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The Truth Behind “Gertie and Her Goats”

A screenplay about three goats hired to devour an outbreak of blackberries threatening prize-winning begonias might seem a stretch to some readers, but not to me. Disturbingly, this is everyday stuff in my world near the bottom of Australia. Yes, even annual Begonia Festivals are real in the state of Victoria.

Our nearest capital city is Melbourne – not as flashy as Sydney with its Harbour Bridge and Opera House – but a similar population of about five million, which has produced the likes of the band Men At Work (remember them?), movies such as Mad Max (1), and inventions like the bionic ear.

The protagonist of my short comedy film script “Gertie and Her Goats” (Best Comedy Screenplay for August 2020 with Top Shorts) was inspired by a neighbor who breeds goats as a sideline to his concrete-polishing business. It’s just as well he has an income other than goats because he has become too attached to his charges to sell them for meat. Each has an ear-tag with their name written in marker pen. He talks to them like children. You get the idea.

Below is a photo of just some of his goats in the Eden he has created for them in the Otway Ranges, about two hours drive south-west of Melbourne.

So our neighbor was happy to sell four goats to my wife and me because we didn’t want to eat them. We wanted them to devour outbreaks of noxious blackberries (not the fruit jam species) on our farm. Pulling out blackberries by hand is way too hard and chemical spraying could adversely affect some of the wildlife in the bush part of our property, including platypus. And goats really do luurrve eating blackberries!

But goats are notorious escape artists. Some can climb over fences; some can tunnel under. Pictured below is a wire-mesh fence about seven-feet high along a boundary of a goat paddock (field), which is an important part of the script’s climax.

The mesh pictured above is arranged in squares, but wire mesh can also be arranged in rectangles, as shown below. Either way, you can see how a goat or a human can slip and get their limbs stuck in these fences if attempting to climb in or out.

For those of you have read “Gertie and Her Goats”, you might be wondering why I made the protagonist a young woman (unlike our neighbor), and her nemesis a middle-aged man. Simple: status difference. Ancient Greek comic playwrights like Aristophanes typically featured younger characters of lower status challenging older characters of higher status. And despite postmodern leanings, I embrace this classic principle as a foundation for my comedy.

The casting of a short film could further emphasize status difference. I didn’t have a particular look in mind for Gertie, but I did write her nemesis, Mr Priggins, thinking of an Australian/English TV Masterchef critic – Matt Preston, who is known for his colorful cravats (easy to find via Google).

For any producers or directors who might be interested in turning this script into a short film, anywhere in the world, but who are wary of working with three goats, it might be reassuring to know goats are at your bidding for a mere handful of oats, as the following video from my phone demonstrates. (Please note: our local area is called “Kawarren,” which helps explains the video’s intro.)

Blog by Euan Mitchell.

Twitter: @EMword

Instagram: @euan1961

Gertie and Her Goats won Best Comedy Screenplay at Top Shorts in August 2020.

@top.shorts @FilmFreeway

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