Saturday, July 12, 2008
Whenever we talk about Australian cinema , we refer to its wondeful movie Mad Max directed by George Miller starring Mel Gibson.It is true that in Africa mainly Morocco ,Australia cinema is not really known a part from its imigrated actors and actresses to Hollywood such as Mel Gibson, Nickole Kidman and Russell Crowe.
Academicaly speaking, cinema-goers in Africa especially does not know too much that film magazine sensesofcinema more likely to Cahiers du Cinema, published on line in the net ,because simply it is written in English and i think that both Australian and African cinema lovers must get together so as to see their screenings .On this occasion, i find the interview that Sensesofcinema has done with Richard Franklin, an Australian film-maker ,so interesting .That is why i am republishing it in my weblog hopefully to allow Moroccan cinema-goers to go through Australian cinema which is,unfortuantely, little known in Morocco.
Allal El Alaoui
Cinema of Australia
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Australia's film history has been characterized as one of 'boom and bust' due to the unstable and cyclical nature of its industry; there have been deep troughs when few films were made for decades and high peaks when a glut of films reached the market.
Australian film has a long history. Indeed, the earliest known feature length narrative film in the world was the Australian production The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906).
Arguably one of the world's first film studios, The Limelight Department was operated by The Salvation Army in Melbourne, Australia, between 1897 and 1910. The Limelight Department produced evangelical material for use by the Salvation Army, as well as private and government contracts. In its 19 years of operation, the Limelight Department produced about 300 films of various lengths, making it the largest film producer of its time. The major innovation of the Limelight Department would come in 1899 when Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry began work on Soldiers of the Cross, arguably the first feature length film ever produced. Soldiers of the Cross fortified the Limelight Department as a major player in the early film industry. However, Soldier of the Cross would be dwarfed when the Limelight Department was commissioned to film the Federation of Australia.
 The boom of the 1910s
The old Pacific Cinema at Bulahdelah, NSW, a classic example of an early small country town cinema.
The old Pacific Cinema at Bulahdelah, NSW, a classic example of an early small country town cinema.
The first 'boom' in Australian film occurred in the 1910s. After beginning slowly in the years from 1900, 1910 saw 4 narrative films released, then 51 in 1911, 30 in 1912, and 17 in 1913, and back to 4 in 1914, the beginning of World War I. While these numbers may seem small, Australia was one of the most prolific film-producing countries at the time. That is, between 1910 and 1912, almost 90 narrative films were made; between 1906 and 1928, 150 narrative feature films were made.
There are various explanations for the subsequent demise of the industry; some historians have pointed to falling audience numbers, a lack of interest in Australian product and narratives, and the decision to participate in World War I. However, a major reason lay in the official banning of bushranger films in 1912. Looking for alternative products, Australian theatre chains realised that Australian films were much more expensive than imported films from the United States, which could be purchased cheaply as production expenses had already been recouped. To redress this decline, the federal government imposed a tax on imported film in 1914, but this was removed by 1918. By 1923, U.S. films dominated the Australian exhibition sector, with 94% of all films coming from that country. 
Another explanation is concerned with anti-competitive behavior between film distributors and theaters. Between 1906 and 1912 Australia's burgeoning film industry produced more feature-length films than Britain or the USA, but in 1912 Australasian Films and Union Theaters established a monopoly over production, distribution and exhibition and shut out smaller producers. That opened the way for US distributors in the 1920s to sign exclusive deals with Australian cinemas to exhibit only their products, thereby crippling the local film industry .
The boom of the 1970s and 1980s
During the 1970s, government funding for Australian filmmakers was increased. The South Australian Film Corporation was established in 1972 to promote and produce films, while the Australian Film Commission was created in 1975 to fund and produce internationally competitive films. A generation of directors and actors emerged who told distinctively Australian stories. Films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) and Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975) made an impact on the international arena. The 1970s and 80s are regarded by many as a 'golden age' of Australian cinema, with many successful films, from the dark science fiction of Mad Max (George Miller, 1979) to the romantic comedy of Crocodile Dundee (Peter Faiman, 1986), a film that defined Australia in the eyes of many foreigners despite having little to do with the lifestyle of most Australians.
The industry today
The Australian film industry continues to produce a reasonable number of films each year, but in common with other English-speaking countries, Australia has often found it difficult to compete in a marketplace dominated by American product. The most successful actors and film-makers are easily lured by Hollywood and rarely return to the domestic film industry.
After Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox Studios and an Australian, saw that the new Fox studios were moved to Sydney, some US producers have chosen to film at Fox's state of the art facilities as production costs in Sydney are well below US costs. Studios established in Australia, like Fox Studios Australia and Warner Roadshow Studios, host large international productions like The Matrix and Star Wars II and III.
The Federal Australian government had supported the Australian film industry through the funding and development agencies of Film Finance Corporation Australia, the Australian Film Commission and Film Australia. In 2008 the three agencies were consolidated into Screen Australia.
A recurring debate in the Australian film industry revolves around the necessity or otherwise of government support for the industry. In brief, the argument for government support maintains that a viable film industry is only possible if it is supported in some way by the government and proponents of this view hold that the industry cannot compete against the hegemony of Hollywood. The argument against government support is that the industry is viable without support and will become stronger if increasingly globalized market forces are allowed full and untrammeled play. Others argue that a film industry in itself has little value. The history of the industry in Australia is to some extent a result of the ascendancy of one position over the other.
The Australian film industry has produced a number of successful actors and directors, some of whom have moved on to Hollywood.
These include actors and actresses Peter Phelps, Maj Zetterling (Sweden), Errol Flynn, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe (New Zealand), Nicole Kidman (United States), Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Hugo Weaving, Paul Hogan, Guy Pearce, Toni Collette, Emilie de Ravin, Judy Davis, David Wenham, Rachel Griffiths, Rose Byrne, Abbie Cornish, Sam Neill (Northern Ireland/New Zealand) and Eric Bana, directors George Miller, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, James McTeigue, Alex Proyas, Mario Andreacchio and Baz Luhrmann, Phillip Noyce, Gillian Armstrong and associated production experts Mikael Borglund(Sweden).
by Scott Murray and Tom Ryan
Scott Murray is a filmmaker and co-Editor of Senses of Cinema.
Tom Ryan is the film writer for The Sunday Age, Melbourne.
Originally published: Cinema Papers, No. 28, August-September 1980, pp. 242-6, 299.
Roadgames is Richard Franklin’s fourth feature, following The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975), Fantasm (as Richard Bruce, 1976), and Patrick (1978). Franklin also recently co-produced The Blue Lagoon (1980), directed by Randall Kleiser.
Aged 31, Franklin trained at the film school at the University of Southern California, where he was a contemporary of George Lucas, John Milius and John Carpenter. Returning to Australia, Franklin joined Crawford Productions, directing episodes of Homicide.
Having been tutored at USC by John Ford, and being an avid devotee of Alfred Hitchcock, Franklin is one of those Australian directors to choose filmmaking out of the sheer love of it.
* * *
Your admiration for Alfred Hitchcock is well known, so how important is his influence on your work?
My first film, The True Story of Eskimo Nell, and, dare I say, my second film, Fantasm, were comedies. They were done in an improvised sort of fashion, trying to create magical happenings on the set that I would then capture on film. Both films worked only to a limited extent and I decided to re-examine my approach to directing.
I decided I hadn’t succeeded particularly in doing films off the top of my head and resolved to do what I had seen work for Hitchcock. I chose to make a thriller and, in doing Patrick, I found that the thriller form was incredibly intricate and satisfying. And the thing that I found most satisfying, because of my interest in film technique, was that it is an expressionist medium. One can do things in a thriller with more flourish and less naturalism than in a comedy, social documentary or character piece. You are dealing with highly extreme states of real life, like murder and death, and there is a great deal of freedom to indulge one’s imagination. Not many people have seen these things in reality, so they see murder on the screen relative to the conventions of cinema, rather than reality.
It only came to me recently, watching Helter Skelter [Tom Gries, 1976] on television and reading about the Thornbury killing, that I am dealing with a serious subject here. To me, it has always been the same as The Three Little Pigs: evil is personified by the big bad wolf for children and the psychopathic madman for adults. It is just simple storytelling in a fantasy-expressionist mode.
As for Hitchcock, I consider him the supreme film technician. That’s not to say I am not excited by Orson Welles’ use of angles, Sergei Eisenstein’s editing, Friedrich Murnau’s use of camera or Max Ophüls’ use of cranes. But, to me, Hitchcock was the director who could bring all those technical things together and turn them into an emotional experience that was never diminished, but only heightened, by one being aware of what he was doing technically.
A lot of people resent the unreality of Hitchcock’s work, but that unreality is much more exciting to me than reality, either in or out of quotes.
Those who see Hitchcock as a moralist often talk about the way he implicates his audience with characters who are morally ambiguous. One can see that potential in the screenplay of Roadgames, but not in your other films. Is that an aspect that interests you?
I see Hitchcock’s vision as one of an insecure man looking at a terrifying universe. Perhaps my love of his films, even as a 12-year-old when I first saw Psycho , came from a similar insecurity. He was a small, fat Cockney and I was a small weedy Australian kid with glasses.
The Newsweek obituary on Hitchcock summed up his approach rather well. It talked about how he could project his own emotional fears and inadequacies in such a way that everyone could identify with them. Subjectivity is the key to this. It’s a question of using the film technique and the structure of the script to make the audience identify with your central character.
In Patrick, it was perhaps slightly different, but Patrick could never have worked had he not been seen through the eyes of Kathy Jacquard [Susan Penhaligon]. We had to learn about him through her.
In Roadgames, as in Patrick, the audience initially knows slightly more than the central character, in that it sees the event that precipitates the rest of the story, namely the opening murder. It is perhaps a little cowardly on my part to show this, because Hitchcock didn’t show Lars Thorwald [Raymond Burr] murder his wife in Rear Window [Hitchcock, 1954], a film that had a considerable influence on Roadgames, and you never quite knew what was going on. But I feel I have to deliver that little bit more to audiences. I also suspect audiences have become a little jaded by television and expect a teaser, even when they go to the cinema. They want to know they are getting their money’s worth instantly.
Bernard Herrmann said to Brian De Palma when he was scoring Sisters  that he would have to write a very strong piece of opening music because nothing happens in the first half hour. De Palma said, “Yes, but nothing happens in Psycho for the first 40 minutes.” Herrmann replied, “Yes, but that’s a Hitchcock film.”
Something had happened in those 45 other Hitchcock films that made the audience know they were going to get their money’s worth. They don’t trust me yet, so I have to give them something in the beginning.
The interesting thing about thrillers, as opposed to mysteries, is the way information is presented. One finds oneself constantly having to work out what the audience knows at any given moment. Then it is a matter of keeping the central character just slightly behind the audience – enough so that the audience says “Come on, come on’’, but not so far that the audience gets frustrated with him. And the best way to keep him at that point is to move him back and forth. So, every now and then, he makes a jump, or a new piece of exposition will be introduced, which will surprise the audience.
One is constantly playing cat-and-mouse games with the audience, and you must have a very clear notion of where the audience’s head is at any particular moment. To me, that is much more interesting than so-called personal filmmaking – making one’s own statement, which the audience can like or lump.
At the same time, one can find in your films recurring elements, such as a central figure who is a dreamer. Is this deliberate?
All my life I have felt as if I’ve watched life rather than participated in it. So, in a way, it’s autobiographical. But don’t you think Hitchcock’s central characters are also dreamers?
Yes, but they are more morally ambiguous than yours. You always let your dreamers win, whereas Hitchcock’s characters, while winning in one sense, in another sense waste away.
Maybe his vision of life became a little sour in his later films. There are the sad, sad characters like Scotty Ferguson [James Stewart] in Vertigo  and, I suppose, Roger O. Thornhill [Cary Grant] in North by Northwest .
I am still young and idealistic I guess, and though my major inspiration is the later films of Hitchcock, like Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest, I suppose my films are more along the lines of earlier ones, like Young and Innocent  or The 39 Steps .
It’s difficult for me to talk about recurring themes, though it is interesting to hear you find unconscious links between Eskimo Nell and Patrick. To me, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
I made Eskimo Nell as an attempt to be all-Australian, and to some extent explain aspects of the Australian sexual ethos as I saw it. That went all the way from the de-dakings I remember at a public boys’ school, through to the contemptuous way ockers speak of women in bars, to the homosexual overtones of mateship. Patrick was an attempt at a genre film of international quality that made no particular reference to Australia.
Roadgames, meanwhile, is an odyssey in the way Eskimo Nell was, and it has many elements of Australiana, unlike Patrick.
Connected with the idea of a dreamer is the repeated presence of voyeurism in your films. For many filmmakers, this is a way of talking about the process the audience is going through. Hitchcock’s Rear Window, for example, is about a voyeur, but it implicates the audience as well. Is this an aspect of Roadgames?
Yes. We decided to shoot Roadgames in Panavision because it is the shape of the truck windscreens. I was very conscious that what we had was an image of a man on the inside looking out. The voyeuristic thing has to do with subjective involvement with a central character. You have to see things through his eyes. Of course, if he gets very close to people you inevitably go into two-shots, which are no longer subjective.
There is a lot of discussion in the industry about the sort of films that we should be making. Given that Hitchcock’s films are often seen merely as technically accomplished suspense films, how do you value your own films?
When one considers that Hitchcock never won an Academy Award and it was only in later years that he was seriously analysed in an offbeat way, by people like Robin Wood, I suppose I can’t ask that my films be taken seriously. But I don’t ask that; I just ask that people enjoy them. I like sharing a paranoid fantasy experience with an audience in the same way as I enjoy telling my daughter bedtime stories.
As for the people who are keen for us to make great Australian films, I really can’t answer for them. I can only do what I feel. There are things about the Australian character that I am keen to extol, but what interests me most is an image of a man in the universe. If what we want to assert by making films here, as [producer and social commentator] Phillip Adams suggests in the introduction to The New Australian Cinema (1), is our accent, or that we drive on the left-hand side of the road, then I don’t think the rest of the world will be interested.
I sometimes think that what people here want to assert is our past ties with Britain and Europe, as opposed to our present and future ties with the U.S. I am neither pro-American nor pro-British. I have lived in the US and Australia, and have spent some time in Europe, and I see people everywhere as being pretty much alike emotionally.
So, when people say they want Australian stories promoted, what they really want championed is the trivialities that are unique to Australia, because the fundamental things are fundamental everywhere.
That’s absolutely true. Take the example from Roadgames of the roadhouse at Yellowdine. It’s based on the one real roadhouse that’s still standing in the Nullarbor after they put the new highway through. It is very old-fashioned – the sort of thing [Australian playwright] David Williamson would write a play about, or Phillip Adams an article, and say was our cultural heritage. But what you really have out in the Nullarbor is a number of bland Mobil, Esso and Shell brick-veneer roadhouses selling Coca-Cola.
We reconstructed the interior of that roadhouse with its murals of Aboriginal massacres and other things uniquely Australian. And in the middle we put a Playboy pinball machine with Hugh Hefner and Jimmy Connors’ wife painted on it. And, between the Aboriginal carnage on the wall and the Playboy slot machine, we placed an Australian jackaroo. I even cast someone behind the bar who should have been saying, “Welcome to the Yabba”, because he looks like Chips Rafferty. (2)
Now, that jackeroo was asserted throughout the 1930s as our Australian hero, the character who was uniquely Australian. I believe, however, his contemporary counterpart owes a great deal more to John Wayne than he does to Slim Dusty.
Doing what David Williamson does, which is to assert the purely local and colloquial elements of our character and forsake the broad picture, which is that next to the pub there is a Colonel Sanders or a McDonalds, is to promote an incorrect cultural impression of Australia.
I live in a street that has, on one corner, a grocer’s shop – and I don’t mean a supermarket. You can go in there and buy a bag of broken biscuits, and out the back there is a wood yard where you can get Mallee roots. On the other corner is a Colonel Sanders’, but when I give people directions to my house I refuse to tell them to turn left at Colonel Sanders’, because I believe Americans make very bad fast food. But I do believe they make very good films, and those who say they don’t are kidding themselves.
To indiscriminately shit-can American cultural imperialism is to ignore the fact that they own most of our theatres and to ignore the cultural reality of this country.
That is not really in disagreement with Phillip Adams’ argument about cars being on the left-hand side of the road. What you have talked about is Australian culture in the films in terms of details of décor. But there is also a narrative.
I see our Australian landscape, geographically and culturally, as a backdrop for stories and ideas that should have universal relevance. I think it’s insular to imagine that we concern ourselves with things that the rest of the world doesn’t. And, if we do, then we have no right to want the rest of the world to look at what we do.
I can see an argument for a film industry that caters just to Australians, though it is a less compelling one than for a French film industry that caters to Frenchmen. After all, we do speak the same language as the British, the Americans and the Canadians, and we share a lot for that reason.
We have used the Nullarbor Plain in Roadgames in a way that I feel is universal. Frita Frugal [Marion Edward], who is on the run from the unions, stops at the Great Australian Bight, which is the longest stretch of unbroken cliff in the world. Frita says, “My God, it’s like being at the end of the world.” Now, that may be seen as a putdown of Australia, but I believe that most Australians see the Nullarbor Plain as a frontier area, and the alienation that we derive from the setting is perceived in the same way by Australians as by people overseas. It is a very powerful and universal image, and I don’t believe that it’s selling Australia out.
It is the people who haven’t spent time overseas who get some sort of distorted image that by showing our culture the way it really is we are somehow selling out. If that’s the case, then Australia sold out when it didn’t win at the Eureka Stockade.
Did [co-financier] Avco Embassy make any demands, in terms of scripting or casting, when agreeing to invest in Roadgames?
Yes. They had right of final script approval, but they so liked the first draft that they didn’t interfere.
They also had the right to approve the casting of the lead actor. Had I been able to give them Errol Flynn as Pat Quid, I have no doubt they would have accepted an Australian, but that wasn’t possible. They never specified that the lead actor had to be an American; they just said he had to be of international standing, as opposed to standard. There is no doubt that our actors are of international standard; it’s just that they don’t yet have the standing.
Avco also has the right to change the final cut of the film, but I have the right to release whatever cut I want in Australasia. So, regardless of what they do for the rest of the world, my version will exist. I suppose I can’t complain, as no American director I know of has final cut.
Do they have any rights in terms of dubbing?
So it will go out as shot here?
I can’t say that yet. But I’ll be a party to any decision that is made to do otherwise. I don’t believe there will be any problems.
The screenplay of Roadgames reads as if it were written with Stacy Keach in mind. Was he the first choice for Pat Quid?
No, but when I looked into it further he became the obvious one. He has the rugged looks of a truck driver, while his considerable legitimate theatre background gives him the credibility to carry off the poetry Quid quotes early in the film. This is an attempt to legitimise the character.
Everett de Roche and I, after talking to a lot of truck drivers, felt they were a race apart, and to make an audience identify with one of them we had to make him atypical. So, in the opening scene, he tells us that he doesn’t take uppers, which makes him hallucinate more than any other truck driver.
Why did you select Jamie Lee Curtis, who is relatively unknown apart from her work with John Carpenter, for the role of Hitch?
It is difficult to be relatively known at the age of 21 and Hitch is an ingénue part. There aren’t really any ingénues here who are experienced and established.
Of course, we could have used an overgrown and overblown child star like Jodie Foster or Brooke Shields, but we felt Brooke, who is still only 14, was too young to be a potential partner for Quid, the way Lauren Bacall was for Humphrey Bogart in To Have and to Have Not [John Huston, 1944].
Jamie, I felt, was in the middle ground between being a child star and a romantic heroine. She has also done four features, which no girl of that age has done here, and one of them, John Carpenter’s Halloween , is the most successful non-studio film ever made.
It was also nice, after Hitchcock died, to be able to write to Mrs Hitchcock [Alma Reville] and say that we were making a film called Roadgames, in which Janet Leigh’s daughter was playing a hitchhiker nicknamed Hitch. We asked whether she would accept this as a tribute to Mr Hitchcock, and she wrote back and said she would. All in all, it’s been ideal.
What was Actors Equity’s reaction to your wanting to bring in two American leads?
We had a great deal of trouble with Equity, not because there was concern about us bringing in two overseas leads, but because the Melbourne executive approved the importation and the Sydney executive disapproved it. We found ourselves as the ping-pong ball in a game of politics between Melbourne and Sydney, and it nearly resulted in the film closing down.
So it had nothing to do with whether your choices were of “international standing”?
No, though I feel Equity’s way of defining distinction and merit is ridiculously subjective. They are now attempting to define someone of “standing” as a person who has made five features. To me, it is a ridiculous and destructive position to take. They might as well use Fantales wrappers as a criterion.
The producers are the people who are initiating production, and who take the risks, along with the distributors who have to sell the film, and they should make the decisions about who is of international standing, not a union executive which may have the best intentions but may not necessarily be the best informed.
What annoys me is that the government has initiated an Australian certification process and the union is trying to go against it. Equity seems to me to know more about television than cinema, because it doesn’t seem particularly difficult to get approval for rather second-rate television names, whereas you can put up top cinema or Broadway names and they ask, “Who’s that?”
Some observers feel the rise of unionism in Britain in the 1960s was a major factor in the decline of British cinema. Do you see similar dangers with unionism in the Australian film industry?
Unquestionably. It has even reached the level of a bloody obsession with me at the moment. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of tea breaks in this country. We are making a film in mid-winter in Melbourne, where there are only eight hours of daylight. One hour of that goes on lunch, so that leaves us with a seven-hour shooting day – and then you have to take tea breaks out of that.
Sure, the union coffee break is only 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the afternoon, but it generally adds up to 20 minutes at a time, which cuts your working day to something like six and a bit hours of sunlight. To me that is idiotic.
I have tried to institute the American system, whereby we have coffee-making facilities on the set at all times so that people can have as much coffee as they want while they are working. And there is a lot of slack time while one is waiting for lighting and so on.
The spectre of the unions is really bothersome. All it will take is for the union to start demanding that we use teamsters and it will be as expensive to make films here as it is in the U.S.
In his interview in Cinema Papers, Everett de Roche said that if one gave him $1000 he would write a $1000 script, and if you gave him $10,000 he would write a $10,000 script. Is the script of Roadgames as good as time and finances will allow?
Roadgames is Everett’s best work and he was paid a higher fee for it than he has had before. We spent a lot of time on it, and he came to Fiji when I was working on The Blue Lagoon and worked in a hotel on the mainland while I was on the island. I would go into town twice a week and go through what he had done. We also did some work at the studio at Burbank.
Time is really the main thing, though if one gets paid low fees, one has to do a lot of work and that runs the risk of spreading one’s talent a little thin. Everett had been on holiday in the US for three months before beginning Roadgames, so his creative batteries were fully charged.
Everett is a very inspirational writer and the first draft of Roadgames was written in eight days. He is very strong on ideas, while I am quite strong on discipline and structure, so we tend to work well together.
At the moment, I am looking for a way in which to stage the final fight between the two characters. I have come up with lots of ways, but I don’t feel that any of them is inspiring. So I have asked Everett to write me an expansion of the fight, with every punch described. That’s not to say that I will use it exactly as he writes it, but there may be some little thing he sees that will bring the whole sequence to life for me.
One criticism levelled at Patrick is that De Roche has the tendency towards being too explicit. One thinks, in particular, of the extended scene of the typewriter at the end.
The Oscar Wilde quote – “Each man kills the thing he loves” – was my idea. I had always puzzled over what motivated Patrick [Robert Thompson], and the only thing I could think of was that quote by Wilde. And when I spoke to one of our psychological advisers on Patrick, he said it was a very good link. Oscar Wilde and Patrick had a great deal in common psychologically.
There was probably a lot of expositional dialogue in the film because at the time Everett and I were fascinated with the occult. We even had some Kirlian photography in one of the drafts of the screenplay. So, perhaps there was too much explanatory dialogue, and that could be a failing of Patrick. I hope it’s not a failing of Roadgames, which starts with a lot of very florid dialogue and almost ends as a silent movie.
Everett gives one too much of everything and you don’t always know what to use. You start editing down and you end up with words and single lines of dialogue that were once scenes. That is maybe how this problem, as you see it, comes about. But that only has to do with Everett’s extraordinarily fertile imagination and his writing speed.
There have been suggestions that you had disagreements with your producer on Patrick. If true, did this affect the film?
Tony Ginnane and I had a very good working relationship. I enjoy working for him because he is an executive producer and spends most of his time doing what I find hardest: the packaging and raising of money. He doesn’t interfere during the creative phases and I find that makes him a rather ideal producer to work with.
What was your reaction to Patrick being dubbed into ‘American’ for the U.S. market?
I was unhappy because I had gone to great lengths to neutralize the accents in the first place. And I say “neutralize” as opposed to “neuter”. We had an almost all-expatriate British cast and I made a point of having everyone speak the Queen’s English, which I believe is the most universal form of English.
Unfortunately, our US distributor, who was a small distributor and probably wouldn’t have known anyway, believed that British films did not hold a great deal of interest for the American public; he felt the film should be done in an American accent.
However, it is not the dubbing as much as the re-cutting that I find hurts the film.
Was it shortened or re-structured?
Both. But the things that one would expect to have been shortened, like Kathy’s relationships with her husband and Dr Wright [Bruce Barry], were not. In fact, one of the long scenes with Dr Roget [Robert Helpmann], where he talks about euthanasia, was extended. They asked for our off-cuts and included them.
Where they cut the film was in the ending, and, to me, that destroyed the film. The whole notion of Patrick slipping away was incredibly delicately balanced, and the shock of him leaping out of the bed came as a result of it being carefully set up.
They also turned the husband trapped in the lift into a major plot point. It was already stretching things a bit to believe that someone could be trapped in a lift for two days, but by de-emphasizing what Patrick was doing they turned the husband into a sort of super hero, which was just idiotic.
Do you want to continue working in the thriller genre?
Before becoming interested in Hitchcock’s work – and I must say here that I am as much inspired by, and probably more in awe of, John Ford’s filmmaking – my great love was Sherlock Holmes. So I have always been interested in the crime thriller area, though Holmes was more into the cerebral mystery than the suspense thriller.
I read a book (3) recently about the crime thriller genre that went all the way through from Arthur Conan Doyle to Dashiell Hammett. It made the point that 40 per cent of all books published in the world are in this genre. Perhaps they meant all fiction, but they said “all books”. Now I don’t know how one would prove or disprove that, but certainly if one looks at television one sees people are fascinated by crime thrillers. They are the modern morality play and I find them utterly fascinating.
The more thrillers I do, the more I want to do them. I would not like to cut myself off from making other types of films and I am very keen to do a musical, for example. I am also a great fan of comedy, particularly [Ernst] Lubitsch’s films. I would love to make a high style, sophisticated comedy along the lines of his films.
One of the most important elements in your films is music. How did you come to work with composer Brian May?
I was not particularly excited by what I had heard in Australian film scores at the time we did Eskimo Nell, and from my film school experience I was aware that most American composers began as arrangers. Max Steiner, for example, was an arranger on various Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films before he scored King Kong [Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Schoedsack, 1933], and [one of Erich Wolfgang] Korngold’s first job[s] was arranging Mendelssohn music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream [William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt, 1935]. Hugo Friedhofer was also an arranger.
I saw film composition as being primarily the ability to convey moods via the colours of an orchestra, not necessarily through melody that is one of the least important elements in film music. So I was looking for the most exciting arranger that I could find, and, as a listener to the ABC, I had heard various radio programs with Brian May’s orchestra.
Finally, I heard an arrangement Brian did of the music from [the stage production of] Hair for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which made all sorts of tongue-in-cheek references to Holst, Stravinsky and other composers. It’s an extraordinary piece and probably the best film music I’ve heard. I thought that anybody with that arranging talent had to be worth approaching.
Brian did a superlative job with the score of Eskimo Nell, and though it lacks the unity Brian has since found in his film writing, it is different. Brian is heavily into atonal scoring now, which is very well suited to films, but sometimes I miss the melodic character of Eskimo Nell.
The Eskimo Nell score was probably the first local music track to be actually scored: the music paused for sound effects rather than being pulled down in the mix.
That came about because a friend of mine from USC, Andrew London, who was the editor of Eskimo Nell and who is working as the sound editor on Roadgames, had been a music editor at Universal. When he came out here he brought a lot of scoring equipment with him: digital metronomes, sheets for marking up click tracks, calculators and things like that.
Eskimo Nell was not done to a picture, but just a click track. It was only when we finally saw it all laid up together that we found this extraordinary system worked. Patrick was the first Australian score to be recorded to picture. We have all learnt a lot about it since, and Brian has spent quite a bit of time in the US, studying with people like Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry. I think Brian is extraordinarily well-equipped now to write scores of international standard. The Patrick LP sold very well in the US.
On the set, you give the appearance of being very calm and confident. Is that a stance you adopt deliberately?
Yes. I don’t like histrionics on the set and I work from a chair as much as I can because it relaxes me. I try to put myself in the perspective of someone who has just paid $4 and is waiting to see whether he has wasted his money. So, instead of standing there by the camera leaping about saying, “Give it to me; give it to me, baby!”, as I have seen directors depicted as doing, I try to be as calm as possible. This is the way I have observed American directors work. Hitchcock’s set, for example, was like a library: it was so orderly and quiet. Hitch always referred to people who enjoy making noise on locations as “All the action on the set and none on the screen’’.
When you are trying to squeeze life through a tiny aperture on to a piece of celluloid, you have to focus your attention totally on that process, and distractions on the set just destroy that.
You are one Australian director who storyboards his films. How important are they?
Very important. I used to work off a script, which I broke down like a continuity mark-up, but I didn’t find it particularly satisfactory, especially when someone asked me which way I wanted a door to open on the set. I then turned to blocking diagrams, but found them not particularly satisfactory either, because I ended up with very complex drawings with lines and numbers everywhere. So I tried the approach I had seen Hitchcock use, which is to storyboard scenes.
I have pages printed at the same time as the script, and on my next film I am going to print a storyboard on the back of the pages of the script and circulate them to everybody. People have a great laugh about my storyboards and draw moustaches on them. But the really frustrating thing about my storyboards is that it is only after we have done a shot that people say. “Oh, that’s just like what you drew. I couldn’t see until we did it.”
On those sequences of Roadgames that rely heavily on atmospheric lighting, I have had my art director John Dowding draw up storyboards with me. I don’t storyboard dialogue sequences unless they have complex blocking. I think dialogue is a thing of the theatre, and I try to encumber actors with blocking as little as possible, so as to allow them to do what they are good at, which is acting.
I also remember something John Ford said to me: “You have to try and see their eyes.” I try to get my camera as close to the axis of the scene as I can, so that you can see the people’s eyes. The trouble with most live television and videotape is that the use of multi-cam means you can never get close to this axis in close-up because there is another camera in the way. Half the time a close-up on television is a profile.
At what point do you start talking to your cinematographer about the way you are going to shoot a sequence?
We discuss the overall feel in advance, then, in the case of simple sequences like dialogue scenes, I will even rely on the cinematographer to suggest improvements on my shots on the set.
As for more complex scenes, like the closing alleyway chase in Roadgames, [DOP] Vince Monton and I would have already spent six or eight hours in discussion. And he is now going through my storyboards with the gaffer in advance of doing the sequence. So, a lot of time and thought goes into the planning, as I believe it’s only very occasionally that good things happen by accident. You also save yourself a lot of trouble.
Take the scene at the weighbridge, where Alan Hopgood plays a one-armed attendant named Lester who holds the plot up by trying to be helpful. Next to the weighbridge there had to be a service station, but, because we could not find one, the art department was all ready to build one. I then pulled out my storyboard and said, “But we only ever see one wall of the service station.” So all we did was build that one wall, and it looks absolutely convincing.
I get a kick out of that, because it’s creating your own reality. That to me is more satisfying than just filming what’s already there.