Making Venus (Gary Doust, 2002) doco, 70 min.
From September 1997 for five years, two cousins tried to produce a low budget feature film from what was originally meant to be a short. It's a story about a porn star who tries to break into serious acting, and it's called The Venus Factory, with Tony Bonner and Terry Serio among its cast. The script is proving difficult from the start. As delays and misadventures increase and the budget blows out to many multiples of the modest original, the producers grow increasingly desperate and stressed.
Making Venus (Gary Doust, 2002) is a documentary about the making of one film which became three. Doust’s film mainly follows producers Jason Gooden and Julian Saggers through some five years of their lives as they try to make a film which starts out as The Venus Factory. The first director and co-writer is Glenn Fraser: he shoots a comedy about a porn performer who wants to be taken seriously as an actor. This is briefly shown under the original title, but is felt by producers and investors to be lacking, so Fraser leaves the project, to be replaced by new writer/director Denis Whitburn. He makes the material into a romance called Starring Duncan Wiley (featuring the name of Teo Gebert’s character in the film) and this is test-screened. It too is felt to miss the mark, and the producers themselves edit yet another version of the film, again with some new material. This is called Money Shot, and released 2003, after and riding on the success of the documentary. It’s an unusual case of the making-of doco being better-known than the film itself.
(If that’s not enough layers, there’s also a voiceover commentary on the doco film, with its directors and the two producers of The Venus Factory/Money Shot.
As riveting as watching a train crash on a suspension bridge in slow motion, Making Venus is the ultimate combo of dark comedy, psychological thriller and cinema very-bloody-realité. It's also a rather good deterrent for anyone who thinks they can make a movie, low budget or not, just because they are determined.
In some respects it reminds me of Startup.Com, which studied the rise and collapse an internet business in America. Whatever possessed Gary Doust to pick this bunch and start shooting the documentary even before they started shooting the film is a wondrous mystery of Australian cinema. He wasn't to know it would unravel over four years and give him enough material for a feature film. He wasn't to know his subject was going to be compelling.
Maybe it was instinct, maybe it was luck. In any case, had he any inkling, he would have probably invested a bit more in the sound equipment, so when it was magnified for the cinema screen (as opposed to the playback on the digital video camera viewfinder), it would not grate our ears off. The rough and ready style is totally befitting the subject, of course, and the incredulity/entertainment value of the film is in direct proportion to the pain the producers and filmmakers go through. See it and squirm. Andrew L. Urban, Urban Cinefile.
Gary Doust's documentary is a hilarious making-of The Venus Factory (directed by Glenn Fraser), an Australian feature set in the porn industry.
Fraser was sacked by the ambitious neophyte producers after a disappointing preview screening, not helped by the timing - Boogie Nights had recently opened in Australia. When they couldn't obtain a satisfactory distribution deal, producers Jason Gooden and Julian Saggers approached writer-producer Denis Whitburn to rework the film.
Whitburn rewrote the Venus comedy script as a romantic drama, used half of Fraser's footage and shot the rest himself (making it his directing debut). Starring Duncan Wiley got a poor reception at AFI awards qualification screenings, and was resoundingly knocked back by distributors. The producers have now abandoned most of Whitburn's work, re-cut Fraser's footage themselves and will soon premiere the third version of the film - now titled The Money Shot. Whether or not it will carry a director's credit remains to be seen. And the chance of a distribution deal seems, if anything, remoter than before.
Fraser was making his first feature after the acclaimed short Boy, and Doust had asked whether he could trail him on The Venus Factory. Little did Doust know he'd be chronicling a filmmaking saga that has already spanned five years. He wisely allowed experienced producer Tom Zubrycki to assist with editing down over 150 minutes of footage to a snappy 75. SBS television pitched in money for the final cut and will screen a 50-minute version of Making Venus later this year.
Making Venus is an insight into, and simultaneously a how-not-to lesson about, Australian low-budget filmmaking. Besides highlighting the importance of a finalised script, it also illustrates the difficulty - but absolute necessity - of coordinating disparate collaborators when working on a low budget.
Although Making Venus is funny, it achieves some uncomfortable laughs at the expense of struggling filmmakers. Gooden and Saggers, cousins who have remarkably remained united throughout this experience, certainly don't come off well. The lesson for them would seem to be learning to say "no" and moving on to something else.
These cousins have now spent more than 10 times their initial budget of $100,000 with no return in sight. To Doust's credit, he also gives a face to the film's private investors, who made letting go of the project such a difficult option for the producers.
Stephen Groenewegen, efilmcritic.com.
Garry Gillard | New: 28 January, 2013 | Now: 1 March, 2017