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Mel Baker Unveils the Heart Behind 'Say My Name' – Winner of Best Social Impact Film, a Cinematic Tr

Mel Baker's 'Say My Name' has clinched the esteemed title of Best Social Impact Film. In this exclusive interview, we delve into the profound narrative woven by Baker, a Producer and Writer whose vision extends beyond entertainment to spark meaningful conversations and societal change.

American Dream Screen : In the current landscape of independent cinema, what do you believe sets your film apart from the rest and makes it a unique and compelling addition to the medium?

Mel Baker : Two words come to mind PASSION and DETERMINATION. It was a dream of mine to create a short film about my younger life story based on my first book in a trilogy ‘Sleeping Under the Bridge’. My determination was driven by high homelessness and suicide rates worldwide, stemming from childhood abuse, whether physical, emotional and/or sexual that is sadly not discussed as a society. My passion was driven by my story to inspire hope and healing into people’s lives. This passion then transpired as I gathered my cast & crew. Each one of them felt the need to share this story too.

American Dream Screen : Independent filmmaking often encourages creative risk-taking. Can you share a specific instance where you had to make a bold creative decision during the production of your film, and how did it impact the final product?

Mel Baker : In the script, we had a bar scene which was integral to the plot line and part of my real story in how I ended up lying on a pavement all alone with blood soaking through my t-shirt. I had a bar lined up, and they let me down just before we were about to go into production. In between sets, I was trying to get another bar with no luck. We had to pull the scene in the end; and instead, the Director (Rhoyce Nova), DOP (Zachary Peel-McGregor) and myself decided to slightly change the Kings Cross sequence on the day of the shoot. Our bold decision ended up bringing in a strong theme of violence including teenage sexual assault whilst being homeless, which was also true to my story. It added layers of depth that flowed naturally in the sequence of events that gave further insight into these societal struggles.

American Dream Screen : Collaboration is a fundamental aspect of filmmaking. Could you elaborate on a particularly memorable or challenging collaboration experience with a member of your cast or crew and how it influenced the project?

Mel Baker : I met the woman who played me in the lead role, Quinn, at a radio interview in August 2022. She was heading off overseas, and I thought I wouldn’t see her again. A couple of weeks later she turned up at my book launch in the pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I told her about my idea of doing a short film, and said I think you would play me well. She said ‘yes’, having had her overseas trip turned upside down, and by September my exec team were having our first meeting. I had worked with Zachary (DOP) in another documentary, he came on board and was really the only experienced crew member. I had been an Associate Producer for this documentary for 4 years, so I had learned a lot about the film industry, but Zachary’s depth of knowledge was key through the entire production. Quinn had heard of Rhoyce who was in film school, and I asked her to co-write with me and be the Director. This was Rhoyce’s and Quinn’s debut film. After our exec meeting, we all agreed this was a story that needed to be told. They went away and read my book, and within a few weeks Rhoyce and I had written the script for the short film, and by October we had finished filming. It was our collaboration and passion that drove this project from start to finish. An incredible team effort that ultimately influenced the finished result, where we are getting rave reviews and 70% success rate on international awards. As of end of November 2023, we have won 44 international film awards.

American Dream Screen : Can you discuss the artistic influence and choices that informed the film’s visual aesthetics and how they complemented the narrative?

Mel Baker : It is quite mind-blowing how simple props can become meaningful symbols of life’s journey. I wanted to include certain props from my childhood that I had worn as the pop of colour was important through such a dark narrative. One of the best of these was my rainbow shoelace worn on black shoes during the homelessness narrative. That one pop of colour on screen, not only gave promise and hope to the viewer, but also to the lead actress. After Rhoyce, read my book, she brought an edgy artistic influence into our film that transcended deeper meanings through simple props. One of her creations was roses budding and falling over time, and even changing colour. This complemented the narrative by their own expression. When life was going well, they were growing. When life turned upside down, they were laying squashed and blood red on the ground. When life experienced a glimmer of hope, a yellow rose was swaying in the breeze. Recently, we won an award for BEST ARTISTIC SHORT FILM from India.

American Dream Screen : The post-production process is where a film truly takes shape. How did you approach the editing, sound design, and music composition in your film to enhance the storytelling and emotional impact?

Mel Baker : My lead role was a music composer who was wanting to get into film. After reading my book, she wrote music to some of the chapters, which then led me to see how I wanted my film to be shaped. Basically, with minimal dialogue allowing the visual story to create that emotional impact alongside heavy music composition. She and I then wrote the lyrics to the finale hope song that brought the story together that features at the end of the short film. As we approached post-production, I could not find an editor who was available. Like everything in this whole production, it came together when it was ready, so I just waited for the right time and right people. Post-production took about four months to what was a super-fast track start. Editing was completed by two people. In the initial stage, Zachary’s wife who was in Eastern Europe at the time (Agnes Peel-McGregor) did our first pass of editing. Zachary, Rhoyce and I were all involved in this to produce a first cut. This was marked with difficulty working on an edit wholly online, but it was better than it would have been pre-COVID! The final edit came together with the person who also did the sound design (Mark Parry). All the sounds on our film, from the train rattling or the creeks in the floorboard to the toilet paper roll, that was all in post-production. As we did little dialogue, we didn’t record any sounds. Put this with the music composition, it not only enhanced the narrative, but it also brought emotional impact. Mark, along with the colourist, brought our film to another level. Rhoyce and I were involved in this whole process to the end, and I signed the film off as complete in April 2023.

American Dream Screen : Can you share a challenging moment during the production of your film and how you overcame it, ultimately making the project stronger or more meaningful?

Mel Baker : We ran out of time in our 3-day shoot, that was already filled to the max with about 15 hours of shooting in different locations on two of the days. The logistics all came together remarkably well, considering I was running the whole thing including the call sheets, props, wardrobe, art department, and being it was my story and film, I wanted to be on set through every scene guiding the work with Rhoyce and Zachary. It was truly a team effort in all areas. By the third day, with no bar in sight, and desperately needing to do a bathroom scene, it was one thing we couldn’t cut out. That is, to show how hard it is for a female who was homeless with their menstrual cycle. It is something that not many people think about and was significant to the narrative. We decided to stop for lunch, and slow down. I suggested the pub that was nearby, and it happened to have a great bathroom. As I ordered lunch for everyone, I was telling the manager of the pub about our film and my story, and how I used to sleep next to their building. He asked if there was anything he could do for us, and I said, “Can we film in your bathroom?” Promptly they closed the upstairs bathroom, and after our lunch and debrief, we filmed the bathroom scene! It was a miracle. There are definitely good people out there in the world that will do anything for others. And I say that about all my cast & crew too, most of them gave up their time and resources to do this film for free or at low cost because they believed in the story and how it would impact the world.

As we conclude our conversation with Mel Baker, the visionary force behind 'Say My Name,' the resonance of this Best Social Impact Film lingers in the air. Baker's dedication to fostering change through storytelling is not merely confined to the frames of a movie; it's a call to action, an invitation to reflect, and a catalyst for societal transformation.

'Say My Name' stands as a testament to the power of cinema in addressing pressing social issues, and Mel Baker emerges not just as a filmmaker but as a beacon of advocacy and compassion. As the credits roll on this impactful narrative, we are reminded that the art of filmmaking can be a potent force for positive change. Here's to Mel Baker and the enduring ripple effect of 'Say My Name' on both the silver screen and society at large.

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