Back in the Big Chair – Director Kimble Rendall on his ’90-minute popcorn film’, shark thriller Bait 3D

Director Kimble Rendall on the set of BAIT 3D.

Director Kimble Rendall is under no illusions about the artistic or social merits of his ‘sharks in a supermarket’ horror thriller Bait 3D. It’s a 90-minute popcorn film,” he says matter-of-factly. “You’re not trying to solve all the problems of the world!” Which made it even more surprising when it was announced that the prestigious Venice International Film Festival had selected Bait 3D for its out-of-competition midnight screening slot.

“I was just working on my emails and this invitation to Venice popped up as an email,” explains Rendall. “I thought, ‘this is unusual – this can’t be real! A 3D horror movie being invited to a prestigious festival like Venice.’ But it was real. So off we went. I talked to the director of the festival and asked him why we were chosen, and he said they really wanted to make the festival different; change the mix and have a range of entertaining stuff.”

Which begs the question, who sent a copy of Bait 3D into the festival for consideration? “I hadn’t, but somebody had,” says Rendall. “I think it was Screen Australia, one of the investors in the film, who screened it to the Venice selector when he came out to look at all the Australian films. He picked ours, and so we became one of fifty films worldwide to be in festival. It’s very gratifying. We had a midnight screening in one of the big cinemas there and it was the first time I’d seen the film with a whole lot of people. The horror fans came and they loved it, screaming at the scary bits! The Italian press seemed really positive and now it’s a big release in Italy. It’s all over the place there, with bulletin boards and videos on railway stations. Huge!”

Which is not to say everyone is going to love this unashamedly cheesy shark thriller, which many critics are saying is not quite cheesy, gory or scary enough to qualify for full-blown B-movie glory. No matter. The film is getting a huge release on 1,700 screens in China, as well as in numerous other territories, including Italy, Germany, Cambodia and Russia. Teenage girls all over the world will get to gleefully clutch their boyfriends’ arms as they watch the stalking Great White sharks pick off the survivors from the submerged supermarket shelves, one by one. It’s no spoiler to reveal that lead actor, heartthrob Xavier Samuel, will survive to see another day.

Tall, amiable and unpretentious, Kimble Rendall is veteran of the music and film industries and over the past four decades has been able to spread his skills across a huge range of projects – from being a starting member of bands XL-Capris and The Hoodoo Gurus in the 70s and 80s, to editing at the ABC and the BBC, working on documentaries, current affairs and drama. As a freelance editor he produced and cut Essie Coffey’s award-winning 1978 documentary My Survival as an Aboriginal. Then came a high profile career as a hugely commercials director (for which he won a Cannes Lion) and a music video director for bands such as Mental as Anything, Cold Chisel, the Angels and Hunters and Collectors. “My two passions are music and film and I’ve always done the two simultaneously,” he explains, “starting from when I was about twelve, making experimental films and playing guitar. When I was playing in a band at night, I was editing during the day. Then I did music videos that led out of that. It’s kind of a stereotypical path now – to move from music videos to film, but I was doing it back then.”

Rendall’s first feature as director was Australian teen comedy horror film Cut (2000), starring Molly Ringwald, Jessica Napier and featuring Kylie Minogue. Produced by Mushroom Pictures and Beyond Films, Cut was not a critical or commercial success in Australia, but it was sold to all markets in the world, with particular success in France and Hong Kong.

Rendall’s career as an above-the-title  film director stalled at this point, but took off in another highly successful direction – as a Second Unit director on high budget Hollywood productions, from the Matrix sequels, to I Robot, Casanova, Ghost Rider and Knowing. While the first unit on a film typically shoots the key drama between principal actors, a second unit (which has its own cinematographer and director) films action sequences and pickups not requiring the key actors. Asked for his advice on second unit directing, Rendall says exuberantly, “You’ve got to love blowing things up! Boys’ toys, fast cars and all that jazz. It is great fun.”

Having said that, Rendall intially resisted the move to second unit directing. “When I was offered the Matrix work, I thought ‘I don’t really want to just go and do Second Unit on somebody else’s films. I want to direct my own films!’ Then a friend of mine, Steve Owen, who’s an AD who does all this assistant directing work on all these big films, he rang me and said ‘you’re an idiot. I’ll ring you back and ask you again. This is Warner Bros and it’s a great opportunity.’ So I went into that world of Hollywood filmmaking and it was just incredible, being on the set, working with Woo-ping [Yuen], the Hong Kong action guy who was largely responsible for bringing all that into Western filmmaking. He’s the master of this. He’s got a team of ten, and he sat next to me and I got to see how they do it. You learn how to do things on a big scale. It ended up being a good thing for me. For the last ten years I’ve just worked for Hollywood studios– haven’t worked for Australian films at all, and I’ve gone all around the world doing second unit. I worked with Lasse Halstrom on Cassanova and was in Venice for six months, and it was just amazing. A director normally doesn’t get to see how another director works, but working second unit you get to watch all these great directors and see how they work.”

Before the sharks came… Actors Sharni Vinson and Xavier Samuel play young lovers in BAIT 3D.

Rendall admits it felt very good to be “back in the big chair” as a director. “I loved it. On Bait everybody else was down in the water on the shelves and I had my own little area above it all. I got to sit up there and shout down at everyone with my microphone!” Asked whether this made the cold and wet cast feel a little bit grumpy, Rendall says, “They were wet all the time, and yes, at times a little bit grumpy. Phoebe (Tonkin) and Cariba (Heine) have spent most of their careers in the water being mermaids in television series H2O, so this was nothing new for them. We  had to keep the water the right temperature and we looked after them and paid a lot of attention to make them as comfortable as possible. They were all a great bunch. At times they’d get a bit tense, but I’d just use that – it was quite good for the characters! As time went on, and some of the characters would get eaten – because we shot in sequence – I always played a special song for them as they went. Dan Wyllie’s song was [Talking Heads’] ‘Psycho Killer’ – and then they were gone! Suddenly there was one less actor in the room.”

Dan Wyllie in BAIT 3D

Originating from an idea by Russell Mulcahy (the director of Razorback and Highlander, who is credited here as co-writer and executive producer), Bait 3D follows a group of people trapped in a flooded Gold Coast supermarket after a freak tsunami washes in, along with a bunch of trapped killer sharks. The cast includes Australian actors turned Hollywood up-and-comers like Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Phoebe Tonkin, Sharni Vinson and Cariba Heine, as well as Aussie stalwarts Dan Wyllie and Martin Sacks. Various degrees of seriousness are adopted by these actors – from Samuel’s ‘straight as a die’ heroics to Wyllie’s hilariously broad depiction of a crazy ocker criminal. Speaking of actors, the animatronic sharks behave in ways that serious shark experts may question. For instance, they have inexhaustible appetites for human flesh and a tendency to leap very high out of the water to crunch a body in half.

Rendall is philosophical. “There are a couple of maneuvers that real sharks might not make.  But it’s a horror movie. It’s a supermarket where the laws are reversed; the shoppers are the food source for the sharks. The sharks in our movie had to eat people, and had to be hungry!”

Bait 3D’s main claims to fame within the Australian industry include the fact that it’s the first Australia/Singapore co-production and first 3D genre feature to be shot in Australia. “We tried to make it a 3D movie that was good to watch,” explains Rendall. “Sometimes 3D can be a bit alienating and give you a ‘brain tear’ they call it. It can give you a bit of a headache. We tried to make it very comfortable to watch. You’re totally immersed in the world of the movie and then suddenly there’s 3D elements.” It’s true the 3D effects appear judiciously sprinkled throughout and at their best they are pleasingly shocking: the dispersal of blood in the water before your eyes; or the appearance of millions of tiny crab-like sea creatures crawling in front of you.

Phoebe Tonkin and Martin Sacks play an estranged daughter and father in BAIT 3D.

“This is my first experience with 3D,” says Rendall, who admits the challenges. “Not many people in Australia have used it yet. It’s the first 3D horror feature to be made here and the first 3D experience for most of the crew. There’s two cameras one for the right and left eye. And they have to into this box that’s as big as that chair over there. Each camera weighed 64 kilos and we had to put it on a crane that could hardly hold it and then balance everything. Getting the cameras into position they have to have cable running  into them and stereographers running around and so forth, and you’ve got to have a whole entourage to set it up. But once it’s all set up, you have these big beautiful screens and you can actually see what you’re doing in 3D which is really good as a director. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to do it in 3D if you had the chance. It is a bit more time-consuming – like changing lenses takes you an hour, whereas on a normal camera you can do it in about five minutes. You’ve got two cameras and you’ve got to line them up. If they get out of alignment that causes real problems. We had these  great zoom lenses, so we just stuck on those. We had lots of clever ways of dealing with supposed problems. For instance, the problem of moisture in the cameras because we were shooting round water: we invented these little fans to get rid of the moisture. Lots of things like that. We’re just clever Aussies. We worked it out.”

One of the aspects of the film which may cause irritation for Australian audiences is the mix of local and American accents – sometimes, inadvertently, within the one performance. Rendall explains the rationale for the mix of American and Australian accents. “Originally we were going to make all the accents American. It was a directive that came from the American sales company and they said ‘It’s very hard to understand Australian accents and we cannot sell the film. Broad Australian accents don’t work.’  Most of the young actors we were casting do work in America anyway, and for them it’s no big deal to do American accents. We thought only Australians will pick it up anyway. So we did it all and then we looked at it and thought, ‘Hmm,  it’s set in Australia, some characters  could be American and some could be Australian. So we just worked out for each character and went back to having some Australian accents and some American accents. That’s how it came about.”

Kimble Rendall at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, wearing 3D glasses. Photo: AFP

Rendall is unapologetic about the decision. “It was about selling the film. I think we should be making more of these kind of films because there’s an audience for them, and we’ve got to make films you can sell. Filmmakers  have got to think ‘how do I market my film?’ and sometimes you have to do things like this with the accents  – if it’s not going to wreck the film – to make it sell internationally, instead of just making it for Australia. We were lucky. We sort of got away with it. With some films it would just be too silly.”

So, does Rendall mind the ‘Ozploitation’ genre tag? “Hmm, people are calling it ‘Sharksploitation’ but I’m not sure about that. It is also about the drama of the characters as well, so do you call it ‘people-sploitation’? But let’s face it, it is about sharks in a supermarket, so I guess we’ll have to go with that.” He grimaces, and says slowly, “‘Oz-ploi-tation”. Then continues. “Well, it reminds me of when I did some photo shoots in China and Italy and they asked me to put on the 3D glasses for the photo, and I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to be the only photo of me that anyone ever looks at for the rest of my life – me standing around with 3D glasses on!’ Then I thought, well, it is a 3D movie. What the hell? You can’t be too precious about all this stuff!”

Xavier Samuel with big gun in BAIT 3D.

Bait 3D – Fast Facts

  • Bait is the first Australian 3D action genre production as well as the first ever co-production between Australia and Singapore.
  • Bait was filmed on the Gold Coast at Warner Roadshow Studios.
  • The budget was an estimated $A20 million, with investment by Singapore’s Media Development Authority and Blackmagic design, as well as Screen Australia and Screen Queensland.
  • The film’s international premiere was a midnight screening at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival on Saturday, 1 September, 2012.
  • Bait is releasing in Australia on 20 September 2012 (through Paramount), as well as in other territories, including Italy, Singapore, China, Germany and the US. In some territories it is known as Shark 3D.
  • IMDB | Facebook |

Bait 3D – Key Cast & Crew

Director: Kimble Rendall
Writers: Russell Mulcahy and John Kim
Producers: Gary Hamilton, Todd Fellman & Peter Barber
Executive Producers: Chris Brown, Ian Maycock, Mike Gabrawy, Ying Ye, Russell Mulcahy
Key Cast: Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Lincoln Lewis, Alex Russell, Cariba Heine, Adrian Pang, Qi Yuwu, Martin Sacks, Alice Parkinson
Director of Photography: Ross Emery
Production Designer: Nicholas McCallum
Editor: Rodgrigo Balart
Composers: Joe Ng & Alex Oh
Visual Effects Supervisor: Marc Varisco
Special Effects Designer & Shark Designer: Steven Boyle
Sound Designer: Robert Mackenzie
Costume Designer: Phill Eagles
Key Makeup and Hair Designer: Shane Thomas

Reviews Wrap: I Am Eleven, Not Suitable for Children and The King is Dead!

For Australian audiences looking for home grown entertainment on the big screen, there are certainly some great choices right now. The heartwarming documentary I Am Eleven, the romantic comedy Not Suitable for Children and the darkly funny suburban western The King is Dead! are just some of the options.

Here’s our latest Reviews Wrap, where we offer a quick dip into the reviews for recent Australian releases, offering  a broad sense of the critical response they’ve received.

Please note that the reviews referenced here do not reflect the views of the AFI | AACTA. We’re aiming to represent views and opinions from a variety of sources, and you’ll make up your own mind, of course!

I am Eleven

The feature length documentary I am Eleven premiered to sold out sessions at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival, and is now making its way around the country, enjoying wonderful word-of-mouth publicity through its ‘ambassador’ campaign and other savvy hands-on promotional efforts by director/producer Genevieve Bailey.

The film profiles a collection of delightful 11-year-olds from around the world who share the qualities of their particular age – being  ‘no longer children, not quite adults’. They discuss the ‘private obsessions and public concerns that animate their lives’ – from their love of animals, their concerns for world peace and their hopes and dreams for the future.

I Am Eleven won Best Documentary at last year’s IF Awards and won an Audience award at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Upon its release at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, I Am Eleven enjoyed the biggest opening weekend for an Australian documentary in three years, and has since been adding cinemas from around the country to its schedule, including in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Castlemaine, Tasmania’s MONA (from 11 August) and many more.

With overwhelming grassroots support and general goodwill from audiences and high profile supporters (including Chrissie Swan, Jane Hall and Claudia Karvan), reviews seem a little redundant to the film’s success, but critics have also been overwhelmingly charmed.

Writing for the The Australian, Evan Williams said, “What gives the film its cohesion and integrity is its triumphant affirmation of a shared humanity. In the deepest sense, these children speak with one voice.”

Philippa Hawker, for the The Age praises I Am Eleven “as a film of great warmth, generosity and optimism… a work that wears its strengths and virtues lightly, without insistence or heavy-handedness.” Hawker also commends the film for its graceful interweaving of its 23 interview subjects and their stories, noting that “Each child comes across as an individual, sometimes strikingly so. Yet there is something they all seem to share: a kind of openness and thoughtfulness, expressed in myriad ways, that transcends other differences.”

Don Groves, reviewing for the SBS Film website, finds the film “illuminating and uplifting” and praises first time feature filmmaker Bailey for her “impressive dexterity as the director, cinematographer, editor, interviewer and narrator.” Groves finds some passages repetitive, but he too enjoys the film’s overall optimism and energy.

Here’s the trailer for I Am Eleven.

Not Suitable For Children

A ‘biological clock comedy’ with a difference, Not Suitable for Children sees its male lead (Ryan Kwanten) racing against the clock to find a woman to bear his child before he becomes infertile due to cancer treatment. Written by Offspring scribe Michael Lucas and directed by Peter Templeman, this energetic modern comic drama has a great deal of heart. Filmed in Sydney’s Newtown, and backed by a zesty soundtrack, the film features wonderful performances from its young cast, including Sarah Snook as Kwanten’s street smart confidante, Bojana Novakovic as his on-off ex-girlfriend, and Ryan Corr as the indefatigable party animal flatmate.

Over on the ABC’s At the Movies, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton both gave Not Suitable For Children a four star review, with David noting that “What lifts this Australian romantic-comedy above the level of most of its Hollywood counterparts is the reality of the characters and the situations and the honesty of the film’s approach.” Both reviewers thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Filmink’s Erin Free also enjoyed “this smart, soulful and surprisingly darkly-hued comedy” and praises both Lucas and Templeman for their sensitive handling of the material. Free writes that Not Suitable for Children is “a wry, engaging, deeply humanist film with pointed, interesting things to say about personal responsibility.”

In contrast, Variety’s Russell Edwards finds the story “flaccid” and Kwanten’s performance lacklustre, though he praises the film’s technical qualities, describing it as “visually inventive without being obtrusive,” praising the ” HD lensing by Lachlan Milne emphasiz[ing] warm colors that catch the vibrancy of Sydney’s trendy Newtown district.” Edwards also enjoy’s Snook’s performance and her “killer smile” along with the film’s “pumped-up pop soundtrack” which he argues “only throws the yarn’s inherent lethargy into high relief.”

QuickFlix critic Simon Miraudo is just one of many reviewers to single out actress Sarah Snook as the breakout star of the film. He finds Not Suitable for Children to be “a genial and occasionally very funny romantic comedy with the added benefit of being a showcase for one of the best break-out Australian performances in some time.” Miraudo argues that though some of the characters’ quick changes of heart may be hard to swallow, these are plausibly justified by the drastic circumstances of cancer. Andrew Urban of Urban Cinefile echoes similar concerns but is eventually won over, writing that the “impressive screenplay and the fine performances combine with Peter Templeman’s confident direction for a satisfying result.”

You can check out the trailer for Not Suitable for Children below:

The King Is Dead

Rolf de Heer’s latest film is described in the press notes as a ‘suburban western’ but it’s rather more comic and wry than that description implies. Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic play an attractive and unpretentious middle class couple. They buy a house in a nice Adelaide suburb and happily begin to paint and renovate, but quickly discover that on one side of the fence, their neighbour, the scuzzy ‘King’ (Gary Waddell) is playing host to every hoon, drug dealer, and petty criminal in the neighbourhood. As the sleepless nights and burglaries mount up, and the police seem powerless to act, the couple are driven to extreme measures.

Luke Buckmaster of Crikey strongly recommends catching the film during its limited theatrical run, describing it as a “a deliciously dark genre mash-up, coy and explorative but tight and insular, sprayed with wry laughs and a genuinely foreboding undertone.” Buckmaster describes the whole cast as excellent but singles out Gary Waddell who plays King, for special commendation.

Writing for The Age Craig Mathieson situates The King is Dead! within de Heer’s oeuvre and finds it to be his funniest film to date. Giving the film three and a half stars, Mathieson deems it “a very good movie” and “a wry commentary on our national obsession with real estate.”

Variety’s Richard Kuiper’s describes The King is Dead! as a “combo of dark suburban drama, absurdist social comedy and violent crime thriller”, placing it “somewhere between niche and commercial arenas” and describing its offshore prospects as “iffy”. Kuipers enjoys the performances (with Waddell again praised for his multidimensional performance as the not-entirely-despicable King), though he’s offput by the changes in tone as the story progresses. The cinematography by Ian Jones and “slinky jazz-flavored score” by Graham Tardiff, both regulars among de Heer’s coterie of collaborators, are singled out for praise in this review.

Others are not so positive. Peter Galvin over at SBS Film finds the film to be “a kind of comedy of manners, mostly of the very bad, irritating kind.” Galvin’s main criticism is that the comedy is just not funny. He cannot, however, resist the appeal of Gary Waddell “who can make even de Heer’s tired talk sound like it has a funny sting.” Galvin writes that Waddell’s King “has a sturdy comic grip from his first beat and never lets up. It’s a piece of acting so good you spend the movie waiting for him to turn up a lot more often than he does.”

Coming full circle, Louise Keller, of Urban Cinefile, finds The King is Dead! to be outrageously funny, saying, “I haven’t had such a good laugh for ages”. Keller thoroughly enjoys the display as “Intelligence is pitted against rat cunning, logic battles the irrational and the evolved bumps into the barbaric”, concluding that this “is a riot of a film that will make you laugh till it hurts.”

Here is the trailer for The King is Dead! 

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

The King is Dead! Long Live the King. An interview with Rolf de Heer

Rolf de Heer. Photo by Matt Nettheim.

There’s no doubt that Rolf de Heer is one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Australia today, and one of our few true auteurs. As the writer, director and producer of 13-odd feature films, he’s also one of the most prolific, working predominantly with low budgets, loyal crew and genre-defying storytelling. You may not like everything he makes, but you have to admire his audacity. From the unforgettable opening scenes of incest, cockroach eating and cat-killing in the surprisingly uplifting cult hit Bad Boy Bubby (1993) through to a love triangle involving an actress with a severe disability in Dance Me To My Song (1998), to the brutal and beautiful South Australian musical The Tracker (2002), starring the iconic David Gulpilil, right through to the ground-breaking Arnhem Land collaboration of Ten Canoes (1996), de Heer never repeats himself.

This originality has been rewarded often, both at home and abroad. Bad Boy Bubby was  selected for competition at the Venice Film Festival and won both the Special Jury Prize and the Critics’ Award – before going on to win four AFI Awards in 1994. The Quiet Room (1996) – a film about the interior landscape of a child whose parents are divorcing, and Dance Me To My Song were selected for competition at Cannes. Alexandra’s Project (a 2003 thriller starring Gary Sweet as a bad husband receiving his comeuppance) was selected for competition at Berlin. Most recently, Ten Canoes was selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2006 and won the Special Jury Prize, before going on to win three AFI Awards. That same year (2006), de Heer was honoured with the Byron Kennedy Award.

Now de Heer is reluctantly but dutifully back in the spotlight, to help promote The King is Dead!, a suburban comic drama that taps into a very common frustration: living next door to the neighbours from hell. Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic play an attractive middle class couple who buy their dream home in a nice Adelaide suburb, only to discover that on one side of the fence, the scuzzy ‘King’ (Gary Waddell) is playing host to every hoon, drug dealer, addict and petty criminal in the neighbourhood. The noise is bad, the theft is worse, and slowly the aimiable couple (he’s a science teacher; she’s a tax accountant) are driven to extreme measures. Here’s the trailer:

De Heer’s low-budget working methods are notoriously pragmatic. Necessity often proves to be the mother of brilliant invention. (You can read elsewhere about the now-famous innovations and compromises that made Bad Boy Bubby so unique, or the way that his 2007 silent film Dr Plonk emerged from finding 20,000 feet of unexposed film sitting in the fridge.) In the case of The King is Dead! de Heer was planning to sell his Adelaide house in order to move to a rural property in Tasmania.  He realised that the empty house could be used for a number of weeks, making it a convenient set for the story he’d long ago scripted. Luckily his own neighbours were amenable, with the house on one side turned into the ‘King’s’ trashed lair, complete with overgrown lawn, upturned shopping trolley’s and a crumbling false front. Meanwhile, the neighbour on the other side, a chef, set up his garage as a catering space for the production.

This interview was conducted with de Heer last week when he visited the AFI | AACTA offices – de Heer is one of the Honorary Councillors of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. We talked about his shift to rural Tasmania (no, he’s not retiring); his views on the intractable problems of bad neighbours, and his first foray into the world of digital cinematography.

AFI | AACTA: Congratulations on the film, which is a lovely mix of humour, drama and a few dark and scary moments. It’s billed as a ‘suburban western’ but it’s hard to put it into a particular genre. Is this the kind of genre-crossing film you were intending to make?

Rolf de Heer: Yeah, it crosses the genres a bit. But intending…? Well, when I wrote the script my intention was simply to write the script and let it go where it wanted to go. Now, that’s a simple way of explaining something complex – “stuff that was going on in my head.” But I did want to do something light – not that this film is entirely light – but I wanted to do something a bit lighter than what I’d been working on, which was a really heavy script on commission.

AFI | AACTA: Was the making of this film significantly different to anything you’d done before?

Rolf de Heer:  Every time I do a film, it feels significantly different to what’s come before, and I don’t think this is an exception. I mean, Dr Plonk felt significantly different from anything I’d done before, and so did Ten Canoes, and… you know, back down the line. Filmmaking’s far too difficult to turn it into a 9-to-5 repetitive job. You know, it’s seven days a week, 12 or 14 hours a day. So to turn that into a job would be most unpleasant!

AFI | AACTA: Like many of your films, this one emerged out of the practical opportunity of having a house empty to shoot in. Can you tell us about that?

Rolf de Heer:  The script was written and, as is often enough the case when I write a script, I put it down and it sits there for a while. It did sit there for a couple of years. And then I knew I was going to move in a year or so – that was one of the preconditions, in the sense, that existed. In one respect, we were sorry to be leaving, because we had these great neighbours and we enjoyed them very much. I needed to do something – it had been a while since I had done a film and I felt I needed to do something. And it all went click-click-click – this is what we do. Let’s do this film and let’s do it here, which will allow us to do it for a much lower budget, and without the difficulty of finding somewhere else, and without the compromise of trying to find three houses together, and the cost that would involve. I mean,  where do you find three houses together like that?

AFI | AACTA: And the neighbours did the catering as well? [laughs]

Rolf de Heer: Yeah, yeah, that sort of stuff. I mean, everybody was involved. It was a great thing to do together before we left. And you know, there were other savings to the budget in the sense in that we had to get the house ready eventually for sale anyway, and so we got it ready before, because then it’s ready for the film. You just do a bit of a clean up afterwards and it’s fine. And so we were able to make a film that was meaningful to us, because it’s often the case, when you make a film, that it takes on a secondary meaning that has something to do with the making it. In a way, the making of this one was a celebration of neighbours, whereas the film itself is really about the neighbour from hell.

AFI | AACTA: One of the things the film really does well is showing how powerless you really are if your neighbours are bad. The police are hamstrung, the legal system’s useless, there’s very little you can do. It can also be read as a kind of metaphor for international relations, that kind of thinking that there’s no ‘big brother’ who can solve the problem for you.

Rolf de Heer: Yeah, amongst people, the bullies have it over the decent people. And it’s a real problem. How do you deal with it? Because society’s getting so complex, and one size [of law] doesn’t fit all, but that’s the only way that society works. You have a law that covers everything. And because it does, it has all these unintended consequences and so, because it has unintended consequences, authorities become much more careful with what sort of laws they pass. And it becomes this sort of gridlock that humanity is not able to climb out of.  I don’t think you can legislate for every eventuality. Sometimes I think about this extraordinary thing I read about local councils, where something like 65% of all complaints to councils are about dogs. I mean councils are responsible for all kinds of things, infrastructure, but dogs are the thing that actually takes up most of their time. And you think: “Oh, God…”

AFI | AACTA: It is very easy for a reasonable person to get to the point where they want to kill someone’s dog!

Rolf de Heer: Yeah, that’s true. But what I’m saying is: how do you deal with that? How do you legislate for that? You can’t. You can’t legislate people not to have dogs. Well, you can, but then you’re not going to be in office for very long. And so you’re going to get problems, and the police are powerless to deal with a situation like that. They turn up, they can shut them up temporarily. And yes, there is a process you can go through, but as the character says in the film, it’s long and it’s expensive, and at the end of it, you’re probably no better off.  It’s a real problem.

Some neighbours drive you to extreme measures…THE KING IS DEAD. L-R: Luke Ford, Anthony Hayes, Dan Wyllie, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Waddell.

AFI | AACTA: The married couple in this story, Therese and Max, they’re very normal and sensible people, calm and quite open-minded. You know, they don’t easily resort to extreme positions…

Rolf de Heer: No, it’s just the weight of the situation. I quite like the moral dilemmas that they have to deal with. They’re sort of… interesting.

AFI | AACTA: The interactions and banter between this couple, played by Dany Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic, are very convincing and humourous as they weigh up their options. 

Rolf de Heer: Yes, one of the things that pleases me most about the film is the cast and how the cast works together.

On one side of the fence the neighbours are lovely…. (L-R: Bojana Novakovic, Michaela Cantwell, Lily Adey, Roman Vaculik & Dan Wyllie).

AFI | AACTA: The cinematography was by Ian Jones, who you’ve worked with a lot before. And according to the press notes this is the first digital fim you’ve done together?

Rolf de Heer: It was the first digital film I’ve done. Everything else I’ve ever done has been on film. So that’s a departure for me. And we did it because both Ian and I came to the same conclusion, quite independently, that this project should be shot on a Canon stills camera. In this case, a Canon EOS 7D was what we arrived at being the best for this particular film. It’s a whole thing that has happened in capturing the moving image, particularly at the mid- to lower-end. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EOS 7D. I mean, they had a bit of a movie capture function and it actually turned out to be quite extraordinarily good, and people adapted these cameras and added things to them and so on… and many, many, many productions now are shot with the same cameras as you would take overseas to take happy snaps.

Cinematographer Ian Jones on the shoot for THE KING IS DEAD

AFI | AACTA: Michael Rymer’s  Face To Face, released last year, used this kind of camera. Has Ian worked with this sort of camera before? Are you happy with how it worked for you?

Rolf de Heer: Ian hadn’t used it before so it was an exploration for both of us and that’s one of the things that’s interesting, you explore something new. Yeah, I’m happy. It looks great, and it did make a huge impact on the budget. It was actually cheaper, because not all digital processes are much cheaper. But in this case, with the workflow in post-production, it all worked and it did manage to save us money. I think now, it’s going to be very difficult to shoot film. I think there’s one lab left…

AFI | AACTA: Let’s talk about the sound. James Currie was your sound designer, and has been on pretty much all your films. Were there particular challenges on this project, or was it very straightforward from a sound perspective?

Rolf de Heer: Jim and I never allow anything to do with sound to be very straightforward! But in as far as between us things can be straightforward, this one was. There’s so many things you try… and so no, it wasn’t straightforward, but it’s not meant to be ‘out there’ in not being straightforward. It works and it’s subtle and you know, we tried a whole thing with sync atmos… you know, sticking microphones out in the backyard of suburbia, pointing away from what’s happening inside. We were trying to organically create the suburban soundscape. So yeah, a bit complex, but compared to some things we’ve done, it’s relatively straightforward.

AFI | AACTA: Can you talk about this move to Tasmania? Is that about slowing down or wanting a different way of working?

Rolf de Heer: I like to do things, and when it’s hot, it’s hard to do things. That’s one thing. Another thing is, I spend the majority of my working life at home. Well, it may as well be that home is somewhere fantastic. And so, on a number of levels, Tasmania fits the bill, and where we are fits the bill even more.

AFI | AACTA: And your partner [Molly Reynolds ]is a filmmaker too, so you can both work from home?

Rolf de Heer: Well, she’s more of a broad screen practitioner. She’s into web design and also documentaries. But yeah, we both work from home a lot.

AFI | AACTA: And the kids are kind of grown up now and you are free to move where you want?

Rolf de Heer: They’re gone. Goodbye, yeah.

AFI | AACTA: So you definitely want to keep making films at a similar pace?

Rolf de Heer: Ah, I’m trying… Look, I’ve just made one. No, there’s no pace, there’s not pattern. I mean, it was five years between Dr Plonk and The King Is Dead. I don’t know when the next one will be. I’m trying to finance something at the moment. We’ll see. If it comes easily, then hopefully next year I’ll be shooting something. If it doesn’t, then I don’t know when the next one is. No, I haven’t retired.

AFI | AACTA: Well, some people might think that. Lots of people do go to Tasmania to retire.

Rolf de Heer: There was a rumor around for quite a while that I had retired, but no.

AFI | AACTA: You do realise it’s a bit of a coup for the Tasmanians to have you living there and they’ll probably come after you to be involved in their screen culture –  which actually looks quite exciting at the moment.

Rolf de Heer:  Yes, I would have to be there for them to be able to do that and I’m a long way south of Hobart, and it’s not so easy. But inevitably I will have some involvement in some way at some time with some aspect of the Tasmania screen industry, I suppose, because I’m there.

AFI | AACTA: You’ve been doing publicity for films for a long time now. Is that one of your least favorite parts of the process?

Rolf de Heer: Yeah, it is, it is. It’s not unpleasant on this one, for example. Well, on most of them, it’s not unpleasant. I don’t like it conceptually. I wish I could be at home, working or something like that. I’m not good at selling and I have to work hard at that. But on the whole, it’s not been that hard for me, because people generally like the films. And in this particular case, I’m quite surprised about the extent to which the journalists that I’ve spoken to have liked the film [The King is Dead!]. And that of course makes it much, much easier. There’s no prickly investigation into what’s wrong with this and what’s wrong with that. If you’ve made a real clunker and you’re out there trying to promote it, or you thought you made some really good work and then it turns out that other people don’t like it all, which is a different thing to it being a clunker, that’s difficult.

‘It’s a convenience if the reviews are good…’ Rolf de Heer

AFI | AACTA: Has the reception to any of your films kind of broken your heart?

Rolf de Heer: No, no. Enough people have heard this from me, but I’ll say it again. I became sort of critic-proof as a consequence of the second film that I made, which was Encounter at Raven’s Gate. It was released in England and they did a whole heap of reviews, and so I got this fat bundle of reviews from the English distributor. I sit down to read them, and I remember the first paragraph of the first one said: “Australians make some very bad films. This is the worst of them.” I was like “Oh my God.” And then it proceeded to justify that position all the way through the rest of the review, and it was damning, it was just destroying. And I went to the next one, it was hardly any better. It was just a shocking, shocking, shocking review. I thought: “God, no, no!” However, there was a whole bunch of them. And it gradually, gradually, gradually got better, and so whoever sent them to me put the worst on top and I remember the last paragraph of the last review, and it said: “This film is a work of genius. Tarkovsky with pace!” Now, you take those two paragraphs, that first one and that last one… and I realised, not a frame of the film was any different. It’s exactly the same film, but they saw two profoundly different films, those two films. There’s nothing I can do about that, okay? And so, it’s more about the viewer than it is about the film itself. So, on that level, that personal level I can’t be offended, you know. If somebody doesn’t like The King Is Dead, that’s fine. It’s a convenience if the reviews are good, it can be an inconvenience if the reviews are bad, but it’s nothing personal. But that’s all it is, it’s a convenience or an inconvenience.

AFI | AACTA: Have you ever learned anything from someone’s writing about your work? Has it ever instructed you in terms of how you make your next film?

Rolf de Heer: No, because the next film is not related to the previous film for me. And that’s not being dismissive, but when you get different responses to the extent of those reviews, and you get everything in between, you think: “Well, what do I listen to?”

AFI | AACTA: Yes, but there must be people whose opinions you really value and care about, who aren’t necessarily critics or reviewers. The people you collaborate with?

Rolf de Heer with actor Gary Waddell. Photo by Matt Nettheim

Rolf de Heer: I’m interested in opinion to a certain extent at certain stages, and I will listen to it. If it resonates in some way, it’s probably worth exploring. And I do think I’m collaborative. I’m told that I am very collaborative, for instance with the actors…An actor knows much more about that character than I ever will, because they’re concentrating just on that character, and I’m looking at all the characters plus sound, camera, continuity, costume, everything. And so I can’t be as specialist as they are. But, I don’t, you know… I’m not interested in making films according to a formula and a lot of what masquerades as opinion about something is to do with formula. The classic writing formula is the three acts structure, all that stuff. I don’t subscribe to it. I do in the sense that it’s fine for other people to do that, but I don’t do that. And so you can tell me that there’s something structurally wrong with [my films] but I don’t care. That’s the way it’s meant to be, that’s the way it feels right to me. And if I start to listen too much to outside opinion about that sort of thing, then I become a second-rate filmmaker. There are other people who do that better than I ever can. And so, if I’m going to start listening and go in that direction, I shouldn’t be making films, because I won’t make very good films, compared to those that are following those sort of formulas, in a way. I mean, Hollywood does it extraordinarily well. I can’t do that. And so, all I can do is make my sorts of films and hopefully enough people like them for me to be able to make another one. And that’s generally what is the case.

AFI | AACTA: From what you’ve been saying, I imagine that winning awards isn’t that important to you, personally?

Rolf de Heer: No. But they can help the film. Look, as long as you are careful with it, they can be a blessing. Again, I was very lucky. Before I’d really won any awards, in fact, days before I won lots of awards, I was approached in a hotel lobby, me and the lead actor of Bad Boy Bubby, Nicholas Hope, by a camera crew: “Excuse me, are you famous?” And we laughed, we said no, we’re not, and they walked away. And then they stopped and came back. And they said: “Well, what are you doing here?” – which was the Venice Film Festival, “What are you doing here if you’re not famous?” And we laughed again. And in the end, they interviewed us, just in case. Then three or four days later, we were the most famous people in the Venice Film Festival – just for a little bit until Robert de Niro turned up – but we were. And to have had that experience was a wonderful thing to guard against getting seduced by things that aren’t so. But when Ten Canoes won all those AFI Awards, it was a wondrous time for a profound reason, okay? And I’m deeply grateful that we did that, because it was so, so important to the mob, to the Indigenous mob that we made it with, because it validated their culture. It was just profoundly important.

AFI | AACTA: And winning at Cannes must have been very meaningful to them too?

Rolf de Heer: To them, Australia’s the most important thing, you know. Cannes was overseas people. But that doesn’t solve the problem here. But here, when the film won AFI Awards, then it meant something. “Ah, people here in Australia value their culture, not just overseas people.”

AFI | AACTA: Speaking of AFI Awards, and now the AACTA Awards, you’re an Honorary Councillor in the new Academy. What would you hope that the Academy might become or be able do for the industry?

Rolf de Heer:  [the idea of the Academy] has been on the edge of things for a very long time, because I remember going to meetings in Sydney at the Grape Escape Wine Bar. There was a real attempt to launch an Academy and that would have had to been … how long ago? Twenty-five years? It was serious. People wanted something that they could trust, in a way, and I think that’s the area that becomes important. Integrity to the awards process. Okay, there was a time when the AFI Awards were very rigid and there was no doubting their integrity. You couldn’t doubt it, because it was so rigid and that came with its own problems, because you couldn’t vote, unless you had been marked off and physically seen to have seen at least half an hour of every film that was involved. Now, that had its problems – sometimes only a few people voted in certain categories, but at the same time, it was completely transparent and a wonderful thing. But it was unsustainable. I think there will be an evolution in the way that the AACTA Awards are structured, but there is at least the possibility of total integrity….with pre-selection, and with having an Academy and having members who are associated with their relevant guilds.

AFI| AACTA: It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Rolf de Heer: It will, it will. It has a chance. It’s a good footing that it’s on.

AFI | AACTA: Thanks for your time, and best wishes with The King is Dead!

The King is Dead! Fast Facts

Key Cast: Dan Wyllie, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Waddell, Luke Ford, Anthony Hayes, Lani John Tupu
Location: Adelaide
Budget: $1.2 million
Writer/director/producer: Rolf de Heer
Producer: Nils Erik Nielson
Cinematographer: Ian Jones ACS
Production Designer: Beverley Freeman
Sound Designer: James Currie
Sound Designer: Tom Heuzenroeder
Film Editor: Tania Nehme
Composer: Graham Tardif
Musical Director: Timothy Sexton
Distributor: Pinnacle Films
Website | Facebook

Rolf de Heer’s Production Notes for The King is Dead make for entertaining and enlightening reading. You can find them at the Vertigo Films website: here.

Why I Adore: Love My Way

Gnarly Family Trees: Truth, Beauty and Love My Way by Rochelle Siemienowicz

Love My Way, Series 1: Lou (Alex Cook) and Frankie (Claudia Karvan).

Love My Way, Series 1: Lou (Alex Cook) and Frankie (Claudia Karvan).

On a hill by the ocean sits a big white house. A man in a wetsuit returns from his early morning surf. Inside, a woman peers through the gaps in her blanket. The sun shining through creates mysterious patterns of colour and light. Not far away, in another house, a blonde babe climbs astride her sleeping man, arousing him in the nicest possible way until a little girl bounds into the room. ‘Where’s my school uniform?’ she pipes. ‘You were sexing,’ she adds with mild disgust. The woman rolls off, to reveal her satin nightgown straining over a hugely pregnant belly. It’s funny, true and a little bit wrong.

Welcome to a television world where the sun shines, the surf rolls and beautiful people with Australian accents live out their complicated romantic and domestic lives. But this certainly isn’t Home and Away or SeaChange, or even The Secret Life of Us. It isn’t even free-to-air television. It’s Foxtel’s Love My Way, arguably the first and finest Australian drama series created for Pay TV. Over the course of three series, aired from 2004 to 2007, Love My Way collected a huge stash of awards, attracted universal critical acclaim, and built a devoted fan-base that saw the network shift the show’s broadcast channel three times to capitalise on its popularity. Like many prestigious HBO dramas from the United States, it was on DVD that this Australian series probably found its real home and its most fervent fans, with boxed sets bought and borrowed at a frantic rate.

Love My Way

People like us. Key Cast from Love My Way: L-R: Brendan Cowell, Claudia Karvan, Asher Keddie & Dan Wyllie.

So, what makes Love My Way so special? Here’s a classic scene from the first episode: ‘This is my birth and I’ll do it how I fucking want to,’ says pregnant control-freak Julia (Asher Keddie) as she fills the wading pool in the courtyard, lighting aromatherapy candles for pain relief. Several hours later she’s screaming at the midwife and at her husband, Charlie (Dan Wyllie), when they suggest some Panadol.’Panadol! Haven’t you got anything else, I’m only two fucking centimetres dilated!’ As the ordeal progresses, she’s in the water, straining and splashing. Lovely, funny, irresponsible Charlie tries to support her and keep her afloat, but only with one arm – the other is firmly attached to his bottle of beer, as if he’ll drown without it. We’re later shown, quite matter-of-factly, the crimson cloud of blood and afterbirth staining the water; testament that Love My Way is prepared to get dirty and real.

Love My Way DVD cover Series 3Over the course of three seasons, the drama unflinchingly depicts things not often spotted on Australian television. For a start, candidly depicted sex is a key driver here, a central facet in every character’s life, whether they’re fifteen, thirty-five or fifty. Sometimes it’s good sex, often it’s bad. Sometimes it’s porn-fuelled masturbation, and occasionally, as we’ve seen, it happens in front of the children. Then there’s the casual and often inconsequential drug use – cocaine, ecstasy, ice and lots of dope. And don’t forget the kleptomania, the nymphomania, the lighting of farts, the biting of ears, and the grief, oh the endless, messy and almost unbearable grief of losing somebody you love. Yes, there’s pain and dirt aplenty, and thanks to superb scripting and naturalistic acting, it feels incredibly real.

This isn’t the kind of ‘dirty and real’ that we see in so much Australian cinema…

But this isn’t the kind of ‘dirty and real’ that we see in so much Australian cinema, where harsh lighting, bad skin and foul language combine to create a general low-rent ugliness – a tendency so pronounced that it’s a common accusation that our films are only about drug addicts, criminals and bogans. Instead, Love My Way is decidedly stylish and certainly middle-class. The characters might swear a lot, drink far too much (even when they’re breastfeeding) and suffer the odd embarrassing encounter with the law, but they’re living lives that look very good indeed. They’re architects, artists and chefs; people who wear casually assembled vintage clothes, go surfing every morning and attend the Walkley Awards for work. They sing karaoke to Crowded House songs, share barbecues with their exes and various new spouses and children, and have marital crises in Ikea showrooms, where they dream that ‘storage solutions’ might solve all their problems.

These are people like ‘us’, or the people we’d like to think we are – complex, flawed and cool, making our living in vaguely creative ways and living in somehow affordable but spectacular inner-city real estate. Mostly, though, they’re like ‘us’ because they’re trying to make the best of a family structure that bears only passing resemblance to the traditional nuclear model.

Claudia Karvan, star and co-creator of Love My Way.

Claudia Karvan, star and co-creator of Love My Way.

Claudia Karvan, the star and co-creator of Love My Way, has said that the series grew out of the observation that while the harrowing divorce-drama Kramer vs Kramer reflected the way families broke up in the 1970s, nowadays people seem to handle it better. Her character Frankie is a case in point. She’s in her early thirties and a single mother to the impish eight-year-old Lou (Alex Cook). While it’s not always easy sharing custody with Lou’s father, Charlie, and his new wife Julia, it’s managed with admirable honesty and only the occasional screaming match. These characters own keys to each other’s houses, and Frankie remains on intimate terms with Charlie’s parents (Max Cullen and Lynette Curran). She even shares her house (and sometimes her bed) with Charlie’s brother, the blunt and sparky Tom (Brendan Cowell).

Here, the modern family tree is an overgrown mess of branches growing out of the dirt of broken love stories and abandoned vows.

When little Lou is asked to draw a family tree for a school project, she titles it ‘My Family Up a Tree’ – an allusion to the family’s craziness, but also to the way she happily exists at the trunk of it. The set up makes perfect and natural sense to her child’s mind.

The series takes as its central premise the idea that strangely beautiful fruit can grow on these gnarly family trees: ex-partners who understand each other deeply and make each other laugh; stepmothers who prove to be cranky and sweet, rather than wicked; and new babies born into a tangle of adopted aunties and uncles. Naturally, such trees are prone to their own peculiar thorns and diseases. Hostility and resentment often break through, as does latent sexual tension. Money is always an issue, and new additions to the family, whether through birth, marriage or friendship, cause already clouded dynamics to shift and change. It makes for great and absorbing drama.

LMW Series 3 Julia and Charlie and Toby (Asher Keddie, Dan Wyllie & Byron Chaplain)

'The way a marriage can turn sour in one conversation, and recover with one well-timed joke." Asher Keddie and Dan Wyllie create one of the most convincing married couples ever seen on Australian television. Image from Series 3 of Love My Way.

The general concept of large and messy family groupings is nothing new for television drama, and of course it’s a staple of soap opera. It’s certainly a recurrent theme for Southern Star producer John Edwards. With other collaborators, he is also the creator of a mini-genre that began with The Secret Life of Us (Channel Ten, 2001-2004), a show that was more about friends who form a family. Then came Love My Way, followed by Foxtel Showcase drama Tangle, having this year broadcast its second season, with a third on the way – a noir-ish tale of family life set in Melbourne suburbia. Then Edwards is also involved with Channel Ten’s hit comedy drama series Offspring, about a neurotic thirty-something obstetrician (Asher Keddie) and her ‘fabulously messy family’.

The writing is so good in Love My Way that there’s hardly a clichéd exchange or a predictable plot development. And yet it feels so familiar, the way that a marriage can turn sour in one conversation, and recover with one well timed joke; or the way that a friend can suddenly become a lover or an adversary.

It’s impossible to write about Love My Way without mentioning the incredible physical beauty of the production.

A team of accomplished writers was responsible for such great scripting, including Karvan herself, along with film and television veteran and series co-creator Jacquelin Perske, playwright Tony McNamara and actor/playwright Brendan Cowell. Working in collaboration, they pooled ideas and themes from their own experiences of marriage, divorce, parenthood and working life. It’s the way the characters speak to each other that feels so refreshing and real. It’s often brutal, with a disarming lack of etiquette. As Tom tells Frankie one morning when she’s recounting a dream from which she’s freshly awoken: ‘Don’t tell me your dreams. Other people’s dreams bore the shit out of me.’ And he’s not being aggressive or angry. It’s just a matter of fact.

It’s impossible to write about Love My Way without mentioning the incredible physical beauty of the production. It’s not just the good-looking cast and stunning Sydney locations. It’s the craft we’re talking about here – from the cinematography, to the production and costume design. The gorgeous opening credits, repeated over the three seasons, signpost the visual tone and saturated colour scheme that continues into the show itself. They’re worth looking at closely. (In fact these are the first 10 minutes of the first episode, and I predict you’ll want to watch every single one of them.)

These opening credits are set underwater, with a sea-green background and the sunlight filtering down through bubbles. The characters appear to be floating and swimming, suspended in light and water. Karvan’s hair drifts in the current like seaweed, and her clothes of red and green gleam like a mermaid’s tail. Bringing humour and levity to the painterly scene, other actors, like Dan Wyllie and Lynette Curran, mug and grin through goggles as they swim in front of the camera. Complementing these visuals is a soundscape that’s both nostalgic and otherworldly, yet with a forward-thrusting energy. It’s The Psychedelic Furs’ early 1980s hit ‘Love My Way’, performed this time by Magic Dirt – wonderfully evocative, though maddeningly repetitive if you happen to sit through too many DVD episodes at a time…

The aesthetic beauty of Love My Way, its cinematic production values, extends from the opening credits into every single scene of the series. In fact, it’s possible to freeze almost any frame of the show and find a beautiful composition of colour, light and form, especially in those scenes containing Karvan, with her angular frame and her solemnly beautiful face. In a recent critique of Australian cinema, Louis Nowra berated our filmmakers for failing to engage in the full and lingering romance of the human face on the big screen. Love My Way has such a romance, albeit on the small screen, and it’s compelling enough to suggest he may be right: we need more of this.

Love My Way is proudly ‘arty’. One of its central themes is the quest to create art and to use one’s life in the work. Frankie is an artist. She inhabits many other roles – as mother, lover and friend – but at her core is the need to filter what she sees and feels into her work; to make it live again through paint on canvas. She has to constantly fight against the demands of those other roles – childcare and paid work, especially, are always sucking away at her painting time. It’s a reality that any creative parent is bound to recognise.

Love My Way Series 1. Alex Cook as Lou

Proudly 'arty' a central theme of Love My Way is a woman's struggle to be an artist, mother and lover. Alex Cook as Lou.

Unlike so many films that deal superficially with the creative process, whether of writing, composing music, or painting, Love My Way, as a television series, can sustain and explore the theme of what it really means to be an artist and a woman, and demonstrate the way these things are inseparable for this character. Frankie’s work is informed in Series One by her dreams and her fears, and finally by her very great and overwhelming grief. By Series Three she is fighting for her simple right to be an artist, with her cocky new husband, Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn), teasing her and saying that if she really were an artist she would do it more compulsively, instead of finding excuses. Her outrage is palpable.

Lewis and Frankie (Ben Mendelsohn & Claudia Karvan in Series 3 of Love My Way).

Cocky, erratic and irresistible, Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn) is a challenge to Frankie in Series 3.

Not only does she have to manage Lewis’s erratic behaviour, manic spending and his annoying teenage son (who’s suddenly materialised on the doorstep), but she’s now being asked to justify and prove the very thing that is at the heart of her identity! It’s only when she begins to create again, at the conclusion of Series Three, by making a beautiful and dreamlike tribute to the ghosts of her past, that Frankie can again approach wholeness.

The operative word here is ‘approach’, because Love My Way is far too honest and life-like to ever attempt storylines that present characters as finally or fully redeemed, healed or completed. Resolution is only ever temporary and conditional. As John Edwards, the co-creator of the series, has said: ‘The great lie of television is that things get resolved.’ The genius of Love My Way is that it works within that lie – as a successful television drama that satisfies the need we have for stories to be beautiful, to have endings; for characters to find meaning and transcendence. But at the same time, it’s realistic enough, and convincing enough, to have us believe that Frankie and Lewis, and Julia and Charlie, and all the rest of that surprisingly functional family might be out there, living new stories in their complicated lives. Even if we’re not watching.

A version of this article was originally published in Kill Your Darlings, Issue 2, July 2010.


Note: Love My Way at the AFI Awards

In an astonishing run, Love My Way recieved the AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series three years in a row – 2005, 2006 and 2007. The series also won multiple other AFI Awards and nominations. They are all listed below.


Won: AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – Jessica Hobbs
Won: AFI Award for Best Guest or Supporting Actor in Television – Max Cullen
Won: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television – Claudia Karvan
Won: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Jacquelin Perske
Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards and Claudia Karvan

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television – Dan Wyllie
Nominated: AFI Award for Outstanding Achievement in Craft in Television – Louis Irving (cinematography)


Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards, Claudia Karvan, Jaquelin Perske

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Direction in Television – Shirley Barrett
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television Drama – Dan Wyllie
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Claudia Karvan
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Asher Keddie
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Jacquelin Perske


Won: AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series – John Edwards, Claudia Karvan
Won: AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in Television Drama – Claudia Karvan

Nominated: AFI Award for Best Guest or Supporting Actress in Television Drama – Justine Clarke
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Lead Actor in Television Drama – Ben Mendelsohn
Nominated: AFI Award for Best Screenplay in Television – Tony McNamara

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon and Clem Bastow reminisces about a childhood spent watching the television show Round the Twist. Or you can read Anthony Morris flirting with disaster in his adoration of Romper Stomper, Annie Stevens going bridal with Muriel’s Wedding, or Popzilla bowing down before the altar of literary screen adaptations. Most recently, Lia McCrae-Moore showers affection on SBS’s high-octane police thriller, East West 101.

Contribute: We’re currently looking for more ’Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] and we’ll get back to you with more details.