Undertow Film Peter Spann Director

Undertow shines with its target audience

One of the best things about this holiday season is that I have been able to show Undertow to lots of people when I have been visiting friends and family.

And, more importantly, I have been able to show it to people who are in the target audience (ostensibly 15 to 28-year-old women).

It has been fascinating to see how they interact with the film as compared to the largely older audiences it has been viewed by up until now.

Normality appeals

Of course, they love the big dramatic scenes that I took so much care with filming but they also love the simple scenes of the girls interacting with each other in a normal everyday sense – the coffee shop, at home getting ready to go out, and the scenes at the end of the film where they sort things out together through care, quiet words and shared memories that bind them together.

Undertow Film Peter Spann Director

Jess (Maddie Russell) and Bella (Jacqui)

And they love one of my favourites scenes in the whole film where virtually nothing happens for over a minute (a LONG time in a 23-minute film).   It’s just the two main female characters, Bella (Jacqui Purvis) and Jess (Maddie Russell) sitting together in a car, driving to something that has significance in their lives.

These scenes don’t play as well with older audiences.  In fact, in screenings, their advice has been to cut them completely, or edit them back, as being boring and irrelevant.


It’s ironic that the young women (again – the actual target audience for the film) describe those scenes as “authentic”, “engaging”, “true to their experience”, and “enjoyable”.

I think it’s a great exercise in listening to the “right” critics.

Extremely Talented Collaborators

It’s also a testimony to the beautiful writing of Laura Bloom who is largely responsible for those scenes and the superb acting of our largely female cast, multi-award winner Jacqui Purvis and ensemble acting award winners Madeleine Russell and Lana Spehar.

“I’d watch another episode of that”

And perhaps the best response of all, repeated numerous times without prompting is “I’d watch another episode of that”.  In other words, they care for the characters, they want to know what happens to them.

This film has always been a “hard sell” for me.  People, especially cynical film school types, look at me and wonder what on earth I would know about the lives and emotions of teenage girls.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because I never really grew up that I am stuck in “coming of age” limbo but there is an intensity of emotion and energy that we lose as we get older.

Everything is heightened – the highs of love and the stings of disappointment.  It’s all at an exceptionally magnified emotional level which we understand later that we can survive but at the time, usually the first time, seems almost life threatening it’s so intense.

And that’s what I love – it’s the intensity.

Especially in the modern world where teenagers often struggle with their emotions, the letdown of expectations versus reality, the easy comparison with lives that appear so much better than there’s and the pressure to be “chill” – I understand how hard it would be to get perspective.

And that’s what this film is about – intensity and perspective.

Real Challenges

But the other thing I love while discussing it with these young women is they are, in real life, challenged by the themes in the film – social pressure, peer scrutiny, resisting temptation or moderating it at least, how addictive behaviour can lead to unwanted consequences and most important of all to me, the subtle strength of the main character, and how she grows as a person, a woman and a strong human being throughout the film.

This is the genuine undertow of their lives.  It’s not obvious, but it’s there.  And its powerful, sucking them out to where they don’t want to be.  And not knowing how to deal with it.

As an adult when someone says, “get in this car with me” and they’re drunk, or “have another one”, or “take this”, or “come on, it won’t hurt you” we have coping mechanisms.  We know what to say and we can stand by that conviction.  When you’re young it’s much harder.

Many older people don’t see the character arc in Bella and I was constantly being told to give her a stronger objective than “just make it through day one”.

And yet our millennial audience “get” her.

Small but Significant Choices Lead to Strength

They understand these pressures and lures are subtle.

Not as obvious as adult life, but still felt at a level that is overwhelming.

The quiet strength of Bella appeals to them as it is accessible, realistic and attainable.  They can see themselves making the seemingly small, but very significant choices that she makes that get her to where she needs to be.  Strong, powerful, centered, and in control of her own life.


Undertow Film Peter Spann Director

Bella (Jacqui Purvis) reunites with her friends Jess (Maddie Russell) and Maddie (Lana Spehar)  

And this, more than the 27 film festival awards the show has won so far, is vindication to me of its value… It’s message and the reason I made it.


Watch Undertow the film:



Peter Spann – Film Maker | Business Coach | Writer | Speaking Coach | Presenter |

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