Jennifer in character while shooting Cowboy in 2019.

Lucien on set with Thomas Baricevic, who wrote, directed and produced the short film ‘Cowboy,’ shot entirely in South Gippsland.

By Kirra Grimes

A GRANTVILLE mother and son are set to make their debut on the silver screen together this weekend, after being handpicked by an award-winning director for the lead roles in an independent short film.
Jennifer and Lucien Savage star in ‘Cowboy,’ the latest release from Bena-based filmmaker Thomas Baricevic, which makes its Victorian premiere at the Bena Town Hall this Saturday, January 25.
Shot around Bena, Loch, Nyora and Lang Lang over a few weeks in April/May 2019, the film tells the story of a teenage boy living on a struggling farm, torn between obligations to his family and dreams of pursuing a music career.
Thomas cast the Savages after chancing upon then 13-year-old Lucien on stage in the Battle of the Bands at the Korumburra Show in February 2019.
Lucien had the right look, attitude, and most importantly, the musical talent Thomas was looking for to bring to life the Cowboy’s country-music obsessed protagonist, ‘Kay,’ having studied classical and contemporary guitar and taken voice lessons most of his life.
As a devoted single mother who runs her own business, Jennifer was a natural fit for the role of Kay’s mum, who’s been left in charge of the family dairy farm after the sudden passing of Kay’s dad.
The similarities between the real life and dramatised mother/son dynamic “translated beautifully on screen,” Thomas said, with the pair’s lack of film experience proving no obstacle.
So, what was it like acting in their first film together? We sat down with Jennifer and Lucien ahead of the screening (where they’ll both be seeing the finished film for the first time) to find out.

Why did you say ‘yes’ to being in the film? What did you like about the script?
Lucien: Being a young musician, wanting to grow up and follow your passion, I could relate to that. I think a lot of country kids can. I liked that Kay wasn’t a straightforward character – he’s torn emotionally and he’s dealing with a lot of grief, and poverty. But I think he handles it well.
Jennifer: The story’s relevant and meaningful, and the characters are real and believable. My character is a struggler, a survivor… And there’s a lot of people like that out there. The backbone of a dairy community is the women who put the food on the table through all the blood, sweat and tears, and there’s not much support and they just tough it. I really respect that.

What was challenging about your roles? How did you get into character?
Lucien: I was performing in two musicals [‘Les Miserables’ with Wonthaggi Theatrical Group and Newhaven College’s ‘Barnum’] at the time we were shooting, plus I had school work. So, that was the challenging part – trying to fit it all in. I missed a few days of school and had to catch up which wasn’t easy. But my character was supposed to look a bit… stressed. So, it probably helped me get into character!
Jennifer: We did a lot of reading and research around the issues affecting kids in the bush, watching other short films, world movies, and just empathising. Lucien has friends in exactly that situation – he has a mate who’s a farmer and he has that responsibility, even though he’s interested in pursuing other things, he’s not really allowed to.
So, the roles were largely fictional but there were some non-fictional elements in our lives enough to give us those insights. My family were dairy farmers years ago, in Newcastle. And as a single mum, I had a lot of material to draw on!
My main challenge was overcoming my shyness – I’m usually terrified of putting my image out there, so for me to ‘lose it’ and get emotional on camera was challenging. But there was a deeper emotion I was able to liberate because I felt comfortable working with the director of photography [David Franjic] and the director, Thomas.
I also felt a great sense of responsibility to be authentic because I felt like I was representing not only single, working mums, working on the land, but single mums everywhere… The concern you have for your child growing up without a father. I felt I had to do that character justice because it’s so relevant to so many women on farms and women in general.

Were there any particular scenes you found more difficult to pull off?
Lucien: There was one scene where I kept getting tongue tied. It was the easiest scene and the last scene and we were there for four hours! The line was: “I’ll check on the back paddock” but I just couldn’t get ‘back paddock’ right. It was raining and we were out in a dairy, meanwhile a cow gave birth in the background, which wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a bit of a Monty Python moment. It had been a long week of filming.

Did you have a favourite scene?
Lucien: It was great just being out the back hills of Nyora and Bena. It’s really beautiful out there that time of year. But the scene at the old Nyora train station was the stand out. It’s awesome there. And that was my first time interacting on camera with [co-star] Lachlan [Stokes]. He’s older and he’s an experienced actor so I learned a few things just watching him work.

What did you get out of the experience? Would you do it again?
Lucien: I’ve got an agent now and I’m getting auditions for other [film] parts. People have approached us after seeing still from the film. So, it’s opened up a whole new world of opportunities and experiences, hopefully some more [acting] roles involving music.
Jennifer: It was really fun to do together. It wasn’t much different from real life – it was just me nagging him, which he’s used to! My focus was on Lucien and seeing him unravelling hidden talents because he really enjoys performing. But it was an inward journey for us both. And Thomas’ crew was so much fun. I’d love to work with them again, even as a tea lady, I don’t care!
Cowboy screens this Saturday, January 25, at Bena Town Hall, with doors opening at 7.30pm, and an introduction by the filmmaker at 8pm. This free, one night only event is not to be missed, as your chance to see familiar faces and locations as you’ve never seen them before.