Paul Fogo has been producing short films for most of his life. These days he is teaching for TAFE in Screen & Media. In this interview, Paul explains his passion for recording military and social history exhibits.
How long have you lived in Armidale?
After living in Surry Hills in Sydney, where we all thought we were the center of the universe I moved to a small College town in Massachusetts. It showed me how wonderful a small community can be and how the stress factor can be diminished. I arrived in Armidale in 2005.
When, where and why did you learn to produce videos?
My older sister took me to see European Art House films while I was in High School. At the same time I attended Worker’s Education Association classes on Film. I had edited the school magazine and was looking for some other artistic, extra curricula activity. So I started out self-taught and then went to TAFE in Newcastle where we got to use the local television station’s studio after the news had gone to air. I later went to University to study drama and Art School to learn more film production technique. My music videos were shown on all the networks on the early Eighties. My skill set has grown through hands on experience,.
How did you become involved with The Australian War Memorial?
While I was working at the Art Gallery of NSW, I produced large scale installations to compliment exhibitions. All of my work in the USA was done specifically for the Museum Environment, I produced exhibits for National Mississippi River Museum, Harry S.Truman Presidential Library and the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. I knew more about American history than most Americans.
Unlike Australia, most financing for museums in America comes from the private sector. The National D-Day Museum was financed by Tom Hanks, Spielberg and the Tabasco fortune. I often had huge budgets to work with. The centerpiece, ten-minute film for Mississippi Museum’s cost one and half million dollars. Many of my exhibits used diverse media combinations – some were elaborate soundscapes while most had some sort of visitor interactive element.
Even though I was an active anti-war activist in my youth, I gained a reputation as a producer of wartime, military and social history exhibits. As soon as I returned to Australia, I began teaching for TAFE in Screen & Media. During that first year I produced the largest projections ever done at the Art Gallery of NSW. For THE GODDESS Exhibition, opened by everyone’s favorite Goddess, Margaret Olley, I shot footage of clouds here in Armidale and had images of Hindu and Buddhist Goddesses appear and fade through the clouds.
On the basis of this project and work I did in the USA, I was asked to join a team designing and producing exhibits for the post-WW2 Gallery at the Australian War Memorial. Letter from Long Tan became the first commissioned film to go into the permanent collection of the AWM. It is screened in a purpose built theatre seating 15 at a time. It is expected that around eight million people will see it over the next ten years. I suspect President Obama may have seen it on his visit there last month.
Tell us about your film on The Battle Of Long Tan?
The film is structured in three parts: the prologue provides a brief context for the Battle; middle section is a re-creation of parts of the Battle itself; and the epilogue describes the aftermath as told by a letter from one of surviving diggers. As there are no rubber plantations in Australia, we opted for a hardwood plantation near Mackay. The skies were perfectly blue each day of shooting but we needed to make it look like it was happening during monsoonal rain at dusk.
I put together a highly experienced crew, including one of the best Special Effects directors in the country. He had done all the realistic gun fights in the film The Proposition. Half way into pre-production I was informed that I could not show any blood as school children make up a large proportion of the audience. Nevertheless, I managed to keep the Special Effects department busy creating explosions and smoke. The Australian Defense Forces and Reservists chipped in with help and probably contributed half of half million dollar budget for the ten minute film.
The film is projected onto a curved screen using three high definition projectors. The sound was mixed down from 97 tracks to a 7.1 surround with some serious bass effects and the sense of bullets flying overhead.
Your fondest moment in film?
After surviving damp days with artificial rainmakers, deadly snakes and all manner of explosions without any OH&S incidents, as we were wrapping on the final night one of the armorers offered our nurse (and one of safety officers) a chance to fire a pistol. As the shell ejected, it hit her on the forehead, right between her eyes leaving a tiny drop of blood. A perverse irony!
What are you teaching at TAFE?
I deliver courses in Screen & Media to High School students through the TVET program. We also teach three qualifications, beginning with Certificate IV and going through to Diploma and an Advanced Diploma. Some of our students are with us for nearly five years. We have a great success rate with graduates being employed in a range of crew role in film and television. There’s a broad skill base in filmmaking with writing, directing, camera operations, lighting, sound, editing and production management included. Our students get a taste of all of these and tend to select an area they are good at or love.
Plans for the future?
I guess I am one of the chosen ones to have the NBN functioning in my home. The new technologies in the delivery of learning and creativity using fibre optic bandwidth fascinate me and I am keen to be part of the experiments that are happening in this area. I will also be teaching courses in the use Social Media to Community and Small Business as this sector grows. It’s incredible how all this can happen living in a small town in rural Australia.