KIM CHOE wonders what makes the University of Auckland Film Production Group tick, a lively – and so far, productive – collaborative of film students, whose feature film Be Sharp, See Flat is a current resume highlight.


IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT. A party is raging at ‘Film HQ’ – an inconspicuous flat somewhere in Ponsonby, Auckland. Everyone is dressed in pink, and they are celebrating their successful completion-slash-survival of this year’s 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking competition. At some point during the night, an impromptu meeting is called to congratulate the newly appointed ‘admins’ of the University of Auckland Film Production Group (known simply as FPG to its members). These three students are only the third group to be entrusted with FPG leadership – not because it’s run by megalomaniacs, but because the group just hasn’t been around for that long.

The FPG was founded in 2005 by a few doggedly determined film students who bemoaned the lack of a cohesive film community at Auckland University. It recognises the collaborative nature of film, and sets out to help people motivate themselves when getting new projects off the ground. They are probably one of the few university-based groups to actively avoid any involvement with the student union – although this denies them a potential source of funding, it has been pointed out that anyone who can’t make a film in New Zealand with no money probably won’t make it very far anyway. At their meetings they critique each other’s scripts, screen their finished works, and receive workshops from mentors who range from director Sima Urale to Kodak film technicians. Their latest project is an auteur competition, which requires entrants to write, direct, produce, and edit a film on their own. The FPG suffers no fools – they work hard. But they play pretty hard too.

The ad hoc Pink Party meeting is indicative of the way the FPG does things – they live together, work together, and make films together. It has been a successful formula – in just two years, the group has had a hand in producing dozens of short films, and one feature that screened for three sell-out nights at the Academy Cinema, and has probably only ever had a published review once – right here.

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‘The world is very simple’ is the lesson that gifted musician Lisa (Keitha Haycock) sets out to teach Cameron (Alistair James Driver) – a bumbling but charming university student who has landed himself in a Masters programme at music school, but doesn’t have a musical bone in his body. Simple too, is the premise of Be Sharp, See Flat – a summer romance, boy falls in love with girl, they help each other overcome seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, whilst fending off jealous friends and the odd crazy ninja.

My long-overdue viewing of this film was at serious risk of being clouded by all the talk that has been circulating since its debut screenings last year. But any fears of having to suffer through a feature-length version of just another student production were quickly dispelled when the stylish opening titles began to roll. It is indeed appropriate that composer Hong-Yul Yang receives first billing, for it is his music that carries the film’s spirit and charm.

However, as successful as the music is, it also contributes to the pitfalls of the film, with some shaky singing at risk of distracting from the beautifully shot musical numbers. The boys’ dancing also leaves a lot to be desired, although particular mention must go to one James Hanline for his exuberant execution of the Bollywood-style choreography. On the whole though, the relative inexperience of both cast and crew is insignificant, especially given the earnest efforts from the lead actors. Look out for promising director, writer and editor Jack Woon – whose versatile approach to musical numbers, fight scenes, and coy romantic exchanges makes Be Sharp, See Flat a real heart-warmer.

For more information about the University of Auckland Film Production Group, email ftvmsproductiongroup@gmail.com.