They’re film nerds, and they’re damn proud of it. At least that’s the impression one gets while watching ABC2′s new show The Bazura Project, the brainchild of Aussie cinephiles Lee Zachariah and Shannon Marinko.

Well, more or less new. To clarify: The Bazura Project (which airs every Thursday night at 9pm on ABC2 for the next five weeks and is available to re-watch online on ABC iView) will be poppin’ fresh for the general public but familiar to a tiny niche of viewers — yours truly included — who’ve watched some or all of the dozens of episodes the duo wrote and starred in, mostly working on weekends and after hours, for community television network Channel 31.

Now, bankrolled by Aunty ABC, the show is back with souped-up production values and a change of format. The Bazura Project has removed its timely elements (reviews, industry news etc) and over the course of six episodes its two film aficionado hosts will focus on discussing, in their distinctively witty, self-deprecating and outrageous style some of cinema’s broad risqué subjects such as sex, crime and drugs. The show is stuffed to the gills will film references — some obvious, some esoteric — and is sure to be a hit with moviegoers. I interviewed Lee and Shannon shortly after the show’s premiere.

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You gentlemen have long toiled in the bowels of television in Australia: Channel 31. Now that you’ve successfully made a transition to the national broadcaster, thundering onto our screens every Thursday night, how many women in low cut tops have asked you to sign their chests? How many television executives have offered you expensive narcotics and up-market prostitutes?

Shannon: I’m sorry, you seem to have ABC2 stardom confused with ABC3 stardom. We ABC2 stars get women in turtlenecks asking us to sign their chest of drawers, before tempting us with Vicks VapoRub and Footscray Market prostitutes.

Lee: The only real difference has been I can no longer go up to people at random, who generally aren’t even looking in my direction, and say “Yes, it’s me” with as much smugness as I can muster. Now I’m actually on TV, it doesn’t seem as funny.

From somebody who has been an avid fan of the Channel 31 version of the program for the last couple of years — I particularly enjoyed watching Paul Anthony Nelson appear as President of the United States — I found after re-watching several episodes that much of the program has aged very well. Particularly the scenes in which you discuss and dissect elements of genre filmmaking. Was this a factor in the decision to change the show’s focus from a timely approach to an approach that covers broad topics ie. “sex” and “drugs?”

Shannon: I wish we could claim we did it on purpose, but it was really the ABC’s decision to make us a stand-alone, and thus imminently, repeatable show. Besides, as we only had six episodes to play with there wasn’t really much point to making it a timely, topical show.

Lee: Plus you’ve got David and Margaret doing reviews on the ABC already, so there’s not much point in us doubling up. Once we realised we were going to be losing the reviews, then the news, it seemed like the best course of action was reinventing the show from the ground up. Structure-wise, that is. Stylistically, it’s exactly the same as it always was, which will come as a great disappointment to people who hated it.

Channel 31 is a medium available to virtually anybody. You embraced it, loaded your show with production values and well scripted segments, and hey presto — Aunty ABC eventually bankrolled a bigger and better version. Do you think this is an example of the kind of success Channel 31 crews can still have, or, in this age of webisodes, YouTube and VODcasts, do you regard yourselves as part of the last line of talent capable of using community TV as a springboard to greater things?

Shannon: While the web has certainly opened up more avenues for film and television makers to get noticed (if you can get something on Funny Or Die, you’ll have a Hollywood agent by morning), one of the biggest advantages of making a community TV show is working to a deadline, however many jillion times we cursed it during the actual production of the show. It makes for a much more realistic production environment and prepares you for how much sleep you’re not going to get when you move up the next televisual rung. I think it’s a far superior option to pursue in beginning a TV career. Still, if Funny Or Die likes your stuff, I’d be booking a bungalow at Chateau Marmont ASAP.

Lee: Community TV stations like Channel 31 are a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are absolutely the best place to train yourself up for producing a TV show, particularly if you’re going to eventually be hired for what is essentially a show-running position. You’ll quickly figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how best to streamline production to get the best possible product on screen as speedily as possible. The flipside to that is that you can’t go into a community show expecting that the networks will automatically come a-callin’. I know of people still waiting to get that call from the ABC or SBS, and there are a lot of shows that absolutely deserve to make the jump, but won’t due to the limited number of slots available. We were very, very, very lucky.

The Bazura Project has obvious appeal for people interested in film. However, die hard film aficionados may think, presumably in a holier-than-though streak of self righteousness that you must be all too familiar with by now, “seen that” or “knew that!” Who is the program marketed for? What kind of discussions did you have about marketing and what was the end result?

Shannon: Ultimately, if you like movies, you’ll like the show. But if you like longwinded explanations of inane film facts and an abundance of ancient puns delivered by pasty, self-important film nerds, you’ll fucking LOVE the show.

And I’m 100% confident that even the die hardiest film aficionado will learn something each week; if nothing else, they’ll learn just how low we’re willing to go for the sake of a cheap laugh.

Lee: You’ll end up handicapping yourself if you think too hard about who you’re marketing it at. We just tried to make a funny, informative show, and luckily had non-film obsessives on the production that we could run bits by to see if they played or not. We were able to be accessible without cutting our feet out from under ourselves. We hope.

Whose idea was it for David Stratton to hold up a piece of paper with a hand drawn image of a penis?

Shannon: Do you see a penis in that ink blot? Interesting…

Lee: Don’t just look at the black shape in the middle: look at the two white shapes on either side. It’s actually two penises.

The show has a terrific opening scene. (for those who haven’t seen it, here it is)

It features a pastiche of film references, from unmistakable titles like Singing in the Rain and Back to the Future to more esoteric references. How did you decide which film references would make the cut (ho ho) and to what extent was the ABC wardrobe/props department a factor?

Shannon: Designing the title sequence was almost a guilty pleasure, where debating what the key films from every decade are actually constituted work. I still maintain that Avatar should’ve been somewhere in the final frame.

Most of the costumes used in the title sequence were from the ABC, although we did have to hunt around for the more specific, Darth Vader-ish ones. But almost all the props were made or sourced by our art department, led by the don’t-touch-him-he’s-ours Dale Bamford.

Lee: We had a list of film that absolutely HAD to be in there, except it was about a thousand titles long, so culling it to something manageable was a hefty task. Because each section is, give or take, a decade from cinema, we had the hardest time with the 2000s. Which films will last? Which will be remembered in years to come? I disagreed with Avatar, because we’re too close to it. It could be this decade’s Titanic, or it could be another, I don’t know, The Abyss. The Abyss is a terrific movie and it made a lot of money, but you’d be surprised how few people know about it. We felt we were on safe ground in that last frame with Lord of the Rings, the Joker, the– oops, nearly gave them all away. I’ll stop.

Can you give me an example of one or two film references in the opening scene that viewers are unlikely to spot, without gloating too much about how you’re soooo clever for putting them in there?

Shannon: There’s a very quick nod to Star Wars, which may have escaped some people. And if anyone spots the Eye Myth reference, they’re lying.

Lee: There’s one I’m dying to tell everyone about it because it’s my favourite and it’s really difficult to spot. You can only see it in the broadcast HD version, not the YouTube version. But I have to keep schtum. I’ll be really impressed if anyone finds it.

One of the things The Bazura Project is celebrated for is its (very funny) bits in which you re-enact parts of films or film-based scenes. Were there any re-enactments in the new series that you planned to do, or really wanted to do, but couldn’t because of restraints? If so, what were they?

Shannon: Specific film re-enactments didn’t seem to fit this time around. With each episode focusing on such a broad theme, it worked better to re-enact generic film types, like teen sex comedies, rather than individual films. However, ever since our first season on community TV, I’m still desperate to find an opportunity to do the In Dreams sequence from Blue Velvet.

Lee: Once we have an idea in our heads, it’s impossible for us to not do it. Just like in Inception. Hey, we should do Inception! There’s a bit in episode two (Sex) that basically came from Shannon and I one-upping a joke back and forth until we had something that was practically impossible to shoot. And we shot it. It was the very last thing we shot during the production, so it felt great to end on that note. Hopefully, you’ll know it when you see it.

From my experiences appearing on TV programs and filming VODcasts, there is a high level of performance required for visual film discussion compared to the written word, and the style with which both forms are written tends to be very different. Do you have a preference between writing for print or appearing on the screen?

Shannon: The writing is thankfully much more appealing and fun for me, because I really quite hate the performing. I only did it because Julian Morrow said no.

Lee: Although I enjoy the performing quite a bit, I’m definitely a writer first and foremost. And I only did it because Marc Fennell said no.

Sadly, this series of The Bazura Project will end after seven episodes. What do you plan on doing afterwards?

Shannon: I plan on wondering where the seventh episode came from. We’re only doing six. Apart from that, I keep hearing about this great new invention called “sleep”. Might keep my eyes open for that.

Lee: I’ve got a lot of projects on the boil, so I’m going to start turning the gas up on them. Also, I want to refine my ability to talk in metaphors.

Visit the official The Bazura Project website or watch the trailer below.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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