By Taylah Eastwell
Two Hills filmmakers have created a horror film based on a series of eyewitness encounters with a ghastly bushman said to roam the Victorian High Country.
A number of stories have come to light over the years about a mysterious loner known as The Button Man, said to have earned his nickname from his habit of cutting buttons and ear piercings out of deer antlers.
Legend has it, the seasoned and territorial hunter has a base camp set up at a well-known crossroads in the Victorian Alps, allowing him to keep a close watch on campers and hikers entering the remote valley.
While you could read online for hours about the encounters people have had with the rugged bushman – who is described as around 70-years of age – one particularly hair-raising account comes from a wildlife photographer who was in the area taking shots near The Button Man’s headquarters.
The tale goes, when the photographer returned home from the High Country and downloaded photos he had taken onto his computer, he found a picture of himself sound asleep in his tent. To this day, no one knows who took the shot.
Others have taken to four-wheel-drive forum websites to report their own encounters, a common theme being The Button Man’s tendency to silently emerge in the dead of the night and grill people on why they are in the area.
Without retelling the myriad of personal stories, it is plain to see why Upper Ferntree Gully local Josh Todaro and Sassafras raised Jaime Lehman decided to create a horror film inspired by real life events flowing out of the eerie pocket of Victoria.
“I originally wrote a script for a haunted house film, until our OP suggested we do something more stripped back, low budget, that can be filmed in natural locations. He asked if I’d heard of The Button Man. I said, ‘no I haven’t, what the hell is that?’,” Josh said.
“He said ‘go home, Google it and call me later and let me know what you think’,” he said.
“That’s where it went down the rabbit hole. There were a few articles and a few random eye-witness accounts. Some of the quotes people have said, the way he speaks, the way he looks, him appearing out of the blue but people feeling like they’ve been followed for days, that itself was pretty terrifying,” Josh said.
While there have been a number of suggestions that The Button Man was somehow involved in a number of disappearances in the Victorian High Country in recent years, that is not what the film intends to portray.
“I can’t think of any other story like it, where there’s this guy out there but everyone is sort of embellishing stories of his motive. Whether he’s linked to the mysterious disappearances or not, it’s kinda strange,” Josh said.
Josh said it was particularly interesting that The Button Man has taken “more of an urban legend status”.
“There might be eye witness accounts and facts about what he looks like but really the bulk of the story is this urban legend and people adding their own two cents to each story they hear,” he said.
“The crazy part is he is an actual guy. There is enough history to get you going but enough myth where you can play it up and embellish it,” he said.
The film is said to be a “blend of a few stories”, with the movie inspired by visions of what it would be like to come across an unknown character when you think you’re alone in the bush.
“The thought of going camping thinking your alone and it is fully dead silent and then all of a sudden you maybe hear some footsteps or get this sense that there might be someone else out there, I put myself in that position and just thought about what I would do in that situation, that’s what got the wheels turning,” Josh said.
“We don’t even need the big kills or action sequences, a very subtle glimpse of him in the background getting closer and closer and that suspense of the audience seeing him get closer without the characters noticing was a very easy thing to pull off. I wrote the script in two days,” he said.
Josh approached well-known Aussie actor Don Bridges to play the role of The Button Man, with the story centering around two sisters who go away on a camping trip to the High Country.
“I tried to imagine what this guy looks like in my head, eye witnesses say he is around 70 with longish hair, so I immediately thought of Don Bridges. We just lucked out with the cast,” Josh said.
The 30-minute short film was shot entirely in the Dandenong Ranges, including on Josh’s relatives property in Mt Dandenong.
Since releasing the trailer on Sunday 4 July, the response has been overwhelming.
“We clocked 11,000 views in two days and have around 1000 followers on Instagram. Knowing it had been a hot topic in the media I knew that it was going to start some sort of conversation. We’ve had lots of messages of support, one person said her and her friend grew up in the High Country and have been saying for years there should be a film on The Button Man,” Josh said.
With the film idea sorted, Josh approached mate Jamie to help piece the project together.
Jamie said he was “pretty keen to jump on board” as he knew the story really well.
“I do a lot of hiking and stuff in the country so it was right up my alley,” Jamie said.
As an avid videographer and photographer, Jamie helped to film and edit the movie.
“I’ve heard he’s just a normal, nice guy but the mystery behind it all is still very interesting,” he said.
For Jamie, some of the biggest challenges in producing the film were budget and finding local locations to shoot that resembled the mountain terrain of the High Country.
“I found locations in the High Country to shoot and really had my heart set on filming there so it was really accurate, but a big challenge was getting the crew and cast out there and all the costs of having everyone away from Melbourne,” Jamie said.
“The majority is just green background anyway, so we stayed local and filmed it in the Dandenongs, but we did get some drone shots in the High Country for the establishing shots,” he said.
Josh said the film “leaves you wanting more”, with the low budget concept a snippet of what a higher budget feature film could be.
“We hope that this will be seen by the right people and get noticed enough that we can hopefully get funding to make the feature length version,” he said.
“But don’t let the running time fool you. The way we see it is it’s all killer, no filler.
The film will premiere in Melbourne in coming months and at a film festival before it finds a home online or on a streaming service.
For more information, visit @buttonmanfilm on Instagram or search Button Man Trailer on YouTube.