me. I felt like the responsibility just fell on me.

AF: You’re a great natural leader, Scott.

I really enjoyed your performance, Scott. I thought it was really great. What was the rehearsal process like? Obviously, you’ve done this on stage? Was it just doing the same thing, but with cameras?

SP: Yeah, I think we just did like a couple of days rehearsal. Then we just shot it. And then it was like whatever the hell it was.

What does the collaborative process of writing for a play like this look like, where everybody gets together to write this script?

AF: Back to Back is a company that has, at its core, an ensemble of individuals that are perceived to have intellectual disabilities. I guess what’s quite interesting about the company is that they author a whole bunch of different works. We’re quite well known for our theatrical works, but we also have a strong education program.

SP: What’s the word? A working repertoire.

AF: Yeah, we have a really strong working repertoire. We have a studio in Geelong.

SP: Yeah, we do.

AF: The ensemble worked with the director of this piece, Bruce Gladwin. And, as far as I understand it, Scott you get given scenes —

SP: Yeah, we do.

AF: — and kind of provocations to improvise and then that goes on to be scripted and rehearsed and refined. And I guess because there’s so much time, you can really indulge in that process.

SP: Yeah, you can.

AF: And the original kind of seed of the idea started from a New York Times article.

SP: Yeah, it did. Also, what it was, Andrew, it started from an article in the New York Times where some people with disabilities — they were being like underpaid or being paid a certain amount which was piss-poor. Anywho, so we did like some really bad American accents.

Can you talk about the different aspects of the comedy within the film? Because there are some moments which are quite amusing. There is a moment where you get frustrated at the camera crew getting locked outside. Can you talk about creating those scenes?

SP: So who comes up with the ideas? And I think [that] might have been Bruce’s idea, I think.

AF: And Scott, would you say that — I mean, I was just thinking about this myself this morning, that because the improvisation is so authentic, if you like, from the people that are often saying the lines in the room as it starts then often go on to perform them.

SP: Yeah. I mean, Alice, yeah. In a way, it is. I think Bruce wanted to find what you call some errors on mistakes. And I think he wanted to try to reproduce or to create that.

AF: But it obviously leans into comedy, when you do take something out of context or you have a really authentic moment of someone mispronouncing something that’s important.

SP: Yeah. Look, in a way, Alice, it is. So how do you try and reproduce comedy? I’m probably not the best to describe it, but I think again, it’s probably just a Bruce idea.

AF: And also, Mark [Deans] is a natural slapstick kind of [actor].

SP: Yeah, he is.

AF: [He’s] so good.

So with the cast that you’ve got, when you’re creating the characters, do you know who is best to fit the character? Knowing that Simon [Laherty] is best to play the mayor, is that a discussion that takes place early on?

SP: So we’ve got avatars, yeah. We mostly play ourselves, I’m not sure why Bruce does that. It’s probably like embedded in our characters.

And what does it mean to have the film so well received over in South by Southwest?

SP: Look, I mean, Andrew, it was a pretty good feeling. I think again, in the midst of the pandemic, yeah, we went well. Not so much a relief, but it was pretty well received.

And for you, Alice, obviously having your first feature win a major award overseas has got to be pretty exciting.

AF: Oh, my goodness, I don’t even really know what to say. I feel like it’s obviously really amazing to have that kind of recognition internationally, and it sort of does really [let] the film travel on to other places, and it helps spark more interest. I think we’re just really keen for lots of people to see this film and try to get as much of a kind of mainstream audience as we can.

SP: Yeah, mileage.

AF: It’s exciting.

SP: It is.

AF: I mean, I think we’re a bit shocked in some ways because it’s our first real go at it. It’s very exciting.

I can imagine.

AF: Scott’s just on tour at the moment, the first tour he’s done in a long time, in Canberra. They’ve touched down yesterday.

SP: Yeah, we have, yeah.

What are you performing?

SP: We’re performing this show, The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes.

What’s the difference for you in having a live audience as opposed to performing in front of the camera?

SP: It’s a huge difference. I’ll be honest, performing in front of a camera, it’s a different vibe. And I guess it’s different energies.

Do you have one that you prefer more than the other? Do you get more enjoyment out of performing in front of a live audience?

SP: I mean, yeah, so probably just say performing in front of a camera, because I feel like it’s just me going. And it is something I particularly enjoy.

What I really appreciated about the film as well was how it talks about the future of disabilities and the future that under the eye of artificial intelligence, that everybody will be intellectually disabled. That particular line was quite powerful. Can you talk about creating that idea and bringing that idea to life on stage?

SP: Yeah, I can. So multiple ideas. Myself, I kind of like this for the activism, not by choice, not by force. The second thing is I had a lot of abuse in my life. I was bullied at school, I was also abused so much of my care. So the damage has already been done, but it feels like I’m trying to work through it, and trying to learn from my experiences can help other people.

Do you hope that you get to be able to make more films? Is this the first of many?

SP: That’s the plan. I mean, hopefully. It’s a learning curve, it’s me going “What do you feel most comfortable in?” I think the whole process is going well, so yeah, what do you do now? I’d like to work on next steps.

One of the other moments which I really liked was when you’re having the conversation and then the trio of musicians are in the background, playing the music there. Does that help you perform the scene, having that music there?

SP: It does in a way, Andrew, it does. It does help build some sense of character.

Alice, can you talk about the cinematography? Ryan Hinckley is the director of photography, and the cinematography is just beautiful. Can you talk about the process to get Ryan in?

AF: Ryan is a really, really long-term collaborator of the company. He has been part of our [community] after 30 years of community filmmaking, so I feel like we’ve gone on the journey with him to get to this point, if that makes sense. And he’s made some of our other pieces, co-directed with Bruce and other artists at the company. Radial which is a community participation project which has toured around the world, and The Democratic Set which has also been in a bunch of different places for the last sort of ten years or so. I think that all has really added to having that depth of relationship with someone, and that language, and him knowing our work and the cast really well, and the locations. Also, he’s an incredible artist. I think he’s one of the best artists that [we] work with. I think it speaks to his skill and the kind of long-term relationships that we have within the company.

I’m curious about the decision to show that even within the intellectually disabled community there is prejudice and oppression. What was the creative choice behind that?

AF: I think that that’s the truth, maybe. It’s very easy to put people in binaries and give them labels. The world isn’t like that.

SP: That’s right, yeah.

For people going into this film for the first time, what would you like them to know? Or take in with their mind when they go in?

SP: Don’t abuse people, and also don’t bully other people. I feel like that’s the key message I want to get out there. If we can try and learn from history, just don’t bully other people and don’t abuse people.

That’s a great message. And for you, Alice?

AF: I would just echo Scott’s sentiments. I would like people to not know that much and go and watch it and hopefully be open and to go on a journey. That’s all you can ask for with the film, isn’t it?

Thank you both so much for your time to talk about Shadow. Scott, if you ever bring the show over west, I would love to come and see it performed live here.

SP: We’ll have to. Thanks, Andrew.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!