In the shadow of a space elevator, Simon Carter must sacrifice everything to save what remains of his family.
An 18 minute epic sci-fi short film.
“Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art” — Susan Sontag
With Payload, I set out to make a science fiction film with a soul. At its heart, it is the story of a boy, Simon Carter, who must give up his own soul to save his brother, Dave. I’ve always been fascinated by how “good” people can become “evil” — how our environment and circumstance wields such incredible power over us. Science-fiction, as a genre, is deeply concerned about the world it presents — and, at its best, these worlds are a deep part of the meaning of the film, and becomes characters in themselves.
The world of Payload drew its inspiration from two very real places: the isolated Australian mining town of Kalgoorlie – full of men and brothels; and the Kazakhstan town of Baikonur – where the locals scavenges the fallen refuse from a nearby Russian spaceport. It was important however that Clarke’s Town (the setting of Payload) not be an allegory for either town but become its own imagined place. Clarke’s Town is defined only by its function as a spaceport, it is isolated, weathered and indifferent.
Trapped its confines, the people of Clarke’s Town have also become weathered, indifferent and utilitarian. They are caught between being victims and villains. Corruption is everywhere, and everyone is complicit in its power. These characteristics are personified in Kate Henshaw, the antagonistic matriarch in Payload. For all her surface coldness, there are ripples below the surface of someone damaged fighting for survival.
The Carter family live on the fringes and despite their poverty have something approaching a life — but it is fracturing. Dave is on the cusp of puberty and is beginning to understand that he does not belong. Simon is on the cusp of manhood and is steeling himself for the life that is to come. Their father, Adam, is a once-proud man who has been broken by life, and must accept that he can no longer protect his children.
The Carter family cannot escape the shadow of Clarke’s Town forever. Drawn back into its walls, the town’s indifference overwhelms them, and Simon knows something must be sacrificed to save what remains of his family. But it is not a heroic sacrifice – for Simon is simply doing what needs to be done.
Despite its fictional locale, Payload is set in Australia. We are a country that is defined by our isolation and whose wealth stems from our reckless exploitation of natural resources. As our wealth dwindles, at what point do we begin to see everything and everyone as a resource to be exploited?
– Stuart Willis, January 2011
First and foremost, I am a lover of science fiction. For me, the genre captures my imagination like no other. As such, the chance to help realise Stuart Willis’ science fiction short Payload was a compelling opportunity. It was also a daunting one, sci fi films at a student short film level have been known to fall short of their creators vision more times than not. Be it the need to get across fundamental exposition in a clean and non-didactic manner or the creation of believable visuals, science fiction is a hard genre for the short film format. Payload was no exception; it demanded the fluid establishment of an alternative reality from the start, with the film’s themes and character journeys inseparable from the complex and morally ambiguous world. The production was going to throw up significant challenges for myself as a producer as well as our dedicated crew.
However, by a marathon of location scouting and a super human effort by Stuart and our post-production team, we were able to create a compelling and believable environment for our characters to inhabit. But if achieving the fundamental believability of the film’s world was all we had achieved, Payload would not be the film it is. At its heart, I believe, Payload is a drama, the journey of a family forced by a cruel world to take extraordinary measures to survive and avoid being torn apart. Its characters are faced with desperate decisions that we, as viewers, may hopefully never have to decide ourselves. It is a story about survival and remaining human in a dehumanising world.
In the end, I am immensely proud of what we achieved. Stuart’s vision was stark and unwavering, I believe as someone close to him throughout the creative process, he achieved his original vision and may well have surpassed it. From my time working on the film, I found a renewed belief in achieving what I didn’t think was possible, a deep respect for the commitment and initiative of student film crews and most of all, a fine friend and creative partnership that I hope continues on for many more projects to come.
- Tom Bicknell, January 2011
Running Time: 17min 55sec
Genre: Science-Fiction Drama
Shooting Format: RED MX / RED ONE
Screening Format: HDCam, Digital Betacam, DVD, 35mm (upon request)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 in anamorphic 16×9
Sound: Dolby Stereo
Country of Origin: Australia
Completed: June 2011