‘Every second is history, every moment is history.’ Cate Shortland on LORE

Cate Shortland (centre with notebook) on location in Germany for LORE.

The first thing you notice about Cate Shortland’s German language feature Lore is its stunning physical beauty. Each moment seems to vibrate off the screen with living, sensuous beauty. Whether it’s wet hair dripping down pale young shoulders, sunlight filtering through forest treetops, or trembling fingers stroking an SS badge on a soldier’s uniform, each  image is intimate, personal, and yes, gorgeous. Even when the story itself is painful or ugly. The viewer is reminded of Shortland’s first feature, Somersault (2004), a film so intimately, unashamedly female and sensuously pretty that some critics failed to see its intelligence, and expressed outrage when Somersault claimed a record-breaking 13 AFI Awards in 2004.

It’s unlikely anyone will fail to see the intelligence and seriousness of Lore, which was announced last week as Australia’s official entry into the Best Foreign Film category in the 2013 Academy Awards.

Cate Shortland, who studied fine arts and history before she went on to receive a graduate diploma in directing from AFTRS in 2000, is unpretentious and humble when she explains her philosophy on beauty: “When I’m making films, I just get really bored if I’m not excited by the image, so I wouldn’t even bother to shoot something that I didn’t find exciting in some way. It’s just how I work. But it’s certainly not like that when I’m watching other people’s films. For example, I watched The Descendants the other night, and I actually really loved it, and what I loved about it is the simplicity of how it works. [Making films beautiful] is just my personal way, the way I work, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the opposite way of working. On Lore, [the cinematographer] Adam Arkapaw also has a very strong visual instinct, and so did Silke Fischer, the production designer, so that was a very good mix.”

Make no mistake, the facts of the story depicted in Lore (based on Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room) are not pretty, and for all its visual pleasures, the tale is one of devastation. Teenage protagonist Hannelore ‘Lore’ (Saskia Rosendahl), the child of Nazi officials who’ve been imprisoned by the victorious Allies, begins to discover the ugly truth about her once-orderly world and the Aryan beliefs it rests upon. She’s forced to grow up quickly, taking her four younger siblings (including an unweaned baby brother) on a dangerous six-week 900km journey across disintegrating Germany to find safety with their grandmother in Hamburg.

Along the way the children meet up with Thomas (Kai Malina), a Jewish refugee from a death camp. There’s an attraction between the proudly Hitler-loving Lore, who is just coming into her sexual power, and the mysterious Thomas. Desire is mixed with racist revulsion, and complicated by the demands of survival, adding extra layers of tension to a journey that crosses vast distances, both physically and spiritually. It’s a WWII story we’ve never seen before.

When we meet for this interview, Shortland has just returned from Switzerland’s 2012 Locarno Film Festival, where Lore won the Audience Award. She’s doing a quick round of Australian publicity before heading off to Toronto, where Lore screens in Special Presentation. She’s  pleased with the way things are turning out for the film – especially for the young actors and crew involved, and she’s particularly gratified that the 8000-strong predominantly German speaking audience at Locarno loved the film so much that they endured the rain at the outdoor screening in order to see the film to its conclusion.

But festival acclaim and awards are nothing new for Shortland, whose lyrical short films, including Joy, Flowergirl and Pentuphouse marked her as a young director to watch in the late 1990s. Somersault screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2004 before going on to sweep the AFI Awards and the IF Awards – among many others. And then, it seemed, Shortland went to ground. Her name appeared occasionally in television credits (as director for The Secret Life of Us, Bad Cop, Bad Cop and ABC telemovie The Silence, and most recently as writer of the ‘Rosie’ episode of The Slap), but it seemed as if she may never make another feature.

“I think I was overwhelmed after Somersault,” she says carefully. “And I really wanted to have a family and filmmaking wasn’t my first priority.” Shortland and her husband director Tony Krawitz (The Tall Man, Dead Europe) spent a number of years back in his homeland, South Africa, and have two adopted African children, now aged 17 and four. “We live in a tiny house in Marrickville [in Sydney’s inner west] and we have three tiny bedrooms and one kitchen/living space,” she says. “We’ve set up the wi-fi so it only works in that one tiny room and it’s great. We all live there together and we’re really close. That might not always be the case, but I hope it stays like that! We lived in Germany for eight months while we were making the film and my son Jonathan even worked on Lore as the video operator, so we’re all in it together.”

Cate Shortland, husband Tony Krawitz & their son Jonathan Shortland-Krawitz at the Sydney Film Festival premiere of LORE. Photograph by Cynthia Sciberras.

It’s not just family commitments, however, which have kept Shortland from the world of feature filmmaking. “I look at a director like Michael Winterbottom and I’m so impressed by him doing a film almost every year, and doing such a beautiful job on all of them, and they’re all such different projects. He’s a genius. And not to compare myself in any way to him, but I’m not like that. I’m just the opposite. Something has to be really under my skin before I really want to do it, and I only did Lore because I fell in love with it.”

There’s no question that an English-speaking Australian director would have to be truly passionate to take on a project like Lore – shooting in a country and in a language other than her own, covering vast outdoor territories and working with a German-speaking cast, many of whom were children. But she’d fallen in love with the complexity and intimacy of the story and its questions about what it meant to be the child of a perpetrator of terrible crimes against humanity.

Shortland was adamant that the actors needed to be speaking their native tongue. The script (co-written by Shortland and Robin Mukherjee, and translated by Elisabeth Meister) underwent numerous drafts and rewrites. “I did the last two drafts of the script and I changed it quite a lot from what it initially was, so I knew it really intimately, back to front,” she says. “Then we went to a German translator in Sydney and that also changed the dialogue. Certain situations also changed when we translated it, because it needed to feel real to German language and German culture.”

Lead actress Saski Rosendahl speaks fluent English but Shortland needed to undergo a more complex communication process with the younger actors.

Contrary to popular wisdom, Shortland actually found it easier working with the child actors than the adults. “With the children, I’d had three weeks with them in rehearsals. The younger kids don’t speak any English – or they speak really minimal English, but [lead actress] Saskia [Rosendahl] speaks quite fluent English. We had a dramaturg helping us, and because we were all really familiar with each other, that process was not as difficult as I would have imagined. With children you’re just looking for a really truthful performance. But it was when I was directing the adults that it was much more difficult, because I didn’t know them as well, and nerves come into play.”

Shooting predominantly outdoors, across five German territories, also sounds rather challenging. “In one way it was a nightmare, but in another way, it meant that we got this incredible shift in the landscape, because we shot from the Black Forest to the North Sea, tracing the real journey that the kids would have made.”

Shortland credits producer Liz Watts for suggesting they employ Australian director of photography, Adam Arkapaw. “Liz really encouraged me as she thought that having an Australian DP would be fundamental actually, to my being able to cope in such a –  I suppose it sounds clichéd – but in such a foreign environment. I remember her saying: ‘Just hearing that accent, Cate, will be a good thing, when you’re in a bit of a crisis.’ And she was completely right in that. She had worked with Adam on Animal Kingdom, which I really loved. And then I saw Snowtown and Snowtown for me was just so fresh in terms of what Justin Kurzel and Adam achieved. I was really excited to meet Adam. He brought so much to the film, an immeasurable amount to the film.”

Shortland was keen to shoot on 16mm. “They shot Snowtown on 16mm and I loved the look of that. I was really reticent to shoot this film on digital, because of the clean look of digital. I really wanted a film grain.”

Shortland and DOP Adam Arkapaw were keen to shoot on 16mm to achieve a film grain rather than the clean look of digital.

Other Australian names populate the credits of Lore, which is an Australian/German/UK co-production. Among them are editor Veronika Jenet, sound designer Sam Petty, dialogue editor Yulia Akerholt, gaffer Michael Adcock, key grip Glenn Arrowsmith and many others. As a co-production, each department is a mix of German and Australian crew, with key German roles including composer Max Richter, production designer Silke Fischer, costume designer Stefanie Bieker and makeup and hair supervisor Katrin Westerhausen.

This begs the question, how does the filmmaking process in Germany differ from the process here in Australia? “There are many aspects which are the same,” says Shortland. “Working with the different heads of department like the production designer and the costume designer was a similar process to what I’m used to because you’re working with artists, and you’re working from an instinctual point of view.  But the way that the crew work is quite different, because they have almost two First ADs [Assistant Directors]. They have one first AD that works with the director, and then they have one First AD that works with the [production] office and they’re both on set. And there always seems to be this conflict of interests. They’re all meant to work together, but there were so many chains of communication and… it felt slightly… it felt like in Australia, the process is more streamlined.”

Shortland is keen to point out the professionalism and tireless dedication of her German heads of department. “I made such beautiful friends with some of the people I worked with. I had all these ideas in my head that were pretty clichéd and I was pretty worried about working with the German Heads of Department, but the actual teams worked really hard, really, really hard and were really professional. It was just more the whole structure of the shoot seemed very odd at times. There were a lot of jokes going around about the war. Some of the Australians were always saying under their breath: ‘I know why we won the war!’ because they felt like they had their organisation down pat. It sounds very parochial and very nationalistic, but I do think our [Australian] film crews are really professional and very streamlined. We’re known for that, and when you see the way they do it in another culture you realise our crews work really efficiently and they do a hell of a lot.”

Numerous outdoor locations across Germany and  working with very young actors were just some of the challenges in shooting LORE.

Shortland is impressed however, with the way “Germany as a culture has really interrogated their history and the horrible, disgusting, inhuman things that happened in that period. They feel immense shame and horror about that. But the way they dealt with it, they can be really proud of, and that’s kind of what Australia hasn’t done. I feel really sad for us as a country, because I feel like we could benefit so much [from interrogating our history] and then there wouldn’t be this horrible anger and fear that 99% of the population have about our Indigenous population and Indigenous history.”

Asked what she’d like Australian audiences in particular to take away from the film, Shortland says: “If anybody watches the film, hopefully they might think a little bit about what history means as an active thing, rather than as a recessive thing that you put behind you; the idea that history is something that you’re actually living in, because every second is history, every moment is history.”

As for what’s next, Shortland is enjoying the writing process and the collaborative nature of television work, where the weight of the entire production isn’t on her shoulders. “I’ve been writing and I’m absolutely loving that. I’m loving that whole process. I love the writers’ room where you’re a team. That was what was so great about writing on The Slap, because we were really a tight-knit team and there was just so much support for each other as writers, and everybody shared their ideas.  Now I’m working with Matchbox again on Gallipolli and on another series they’re doing. It’s fun, we laugh a lot. I love collaborating with all these brainy people.”

Lore is released nationally in Australia on 20 September.

Lore: Fast Facts

  • Lore is an official Australian/German co-production – approximately 30% Australian, 60% German, 10% UK.
  • The shoot took place in Germany from 19 July 2011 – 14 September 2011. Locations included Gorlitz, Baden-Wurttemberg, the Black Forest region, Hessen and the Schleswig-Holstein region.
  • Post-production work was done in Sydney, with a total 14 weeks editing, 10 weeks sound editing and mixing. Visual FX were completed out of Glasgow, Scotland and the music was composed in Germany and recorded in the UK.
  • Lore is released in Australasia through Transmission Films and in Germany through Piffl Mediem Gmbh. The international Sales Agent is Memento Films International.
  • Lore  was announced as Australia’s official entry into the Best Foreign Film category in the 2013 Academy Awards.
  • Lore is one of the Feature Films in Competition for the 2nd AACTA Awards.

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Peter Templeman: Not Suitable for Children

Letting go of a cherished project is never easy, especially if you’ve been working on it for five years. When director Peter Templeman finished production on his debut feature film Not Suitable for Children in March 2012, he found it rather wrenching to let go. “It was full on,” he recalls. “The same week that I finished the film was the week that my partner and I saw our little six-year-old daughter go off to school for the first time and sent her out into the world… off into the jungle of the primary school – the ruthless school-yard!  I’m ashamed to say that it was actually easier to do that than to let the film go. I could have just kept chiselling away at it.”

Speaking on the phone from Perth just a week before Not Suitable for Children debuted as opening night film at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival, Templeman is obviously excited and “humbled to be playing in a big room like that, and to that particular audience.” But he has the laconic self-effacing manner of the West Australian surfer, musician and physiotherapist that he used to be, way back before his talents drew him into the world of acting, writing and directing.

A graduate of directing and writing degrees at AFTRS (the Australian Film, Television and Radio School), Templeman’s short films made during his student years won numerous national and international awards, most notably an Oscar nomination in 2007 for The Saviour, his thoughtful and humourous tale of a Mormon doorknocker who falls in love with one of his prospective converts. Templeman has also worked as director and writer on a number of television series, including Dead Gorgeous, Bogan Pride and Lockie Leonard, the latter for which he was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2007, for the episode entitled ‘Ladder of Love’.

Not Suitable for Children offers a unique twist on the increasingly popular sub-genre of ‘biological clock’ comedies. Instead of a female lead racing against the clock to conceive a baby before she hits menopause, this story puts an irresponsible Sydney party-boy, Jonah (played by Ryan Kwanten), into the midst of an urgent fertility crisis, spawned by testicular cancer. When his donated sperm samples refuse to freeze, Jonah has just three weeks before ‘ball removal’ in order to impregnate a willing woman, starting off with his disgruntled ex-girlfriend, Ava (Bojana Novakovic). Assisting him in the madcap quest are Jonah’s two housemates – the hedonistic Gus (Ryan Corr), and the sensible, streetwise Stevie (Sarah Snook).

Hedonistic housemates: Gus (Ryan Corr), Stevie (Sarah Snook) and Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) in ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

Produced by Jodi Matterson (Razzle Dazzle) and executive produced by Bruna Papandrea (Milk, Better Than Sex), Not Suitable for Children is written by Michael Lucas, a long-time writing partner of Templeman’s who has honed his script skills in recent years with top writing credits on Offspring and Tangle. Like those television dramas, Not Suitable for Children feels totally contemporary. Believable, humourous and candid Australian dialogue is combined with nimbly handled sex scenes and a confident sense of pace, rhythm and romance. In fact, you may be tempted to call the film a romantic comedy, but director Templeman would prefer that you didn’t.

Bedtime antics. Ryan Kwanten in ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

“In terms of it being a ‘rom-com’, I think Screen Australia appreciated the fact that the story in some ways falls into that genre, and quite early in the development process that was an attraction for them to the project,” says Templeman. “But personally, I never like to think of it in those terms. I always thought of the story as more of a coming-of-age comedy, with love as the core theme that emerges by the end. Structurally, it’s quite different to the way rom-coms usually present. In most rom-coms, you usually know who the romantic leads are in the opening scenes. There’s some kind of chemistry or sparks, and then you watch that play out over the course of the film. I hope that the tone and the style of our film does a lot to subvert that genre. I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of genre when you’re making choices based on the story and the characters, and I think Mike (writer Michael Lucas) feels the same way. But in saying that, I’m very much in favour of pitching it however it should be pitched to attract the most people to come and see it, for sure!”

Talking with Templeman, it’s clear he loves working with story and character, nutting out the nuances of personality, motivation and chemistry. It’s evident from the way he talks that the film’s script underwent multiple drafts, with every scene interrogated for its plausibility and its contribution to the audience’s understanding and enjoyment.

Ryan Kwanten and director Peter Templeman on the set of ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

So how did this Perth surfer-musician-physiotherapist turn into an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker? Templeman himself is rather surprised. “If you told me back when I was a kid that I’d end up making films I wouldn’t have believed you,” he says. “I was into movies the same way any other kid was, but actually more interested in sport. I did love drawing and music too. And creative writing. Now that I look back on it, I can see that I was interested in all the elements that make up filmmaking, but I couldn’t see it then.”

Templeman’s trajectory after high school was no more direct. “After I finished school I had a year off, surfed, played guitar and lived in a caravan,” he says. “Then I went and played music full-time for a couple of years, then became a physiotherapist, and went overseas for a bit. When I came back I was into my late twenties, and that was when I fell into writing and acting. I wrote a couple of little one-act plays that got produced, and then a couple of films for other directors.  I started shooting and editing for other people, and directed a bit of theatre. Eventually I directed a little short film and got selected for AFTRS. That was the turning point when I thought, ‘Hang on, this might be more than a hobby,’ because at that time, I think I was doing one day a week as a physio and I was getting bits of work, writing copy for corporate videos and things like that. I’d composed for a set of commercials. I was just doing bits of everything, you know, and never really consolidating anything – just having fun, I guess. Going to AFTRS, I thought: ‘Okay now, focus on directing and maybe I can make a career of it.’”

While he was studying at AFTRS and making short films, Templeman became the only filmmaker to win the prestigious independent US Slamdance Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film two years in a row – first with the devastating drama Splintered in 2005 and then with The Savior in 2006. These awards, combined with the Oscar nomination in 2007, surely must have convinced him he’d taken the right path?

“I was lucky. Yeah I was lucky,” he says diffidently. “It’s nice, that’s for sure. And a great encouragement. If those three short films I’d made at AFTRS had been comprehensively unsuccessful would I have been able to keep going? I used to think when I won the awards, ‘Oh well, that’s just what a panel of judges think, and not necessarily a good indication of what the rest of the people will think.’ But now I realise that awards are the best praise I can get because they come from my peers, and you can only ever make stuff for your own tastes and the people that share those tastes with you, rather than pitching to a broader market.” He pauses and adds with a laugh, “I’m not sure if that makes any sense!” It does.

The casting of Ryan Kwanten in the lead role occurred about six months before the start of the shoot. Templeman, along with writer Lucas and producer Jodi Matterson, traveled to LA to discuss the part with Kwanten. “We got in a room with him for an hour and worked on one of the scenes and chatted about the role,” recalls Templeman. “It was great and I offered the part to him. Between then and the start of the shoot we skyped a few times, talking through the character and the script development. We also had three weeks of full-time rehearsal in the lead-up to shooting.”

Sarah Snook

The casting of  the AACTA Award-winning but still emerging Sarah Snook in the key role of Jonah’s friend and flatmate was a longer and more difficult process.

“It was a long process, casting for that role and a challenging one for me,” says Templeman, “because there are so many brilliant Australian actresses in that age bracket and we auditioned lots of people. Ultimately it came down to a couple of people. We took Sarah to LA and then got her in a room with Ryan working  for about three hours, and we filmed it all. Then I went away and watched it, and that was when I was completely sold.”

Templeman continues. “Apart from being an extraordinary actor with superb comic timing and a natural detail and nuance to her work, it was about the different and opposite energy Sarah brought to working with Ryan. There he was, still in his True Blood gear, all buff and tanned with his hair tipped. And there she was, just in her casual gear looking like the girl next door standing next to the Hollywood guy, and I loved that. But that was the least of it really. It was her ability to convey not only her own character, the Stevie character, but the character of Jonah through her reactions to him – or even to the person reading his part in the initial auditions. It was sort of like how your learn a lot about someone through their friends, and how their friends treat them.”

Director Peter Templeman and Producer Jodi Matterson on set.

Templeman is grateful to producer Jodi Matterson for shielding him from the business side of production. When asked if it was difficult to raise finance for the project (an estimated budget of $4.5 million), Templeman says, “I’m sure it was, but I was lucky I was protected from that stuff because [producer] Jodi [Matterson] was so brilliant at it. I know she did have some different investors on board at one stage who wanted to weigh in more heavily with the casting, and that was really tough for her, managing them and managing me and what I wanted. In the end, she suggested we should part ways with them, and I thought that was a great move. I felt really good about that. She really supported my vision for the film and wanted to have people around who support that as well. I think it’s really hard to raise money for a film in this current climate, so I think she really had her work cut out for her.”

As for what’s next for Templeman, he’s busy working with writer Michael Lucas on their next collaboration. “We’ve forged a pretty tight writing partnership since AFTRS, Mike and I.  I’ve been living in Perth for the last three years so we now do a fair bit of travelling to catch up and work. He comes over here and sleeps on the blow-up mattress in the back room, which is stinking hot in summer and Antarctic in winter and has my kid waking him up at 6am, jumping all over him. And then I go to Melbourne and stay in his family’s stunning log cabin on the Yarra and have my own five-star bedroom and his mum cooks amazing meals for us. It’s broken up between those two! We’re working on a feature project called KARMA – which stands for the ‘Kashmir Association of Revenge Management’ – it’s a black comedy. I’m also working on a feature version of The Saviour and another feature as well.” Sounds busy and industrious – but in a laid-back kind of way. “I hope to just write for the next year,” says Templeman, “and we’ll see what happens after that.”

Not Suitable for Children is in national release from 12 July.

It’s on! The 2013 AACTA Awards Cycle is launched.


The search is on for Australia’s most outstanding film and television performers, practitioners and productions, with the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) calling for entries for the 2013 AACTA Awards.


Enter the AACTA Awards

Entries are now open across all categories: Feature Film; Short Animation; Short Fiction Film; Television; and Documentary.

The 2013 AACTA Awards include more than 50 Awards — recognising excellence across screen crafts including screenwriting, producing and acting, through to cinematography, composition and costume design. This year we are also introducing a new Award, the AACTA Award for Best Reality Television Series.

For information about 2013 AACTA Awards categories, eligibility criteria, deadlines and fees, and information on how to enter, click here.

Join a Jury

We are also now seeking AACTA Awards jurors – screen professionals from a cross-section of crafts, who come together to determine the nominees and winners for various Awards in the following categories: Feature Film Pre-Selection; Documentary; Television; Visual Effects; Young Actor; and Short Fiction Film and Short Animation.

AACTA Awards jurors determine AACTA Awards nominees and winners across a variety of categories, which many jurors find both rewarding and educational.

As the AACTA Awards are industry-assessed, jury positions are open to AACTA members only. This ensures that jurors are: screen industry professionals who have gone through an accreditation process to verify their experience and expertise; and those best qualified to recognise excellence in their field. It is not too late to become an AACTA member in order to join a jury.

To read more juror testimonials and to apply to become an AACTA Awards juror, see the Join a Jury page on the AACTA website.

Careless Love – An interview with John Duigan

Writer and director John Duigan with DOP Kathryn Milliss on the set of CARELESS LOVE.

John Duigan has a unique place among the Australian New Wave directors who came to prominence during the 1970s. His films weren’t based on national historical events or adapted from Great Australian Novels, nor did they seem at all concerned with issues of national identity. Instead, he preferred to write his own stories and interrogate his own experiences of society, with a strong focus on uncovering great performances by young actors – a gift which was directly recognised when Duigan received the 1991 Byron Kennedy Award.*

Graduating from Melbourne University in 1973 with a degree in philosophy, Duigan wrote novels, worked as an actor, director and writer in Melbourne’s vibrant theatrical eruptions of the 1970s and early 80s – this was, after all, the era of  La Mama and the Pram Factory – and then after some experimental films, made his first mainstream work, the AFI Award-winning Mouth to Mouth (1978), a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of the drifting lives of unemployed young people.

Duigan’s films are a diverse collection, but almost without exception they’ve been original in the particular ways they’ve probed and questioned the complexities of interpersonal relationships, gender politics and the hypocrisies of society. There was Winter of our Dreams (1981),  starring a young Judy Davis as a Kings Cross prostitute; and the iconic, beautifully observed coming-of-age films  The Year My Voice Broke (1987) with its unforgettable teen trio of Noah Taylor, Ben Mendelsohn and Loene Carmen; as well as Flirting (1991) with Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Thandie Newton lighting up the screen as school girls, and Sirens (1994) with its depiction of artist Norman Lindsay and his nymph-like models (famously played by Elle McPherson, Portia de Rossi and Kate Fischer).

Subsequent films made in the UK and the USA include the tender probing of an adult/child friendship in Lawn Dogs (1997), starring Sam Rockwell and Micha Barton; The Leading Man (1996) with an unexpectedly stunning turn by Jon Bon Jovi; and Head in the Clouds (2004) with Charlize Theron and Penélope Cruz as lovers. For all their diversity, in these films Duigan seemed to be on the side of those who pushed against the status quo. Now he’s back with Careless Love, an extremely low budget Australian film that queries societal assumptions about sex, prostitution and even race.

Written and directed by Duigan, Careless Love is set in contemporary Sydney and tells the story of Linh (Nammi Le) a beautiful young Vietnamese-Australian university student who works at night as a prostitute. She sends the money home to her parents, who live in a depressed rural town and are at risk of defaulting on their mortgage. When Linh moves in with her Australian boyfriend (Andrew Hazzard) it becomes increasingly difficult for her to keep her two lives separate. For one thing, there’s her tough but lovable pimp (David Field), and for another, her mysterious American client (Peter O’Brien), who seems to want more than a quick encounter.

Peter O’Brien and Nammi Le in CARELESS LOVE.

In this interview we talk to Duigan about the ideas behind his story, the challenges of returning to work in Australia, and the importance of careful planning and rehearsals. He also discusses his ongoing labour of love – a textbook on secular ethics that takes him full circle – to studying philosophy again.

AFI: What were the seeds of this script and how long ago did you start working on it?

John Duigan: Well, it’s quite a long story. When I was at university in Melbourne many years ago, there was a girl I knew from a country part of Victoria who worked for two years as an escort to pay her way through university, and from time-to-time she would tell me bits and pieces about the work. It struck me always as being an interesting basis for a film subject. And then in recent years, in England and France in particular, there was a lot of coverage in the press about the increasing cost of university education, and a lot of interviews and articles about students who were paying their way through university by working for periods of time in the sex industry. I had the same impression from talking to people when I was back here in Australia – that there was a similar phenomenon, in part triggered by student costs and also the current recession, so I decided to take on that subject.

The contradictions in our attitudes towards prostitution – Nammi Le in CARELESS LOVE.

I was also interested in the general shifts in morality of the culture – the fact that there are these mainstream values that are espoused by all the political parties, [who] put the primacy of family values as being central. The sexual activities of prostitutes can be regarded as being quite contradictory to those mainstream values, and yet it’s interesting that the sex industry in most of its forms is legal here. I was interested in exploring that aspect as well as the sort of attitudes towards people who work in the sex industry, resulting from that contradiction.

AFI: Contrary to expectations, and perhaps contrary to clichés, the central character in your film  isn’t a victim. A casual reader of the synopsis – about a Vietnamese student who is working as a prostitute to send money back to her family – might automatically assume she’s a victim of circumstances. That’s not the way you choose to present it, is it?

John Duigan: No, she’s a strong-willed character who, while she doesn’t anticipate all the things that happen to her, goes into it in a clear-headed way, with a strong sense of herself and a conviction that the choice she’s making is valid in terms of her own personal values.  It was very important to me that she’s not a victim. Most of the stories about prostitutes in films fall into three different categories: the stories relating to sexual slavery and the way people are trafficked; another one is to do with people who are supporting drug habits; and the third is the more glamorised, up-market stories like the one told in that British TV series recently, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. And I don’t think that’s the experience of the majority of people. People go into the industry for all sorts of reasons, but most of them are, in fact, economic.

AFI: There seems to have been a recent spate of low-budget Australian films centring on the issue of sex workers – The Jammed, Black & White & Sex and  John Hewitt’s X. I wonder if you’ve seen any of those films and what you make of this trend?

David Field is the tough but tender pimp, with Nammi Le in CARELESS LOVE.

John Duigan: I saw X and I also saw Sleeping Beauty – that was another one. I think all of them are dealing with different aspects, but the fact that there are a number of films that have sex workers as their protagonists is probably indicative of the fact that it’s significant that Australia has substantially illegalised the sex industry. And you only need to look at papers like the [Daily] Telegraph and you’ll see three to four pages of ads for it. It’s interesting that there’s this contrast between this existence of the sex industry and the mainstream values. So it’s something that all these filmmakers are looking at in one way or another.

AFI: Careless Love is your first film made back in Australia for some time. How did this experience differ from your past films?

John Duigan: Well, it was about twenty years ago when I did Sirens, so it is quite a long time. I think the major difference is the attitude towards independent Australian films. When I was working here continuously – with Winter of our Dreams, Far East, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting and Sirens – all of those films had fairly successful theatrical releases. And now, for whatever reason, a lot of cinemas are much more reluctant to put on smaller Australian films. I think it’s really important for our culture that Australia is represented by a range of films and not just the large-budget films. I think quite a lot of small Australian films probably don’t get any kind of release and sort of disappear between the cracks. That’s tragic, really. And with fewer independent cinemas around, there’s the dominance of the multiplexes, which rather than actually putting on a wide range of films, often simply put on the big Titanics or what have you, on about four or five screens. This means that younger people are coming up who have had very little experience of seeing a range of independent films… It’s going to be much harder to get them in to see Australian films in the first place.

AFI: Was it difficult for you to secure a release for this film?

John Duigan: I would say it was harder than it was twenty years ago. Yes. I mean we have cinemas in all the major cities. So it’s certainly possible, but I think it has been more difficult.

AFI: How did you raise the finance to make the film, and what were the primary sources and approximate budget?

John Duigan: It’s all private money. We choose not to release the actual budget figure, simply because it can affect the way people see the film. I was showing it to a few people overseas… I had one independent of great experience who saw it and thought that the budget was $7 million, and the budget is very, very much lower than that. As far as sources are concerned, it all comes from four individuals. Each one put small amounts in and one person put in rather more. We didn’t have any input from Screen Australia.

AFI: Did you want any input from Screen Australia, or was it always your intention to go down the completely independent route?

John Duigan: At the time I made the film, I was keen to go into production rather than wait for another year, because while I’d been working on my labour of love on the ethics front [the ethics textbook Duigan has been writing] I’d been attached to a Canadian and a French-produced film for about three or four years. And each year it would seem, one or either of the two was going to come together. And then at the last minute it would fall through, usually because we weren’t able to get the key actor that we needed to trigger both projects or because an area of finance that had been promised fell through. In one case a company kind of went bankrupt. So after having that rather frustrating experience, which many other filmmakers have and continue to have, as you would know, I wanted to get into production with this small project fairly quickly. But it would have been good if we’d been able to get some money for the post [-production] from Screen Australia, which we weren’t able to get.

AFI:  The look of the film is very beautiful in parts. I wonder if you could talk about the production design and the look you were going for with this project?

John Duigan: Yes, the cinematographer Kathryn Milliss is somebody who had worked on a number of my films years ago as an assistant to Geoff Burton, who is one of the producers on this film, and so it was great to work with her again. Generally speaking, it is a naturalistic look and we tried to use warmer and cooler colours to complement the different strands of the story. At times when Linh is working at night, they’re often cooler colours, but sometimes actually slightly garish, with that yellow hue in some of the night exteriors. In contrast it it’s a warmer, sort of more temperate feel in the world that she has with her boyfriend and family. But it all sort goes off the rails towards the end. The production designer is Colin Gibson, who actually did a marvellous job. Again, he’s somebody who I worked with on films like The Year My Voice Broke and others from a long time ago. He mainly works on extremely big films – he’s the production designer on the new Mad Max film that George Miller is making in Southern Africa. But I think he enjoyed actually working back on something that was shorter and demanded the use of real imagination to compensate for a lack of budget. He’s an incredibly industrious, hard-working character and managed, I think, to give the film a look and a detail which is way above what the budget was.

A double life – Linh (Nammi Le) struggles to reconcile her two lives when she falls in love with Jack (Andrew Hazzard).

AFI: How long was the shoot and what were the key locations?

John Duigan: It was a 30-day shoot. We did six five-day weeks. The key locations are all in and around Sydney. A lot of the locations are owned by friends or relatives or by myself.  The major location is my flat in Coogee!

AFI: You’ve been making films for nearly 40 years now. Are there any essential ways you’ve changed your working method, or key lessons you’ve learned?

John Duigan: Not really. In many ways, with Careless Love, it felt like I was working in the style that I worked in and with the sort of budgetary restraints of quite a lot of earlier films that I did, like Mouth to Mouth and Winter of Our Dreams. Always, the key thing for me has been to do as much preparation as possible. I like to try to minimise the decisions that one needs to make on the set, based from a logistical point of view and from the point of view of how one is working with the cast. So through rehearsal, you aim to articulate everything that the performance needs to achieve in every scene, and where the scenes occur in terms of the character’s arc and all that sort of thing. It’s good if everybody knows exactly what they are attempting to achieve on each day and in each scene and on each set. This means a lot of detailed conversation and planning in the pre-production stage, and as much rehearsal as you can get with all of the principal actors.

I have generally used that model, whether I’m working on a larger budget or on a small budget, but it’s probably particularly important on a small budget. Obviously there are huge changes that are required from time-to-time, if one is hit by unexpected light changes or weather problems, or if an actor gets sick or something like that, but if you’ve got everything planned out in detail, it’s much easier to react to circumstances and keep the film following the arc that you want it to follow.

AFI: Are you involved in planning the promotional and release strategy with the film’s distributor, Antidote Films?

John Duigan: Yes, I’m working on that with Jenny Day and Geoff Burton, the producers, and with Gil Scrine, the distributor. We are opening at a central cinema in each of the major cities, and hopefully in a couple of the cities we’ll have a couple of other screens as well. Perhaps, if the film manages to deliver, it can expand and pick up some other screens in the suburbs. We think in general that it’s good to have a key cinema in each of the cities that you can focus on, rather than sharing out the audience to a number of locations. If you can actually get the film to perform in one main cinema, then that is going to help the film’s longevity, and also give it the opportunity of spreading out later.

AFI:  You live between Sydney and England?

John Duigan: Yes, at the moment I’m spending a little bit more time over here than over there –  seven, eight months of the year here, and four or five months over there. I enjoy going backwards and forwards.

AFI: You’ve mentioned that you’ve been interspersing your filmmaking activities with writing a book on ethics and philosophy over the last few years. Can you tell us more about that?

John Duigan: My main area of study at university was philosophy and I contemplated the idea of actually going to Cambridge and doing a doctorate there, but ended up choosing to work in the film industry instead. I think that interest in ethics has always been an abiding one for me and, to an extent, has some sort of resonance in many of the films that I make, though not all of them.

I’d always intended, at some point in my life, to try and write a book on secular ethics. I think that ethics is a subject that should be taught in schools. I’ve thought that for a great many years. And now, increasingly – in New South Wales in particular – people are talking about that, and in fact, there’s a strong impulse, which is nurtured by places like the St James Ethics Centre, for ethics to be taught in schools, and it seems to me that it should be a secular ethics. I mean, our whole legal and governmental system is essentially a secular one and with the complexities of different moral positions that come from our increasingly multicultural society, to me a secular ethics could help potentially ameliorate some of the conflict between differing moralities coming from very different religious traditions.

AFI: Is your book on secular ethics being published soon?

John Duigan: I’m still working on it. I’m getting feedback from a number of sources now and we’ll do some more work on it and I would hope to get it published next year or in the next couple of years. Of course there’s no guarantee. It’s a complex subject, and the kind of thing that one could work on indefinitely!

AFI: Do you find it helpful to have such strong interests outside of filmmaking?

John Duigan: I think it’s really important and I always tell actors that it’s great to have other areas of interest. In part this is because you draw from those interests to enrich your work in acting or filmmaking or any of the arts.  I think that people who come from purely filmic backgrounds, who draw most of their inspiration from other films, could certainly benefit from drawing from more expanded areas of interest.

AFI: Thanks for speaking with us, and best wishes with Careless Love.

John Duigan: It’s been a pleasure, thanks.

Careless Love releases in Australia on 17 May 2012
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Official trailer below:

CARELESS LOVE – FAST FACTS

Writer/Director: John Duigan
Producers: Jenny Day and Geoff Burton
Presented by: Spirited Films & Luminous Pictures
Key Cast & Crew: Nammi Le, Peter O’Brien, Andrew Hazzard, Penny McNamee, Ivy Mak, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, David Field
Director of Photography: Kathryn Milliss
Editor: Mark Warner
Production Designer: Colin Gibson
Costume Designer: Loretta Egan

*JOHN DUIGAN AT THE AFI AWARDS

  • 1978 – Won the AFI Jury Prize for Mouth to Mouth. He was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Direction for that film.
  • 1981  – Nominated Best Director and Best Original or Adapted Screenplay for Winter of Our Dreams.
  • 1987 – Won the AFI Award for Best Director for The Year My Voice Broke and also won the AFI Award for Best Original Screenplay on that film.
  • 1991 –  Duigan was presented with the Byron Kennedy Award for “an impressive and original body of work both as writer and director, and through that work, his discovery and encouragement of new talent”.

L-R: John Duigan, Ben Mendelsohn, Loene Carmen, Noah Taylor, George Miller – THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE – at the 1987 AFI Awards



Reviews Wrap

Here’s a quick dip into the reviews of two recently released Australian feature films: Black & White & Sex and Any Questions for Ben?. Please note these do not reflect the views of the AFI | AACTA. We’re aiming to represent opinions and views from a variety of sources, and you’ll make up your own mind, of course!

Black & White & Sex

Billed as ‘an intimate film about sex’, Black & White & Sex was released in March on just a few screens in Melbourne and Sydney by John L. Simpson’s Titan View. The film previously screened at the 2011 Sydney and Brisbane film festivals, and also screened in official selection at the 2012 Rotterdam Film Festival.

Written and directed by John Winter (who has previously produced films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence and Paperback Hero), Black & White & Sex is a film within a film, following a largely unseen documentary filmmaker (Matthew Holmes) who gets more than he bargained for when he interviews a sex worker who goes by the name of ‘Angie’. Intriguingly, this character is played by eight different actresses (Katherine Hicks, Anya Beresdorf, Valerie Bader, Roxane Wilson, Michelle Vergara Moore, Dina Panozzo, Saskia Burmeister, Maia Thomas). Filmed in black and white, and with occasional split screens, this is an independent film in every way.

Here’s the trailer:

Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller, over at Urban Cinefile, are both extremely positive about Black & White & Sex, with Urban describing it as “bravura filmmaking on a taboo subject.” He praises the performances of the actresses, the ironic choice of black and white cinematography (ironic because the subjects under discussion are anything but black and white), and the manner in which the film questions assumptions and hypocrisies within our culture around sex and prostitution.

Keller also praises the work as “an ambitious, fearless film” and enjoys the “titillating dialogue” and “witty banter” as well as the performances of the eight very different women, who respond to the filmmaker’s questions – “every question anyone ever wanted to ask a prostitute.” Keller finds the film surprisingly sweet and playful.

Peter Galvin, writing on the SBS Film website, agrees that the film is ambitious and experimental, and that the acting is fine, but wrestles with the question of whether the film actually becomes the very thing it aims to counter – a stereotypical representation of the prostitute as cultural cipher. Galvin also finds the dialogue clichéd, writing that “most of the talk has the dry, pre-digested, lifeless feel of a self-help manual – it’s all catchphrases and aphorisms.”

Writing for Variety (login required), Richard Kuipers describes the film as offering “a full-tilt examination of the sex-for-sale biz that effectively challenges stereotypes and is well served by dashes of droll humor.” Kuipers sees only a few “flat dialogue stretches” and praises the “uniformly excellent acting” and the “outstanding black-and-white HD widescreen imagery by lenser Nicola Daley.” He predicts, however, that the film will probably appeal more to festival audiences than to mainstream ones.

Over on the ABC’s At the Movies, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton agree that Black & White & Sex is “imaginative”, “brave”, superbly acted, and “within its limitations, very stylishly done”. They concur on a three and a half star rating.

Want to read other reviews of Black & White & Sex? More can be found here:

Any Questions For Ben?

A romantic comedy from Working Dog, the team behind previous Australian hit features The Dish and The Castle, Any Questions For Ben? was released in Australia on 9 February 2012 through Roadshow Films. Written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch, and also directed by Sitch, the film stars Josh Lawson as a smart, good-looking Lothario suffering a quarter-life crisis, brought about by his encounter with a beautiful United Nations lawyer (Rachael Taylor) who makes him question the meaning and purpose of his life.   A supporting cast includes Rob Carlton as Ben’s father, Lachy Hulme as his mentor, and Daniel Henshall, Felicity Ward and Christian Clark as his best buddies.

Here’s the trailer:

Simon Miraudo reviews the film on QuickFlix and finds it has “an easy, low-stakes charm, and is buoyed by its very talented cast of performers.” Miraudo praises Lawson as a likable lead who “deserves much of the praise for making sympathetic a character who could be considered the poster child for ‘first world problems’” – though he wonders if a more understated and less slick style may have been more appropriate to the film’s material. While declining to include it in the same “pantheon of Australian films” as The Castle and The Dish, Miraudo declares it it “a sweet, unassuming and occasionally very funny film.”

Likewise, Matthew Pejkovic of Matt’s Movie Reviews enjoys “a funny and insightful look into Gen X pressures in an increasingly fast paced world,” and has more praise for Lawson’s natural comedic timing and ability to depict Ben as sympathetic despite the fact that he’s “swimming in money, opportunity and women.”

Richard Gray of The Reel Bits  gives another positive review of the film, and finds Ben to be a character whose struggle to find meaning in modern life makes him “just as much of a local hero as Darryl Kerrigan.” Gray applauds Lawson in the lead role, and also enjoys Rachael Taylor’s “most naturalistic performance to date.”

In stark contrast, Crikey’s Luke Buckmaster is scathing of the film, failing to see any effective comedy or any chemistry between Lawson and Taylor. He wishes more effort had been made to capture the subtleties of the Melbourne location and deplores the soundtrack “stuffed to the gills with top 50 bubblegum pop tracks.”

Sandra Hall, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald is gentler on the “bright and shiny piece of film-making,” but is also disappointed, finding its depiction of Melbourne akin to a tourism advertisement, and its music montages “a sign of desperation.” Hall is thankful there are no fart jokes, (as in Apatow comedies), but finds herself “nostalgic for Working Dog’s sharper days when they would surely have perpetrated all sorts of wickedness at Ben’s expense.”

Other reviews of Any Questions for Ben? can also be found here:

Did you see these films? What did you think? Feel free to comment below. Note that comments are subject to moderation. We’ll print them as long as they’re fit for polite company.

Burning Man: Jonathan Teplitzky

Writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky and 'Burning Man' lead actress Bojana Novakovic.

When Jonathan Teplitzky burst onto the scene with his first feature, Better Than Sex (2000), he was that rare phenomenon: an Australian writer-director unafraid of exploring the messy, funny and serious side of urban sexual relationships. For that film he was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay. Now, eleven years later, he’s pushing boundaries again with Burning Man, the story of Tom, a bad-boy Bondi chef played by Matthew Goode, who is  reckless, angry, promiscuous and slightly dangerous. As the father of an eight-year-old boy (a great performance by Jack Heanly), Tom is less than responsible, and the many women in his life aren’t at all pleased. The mystery behind the misbehaviour is slowly revealed through a skilfully fragmented narrative that is, again, sexy, funny, sad and honest.

Teplitzky proved he could do comedy and action with the hilarious Gettin’ Square (2003) – a film for which he was also nominated for an AFI Award for Best Direction, though that film was scripted by Chris Nyst. With Burning Man, however, Teplitzky is back to his own script, and mining his own life experiences for a story of grief, desire, memory and love.

Here Teplitzky talks about his creative decisions, including his choice to use a non-linear narrative structure and his striving to capture a ‘winter look’ Bondi. He also talks about his desire to create Australian films for intelligent grown-ups. On a lighter note, he also discusses the absence of dead kangaroos in his film!

Matthew Goode in 'Burning Man'.

Matthew Goode gives a searing performance in 'Burning Man'.

AFI: You’ve been doing a whole lot of Q&A screenings for Burning Man. What are the most common questions you get asked? Are there some surprises?

Jonathan Teplitzky: There have been some good questions. I mean, it’s not surprising, but because there’s a certain biographical element to the story, people are always intrigued and want to know how much is from my own life. Another good one someone asked me was: “If I saw someone behaving like Tom in real life, would I intervene?” My answer was: “I wouldn’t intervene unless they were about to hurt themselves.” But I would – hopefully – look at what they were going through with a lot of empathy and a lot of camaraderie.

AFI: The film throws the audience right into chaos at the very start of the film. Was that always the intention, to start like that and gradually let the audience work out why the central character is behaving that way?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Yes, I decided on that structure pretty early on. I wanted a structure that reflected Tom’s emotional and psychological state, you know, that kaleidoscope, that fractured life, that life turned upside down. That’s why it’s like it is. I think with films like this, it’s really important to throw the audience in at the deep end. You’ve got to lay out the world that they’re going to live in.

And look, I wanted to make an adult film, you know, for adults. And I think audiences have a great desire not to be led by the hand all the time and not to be spoonfed, but to actually come along and have a cinematic experience that they have to work at a little bit. Hopefully part of the pleasure of watching a film like this is to be part of the process of working it out.

The only rule I wrote to was that in cutting from scene to scene, there had to be an emotional reason in some way, or as often as possible, to go from one scene to another. Either there was an emotional payoff in the next scene, or one emotion led into another, so that they were linked.  The story’s quite straightforward, apart from the fact that it’s all jumbled up, but I really wanted it to be an emotional journey for the audience. And as a result, I felt that that would give the film not only a momentum, but would thrust the audience into the story rather than letting them observe Tom from an emotional distance.

AFI: When the character played by Bojana Novakovic appears, it’s actually quite disorienting. We don’t know who she is. Then there’s this revelations, which is a shock. Is this what you were aiming for?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Very much so. There’s a degree of autobiography in it, you know. My partner passed away 10 years ago. Six years had passed before I started writing the script. I started thinking that it would be great to respond to what I experienced in a creative way. So when I started writing it, I had to serve the fact that it’s a film, so I had to build into it a way of telling the story that would make it dramatic, would keep the audience guessing, would keep the audience engaged in a way. I had this idea that we’d be following this guy and to a certain extent, the audience are judging him, you know. “He’s an arsehole! Why is he behaving like this?” You know, he seems to have a real incendiary personality. And then suddenly, the whole ship seems to turn around and a character is revealed that starts to explain perhaps why he is the way he is.  I think this does a number of things, apart from contextualising his behaviour, but it also suggests that he’s not that unusual. It’s a kind of universal story.

Bojana Novakovic and Matthew Goode in 'Burning Man'.

Bojana Novakovic and Matthew Goode in 'Burning Man'.

AFI: The film has a lot of sex in it. It is adult, like you say, and it’s about a complex relationship between a man and a woman and an ongoing marriage really. That seems to be something we don’t do so much here in Australian cinema.

Jonathan Teplitzky: Yes. Sex and emotion. Margaret Pomeranz has spoken about this quite vocally recently, that we shirk away from sex and emotion, both collectively and individually in Australian cinema. And you know, those are both things that interest me. I mean, most of us in Australia are middle-class, we live in cities. But often, what we see on screen is the exact opposite of that. Rural stories set with sort of isolated characters. I’m very keen to explore the way that we actually live.

AFI: I was just looking through the top box office earners of Australian film today, because Red Dog has moved up the list. I was reading them out to my co-worker in the office and she says: “They’ve almost all got either dancing, singing or animals in them.” And this is true!

Jonathan Teplitzky: It’s so true. And you know, the other thing, someone told me once: not only are an amazing percentage of scripts that get submitted for funding set in rural or outback situations – completely the opposite of the way we live –  but that 75% of them have someone running over a kangaroo! That’s what I heard. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it’s quite funny really. So I feel a bit left out not having a dead kangaroo in it!

AFI: It would have been a bit hard in Bondi!

Cooking up a storm - Dan Wyllie and Matthew Goode in 'Burning Man'.

Cooking up a storm - Dan Wyllie and Matthew Goode in 'Burning Man'.

Jonathan Teplitzky: Yeah, exactly. It’s probably more likely to be on a menu somewhere in Bondi. But hopefully our industry is producing more complex films now. In the last two years or so there has been a good range of films. And that’s what’s great about something like Red Dog that can do $20 million, but that there’s still an interest in other films that do different things. Hopefully that’s a sign of a maturing culture. It remains to be seen, but hopefully that’s a good sign for our industry.

AFI: Can you talk about the ‘look’ of this film? It has a very particular colour palette. It’s not the traditional look of Bondi with the bright sun and blue sparkly beach.

Jonathan Teplitzky: No, I was really glad to shoot it in winter. I live in Bondi and it’s actually a really fascinating place, visually, in the winter. I wanted a sense of slightly heightened reality because that is what Tom is experiencing. Plus, he works in a kitchen, which is full of all that colourful food. I wanted to shift it away from being purely a naturalistic drama, and I didn’t want it to be overly sentimental. It needed to have colour palette that just was a bit more vibrant.

AFI: In terms of locking down the funding, how important was it to have an actor of international stature like Matthew Goode attached?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Look, it wasn’t the reason we cast him. You know, we cast him because I met him in London and as I got to know him, I realised he would do a great job, but also be committed to the film in a way that he had to be – I mean, he’s in 190 scenes or something, and there’s only three he’s not in. So we needed someone who was up for the physical and emotional challenge. I think we just caught him in a time in his life when he was really ready for that and wanting to do that. And you know, I liked the idea of someone who was an outsider;  it just added to his sense of isolation, without having to articulate that specifically in the script.

Obviously, because he’s becoming a well-known actor, that always helps sell the idea of the film to financiers – the fact that you can cite a bunch of big films that he’s been in. But in saying all that, both Screen Australian and Screen NSW supported the film at script stage very strongly before he was attached. But later, when we were putting the gap financing together, having a name actor certainly helps. And having people like Kerry Fox and Rachel Griffiths, then there’s something for investors to hang their hat on too. It’s about making people feel comfortable about what you’re getting into, financially.

AFI: From a realism perspective, there are a lot of English chefs in Sydney!

Jonathan Teplitzky: Yes! Chefing couldn’t be a more international profession, really. There’s every nationality in the kitchen, particularly here, where the food culture is so big and restaurant culture is so big. And you know, it’s just reflective of all the many cultures cooking food in this country.

AFI: What was the approximate budget of the film?

Jonathan Teplitzky: It was around $7 million.

Asking questions of the audience - the first film poster for 'Burning Man', designed by Jeremy Saunders.

AFI: Can you tell us about the film’s poster/key art? It changed from one design to the other. They’re both really beautiful. Why the change?

Jonathan Teplitzky: It didn’t change. We always had two posters. The first poster, the reflective one, in a sense asks questions of the viewer. And then with the second one, we wanted something that would feed that and be a bit more representative of the film. Also, we wanted it to really ping out of a lightbox in cinemas. And when you put a light behind this later one, it looks really great. They were both done by the same person, Jeremy Saunders, with that idea of being a stepping stone from one to the other.

AFI: Is it true you got your start as a photographer?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Well, I went overseas in the early ’80s and I did a lot of photography while I was traveling. I really got into it. And that sort of led on to being interested in film. By the time I got back to London, in the mid ’80s, I actually went to film school there.

AFI: How long has it been since you last directed a feature? Was the last one Better Than Sex?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Well, Better Than Sex was 2004, so it’s quite a while, six years, six, seven years. In the meantime I’ve done commercials, done a little bit of TV [including television series Spirited] and I had other scripts for features in development, but they never really got to a place that I was happy with.

The later poster for 'Burning Man', also designed by Saunders.

AFI: How do you think you’ve grown as a filmmaker from that last feature project to this one?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Well, I think you can chart a development from Better Than Sex to Gettin’ Square to this one, in terms of confidence and grasp of storytelling in the visual medium. From project to project you just learn so much about working with actors and working with crew.  You gain a great deal of understanding of what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you need to do to get a great performance out of someone – and that has to be tailored to individual actors. Also, I’ve learnt to find ways of enjoying the process as much as possible. That’s a really important part of it. We all spend a huge part of our lives doing this, so it’s great to be actually able to enjoy it!

AFI: Thanks for your time and best wishes with the film. It looks great.

Jonathan Teplitzky: Thank you.  I’m really proud of it, I have to say.

Burning Man is currently in national release.