Jason King is the Owner of Bells Milk Bar, which is the oldest of its kind in Australia and situated in the Outback mining town near the border of New South Wales and South Australia. King also works passionately with film in both production and as a scout for locations in the area he now calls home. While in Broken Hill in 2017, radionotes spoke to them about their work in film.
Due to time and other factors we did not get chatting about the Milk Bar, though through the recording it was clear we were seated in a very special and vibrant locale.
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(Transcript of Jason King chat below, check to delivery in audio)
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FEATURE GUEST: Jason King of the Bells Milk Bar and JK Media
Next Episode: The Attics (Band)
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[Radio Production – notes: Jason King takes the full episode]
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For direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Julie T at REV
John Murch: … over a decade ago. What was the spark? What was the passion of having this old girl, this basically time warp to the 1950s?
Jason King: I first heard about it, I was living in Alice Springs and my mum had just recently moved to Broken Hill or about within the year preceding. Things weren’t going great up there for a number of reasons, and I rang Mum one day. I was thinking about coming and taking advantage of parental hospitality and sorting out what I was going to do with myself, and I loved where I’d come from the time I’d spent here. The upshot of that, and the great thing about it is that I ended up … Before that I’d been doing door to door sales for awhile and spent most of the previous three or four years traveling around, just lived out of a suitcase and I was really craving that community and putting some roots down and spending a little bit of time in one place.
Jason King: I rang Mum to see what she was up to and it just so happened at the exact same time in the exact same phone call, she’s talking about this old milk bar that she’d discovered on the … It was pretty run down at the time. It had been on the market for a while, but they made their own drinks there and from these handmade syrups and cordials that had been around. This was one of the longest running businesses in Broken Hill. Had been running since the early 1890s, as a confectioner and cordial maker to start with. The lure was too much. She convinced me to come down here. Neither of us could do anything like this on our own. She was working full time, so we needed her financial stability, but she needed someone to kind of work for nothing to run the place for a while till it got up and running.
John Murch: At the time of your saying, you were in contact with parentals, with mum at the time. This is also about childhood memories as well. Maybe not so much for you, but for so many other people.
Jason King: Yeah, absolutely. I had no idea exactly how much this place meant to the community of Broken Hill. Not just that, the wider community, especially people of a certain age that remembered coming back, coming to the milk bar as a kid regardless of where it was. I had all these plans. I already saw some photos and she convinced me to come here and I had all these plans for it. Then once I got here, and it was probably a really good thing that we sort of started it on the smell of an oily rag, and couldn’t really do much to start, with because we didn’t make any silly changes that people will sometimes make to businesses like these, before they realize the importance of what’s already here.
Jason King: We were able to save a lot of the original artwork and from our time, the old counter had been thrown away and all that sort of stuff. We found an original 1950s counter, around that, because when we first moved here, we both lived out the back where we’re sitting now. This is my mum’s bedroom and Mum was the next one over, which we’ve renovated through. Yeah, it was pretty soon that I realised that now we needed that space for the business and booted her out. I’ve since bought … Yeah, my wife and I have since bought Mum out of it.
John Murch: She’s sort of-
Jason King: She, yeah, really did a really great job discovering this opportunity and getting me and convincing me to be involved, and helping out with that early stuff.
John Murch: Also it has a sense of history as well, because there’s also a museum aspect attached to it as well.
Jason King: Yeah, so I mean it’s one of those things that when you start looking into it, there’s so much about milk bar of culture and milk bar history that especially the younger generation probably wouldn’t have a clue about. It’s great that this vintage revival seems to be happening right around the place and it’s all coming back in again, because people are now interested in this, as well as the the older generation that remember coming to places like this … A whole range of great, great stuff around that ’50s kind of vintage theme. The best thing I love about this is, and it’s something you only experience in Broken Hill, where you can do that, but it’s certainly like unique in that you can have the same experience now. You can come in, have a milkshake, kids can come in after school, people can come on a date and it’s pretty much more or less the exact same experience they had 50, 60 years ago, now, today in 2017.
John Murch: Joined by Jason King. He is the owner of Bells Milk Bar here in Broken Hill, but also of Jason King media. That’s for which I’d like to talk to you now. Broken Hill is known as a stellar Australian film locale for places to go as a film maker making work here in Broken Hill. What’s your passion? What’s your drive through the lens in Broken Hill?
Jason King: That’s a great question. I think, a lot of people think that I’m from Broken Hill, that I was born here and that I’ve lived here all my life, certainly people from outside, but even locals who’ve also lived here all their life. I wasn’t. I’ve been here 13 years and I mean, but I guess like some of them just say, “Well, you’re so passionate about the place. You’re always sprunicking Broken Hill. You’re always out there trying to promote the place and talk it up. I just assumed you were born here and that you’re from here.”
Jason King: The thing about it for me is, is yeah, it’s just gotten under my skin and a range of factors. Being able to showcase those as best as I can at any given time through the lens, is a really great way of showing that passion, interpreting it. The landscapes of course are something that people, filmmakers, and photographers and artists have been flocking to this area for a long time to capture. It’s just so raw and real. I love those and I love going out to the desert with or without the green tinge that it sometimes gets when it’s rained a bit. That’s definitely with the light that we get here.
John Murch: Now the green tinge we should say, is this the infamous green tinge that saw Mad Max go walkies? Is this the sore wound we don’t talk about?
Jason King: Oh look, I think it’s a number of factors to be honest. I mean the Australian dollar must’ve had something to do with it, if you think about it. Yeah, I don’t think the desert, in terms of the farmers and obviously farming is a far greater impact to our local economy at this point in time than, than filmmaking is. It’s great that it’s been raining and it’s great that there’s lots of vegetation and the farmers were having a great, great time of it. From a filmmaking point of view, the desert itself, it rained so much that all of these dormant seeds and everything’s all just sprouted up, and now they’ve taken hold and every time you get a little bit of rain, it greens back up again and you’ve got to go a bit further to get that classic sort of the desert that everyone remembers from those Coke commercials or from the Mad Max too.
Jason King: I’m assuming it’ll come back at some point, but it’s certainly, yeah, the green has made a difference. I don’t mind it. I mean, I love being out in the desert, I love being out amongst it and the elements, but it’s more than just that for me. It’s the community, and the people and the characters that you find here as well. Everyone, whether no matter how they feel, there’s a lot of people, they wear their hearts on the sleeve. It is what it is, and whether that’s good or bad or otherwise, depending on your perspective, you’re getting a really great slice of Australian life when you point the camera at someone in Broken Hill. I mean it’s cliche to say, but it’s hard to describe what makes it special. It is like … I mean, everyone likes to think their place is like nowhere else.
Jason King: It’s just like nowhere else that I’ve ever experienced. Doing the door to door sales, we traveled around through lots of small country towns. In fact, the first time I ever came to Broken Hill, I was knocking on the doors and actually sitting in people’s lounge rooms. There’s just something about it. There’s something about the people that it’s I guess, the total opposite in many ways of that fast paced city craziness, that some people find themselves immersed in, in the cities, and where everyone’s just passing in the street. Here, for better or for worse, everyone’s sort of … it’s one community and regardless of whether you sit on the fence and how you feel about that.
Jason King: Then thrown into that mix, you’ve also got like the art scene and you’ve got these filmmakers that come into town from the city, bring that sort of frenetic energy in and that filmmakers eye, and transform the vibes. Even with Mad Max though, here doing preproduction and there was only a hundred people, but it just changed the vibe enough to just shift that energy a bit around, and help bring things to the community that maybe if we do, we’re just totally left to our own devices, might be lost.
John Murch: What is it about the Broken Hill landscape you’d be saying to filmmakers, they should be coming to see and engage with? Because it’s not just the Mad Max kind of desert like this and other characteristics as well, isn’t it?
Jason King: Absolutely. There’s lots of different aspects and I mean there’s some great national parks and things like that. When you’re based here and you’re trying to get projects together, and you think about the resources you’ve got at your disposal, it’s easy to sort of think, “Oh, it’d be great if we had a camera, a higher place. It would be great if we had a bunch of sound guys we can call on or other experienced filmmakers and there’s a few people, but not enough film work here to have people full time doing those sort of things. If you’re a filmmaker coming into a remote location, which has got the kind of landscapes you can get here, it’s actually really well set up, as far as compared to other Outback locations in that, once you get here, 20 minutes, half an hour and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Jason King: In town you’ve got great restaurants, you’ve got cozy accommodation and lots of different options and styles and budget ranges there as well. Broken Hill is Australia’s first nationally heritage listed city, and part of the reason is the the architecture, and the infrastructure, and the mining stuff, and the old buildings. There’s plenty of [rusted on 00:09:21], there’s plenty of dirt roads and that kind of landscape. I mean there’s places like Silverton, I would say too, like I know that few things have been filmed at Cockburn, as well, which is on the South Australian border. It’s kind of like an untouched, uncommercialized version of Silverton perhaps, in different, totally different beasts and of course Silverton, you’ve got the Mundi Mundi Planes as well. Yeah, you’ve got those kind of things, but I think the facilities that come with it as well, and you’ve got an airport.
Jason King: I mean, yes, there’s limits to when and how you’re flying, but you can fly in, and you can get a rental car, and you can drive down the road and make a film, which looks like you’ve driven into the middle of Australia to make. If you wanted to make an American … a film set in America, you can find a landscape out here that people would think is there as well. You’ve got that bit of flexibility around it. I’ve spoken to some crews that have come out here and once they get here they’ll be like, “Wow, it’s really easy to come here and maybe we should have, in hindsight, since it just rained for two weeks in the city, maybe we should have actually come out here and we might’ve even been worthwhile,” because there’s obviously a financial impost on crews to get everyone here.
Jason King: There’s living away from home allowances and all these kind of things, that when people are making these decisions about where they film, they’ve got to take into account. Obviously people like to put as much stuff on the screen as they can and I guess I would put it out there that it’s a big challenge I think for all the time. As content becomes cheaper and cheaper, and people want to expect to pay less and less to make it.
John Murch: Let’s talk about content, because as a filmmaker based here in town now here in Broken Hill, it mustn’t be a full time gig, so how do you balance that?
Jason King: Well, look personally, I’m really proud to say that it is something that at the moment, I’m doing full time, if you count corporate stuff of course, which I do because look, I put the same effort and same eye into a council or tourism video, whatever it is I would, to making a short film. To go there as a day job and to be able to go out into the community or go out into the environment and make something and get paid to do it, every day’s a great day. I feel really blessed to be able to get paid to do something I really love doing. If I could, I would do it for free anyway.
John Murch: As a local lad, is there a particular project that you might be working on at the moment that has got you pretty excited?
Jason King: I’m actually in the middle of doing some location scouting for a TV show that’s coming out here filming in a month or so. That’s exciting. It’s always great to be involved in these things. There’s a lot of commercials and things too that come out here. Yeah, I was fortunate enough to have a fairly decent gig on the Wake in Fright show that filmed out here. That’s finished filming, so I’m not really doing any work on that. It’s all wrapped up and editing it. When they were here, it was really exciting for the whole town. Everyone got to, who wanted to, pretty much got to be involved in some way and there was lots of extras, 50, or 60, or 80 or something local extras involved and kids and the whole range. That was really exciting.
Jason King: That is something that I find …. There were some other locals that worked on it as well. I think that’s something that’s really exciting too, is being able to broaden my filmmaking horizons and at the same time, work with other locals and see them developing their careers, and their own makeup artists and costume, and how the filmmaker’s getting even as extras to see what goes on in the set. Then a great example of that is we shot a short film, which I shot for a friend last weekend or the weekend before. Nine out of 10 of the crew had been on being involved in Wake in Fright, and other shows, and they’d seen what goes on. It made a huge difference.
John Murch: As the local filmmaking now, when you see other people’s interpretation of, not just the landscape but the town people, how do you read into their visual representation?
Jason King: Well, I might just sort of preface that with like, even just looking at some of my own work from as it evolves, it’s interesting to look back and see how I looked through the lens, what I chose to put up on the screen a few years ago compared to maybe a few weeks ago. That’s really exciting. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been a bit of learn more of the end type stuff.
Jason King: Just making lots of videos and improving over time has been really … Often I’ve been away to learn stuff then too to make lots of stuff, and there’s plenty of great resources around too, which is really awesome. I guess it’s the same in any pursuit when you put a lot of time into it over time, and if you’re committed to constant improving, and learning, and growing and that if you’re aware of that journey, then you’re going to be learning those things. I found that pretty interesting.
John Murch: Seeing that change from when you first started to now …
Jason King: I love watching films that other people make and regardless of when I can, whatever content. Look, obviously we’re bombarded with content now so it’s not always possible to watch everything you’d like to potentially watch. I think that’s kind of probably really the aim of all content creators, is to make content that’s engaging enough that people don’t switch it off, and go and watch something else. In terms of how I feel about seeing people put … I mean if you look at photographers, there’s like a lot of photographers in town, currently using their lenses, and everyone’s got a slightly different style. That’s really interesting too. Then people come into town and they’ll catch something different.
John Murch: We’re in conversation with Jason King of Jason King Media, also the owner here of Bells. Is there a project that you’re currently working on that you’re really proud of, particularly as a film maker?
Jason King: One that I’m working on, I’m pretty excited about, It’s actually that most of the work is done on producing. A friend of mine, Nick Crowhurst, is directing and we shot at a couple of weeks ago called Lost Sheep, which is a seed funded through Screen New South Wales. They’re these regional shorts where they give filmmakers a $4 thousand grant to help them with some of those essential costs of producing their film. That’s in post production at the moment. I shot it and Nick directed it. One of the other local filmmakers, Jessica Burns, she starred it alongside an Adelaide based actor.
John Murch: Always could get Adelaide in there.
Jason King: Headline writer as well. Yeah, you guys are-
John Murch: The passion for this particular project. Is at what level, Jason? Is it because you’ve shot it so well? Is it because you’ve been working so hard? Is it the people you’re working with?
Jason King: To have a bunch of largely Broken Hill based filmmakers make a quality product, whether it’s this one, the one we just made, or the next one that we’re going to make, is something that excites me more than anything else, because you do feel, even though everyone’s really supportive like, that sometimes maybe people feel that you have to bring everything in to make something here, and my passion is to establish … It’s probably, many people may feel that it’s a fair reach into these … Look, to be honest, a fair reach. I would love to establish a local film industry. We don’t have to rely on someone bringing in the resources that we need, where we’ve got the resources here, or we’ve got the ability to work on those. Maybe Adelaide’s a good place because it’s 500K. You can drive in half a day, whereas everywhere else it can be logistically –
John Murch: I’m sure we’ll be happy to have you.
Jason King: Well, we’re already on the same time zone. In any case, probably the project that I’m working on now, it’s by the time this sees the light of day, hopefully it will be further along, is actually a filmmaking forum we’re having in July. Creatives here a coworking space and collaborative, like a collaboration hub for want of a better term where people, who we’re already doing stuff, can do this stuff that they’re already doing, but they’re doing it near in very close proximity to other people, so that then ideally even like the Brushmen and the Bush did for landscape painting in the eighties, maybe for filmmaking and digital media it’s something where we can really put ourselves out there and collectively maybe reach further than we could any of us on our own. That’s kind of what probably the thing that I’m working on apart from getting all this other stuff done and trying to find time to do the next other one, that’s probably the thing I’m most passionate about.
John Murch: How does this saturation of content that we have in this technological age affect you as a filmmaker and the decisions you make?
Jason King: It’s great in a way because things are so temporary, especially in the paid sort of branded content type thing, which pays the bills for me and potentially is the biggest short term opportunity for people to actually make a dollar and live in places like Broken Hill. Because there’s so much content, it’s changing all the time. People will watch something and then they’ll never watch it again. There’s always opportunity … There’s two fold. There’s opportunity to then continue to make something this year, and then come back next year and make it something again to refresh it, but by the same token you’re also building a bank of content that you can then put back out. That’s sort of how I think about it because I’ve been doing a few projects over the years. When I look back at some of the content I’ve got, and even some of the [fall 00:18:30] shots I might have that I didn’t use for something that’s just there, I can chuck into another project.
Jason King: On the other hand, as someone who’s aspiring to make more content that’s less motivated by what the … that’s on payment and make this because they want to promote their thing, and more about a story I want to tell, a narrative, dramatic story, fiction based story in whatever form, I think it’s a challenge. It’s just no one really would like to pay very much to make content now. Even at the higher end level, there’s always, my understanding of these things, which isn’t based on much, except for us that are looking from the outside in, but it feels like that because it’s cheaper to produce stuff a little low, we’re not doing film anymore, we’re making things digitally, distribution. We’re not just distributing on TV where you’ve got to pay, you’ve got to get paid so much to then make it for TV.
Jason King: You’ve got Netflix and all of these kind of staying in Australia and all these kind of platforms that now people can put their work out on. It’s disrupting everything and it’s all new. I don’t know if the playing field’s been properly … or if it would ever settle, like if it’s just always constantly changing. In terms of thinking about knowing how I consume content as well, like thinking about what to make, it’s actually a real challenge. It causes internal challenges for me.
Jason King: In terms of telling a story or a narrative that, oh, actually if you want to do that, there’s that understanding of the short jevity 00:19:56 straight there, as soon as you’re thinking about doing it. Isn’t it?
Jason King: Yeah, and I mean it’s got to be … The thing is, the quality is just so great and I think it’s something that probably many artists would struggle with. Like, what if it’s not good enough, what if I would do the best I can and put it out there, it’s not good enough, or where’s it going to go, where’s it going to live, who’s going to actually watch it. I guess that’s where the business of filmmaking needs to be separated from the business of making films, because for art’s sake.
Jason King: Maybe if you just something because you want to make it, especially if you’re living in Broken Hill and you pay the bills here, you pay the bills, it’s a really good way to get going. I think that’s sort of where I’m feeling about this is. With online distribution as well, there’s an opportunity to distribute your own stuff. If you put the time and effort, if you make something you really think it’s really worthwhile putting it out there, then you’ve got an opportunity to distribute yourself. If you don’t think it’s worth putting out there, well, don’t you don’t have to put it out there.
John Murch: In sense of recording history, we’re currently sitting in a 1950s milk bar, called Bells Milk Bar, here in Broken Hill, which you are the owner of, in the sense that film can document a sense of what history is, based upon what you’ve just said then in the way that we’re consuming the media, how does one find that balance of telling it a historic narrative and keeping the audience engaged?
John Murch: I reckon there’s a real … It’s something that I know Broken Hill city council is really working hard on and they’ve been working with BHP to update, and future-proof and digitise their archives at the moment, because they’ve got all this amazing stuff. Not accessible, people can’t find it and if they do it’s like … and how it’s housed and all that sort of stuff. They’re looking into that. They’ve got some great designs in there. They’re looking at making that a really engaging space. I think that the place that you … It’s probably something that refers to the milk bar as well and retail while I’m thinking.
Jason King: It’s about the experience of consuming that kind of data. They’re talking about making a space that school groups and everyone can sit outside and it’s like an integrated space. Then all of the … They’ve got the dungeon or whatever where they keep all the really important stuff and bring it out for wherever they need to, or digitize. I know they don’t, they can just make sure is preserved. You’ve got that side of the heritage.
Jason King: I think the issue of copyrights are a really big one, personally. I don’t know what the answer is but I know that if you look at things like photographs, anything, if you look in documenting history, anything after 1955, even if it’s 1956, and it’s like a picture of the milk bar or something and I’ll find it and, how that’s owned and all that sort of stuff is an issue. With the moving image, all of that early stuff and anything since, is all owned by the producer. I’ve had examples of stuff where I want to show a film that was made about the mines of Broken Hill as part of a film festival, and because we can’t track the producer down, you can’t even show it.
Jason King: When you think about who makes the money out of the content, if I make a film and I can afford to make it, I make it, I put it out there and obviously distribution’s really important. I treat it like at 50% of the total revenue from that film. The filmmaker or producer puts all the effort and energy, and raises the money, and the investors might make a couple of percent back. Then once it’s done well, and on iTunes someone comes in parts and the filmmaking makes no money, the model is going to have to change, I think going forward to how people get paid for the content as well.
John Murch: Some technical questions. What’s some of your favorite camera gear to take out? What do you really geek over when when you get a chance?
Jason King: I think gears. It’s really dangerous waters to get into when you start talking about what gear and how and all that sort of stuff. It’s important to note that if you … You can shoot a great film these days on your iPhone if you are so inclined, and I could too. If I’m somewhere and I don’t have any other camera, there’s no reason why I couldn’t shoot something that’s perfectly legitimate. In fact people have shot feature films that played at festivals and been distributed, and all that sort of stuff on admittedly far and few between and no one would probably choose to if they had access to other gear. Yeah, I’m in that point where I’ve got the Canon EOS C 100 which is like a documentary, and wedding and type workhorse that a lot of people use. It’s not the latest 4K but it does have that Canon sort of image sensor.
Jason King: I really like the quality of the images I get out of it. I can also attach like an external recorder to it and ramp it up. At the moment like anything that’s broadcast is pretty much broadcast. The maximum it’s broadcasting is at that HD level that this can film in. It’s suitable for what I can do both in my … Most of the stuff that I make is for online or local TV, which at the moment still a standard definition. One area that I think the opportunity I didn’t mention before, but I think that probably the biggest opportunity to really take filmmaking to the next level here in Broken Hill locally based, is trying to develop that advertising agency kind of space where people … because there are ads that come out here and film that I reckon there’s probably more people who would like to come out here and film, than people who can come here and film.
Jason King: If we can develop a little small crew here that can do those kind of ads … The great thing about this proliferation of content and if you look at even just the people that have either … the jobs I’ve got or and others we’ve got in town and the people that have come in, in the last couple of years to do other projects, there’s probably, there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of video work that’s been done by outside operators that potentially … I’m not saying that it had to be done or should have been done, but potentially that kind of stuff can be done by local people and even if half of it was done by local people, that’s still a couple of full time jobs extra working in this industry, which then opens up other doors for other creative projects in the future.
John Murch: Jason King, where do you see yourself in the next decade or so?
Jason King: I would love, and I see myself as being a full time director and or creative, other creative pursuits as I choose to do. Yeah, I would love to be known for making feature films.
John Murch: Will feature films still exist though, Jason, in the next couple of years, with this idea of documentaries and mini series and all these kind of-
Jason King: Maybe, maybe-
John Murch: People’s attentions getting shorter?
Jason King: Maybe it’s … It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because you say that, but then people bloody binge, 12 hours straight.
John Murch: I’ve just contradicted myself,
Jason King: I guess like I would include feature television in that, if it were an opportunity. It’s interesting too because I really find myself drawn to these quirky stories and which is probably the reason why I love living out here. I made a few different sorts of films with my own liking, in my own time and that sort of stuff.
Jason King: The ones that I sort of feel resonated in the projects when I think about how to shoot these scenes and make these projects. That’s something that to me is something that you can get in the city, but it’s just here in spades and you have to just … There’s so many of those stories around and whether they’re real or made up, it’s just a great place to be. That’s what I’d love to be doing in 10 years time, is working on those stories, and harnessing that stuff that’s already here.
John Murch: Jason King, thank you very much for your time. Thanks for joining radionotes.
Jason King: No, thanks for having me.