Rachael Belle Myers and Matt Vella – The Western Sydney Filmmakers Hangout
Rachael Belle Myers and Matt Vella have a few things in common, they are both award winning filmmakers, they both live in Western Sydney and their other commonality – loneliness and isolation in their chosen profession of filmmaking. After meeting at an awards ceremony they decided it was time to do something about it and so The Western Sydney Filmmakers Hangout was founded. We chatted about how it got started, their shared passion for storytelling and staying in Western Sydney.
What makes us different to many other groups out there that encourage collaborations is that you can also physically meet these people at the next event. I think, that is the secret sauce that makes things work. We are not just an online community, we are an actual physical, real-life community. It is fantastic. – Matt
The Westies: How did the two of you meet and where did the idea of Western Sydney Filmmakers Hangout group come from?
Rachael: It was at Made in the West [a film festival dedicated to films made in Western Sydney or by filmmakers from Western Sydney] in 2016. Matt actually won Best Student Film, and I won Best Film. I loved his film so much, I was such a fangirl. We were standing on the stairs, holding our trophies and I was saying “Do you have a business card, I really want to get to know you, I love your movie!”
Matt: After that we were basically high-fiving through our phones and I was saying, “It kinda sucks, we probably won’t see all these cool people we met till next year at the festival. We should meet up, and hang out sometime, get some drinks”.
Rachael said, “Great idea, I’ll make a Facebook event so people can invite whoever they want.” What’s crazy is people kept inviting each other, and next thing you know we’re holding this event with almost 40 people. And I’m here thinking, “Oh, there might be four or five of us.” That’s when realised there was a big demand for the group.
Rachael: The group came because there was a demand. We didn’t just start it because we felt like it. Western Sydney is actually screaming for this, because we had the first event, before we even started the group, and everyone kept saying to us, on the night, “When is the next event? How we keep in touch about it?” So we thought “I guess we’ve got to start a group!” Now we have 367 members since we started in July, last year.
I’m so glad I harassed you on those stairs Matt! [laughs]
Western Sydney is full of multiculturalism and diversity. There are stories everywhere, there is a story in everyone’s pocket. Everyone is different, each person is such a character. – Rachael
The Westies: Rachael, what made you get into film in the first place?
Rachael: It was something I always knew that I was going to do. I’m a writer at heart, I wrote my first feature film when I was ten years old. I was writing for many years, and then I got to a point where I realised getting a script made is just as hard as anything else, so I thought, why I don’t make it? I started directing and producing my own work, and so I am a filmmaker, not just a writer.
The Westies: What was the film about, when you were ten?
Rachael: You are going to love it. Oh, it’s amazing! It was a cross between a slasher flick a love story, paranormal activity, and a high-school drama!
The Westies: Awesome, you cover all bases there! What is it about film that you love so much?
Rachael: I love being able to tell stories that deal with issues that exist in our society. I deal with self-reflection, and social ideas. I love the way that you can use this medium to build another world, and tell a whole different story .
The Westies: And how about you Matt, how did you get into film?
Matt: Storytelling is in my DNA. When I was a kid, and I bought action figures, I didn’t pretend the figures were who they actually were, to me the blue Power Ranger was a superhero that I made up in my head. And then I imagined it was a TV show and there were episodes and stuff. As I got older, I started animating. When I was 16 – 17, I ended up putting storytelling into music, in a rock-band. Moving into film was the next step. I am always telling stories through whatever medium I can find, and it’s just who I am. I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m still just this big kid playing with his action figures, just finding a new way to do it.
I like the idea of creating opportunities close to home. Western Sydney, is home to me, it makes me happy and I love the idea of my local community doing great things. -Matt
The Westies: What’s it like being a filmmaker living in Western Sydney.
Matt: From what I’ve experienced, ultimately the Western Sydney community don’t get as much props as other places. We get looked at in a bad light at times. Sure, a lot of the areas around here are low socioeconomic, but that doesn’t change who people are. In my opinion, people are all the same, you still have stories to tell, they’re just in different ways.
Storytelling through filmmaking in Western Sydney, it’s really cool, because we are such a multicultural area, we have so many different influences on our different walks of life, so you get stories coming out of here that you may not get anywhere else. You get a lot of people that may not study and they learn guerrilla-style, and that’s really exciting to see as well, because you see the mindset of people develop in different ways. There are so many voices here that are not being heard, that really should be, because I think what Western Sydney brings to the table is worth looking at.
Rachael: I was one of those people that wanted to get out [of Western Sydney]. Growing up, I never really had a lot of friends, I was very antisocial. I used to skip school to stay home and write scripts. So I didn’t have a community of people around me. Once I started working, I was working in the city, and I was always in the city, so all my friends were in the city. As I started to venture out and started directing and producing, I realised I didn’t know anyone in Western Sydney at all. I started to feel quite lonely, I knew that there were people out there, I just didn’t know where they were.
I found once you actually put yourself out there, and start looking at the people around you – which is what I started to do over the last few years – you find a lot of people that are deep and have so many creative ideas, and want to do so much more than what people think they are capable of, and it’s really encouraging. That first night that we [Matt and I] met, that was my first time ever at Made in the West, I didn’t even know they existed until three months before, when I submitted in my film, and I just was so invigorated by that energy, that I was like, “Okay, these are my people!” Which is why we had to start something, to keep these people together and create a space for them to keep coming back to each other and having that support network. So that were are not just dispersed all over the place, and disconnected.
The Westies: Have either of you thought of leaving Western Sydney, giving it a shot somewhere else?
Matt: I admit there’s always a temptation to move to LA and become a big hot-shot producer. But personally, I just love my home too much, even if I’ve moved away for work, I would always come back. I like the suburban lifestyle, I don’t like the busyness of the city. I like the idea of creating opportunities close to home. Western Sydney, is home to me, it makes me happy and I love the idea of my local community doing great things.
Rachael: No. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t even like getting on a plane. And my view is similar to Matt’s, it’s about creating opportunities here. I tend to look at the big picture, and I’m all for supporting the community. It’s all about what can I do to throw the ladder back down. What can I do to support the people that I know are struggling, as they’re growing and trying to be creative. What can I give them that I didn’t have? I can’t do that if I’m in another country, or in another state, or even on the other side of the bridge.
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James