For all the brilliant scenes and cinematic moments, the film industry also has many downfalls, but this powerhouse creative has had enough and just wants to share a good laugh. We sat down with the founder of Beernuts Productions on the Gold Coast, Gough, who is calling cut to society’s blind ignorance when it comes to the film industry, and people with a disability.
Hi Gough, tell us a little about Beernuts Productions...
Beernuts Productions is a fully independent (predominately film) production company I started up in 2006, right here on the Gold Coast.
I released my first feature film, a 90-minute-long documentary, about the very important subjects of disability and mental health in 2010 and since then have gone on to write/produce/direct 16 other short films (most of which are comedy based), 9 comedy audio downloads and write 5 books.
All the work is produced on the Gold Coast and we always use brilliant local actors, crewmembers, artists, musicians and whatever else we need to make our projects as entertaining as possible.
What exciting projects have you worked on?
I think all my Beernuts Productions projects are exciting, but of course I would say that, I run the company. But seriously I think it’s exciting to run a film production company that produces its own creative content with no third-party interference.
The great thing about Beernuts Productions is that we are fully independent, we self-fun and distribute our own projects. This means there is never any third-party interference, which means we can produce exactly what we want, how we want, when we want, which I believe leads to a better product because there is no one telling us what we can and can’t do or say.
One of the common questions my actors will ask is how long we have for this scene and my answer is always the same: it takes however long it takes. I don’t have someone over my shoulder saying a project has to be a certain length. If a joke takes 2 minutes to tell, then that’s how long the scene will play out for.
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We’re very interested in your personal journey being the first legally blind person to achieve so much at a production company unassisted, what an amazing achievement! Could you tell us how you embrace this challenge?
Before Beernuts Productions came about I spent years trying to get scripts I had written produced. I had travelled all over the world and met with producers, networks, distributors and private investors and once they all found out I couldn’t see, their interest quickly dried up. In my mind, I was left with a simple choice. I could leave these scripts on the shelf, never to be made, or I could make them myself. I obviously chose the latter. I gathered up every penny of my savings and bought some basic film equipment and set about making my first film, which was released in 2010.
But then the question was, how am I going to get people to view it? So I decided that the best way to go about this was to release the project directly through my website and let people from all over the world download my film directly onto their computer. That became my business model. I make a film and then release it immediately through the Beernuts Productions website. The profits from that film go straight into making the next film, which means marketing and getting the word out there about my projects is now the biggest challenge I face.
Could you explain how being legally blind affects your work and how you work through this?
Well there are pluses and minuses to my disability.
On the upside, not being able to see means I have spent a lifetime listening to people and this helps me a great deal when writing my scripts. I know how people speak. It also helps when directing the actors because I pay very close attention to their tones and inflections, making sure they deliver the lines just right. With comedy, line delivery is very important because if a joke isn’t delivered just right, then it’s not funny. I’m sure we’ve all been to a party where someone is telling a joke so badly you just wish they’d stop. I try and make sure that doesn’t happen on my film shoots.
But of course, not being able to see does have its challenges as well. For example, I can’t see the actor’s facial expressions, so that’s where I have to rely on my sighted guide to tell me if they are showing anger or whatever the emotion is I need them to express. It also means I have to put a lot of trust in my cast and crew to do what it is I’m asking of them.
Once in the editing room, if I get nice and close to the screen, I can see what is going on, but by then it’s too late to change anything, because I simply don’t have the budget to reshoot a scene. This means that before any shoot I rehearse my actors – a lot – just so they know exactly what I need from them, right down to each word of dialogue.
Same goes for the crew. It is so important that they understand my creative vision, so they know exactly what needs to be done when we are shooting. On that, I have learnt more about make-up and clothes than any 37-year-old bloke would want to know. But again, it’s part of my job to know these things so I can clearly communicate with my make-up and wardrobe crew.
Do you have a support network around you when you’re dealing with certain challenges?
On set I have a sighted guide, Simon, who I have worked with for 15 out of the 17 films I’ve done. We now have a wonderful understanding where he knows, almost instinctively, what my answer will be to any question and what assistance I’m going to need. He is invaluable.
When I was young, Guide Dogs Qld did Orientation and Mobility training with me and the skills they taught me all those years ago I still use to this day in order to help me in my work and generally through life.
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How do you ensure you’re looking after yourself and putting in enough self-care throughout your career and day-to-day?
This is probably something I don’t do very well. I love my work and all I really want to do is produce more and more projects, but of course that’s not good for your mental or physical health. I do love exercise and gym training and do some sort of physical activity every morning. Even if it’s just a quick swim or walk, I make sure I do something active to start the day. I find it makes my brain function a whole heap better.
In my spare time I enjoy going to the movies because I’m a real film nerd and also going to concerts. Music is definitely a talent I don’t have, but I love listening to it.
What do you think is the biggest stigma towards someone with a disability?
Just a general lack of understanding. There is still a lot of negative stigma that goes along with disability and of course that leads to discrimination and segregation, and to people having problems with their mental health due to being excluded and not being given a “fair go” (I hate that phrase.)
More needs to be done to educate the wider community about disability and what folks with a disability can and cannot do. Personally, I feel it is a sad indictment on this country that I had to go to such lengths to start up my own film and distribution company to make my projects, simply because people wouldn’t give me a go based purely on my disability.
What’s the best part of working in the entertainment industry?
Entertaining people. Someone could be having a no-good rotten day, but they come home, turn on a Beernuts Productions film or one of our audio downloads and they have a bloody good laugh for 20 minutes or so and for that moment in time, all their troubles have melted away. That’s a really wonderful thing and something I really love about my work.
Favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
The standard answer there; they are all my favourites. It’s like choosing a favourite child.
That said, we have just released a new comedy mockumentary called “How To Land That Dream Job.” It takes you through the dos (and more importantly don’ts) of conducting yourself during a job interview. As the boss, I interview 16 potential job seekers for a range of positions and it’s fair to say their behaviour swings between the wildly inappropriate to the outrageously funny, as does the advice given in the narration. I really hope people enjoy that and like all our work it can be downloaded from the Beernuts Productions website.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Try not to get so upset when ignorant people do ignorant things. Easier said than done and something I still probably struggle with today, but it’s important to understand some people are just idiots and sometimes it’s best to just walk away and forget about it.
Next project on the cards?
We have a great new film that I’m just putting the final touches on the script now so hopefully that can go into production very soon. It’s very exciting!
Quick fire questions:
Go-to places to visit on the Gold Coast?
How can you go past our incredible beaches? Love the surf and water.
One of my favourite movies of all time was filmed right here on the Gold Coast: “Gettin’ Square”. It’s over a decade old now but it still makes me laugh.
Who is your idol?
American musical comedian Stephen Lynch. The man is a genius.
What makes you laugh?
I lean more towards the darker or sillier kinds of comedy. Also the political satire that has come out of the ABC in the past.
Just won the lotto - what’s the first thing you do?
Book a trip to America to watch my favourite comedian Stephen Lynch. And not just once, the lotto winnings would mean I could go to three or four of his shows around the place - just not enough that I look like a groupie stalker.