A Conversation with Kodie Bedford

Kodie Bedford, Indigenous, Aboriginal, storyteller, Western Australia, Cope St Collective, MEDIARing, writer, Thor, scifi, creative, arts, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, interview

I’m super excited about sharing today’s Conversation! Kodie Bedford is a fellow West Australian writer and journalist. A freelance writer and filmmaker, she started out as a journalist and producer (among many other roles) at broadcasters SBS and ABC before going on to join MediaRING. She is also a co-founder of the Cope St Collective, an exciting new group of quirky Indigenous artists, writers and other creatives based in Sydney.

Here on The Salonniere’s Apartments, Kodie talks about her career as a journalist, the challenges she’s faced in the mainstream media industry, on writing ‘outside the box’ and what being an Indigenous storyteller means to her. Plus, she also talks about her time working on the set of Thor! 

I’ve truly enjoyed my interview with Kodie. Judging from her answers here alone, I believe she is a super talented storyteller and that we’re going to see big things from her in the future. I’m glad I was able to get hold of her now so I can later say, “I interviewed her when!” I won’t say much more now, except – to find out more about Kodie, just read on!

Hi Kodie and welcome to The Salonniere’s Apartments ! I thought we’d start off by getting you to tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello and thank you for having me in the Apartment. I guess the first thing you notice about me is that I have a strange accent… a Western Australian accent! Apparently we use funny words like “polony” instead of “devon” and talk about the weather a lot. (ED: As a fellow West Australian, I can definitely attest to that! Lol!) I was born and raised in Geraldton, WA and while most people would secretly judge, I’m actually grateful for my upbringing in the country because it gave me a lot of stories and the ability to write. The other half of me is from Halls Creek, WA in the Kimberley. My father is a Jaru Gija man, which makes me a Jaru Gija woman. I always feel a deep sense of home when I go to visit that country and family up there. Unfortunately I don’t get up there much because I live in Sydney and I’m not a millionaire and can’t afford to fly back. I do my best to get back to WA every year, though.

I should add that I like 90s pop music and dogs, for no other reason except that it’s important to my identity, weirdly enough. Spice Girls all the way.

What does being a storyteller mean to you?

I feel like I’m two storytellers. Being Indigenous means I come from these amazingly crafted stories thousands of years old. I have a skin name, a bush name (Aboriginal name) that come with stories that I’m a keeper for. My family in the Kimberley have such an amazing gift for stories and writing with such intelligence. Sometimes it takes years for stories to come to fruition and patience is something I’ve never had, but when I’m ready these stories will come. That’s what I’ve learnt as a storyteller and can only put down to that Jaru Gija DNA. That, and also blackfellas are extremely funny and it’s important to me to always have some humour. I think it’s a survival mechanism, really. We’ve been through some shit and can still laugh. I just love that.

Yet the second part of me is deeply rooted within this larrikin English tradition of storytelling. My mother, who is white Australian, has a wicked sense of humour, as do all her siblings. My uncles can just sit there for hours and spin a yarn over a beer (or three). And there’s this beautiful poetic larrikin language they use if you just sit and listen. It’s actually hard to describe, but I love listening to their use of the English language. I think it comes from my Nan who used to read a dictionary as a book and find new words to use around them. And it’s interesting how the black side and white side are so similar in oral storytelling. It’s actually really hard to craft a story and re-tell it over and over – and both sides of my family have that gift.

So what does being a storyteller mean to me? Well-written dialogue peppered with humourous anecdotes with strong structure.

I love that there are more and more indigenous storytellers out there, sharing their stories with others. How are you finding modern indigenous story culture at present?

That’s actually a really challenging question and something I’m trying to form an answer to that is respectful and not have me sound like a complete tool. Why is it challenging? Well, I guess because when people think “Indigenous storytelling” they think traditional storytelling, stories of dreaming, stories of cultural lore, stories of living off the land. And, yes, I think these are all very important components of our culture, but for me tradition can also corner us in a box. Human history and human culture is ever changing and moving forward. Recently I wrote a play (collaboratively I might add) that can only be described as an Indigenous sci-fi comedy and it was actually challenging to pitch because I think people expected us to write a play on identity or possum skin coats or surviving domestic violence. And not to take away from those stories, it’s just I’m personally interested in writing genre and outside that box.

I think New Zealand is a perfect example of where I would like to see storytelling go. You had the powerful Once Were Warriors in the 90s and today you have these quirky, yet beautiful films like Boy, What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople that have universal themes but could be classified as Indigenous storytelling because they are told by an Indigenous person (all by Taika Waititi, who is my favourite storyteller). Mr Waititi started out by writing and directing this beautiful short film called Two Cars One Night, a funny love story between two kids set in a carpark. They were in a carpark because their parents were inside the pub drinking. But that’s secondary to the story, we are in the kids’ world of innocence and I love that. I want to write like that. That for me is modern Indigenous storytelling. I still want to tell important stories, but do it in another format. Our sci-fi comedy was about sovereignty, by the way.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your media career and how did you overcome it?

I guess I mentioned it before, but being boxed in to a particular genre. When I was a journalist they would introduce me as the “Indigenous journalist” instead of just “journalist”. I felt lesser than the other journalists. And I had a love/hate relationship with being an “Indigenous journalist.” I wanted to report on our stories because mainstream wasn’t doing it, but I also wanted to report on world events. I felt I wasn’t able to do those world stories because I was Indigenous. And it’s not just me; I know a few journalists (who are Indigenous) who felt they were cornered into that box as well.

I think it’s pretty much the same across the film and television industry as well. I don’t know, maybe I’m not good enough to work in mainstream, but I know that mainstream television and films do not represent what I see outside – there are so many different ethnicities and coloured faces on the streets of Sydney, yet when we go to any mainstream television I see none of that. And I know there are there are exceptions (thank you, Deb Mailman and Miranda Tapsell, for cracking it!) but I’d like to see more. I’d actually like to see a role go to an Aboriginal actor where they aren’t playing an Aboriginal man or Aboriginal woman. But I try not to let these things get me down. I practice the Oprah method and just be grateful and positive about things I can control, like my own writing which has shitloads of diversity. Let’s see if it sells!

You’re currently working at MediaRING and with the Cope Street Collective. Could you tell us a little about these two organisations and what your roles involve?

MediaRING is a volunteer association and brings together media agencies and organisations (big and small) to advocate and inspire positive change with Indigenous people in the industry. I’m a coordinator and get to meet with these agencies to see what they can do and how I can help them. To meet people who are on the same page as you in terms of advocating diversity and positive stories is fantastic for me. Just by sharing a passion, I’ve been able to expand my network greatly.

Cope Street Collective is a personal win for me. Katie Beckett, Colin Kinchela and Bjorn Stewart, who are all amazing artists/actors/writers, joined with me to make an arts collective with the mission of telling stories our way (like sci-fi comedies). The best way to describe us is by comparing us to those kids that were leftover after everyone chose their friendship groups. We were too weird for the cool group. I guess we’ve always felt like outsiders and use that to our advantage, taking ownership of our own weird, quirky stories we want to see. We wrote and produced One of the Good Ones the play with funding and support from the Australian Council, Marrickville Council, the Red Rattler and Crowdfunding. We went out there and put on a short season at The Red Rattler. I had to turn to the others and say, “Hey do you realise we just went out there and put on a show ourselves!” I’m so proud of that fact. I felt very empowered.

I understand you’ve recently been working on the set of Thor in Brisbane! I’m totally envious of this! How did a writer end up working in the stunts department and what is it like? Don’t hold back on the details. 🙂

Yes, I just finished up on Thor. I have no idea how I ended up in stunts but I’m so grateful I did. They are extremely professional athletes who get to play with swords. It’s honestly the best fun. Of course I didn’t do any stunts (although I tell everyone I was Chris Hemsworth’s stunt double), I was just there to assist in the day-to-day duties of running the department. I worked for the amazing Ben Cooke Stunts, who, along with his partner Hayley, run an incredibly disciplined, professional production. And it is a production in itself. They read the script, choreograph, rig wires, direct, film, edit, put in visual effects (shoutout to Alex) and then present it to the director. And if it gets the big tick they teach the actors. There were about thirty talented stunts people coming in and working their passion everyday. That was the most inspiring thing to take away. That, and the fact that I should get in shape because these athletes (and they are all athletes coming from a gymnastics or equivalent background) are damn fit.

Oh, and by the way, Chris Hemsworth’s real stunt double is the talented Bobby Holland Hanton. He’s a gun. Follow his Instagram @bobbydazzler84 to see the work stunt guys and girls do. You won’t be disappointed. And just because I’m a feminist, Zoe Bell was one of the key stuntswomen – look her up. She also is an actress in her own right. Bloody hell, she’s inspiring. Zoe was Uma Thurman’s double in Kill Bill. That’s fucking kick ass amazingness right there. Watching her work was so rewarding because she works so damn hard. Plus, she’s from New Zealand. Another Kiwi taking over the world.

The best thing about working on Thor was seeing all the brown faces on set. We all had this twinkle in our eye that said, “We are working on a multi-million dollar Hollywood set!” We had director Taika Waititi to thank for being there. He made sure there was diversity on set and it was a joy to be on. I mentioned earlier he was my favourite storyteller. I was more nervous meeting him rather than any of the stars. Then I realised he was basically another crazy native like me so nervousness was instantly gone.

Also – I have to ask. Did you get to meet Chris Hemsworth and if so, what is he like?

Yes, I did. And I hate to spoil it for you but Chris is incredibly nice and down to earth. You don’t like to disturb actors on set, but he was very cool and took the time to ask where I came from and what I do. And he works hard so I have a lot of respect for that. In fact, everyone I met on set were lovely. The only diva was me. (ED: “I”m sure you could never be a diva, Kodie! 🙂 )

What’s a normal day like for you?

This is where I tell you I get up and write from 9-5 and with tea breaks. I wish! My day really depends on where I am. I could be in WA, I could be in a hotel room, I could be stuck on a plane but the one constant is my faithful 2011 Macbook Pro named Matilda who has been all over the world with me. I always start the day with a pot of tea and look at my diary to see what I have on and what deadlines I have to meet. Whether I accomplish them is another matter because I get distracted. The other thing I try to incorporate in my day some form of exercise. I went through a really shit period of depression and anxiety where I put on so much weight (which in turn made me more depressed and anxious!). I came out of it and then started to go for a walk for 30 mins a day until I found my groove again. Lately, I’m on a running program and I want to eventually reach 5 kilometres. In between all that I try to write.

I understand you’ve been working on a book and a play too! That’s incredible! Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Oh my goodness, the never-ending book. I have been working on this damn book on and off for five years. I wish I would just finish it but other projects keep getting in the way. It’s set in WA in the late 80s and 90s and it’s a coming of age story. I’ve done a few readings of the first chapter around the NSW Writers Centre and it was really well received. I’ve been told to finish it. One day I will! I need this character’s voice out of my head already!

The play was One of the Good Ones and that was a successful short season. Cope St is in talks to continue it on but no solid plans yet. In the meantime we’ve started writing a new play. We’ll see how that goes.

This week (and I think I work projects in week), I’m working on a short film, which I have written and will co-produce with the wonderful Lois Randall of Magpie Films. It’s a Aboriginal Noir love story and we have got a bit of funding from Screen Australia and ABC to complete it. Bjorn Stewart will be directing. He’s more of a visual person that I and I’m confident he will do the film justice when we get to that stage of filming. That’s one great thing about filmmaking. It’s a collaborative process. Screenwriters never get lonely.

Do you have any writing habits and/or a writing routine?

I wish I had GOOD writing habits and routine. I’m still trying to find it. The thing that works for me is writing to film music. I’ve always found I’m able to write more emotionally that way. I’m better at dialogue than descriptive prose so film music helps draw it out of me. As for routine…. If you have any suggestions that would be great! I guess it’s about discipline and sticking to it. I’m trying to get up earlier (5.30am) so I can get the day rolling. It’s working so far.

Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring writers and journalists?

Well, I’m going to steal advice from my other favourite screenwriter Joss Whedon (of Buffy). He said to just finish it. And with so many projects on the go, I feel like I need to hear that every now and then (especially with my book). For journalists, my advice would be to listen to your talent. I find there’s an art to interviewing but listening is the best way to draw a good answer from your talent. Sometimes you have to sit through those awkward silences to get there though.

Advice for life: be kind but also assertive. You teach people how to treat you. Don’t let assholes ruin your day!

Amen to that advice! Thank you, Kodie, for coming onto The Salonniere’s Apartments and sharing with us your writing journey! And for those who want to find out more, you can connect with Kodie at her Twitter account and also on the Cope St Collective Facebook page

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