A scene from Boot ... one of the semi finalists in the YouTube contest.
Two short films by young Sydney playwrights and actors have been selected as semi-finalists in a YouTube competition to find the world's best storytellers.
Bat Eyes and Boot, starring actors aged 17 to 22 and filmed by Sydney director Damien Power, have already amassed more than 50,000 views online and are expected to reach hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
If the films make the finals of the inaugural Your Film Festival, the creatives will attend the Venice International Film Festival in August to compete for a $500,000 filmmaking grant and a chance to work with director Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus) and actor Michael Fassbender (Shame, Inglourious Basterds).
"Short-filmmaking is exactly where I started my career 50 years ago, so to be helping new filmmakers find an entry point like this into the industry is fantastic," Scott said in a statement issued by YouTube.
Power says a "lot of love" went into making the two short films.
"They started as monologues performed on a youth theatre stage and now they're going to be showcased on the world's biggest stage," he says. "It's very exciting."
Bat Eyes and Boot were produced as part of The Voices Project, an initiative of the national new writing program Fresh Ink at the Australian Theatre for Young People.
The films were adapted from monologues written by Sydney-based playwrights Jessica Bellamy and Joanna Erskine and performed as part of a stage showcase last year.
Power, who has written and directed several award-winning shorts including Peekaboo (starring Justine Clarke), worked with both emerging playwrights to turn their monologues into short films.
"They really embraced the process, worked far outside their comfort zone and were responsive not only to my feedback, but also to the needs of a different medium and the inevitable demands of production such as locations changing and bad weather," Power says.
Working with a crew assembled by producer Bec Cubitt, both films were shot back-to-back in just three days around Tempe and Marrickville in December.
Boot is the story of two best friends, Dana and Julia, dealing with an appalling car crash after a night of drinking. "It was raining torrentially the night we filmed it," Power recalls. "We were sitting under a shelter watching a rat run for cover thinking, 'If the rats are escaping, we're in trouble.' But then it cleared just in time."
By contrast, Bat Eyes is "a very small story in the life of two young people who don't realise a fleeting moment can mean more later in life", says its writer, Jessica Bellamy. "It's about how small experiences can have a very big impact."
Bellamy says adapting the monologue into a film taught her how to tell stories in new ways. "It was scary but I've learned how to make stories much less wordy," she says. "I'm very new to film. I always thought theatre people and film people were quite separate but Damien paid a lot of attention to story and character, which is what all storytelling is about, whether it's theatre or film."
Fraser Corfield, the artistic director of ATYP, says the company is thrilled by the success of the films, which were selected to be among the 50 semi-finalists from 15,000 entries around the world.
"To make these films, we used the same philosophy as we use to make theatre. We put talented young people with industry professionals to create something with an authentic young voice that is also a sophisticated piece of art," he says.
ATYP's biggest theatre production of last year was Lachlan Philpott's play Silent Disco, co-presented with Griffin Theatre and HotHouse in Victoria. Corfield says they sold 7500 seats in three months. Bat Eyes and Boot reached 7000 views in two weeks.
"It is really exciting," Corfield says. "It feels like the company is leaping into the frontline in online resources for young people and youth theatre."
Power says ATYP deserves full credit for the project. "It's been a really forward-thinking thing to do," he says. "Not only did they take theatre and turn it into a film – they put it online for the whole world to see the quality. Now it's all about getting as many eyeballs on the films as possible. If people love the films, they can vote for them once a day, every day."
Watch Bat Eyes and Boot, and vote for them in Your Film Festival.