By Greg Wetherall
“When I sent it to her, she told me to go fuck myself”
In 2008, former Neighbours-actor-turned-aspiring-documentarian, Tom Meadmore, wanted to embark on the creation of his first feature film. Having no clear vision as to what the subject would be, he just started filming.
Many years later, we find the fruits of this labour presented in the form of the utterly engrossing documentary How to Lose Jobs & Alienate Girlfriends.
Sticking true to its title, this is a film about what happens when you self-sabotage your burgeoning aspirations, as well as your love life and your professional employment, due to a loose tongue and a lack of tact. It is a film about venturing down the creative rabbit hole, taking no prisoners and being left in the lurch.
Tom’s boss at the Lonely Planet office was an accomplished forty-year old filmmaker, Tony Jackson. He was also the lead singer/songwriter in the band, Speed Orange. A deal was struck: Tom could film Tony’s band and learn on the job. That would be a win-win for both parties. The trouble is, Tom couldn’t stand Tony’s voice and he couldn’t keep the opinion to himself.
In the meantime, Tom also sought to film his then-girlfriend, Amanda Medica’s, attempts at cracking the music industry as a sensitive female singer songwriter. She also wasn’t too fond of her every move being documented either (article continues below trailer).
With the film premiering at the East End festival on 4th July, we took some time to talk to Tom about the experience. It was an utterly fascinating insight into when the personal and the professional collide….
What was it about Speed Orange’s music that you disliked so much? Was it just Tony’s voice?
My initial thought on Tony’s voice was just that I didn’t like the sound of it. I didn’t think it sounded nice, but let me qualify this, and this is really important, a better way to frame it would be; it wasn’t to my taste. That’s the really important thing, because taste is so subjective. It wasn’t to my taste, but I thought, at the time, that his voice wasn’t good.
I reacted, because I thought that if we want to achieve the things that we want to achieve, we must work on our weak points, and Tony’s not doing that. The best singers have had singing lessons and why doesn’t Tony have singing lessons? I think it was a reaction to that, as much as Tony’s voice not being to my taste.
It was as much, why is he not putting the effort in, it’s not to my taste and therefore it creates a third question, which came out in the film.
How has it felt for you, having to confront and deal with editing that period of your life for such a long period? Has it made it harder to move on? Especially when dealing with an old relationship?
It’s a strange one, and it’s one that Amanda found quite confusing. I’m very cautious for what I speak for Amanda, but one of the things she made abundantly clear to me, on numerous occasions, was that she thought it was quite odd that I was able to edit this film after we had broken up for so long.
She really, really struggled with it. Whereas, I compartmentalised it. I put it all in a box, because I needed to finish the film. Also, I was going through… well, the whole reason as to why it all fell apart was tied into growth that I needed to go through as a person. I was experiencing that growth regardless. If I put the film away, I’d still have to deal with the aspects of myself that caused the problem in the first place.
A lot my issues I had around this was about how I relate to people, personal boundaries and that sort of stuff was playing out in my life anyway. I just compartmentalised the thing and bullheadedly edited the thing to get it finished.
How many hours of footage did you have in the end for this film?
I ended up with about 600 hours of footage. I have got a few films in that footage. After Amanda abandoned the project, I started filming one of the other characters in the film. She appears very briefly. Her name is Monique Brumby. She appears in the middle, right where I have a fallout with Tony. She’s a musician in Australia and she has won a couple of big awards in her career. She’s done some interesting things. An amazing musician and singer.
I started filming her for a couple of months to completely replace Amanda, so I have got all this footage of her. I’ve got copious amounts of interviews with all sorts of people that I originally had littered throughout the film. I’ve got the entire Speed Orange recording studio journey, which is hardly included in that film. I’ve got huge amounts of my own personal journey.
Do you think you’ll use it and make other films out of it?
No, with a lot of it, I’m taking the best deleted scenes and, well, there’s a YouTube channel with heaps of deleted scenes on it. I won’t make another film out of it, no.
How did you whittle the duration down?
The difficult thing was having perspective, so I got three brilliant producers to help me. I managed to get the film down to 10 hours and that was a miracle.
A friend of mine, Rob Cromwell, helped me get it down to four. Then, another friend of mine, Duncan Barnes, helped me get it down from four hours to two and a half. Then, another producer who I have worked with a lot, Andrew Lock, and a story producer in America, Karen Everett, helped me get it down from two and a half hours to, eventually, down to 73 minutes.
What these people were able to help me do was, to help me technically, because they have skills in telling stories and they’re brilliant – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them – but they also gave me the perspective.
When you say ‘perspective’ do you mean an objectivity to tell the narrative well?
Yes! Absolutely! I’m telling my story, but I am also telling the story of two other people. And I’m bias, because I have an emotional connection to these people and the experience. I needed people to help tell if I’m being fair to these people, and am I being fair to myself.
That was really important, because I didn’t want any of my own resentment, anger or personal issues to influence how I portrayed either Tony or Amanda.
And were they (anger, resentment etc) there?
Well, for a long time with Amanda, I had a lot of trouble. Effectively, I spent two years editing that film with no idea as to what she was going to say. When I sent it to her, she told me to go ‘fuck’ myself.
The whole time I was editing it, I was editing it with the knowledge that there was a possibility that this might not go anywhere. I had to accept that and come to terms with that. I came to terms with it enough. It’s a huge amount of time and effort in making a film and if you’re sitting there thinking, ‘fuck, this is not going to go anywhere’, you end up thinking, ‘what’s the point?’ and you’ll stop and shelve it.
As a result, I had to look at myself and work out what this really meant to me. Was this about me being successful and being praised? Or simply having the film released? Or just having finished it? Is it just about going through this process so that I know I can? Is it just about, honestly, sending something to Amanda and saying, ‘I’m sorry’, because I had to look at myself the whole time and think, what is it about me that’s made this happen?
That’s ultimately what the film became. It was a very emotionally stressful period.
What’s your definition of ‘success’? Did it change during, and has it changed after, making this film from what it was before?
My idea of success before was the industry recognising you for what you’ve done, and by being a professional and being paid for it. That’s what my definition of success was.
I’ve had to complete uproot that and realise that success is subjective, depending on the situation. Ultimately, what it really boils down to, success is, for me personally, is just doing it: having a go and doing it.
Often, especially when we’re doing something new, or there’s a lot at stake, in a position where we could be criticised, it can stop me from taking a step. The process of doing is the thing that should be the reward, really.
I must qualify that. I mean, do I embody that all the time? No. I don’t embody that all the time. I’m not a fucking spiritual guru. I’m not that person. I’m someone who works towards that all the time, fighting against my own ego and wanting to be amazing all the time.
Now that you look at it that way, do you feel as though you have more sympathy with Tony?
I think that what Tony does is amazing. I think he should have every success in the world and, sincerely, he should have heaps of radio play and sell lots of records. I think that the music that he makes is great. I very much like the songs that he writes. And that is no lie.
I think that he’s an extraordinarily brave and courageous man. He’s a very gifted filmmaker and he’s a very gifted song writer. I think my prejudice around his attitude and all that stuff about his ‘quest for fame’ is none of my goddam business. That’s really just about my stuff, not him.
Is the motive for creativity an enigma that we can never suss out? Or do you feel you have a better understanding after making this film?
I asked this question of everybody that I interviewed. I have a huge amount of interview footage that goes into this question. Originally, the film was supposed to touch upon all of that stuff as well as following these journeys (Tony and Amanda), but I cut it all out because it was too long and convoluted.
I think that in creating something, when you finally complete it, it’s as though the universe aligns. It’s like, ‘fuck, yes, I solved it! I did it’. I think that process makes me feel connected to something greater than me; something that’s bigger than me. I think, in a nutshell, that the creative process is a spiritual thing.
Where does perfectionism rest with that?
I think that perfectionism is driven by fear. I think there is a place for perfectionism, as in wanting to do a good job, and wanting make sure that it’s as good as it can be.
I think that if that is your definition of ‘perfectionism’, then I think that is good, but if you take the definition of ‘perfectionism’ that I had throughout this process, that it is very fear driven, then it creates a huge amount of anxiety and it’s really unhealthy. It is counterproductive.
Which documentaries inspired you?
A documentary that helped my write this film was Dig! (2004 documentary about the love-hate relationship between two bands; the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre), Rock n’ Roll Nerd (2008 film about Tim Minchin’s rise to success) and Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010 doc about Banksy).
There are numerous occasions in the film where you seem to put your foot in it. Have you learnt a lot about yourself whilst making this film?
I’ve learnt a lot about boundaries, my sense of entitlement and about being tactful. I’ve also learnt a lot about the importance of trust and not taking a lot of things for granted; not taking trust for granted, as well as getting a stronger sense of how sensitive that can be, particularly in the documentary sense.
Personally, with my partner, I can be very honest and very forthcoming. I’m still learning about being tactful. The thing is, when you have a camera in somebody’s face telling their story, it adds a whole other dimension.
Amanda must have changed her mind and said that you could use the footage. Did she see the 73 minute cut when she changed her mind? Or was it from an earlier, longer version?
I showed her a 90 minute cut, and she said, ‘no’. That was in February 2013. It took until September until she was willing to talk about the film again. It was really a lot about trying to rebuild that relationship and rebuilding that trust. So, we met up and talked about what had happened and how we felt. It was quite an emotionally intense experience.
We talked and talked and we began a process of… well, really, just me listening and trying to understand her perspective and understand what I had done wrong. Eventually, we came to an agreement. She made a series of requests. One of the things she asked for was that I destroyed all of the footage that I had of her.
How are things with Amanda now? She’s in London… are you friends? Do you hang out at all?
She’s actually in Melbourne at the moment. She goes back and forth. And things aren’t great, actually. I’m not going to speak for her, but she has her feelings and I can’t say one way or the other.
Let’s put it this way, the last time that I actually spoke to her was in 2013, and she had said, ‘best of luck with the film. I honestly hope you have all the success with it’, and she was very happy with the outcome of the contract that we signed.
Since then, she’s made it known publicly that her opinion and feelings have changed.
That she’s not happy with the film being released?
I don’t know, but she has publicly said some unpleasant things. I can’t speak for her. She’s entitled to her opinion and her feelings. I have sincerely done everything I can to make her happy.
Do you have any hopes that this situation could change in the future?
Absolutely! I would love nothing more than for her to be a part of this journey and for her to be happy. Sincerely, I would love it. But it doesn’t seem to be possible at the moment.
Are you left thinking, ‘what’s changed?’?
Yes, I would love to know what’s changed. I don’t know what’s changed. I have no idea. I’m not going to ask her, because I’d just like to let it be. If she wants to speak out, then fine, but I don’t see the point in asking her about that.
What are your hopes for this film?
I hope that this film is seen by as many people as possible, and that it helps open doors to future films that I could make.
I’ve already started making a new film. It’s a documentary about chronic illness. I’m also in the process of writing a fiction film, called, A Box of Tapes.
How To Lose Jobs & Alienate Girlfriends has its European premiere at the East End Film Festival on 4th July. There is also a one night theatrical screening on 16th July at 9pm at the Genesis Cinema in East London. Tickets can be purchased here.