Adam Bowes first made a name for himself a couple of years ago with his bitingly funny (and mildly profane) sketch lampooning Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Aired on a short-lived Aussie comedy show called Tonightly (somewhat akin to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show), the segment recapped Bowes’s exasperating 15-month battle to convince the NDIS that he—a bilateral amputee—is, in fact, disabled.
He resurfaced last week at the Sydney Film Festival, which premiered Bowes’s directorial debut. A nine-minute comedic short titled Diving In, it stars Bowes as a love-struck swimmer frantically trying to defuse a humiliating prank perpetrated by his pals. Unfortunately, you can’t stream the full version of Diving In in the US at present, but you can watch the trailer here and catch a few other sneak peeks at Bowes’ Facebook page. As soon as the full movie is accessible stateside, we’ll post an update on Facebook / Insta / etc.
We emailed Bowes a few questions, to which he kindly responded at length. Our exchange has been lightly edited for clarity.
Why did this particular story feel important to tell?
There are numerous examples of film and TV shows that use an “able-bodied savior” trope, where the person with a disability is seen as lesser and the able-bodied person is the hero of the story. If there is a story where the person with a disability is the hero, they are usually portrayed by an able-bodied actor. We wanted to dispel both of these notions and have a romantic comedy between an able-bodied person and an amputee, and not have the disability be the main focus of the film. We also had several other actors with a disability, around the pool and in Alex’s friend group. In TV and film, that would usually require a reason or there would be a specific plot point as to why a person with a disability is there. Whereas in reality, disabled people do exist in day-to-day life. There doesn’t need to be a specific reason.
The main focus is that my character Alex has a crush on Jen and after embarrassing himself, his friends stitch him up and push him toward asking her out, by sending a raunchy text to her. As it’s the early 2000s and not everyone was attached to their mobile phone, it turns into a comical chase to delete the text, using some of my gymnastics skills to get to the phone.
Are there elements of it that are based in your own experience?
There are certain elements that call back to my time as a youth Paralympic swimmer in the mid-2000s. In between races it was just a bunch of friends sitting around, eating hot chips and having a good time. One instance in the film, when Alex is in the middle of trying to get to the phone, a woman comes up to him and calls him inspirational, whilst he’s clearly on a mission. This was based on an instance back in my small coastal town, when I was at a swimming carnival and a woman came up to me in my wheelchair, bent down and talked very slowly and loudly at me, saying “you did very well today, well done”. After I told Nina that story, she said, “We have to put that in.”
What sort of audience response has the film received?
The short film has received an overwhelmingly positive response. Although we may not have been able to take part in the Sydney Film Festival in person and experience the audience’s reactions with them, the reviews and messages we’ve received from so many people has been really positive, and we’re incredibly grateful.
As you headed into production, what were your biggest concerns and anxieties as a first-time director?
I was both incredibly excited and nervous to direct for the first time. Once Nina Oyama and I had our crew together, there weren’t really any concerns. We had an amazing team, and after several production meetings we were all on the same page and in sync with how we wanted the film to look. Getting the chance to co-direct with Nina was such an incredible experience. We’ve worked together before, having written the “NDIS Fails” sketch together for Tonightly on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She had also directed me on the show The Angus Project a couple of years ago, so in instances where I was in the scene and she needed to direct me, I knew I was in good hands.
I think getting the location was probably the most difficult thing we came across. Luckily our producer, Jess Murphy, was absolutely incredible in finding locations that were perfect for the film and made sure that any problems we came across during production were sorted out as soon as possible. It was also incredibly important to ensure the shooting locations were accessible for all our cast and crew.
What surprises (either pleasant or otherwise) arose during the production?
It was incredibly fun learning about the underwater cinematography with Dean Cropp. He was such a lovely and genuine guy on set and made sure we got the most out of the footage that was shot underwater. We were pleasantly surprised with the generosity of the community in getting the short film up and running, including Bluefit for donating the pool to us and the council for lending us the scout hall next to the park we shot in.
After watching the trailer, I’m struck by the visual style, especially the color palette. Can you describe the particular quality of image you were aiming for?
As the short film is set in the mid-2000s, we really wanted the color to pop, from the water, to the jelly bracelets, to the clothing and the accessories the characters wear. We had many conversations with our director of photography, Carina Burke, and our set designer, Anna Gardiner, whom were both incredibly excited about creating that color palette and really making each frame stand out from the other.
What filmmakers do you particularly admire? Do you have a favorite film? favorite genre?
I’ve always had a soft spot for romantic comedies, particularly British rom-coms. I love films that make you think, films that captivate the audience with plot twists and great writing. Christopher Nolan is one of those filmmakers. I also am a massive fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The world-building they’ve done over the past decade is phenomenal, with most of their films having a different director. Each film is its own genre inside a comic book film, and then to bring those different genres and characters together and have it work almost seamlessly, I’ve always really admired.
Are you working on another film project? Any details you can share?
Throughout isolation here in Australia, I’ve come up with a few different ideas for future projects and am doing some writing toward those projects, but it’s still very early. I have a few TV and film projects coming up, which I’ll be acting in once things start to open up again, which I’m very excited about and can’t wait to share when I can.
You’re credited as writer, actor, and director in Diving In. Which of these roles seem to come naturally to you? Which is most outside your comfort zone?
All three have their challenges. When I was younger I loved writing stories, and when my parents got a camera (back then you had to put a small videotape in it), I’d direct my family and friends in my own home movies and also act in them. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to do it professionally now.
I wouldn’t say any of them are particularly outside my comfort zone. Although I’ve mainly trained in acting and have been working as an actor for several years, there’s still so much that I have to learn and will continue to learn anytime I’m on a set or on stage. Likewise, I’ll continue learning when it comes to writing and directing in the future.