FOR the best part of 15 years Newcastle filmmakers and best friends James Buckingham and Angus Wilkinson have seemingly followed each other's lead.
They initially bonded at Young People's Theatre Newcastle and then they later attended the Hunter School Of Performing Arts, where they both served as school captain.
Buckingham firstly in 2006, and then Wilkinson, two years later. In fact, Wilkinson was so impressed with his mate's farewell speech he "borrowed" several sections.
"The night before his school captain speech at the end of year 12, he sends me a message like, 'James your speech was so incredible. Can you send it to me, because I'm totally stuck and don't know what to say, so I can get some inspiration'," Buckingham recalls.
"So I did. A week later my grandma got out the Newcastle Herald and said, 'Look at this. A parent has written in letters to the editor about how amazing this speech was at HSPA'.
"I looked down and the quote that was written was word for word the paragraph from my speech."
But in 2017 it was Buckingham's turn to follow his younger friend when he moved to the UK to pursue filmmaking.
By that stage Wilkinson had already developed his own theatre production company, Cicada Studios, based in London.
The pair began filmmaking together and their most recent work, the 14-minute The Exit Plan, was screened last Saturday in Sydney as a finalist of Flickerfest's best of Australian short films.
The Exit Plan was written by Wilkinson's former partner Ella Cook and was inspired by the generational divide exposed by the Brexit vote in the UK. Wilkinson served as director and Buckingham was the producer.
It tells the story of an overpopulated future where anyone aged over 80, and without family to care for them, is "exited".
An elderly woman is visited by a young government official, played by English actor Paapa Essiedu (Gangs Of London, I May Destroy You) to ensure she is complying with the government's "exit plan" policy, but, when he interrogates her further he soon realises she has her own plan for him.
While The Exit Plan was made before COVID-19, Buckingham says the similarities between what's happened in some countries and his film's plot is frightening.
"If you look at places like Italy and in the UK, if people are over the age of 75 and they come in with severe symptoms in parts of Italy they were told, 'Sorry we can't help you', because they didn't want to give them air ventilators as there wasn't as much of a chance of recovery," he says.
"The Exit Plan is an allegory of what happens when one believes they have the right to choose that one life is worth more than another.
"That's certainly what's been happening with COVID. The younger crowd that don't think it's a big deal because it doesn't affect them or people who don't want communities or society shut down because it's only gonna affect older people."
The old cliche suggests you should never work with friends. However, the pair have more films in production and have plans to launch their own directing and producing partnership, called Newy Bros.
"We complement each other," Buckingham says. "I work extremely fast, I'm bit of a guerilla filmmaker.
"I've made a whole bunch of music videos and my last short film was made without much money and I do it with whomever is around and get it done as quick as possible.
"Whereas Angus, because in his first job after his degree in directing was working with Baz Luhrmann years ago [on Strictly Ballroom: The Musical], and as a result, he cut his teeth working on very high budget, but slow-paced productions.
"He's a perfectionist and if it had been up to Angus it would have taken us three years to make this film, and it would have taken me three months.
"So over the course of a year we found that balance and as a result the film is better than if either of us had made it by ourselves."
COVID has also forced Buckingham and Wilkinson back to Australia. The pair returned home last March to attend a friend's wedding, but due to the pandemic decided to remain in Australia permanently.
Buckingham has settled back in Newcastle, while Wilkinson moved to the Gold Coast to work as a director's assistant to Baz Luhrmann on his Elvis Presley biopic, starring Tom Hanks, David Wenham and Richard Roxburgh.
"He got whisked away up there and it was just amazing timing that we both were stuck here because of COVID," Buckingham says.