The Late Shift: A Nightlife Documentary

Nightclubs are an interesting place of reckless abandon to inhibitions and social norms, where we can all kickback and let our drunken selves party hard. However, for the many peeps out there who work in nightclubs, it can be a draining and crazy job. Adelaide filmmaker Shannon Gunn explored the ups and downs of working in bars and nightclubs with her documentary The Late Shift.

Filmed in Adelaide clubs Sugar Nightclub, Duke Of York Hotel, and Red Square Bar, Shannon hopes her documentary will make patrons be more respectful towards bar staff, with all the drunken abuse they cop nightly. It’s a brilliant documentary on the realities of Australian nightlife (which can be viewed below), and I got to have a chat with Shannon on what she hopes The Late Shift will achieve.

1. What inspired you to film The Late Shift?
It was a pretty amusing way in which I found the inspiration to make the documentary about people working in bars and clubs. I had become a regular visitor to the Facebook page “Embarrassing Nightclub Photos”. The title is pretty self explanatory, it basically is your one stop shop for all the nasty things people can possibly get up to while out on the town, in combination with photos taken at the worst possible time. I would always look at these photos, firstly having a laugh and cringing at what I was seeing, but secondly sparing a thought for the people who worked in these bars who had to encounter these people and situations. I wondered whether what was captured in these photos actually happened on a regular basis or if it was all just exaggerated, as all the times I’ve been out to bars and clubs, I hadn’t seen anything like what I was seeing in these photos. Eventually it got to a point where I had a huge mental list of questions of what it would be like to work in that environment. From there I put out a call to find people who would be willing to share their experiences and stories on working in the nightlife scene.

2. Have you had experience working in bars and nightclubs yourself?
I personally haven’t worked in the nightlife scene before, but I’ve always found it a fascinating place to be in, the world is very much a different place at night!

3. How did you manage to get the documentary’s interviewees to participate in the documentary? Do you know them personally?
I knew that there had to be interesting people with interesting stories out there, but how I was going to find them was the challenge. I got into contact with numerous clubs and bars around Adelaide, pitching the idea of the documentary to them, but wasn’t getting much interest back. I was feeling a bit discouraged as I thought there would be heaps of people jumping at the idea to tell their stories to the public. Out of all of the clubs and bars I approached, the only person who got back to me was Erick the Photographer! But from there it kicked off as I was then put into contact with bartenders Ben and Aisling through fellow classmates at film school, of which I pitched the idea to them and they came on board. I think I got lucky as I was expecting to have to search around more to find people with suitable personalities for the documentary, but the three I got first up were perfect and exactly what I was looking for. I basically pitched it to them as it was their chance to get their voice out there on what its like to work in that environment, and essentially what things people should avoid doing to let them get on with their jobs.

4. How do you feel Adelaide’s nightlife compares to other cities in Australia? Do you feel people who work in nightclubs and bars in other cities would have similar or different stories to tell as the participants in your documentary?
I haven’t witnessed much of the party scene in other states, so I don’t have much to compare to. But if Embarrassing Nightclub’s Photos are anything to go by, it seems many of their photos are sent in from the Gold Coast, so I’d be interested to see what nightclub workers in Queensland would have to say! I think on a whole though what the participants talk about would be experienced worldwide, but every country has their own rules and restrictions, so I’m sure there would be more extreme stories out there.

5. The interviewees in the documentary tell some pretty gnarly stories about their experiences in the nightlife industry, such as Aisling saying she had to flirt with male patrons to get them to buy drinks while working overseas, and Erick being punched while trying to do his job. They also comment that their health and sleeping patterns are screwed up. Why do you think people keep working in this industry if it’s taking such a physical and mental toll on them?
Honestly, I asked myself the same question, but I think the simple (and maybe cliché answer) is that they love the job they do, and the environment and people that come with it. For them, it overrules the negatives and makes it all worth it. This kind of work isn’t for everyone, I think you have to be pretty ballsy person to stick it out and be able to adapt to a certain lifestyle that is forced upon you when you have to work these late hours.

6. On the other side of things, the interviewees do say they love their job and that the pros outweigh the cons. Ben mentions how it’s like hanging out with his friends rather than working. Do you feel the social aspect of working in this industry is its main attraction to potential employees?
I do think the social aspect is a quality that makes the job more appealing. Like any job, it’s the people around you that help get you through the day (or in this case night). But I think people who are sociable will naturally flourish in this kind of work, as they are the ones who help create the party vibe of the venue. Over the 3 days that we spent filming in the clubs and bars, I don’t think there were any staff who we encountered that came across as shy or reserved, so I think that says something about the sort of person you need to be to work in this environment.

7. How long did it take you to complete this documentary? Finding the time to organise shooting, then actually shooting, and then editing it is a very time consuming process.
It’s been a pretty intense 7 months to say the least! Pre-production for the documentary started in about February/March of this year. In its early stages, it was a case of figuring out what would be the focus of the documentary as it could easily go many ways. I think it was only in April that I was ready to find my participants. I spent a fair bit of time getting to know them and building up their profile, and through that process it helped me confirm what direction the documentary should take. From there most of my time was spent getting all the paperwork done in order to allow us to film (storyboards, treatments, call sheets, release forms for the participants and venues, the list goes on). I think on average I was getting into bed about 2 or 3am in the weeks leading up to filming! We then spent 3 nights straight in May filming in the clubs/bars that the participants worked in and once finished we were straight into the editing suite. By July it was at a rough edit stage, of which the next task was finding a soundtrack for the film. The word was put out to composers in Adelaide and we had a pretty good response. We ended up working with the very talented Ivan Detoya who composed the final score for the film. By the time it was all finally done and dusted and up on the web, it was early September.

8. Were the owners of the nightclubs you filmed at apprehensive about having you film a documentary in their venue? I can imagine the bouncers would’ve been iffy about letting a film crew with big video cameras in!
We were pretty lucky in that all the owners of the bars were super laidback about the whole thing! I was expecting to have to beg them to let us film inside the venues, but all the staff were pretty accommodating to us. We had our own bouncer at one club to look out for us and the gear so that was pretty sweet!

9. On that note, was it an easy shoot? All the flashing and glaring lights in the clubs probably caused the film crew much frustration when filming. Not to mention interference from drunken patrons being smart and trying to get into your documentary when you’re trying to work.
The shoot was surprisingly pretty relaxed (well for me at least, probably not so much for Danny my camera operator who had to lug the camera around all night). The time we spent at the venues ranged from 4 to 11 hours so we could take our time getting the shots and spontaneous chats with the participants. A lot of it was waiting for the unexpected and I think the hardest part for the crew was trying to stay awake as most of us weren’t use to staying up to 4am night after night. A few of us found it a bit of a tease that we were in a club environment for 3 days straight but weren’t able to party like those around us. But it was an awesome shoot overall, we had a lot of fun working with the participants. We did get a lot of people coming up to the camera but all were harmless drunks just wanting to say hi to mum.

10. What are your plans for the documentary? Do you plan on submitting it into any film festivals?
I just recently entered the film into the Barossa Film Festival, which is happening later this month so fingers crossed for its first festival! There are other upcoming festivals early next year that it will also go in the running for so stay tuned for now. In the meantime, I’m hoping to get it out to the public, mainly as I feel a message has emerged from the film about the need to give these workers more respect. I think these guys cop a lot of abuse from people who have no inhibitions which is obviously going to be common amongst the nightlife scene. For me the film is best summed up by Erick and Ben with “Just don’t be a dick” and “If you’re really rude, I’ll go out of my way to cock block you”.

Feature image courtesy of Erick Watson.

Originally published here at on Wednesday 9 October 2013

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