Before films, advertising?
Yes, I started in advertising. I left the monastery, the juniorate, and I finished about six months at Marcellin College. That took me through to 14. I had done Leaving and so I decided to go to work and went into the dispatch department at an advertising agency - sort of learnt all that filing, running messages to the various places which are all part of learning what goes on at the printers and the blockmakers, all that stuff. Then I went into physical production, press, did layout, typesetting and then organising all the physical requirements for magazines and press and folders.
Television came in around about that time and I got moved into the television and radio department and I was doing writing and production on radio and television commercials. In fact, for a while there, I was the only one in the department, which was pretty strange because I was only about 17. Then they put another guy in over me, because they couldn't exactly take me out to clients. But in those days there were a lot of writers in the agency, quite a little hotbed, actually. Geoff Underhill, who used to write plays and worked for IMT and stuff, and Philip Adams was there and Geoff Taylor, a little haven for people who wanted to be writers, playwrights or whatever and couldn't make a living out of it here in those days.
So you worked there into the '60s?
Yes, until about the end of '62 or '63, when the big recession came. Everyone seems to forget that particular recession, but it was devastating. The agency had grown and had split into two agencies within the one. Then the recession hit and they fired one side of the agency and I was on that side. I got a bit of a golden handshake and subsequently I went to Cinesound - put my age up a few years and lied.
I was only 23 at the time, so I lied like hell and got a job running the place and found out that practically everyone there was only an assistant, so I had some pretty fast on-the-job learning to do. We turned it around and in seven months it made its first profit ever. In 18 months we were making more than the Sydney head office, and it was round about then I found out you weren't supposed to be making money - at least I don't think so. Anyway, two other guys and myself bought the company. So, in February 1966 we became The Film House, and that ran for about 31 years. I closed it about a year and a half ago.
It's a long time, certainly.
Yes, it is, and frankly I would still keep it running if it was serving the purpose that I wanted it to serve, but it wasn't.
How did Libido and your short film, The Priest, emerge from all of this?
Well, I got into the business because I wanted to make films. I thought, that's easy, you just go into business and you make films. And the first thing that happens to you, of course, when you start a business... well, it wasn't like it is nowadays; you didn't get paid up-front or anything like that; you didn't get any amount up-front; you had to outlay everything, and most advertising agencies would take between four and nine months to pay you, because of the way they billed; then they put the money on a short-term moneymaker. So the busier you were, the more likely you were to go out of business. You just couldn't finance yourself.
So I discovered that I was making a lot of money, excepting I didn't have any, because it wasn't coming in here, but it was going out there. And that meant you had to churn the wheel faster and faster and faster to eventually get some money. It was disastrous. Then I had a couple of people who had a kind of illusion about what the money coming in meant, and they were expanding me at a rate far greater than the money coming in. And that got me into awful trouble. So you think you're going to make films, and what you find is that you're in business and, as I said, you seem to have a lot but, if you get off the wheel, it all falls over and hits you.
So it took me a while to recover from that, but in that process I was writing The Devil's Playground. I wrote The Devil's Playground over five years before I did it. I was meeting a lot of actors, doing a lot of commercials and a lot of documentaries. So I joined the Producers and Directors Guild to try and meet people working in theatre and television, to see other disciplines, as it were, because I wanted to go along and watch them direct plays and see what they did in that side of television.
Everyone in that group was not in there as a guild; they were in there just to meet one another and help one another, so we started to devise projects. One year we ran a scriptwriting competition. The idea was that we would select six scripts and they would be produced on radio, television and in theatre, although I think we kept them separate at that stage - I can't quite remember - and then we used the Swinburne students to shoot it. Well, we decided in the end that it was a terribly bad idea because we spent the whole time explaining why that bit of film didn't work because that student didn't expose it properly or... The concentration went on the wrong things and a lot of the scripts were (not to be rude about it), of the style of the little old lady who thought she was a writer and hadn't ever had a chance.
Sometimes, of course, magic comes from that, but not en masse. So the next year we did three sets, changing the criteria each time. Finally we went out and got writers of novels, people who hadn't worked on film or television or theatre, and got them to write small pieces that we would then perform on stage, on television and on film, just to show the difference. And, of course, what that showed is you shouldn't do that.
But that was good, we didn't care, we just did it. Everybody was helping everybody and there was quite an extraordinary spirit. We got a little bit of help on the last one from the Experimental Film Fund, but we were putting our own money in and, I guess, hoping it would be a showcase, certainly understanding that they would be good training. It doesn't seem like a lot of money now, but I tell you what, it was a lot of money then.
So you chose Thomas Keneally's story?
Yes. Tom's script had come in and I just jumped on it. I just muscled my way into that because I wanted Tom to read Devil's Playground. He did and was incredibly kind about it. When he got involved acting in it was when I heard about Jimmie Blacksmith. I liked the idea of the story and I got inspired by a couple of the images from it, so a lot started from there.
The Priest tapped into the crises in the Catholic church at the time. In a sense it was prophetic of what has happened in the last 25 years in issues of priesthood, faith and celibacy.
In that case it's the writer - it's always the writer that makes the material, and that came deeply from Tom's experiences, although it wasn't autobiographical. One of Tom's best books by far is Three Cheers for the Paraclete. It's those things that are formed by personal experiences, not necessarily being them, that probably produce the truest work. His wife was a theatre sister and a nun and Tom went right through almost to the end of the seminary course, so I think they were his deeply personal observations. And they happened to dovetail with my experiences and the questions that one comes up with.
A lot of people at the time reacted to Arthur Dignam as giving such a desperate portrayal of a priest and identifying that with Keneally, but failed to remember that he wrote Robyn Nevin's lines as the nun as well, that he actually was presenting both sides of this relationship. The background was very real, afternoon tea with the nuns, the kind of conversation about the bishop and whether he would approve... it was so authentically Catholic that it revealed something of church life of the past.
Yes, I think we both had a fair bit of knowledge in that area. Some of that is cinematic too, just the way you present that stuff, the politeness or the polite veneer. It was good. If anything in that film, I got a little too gimmicky visually at one point, sort of whirling the camera around. I wouldn't do that now. I would do a variation on it. The energy was already there: even though that might be what was going on in his head, I don't think I needed to reinforce it quite so much. We did that damned thing in six days.
In terms of the Catholic church presented on screen in Australia, with The Priest and The Devil's Playground, you actually enabled Australian film-makers and television-makers to explore church issues that otherwise they might not have; Brides of Christ might not have been, had there not been The Devil's Playground.
Right. I met Ron Blair who wrote the play, The Christian Brother. He said he heard I was doing Devil's Playground, so he wrote like hell to get his play finished. I think it's rather significant, by the way - I don't think this is true now, but it was true then - that many of the people doing things, writing books, plays, getting into film, were Catholics or ex-Catholics or traumatised Catholics, and it was all strictly railing against that Irish Catholic severity and obsessiveness that I think I most of us saw was counterproductive to what religion really should be doing. And I don't think it's any accident. As Philip Adams and various people have written, while not a lot of great cinema, or anything, was coming out of Australia, it was a fairly complacent society and there was not a lot to rail against.
That, of course, always brings up to me what is the point! If you have a pretty damned good lifestyle, do you need it? I know you do; please don't get me wrong. You need it in a different way. But since there is little to rail against other than, say, mental torpidity or spiritual barrenness, then there's not a lot of great work happening. Great work, unfortunately, seems to come out of oppression or deprivation. So I think at that time that area, oddly enough, was religion.
In a documentary screened on SBS, you said that it was at Assumption College that you first got interested in what we used to call the pictures.
Well, you had Saturday night, that was the best night of the week in a way. You had to go to a movie, although they were pretty bloody awful movies. Every kid's going to get interested in those movies. But my main stuff happened probably when I was 15 or 16, when I was working and going to night school and then I was sneaking into the Savoy or the Australia Cinema. I was hoping to see naked women. I remember going to see One Summer of Happiness. I remember it was on the list and, in those days, if it was on the list you weren't allowed to see it under pain of some kind of sin. I sat through the whole thing and obviously I was going for a bit of a perve. The girl took her clothes off and lay down and her breasts disappeared - that was a big surprise to me - and that was about two seconds and then she was seen in the distance in the water. That was it. And I loved the film, a fantastic film. I thought, why is this film on the list? Why am I getting into trouble for this? Of course I found out later that they were taking the mickey out of the priest. That was entirely lost on me.
I saw Wages of Fear, Rocco and His Brothers, The Bicycle Thieves. That was a golden era of European cinema and highly charged. I found every one of them absolutely spellbinding, albeit sometimes for the wrong reasons!
Were there any cinema precedents for The Devil's Playground or was it just so much part of your life?
No, it was part of my life. I don't have cinema precedents, I just don't. I'm not stupid enough to believe that they're not absorbed, but I don't follow one style of film-maker. The material dictates its needs. The thing I would say about The Devil's Playground is I watered it down because, in fact, it took me five years to get the money together and over half the money was mine, and I had to put in that much money again to get it out. I had to hire the cinema. Nobody liked the film until I got it out there, which I find rather remarkable. But in remembering that I wrote it five years before, I knew if I went as far as I should go, everyone would go, "Oh, come on, that's not on, that's not possible." Nobody would believe it. So I deliberately pulled back in all sorts of things, so the impression was shocking enough or jangling enough without going the whole hog.
Did you draw back in the presentation of the brothers, the range of characters?
In a way, they're all real men, and combinations of two or three. If you take the main boy, what I did was this: every one of those brothers is the possibility of what he might become, depending on which side of his personality gets most influenced, whether his sexuality gets so repressed that he goes down the Francine road or whether he's able to overcome that and be more joyful like, say, Brother Arnold, who's quite content in the spiritual life, or whether he's the middle guy who's more realistic, split the difference. So every one of them is a variation, they're all what's inside that guy. But they're also based on real people.
But you can come across a great teacher here or there, I certainly did. There were a couple in fact, and one very much in particular, Brother Osmond, who was very, very inspiring in every way, like music and Latin and geography and English, he made them great subjects for everybody. That can help.
Now over forty years later and with the uncovering of repression as well as the exposure of abuse, we probably should look at it again in that light. However, even in ordinary Catholic schools, students were far more prudish in the early '50s, much less explicit in language than the characters in the film. Was the film a '70s perspective dramatising of the '50s?
No, I held back, believe me. Believe me, I held back. See, I went to Assumption and I was there for so long before I went to that school that I was kind of horrified by what they were doing, what was happening in that school. And at a particular time I went to one of the brothers who had been at Assumption, I went to see him and I said, "You know, I have to tell you this because I know you'd understand," all this bizarre behaviour, this, this and this. He was pretty shocked and quite a number of people got called out, sent away. I had decided to leave at that point, and pretty soon afterwards the juniorate was stopped the students put into an ordinary college. I don't think they really did know the extent of what was going on. I was doing it from a real belief that this is how it should be, and it doesn't need to be this weird. This is something like the Middle Ages.
There were some good people around, some very good people around, good brothers too, and they were there with the sick buggers, and the rest of it was just like misguided religious zeal.
You've got to remember that the majority of those kids were going through puberty but it's all been covered up, so that just makes it twenty times as bad. I remember I sat in a theatre in Brisbane with Terry Jackman and there were nuns and brothers who had all come along to the opening night, so you can imagine what that was like. The brothers were all holding their breath and absolutely silent, and the nuns thought it was great.
I had to change my phone number. I was somehow becoming a counsellor. I know a few brothers decided to leave the order pretty soon after that. You know, the success rate of the juniorate turned out - at one point only 50 per cent of them kept going.
To Jimmie Blacksmith, beautiful to look at and a striking re-creation of the history. Keneally's novel inspired you?
No, there's an unknown quantity of certain things, but a couple of images strike you and they're the things you go for, fire your imagination, and they should be full of possibilities. But it did have something so terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
With The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith you sparked in the late '70s, reflection on aboriginal themes. However, in reference to it Ken Hall was quoted as saying that Australians won't look at films about aborigines.
He's right. I understand with Dead Heart that there was same reaction to that. They won't. They won't because, you see, most Australians are nowhere near aborigines, nowhere near in contact with them, so it's not an issue in their daily life. They can have theories on it, but they don't have to test those theories. In certain areas of Western Australia there's a lot more aborigines, in country areas. But in most of the cities you're not in contact with aborigines at all, and the film bites you right where they think your're safe.
I remember a psychiatrist friend of mine with liberal attitudes and seemingly intellectual character went to the premiere. When I got home I found swear word across my front door, and it turned out to be the psychiatrist. I said, "Why did you do that?" He said, "Because you made me realise I was racist." I think that's what Jimmie Blacksmith does for a lot of people; it makes them feel about it in a way they don't expect from it. It's a very violent film - on purpose. It was meant to be anti-violence but all those things bring home a reality.
In terms of church and religion, the film opened with Methodism, Rev Mr Neville and his wife and Jimmie eating with them. Then he went to the initiation, another world. This gave you a hook onto the Australian audience with their churchgoing, confronting them with those issues. And at the end Mr Neville visits Jimmie in prison and finds his religious worldview inadequate.
Yes. Well, it's the cause of it, isn't it? I mean, Christianity is not the cause of it, but the churches' belief that their version of events is right and that they're going to go and save the heathen and take them out of that world. And then, of course, the aborigines are spiritually and culturally displaced. The world that they were being pulled into, at least at that time - and it's probably still fairly true now - does not accept them, so they're not part of that world, and the world they've been pulled from rejects them.
Then as big a question is the interracial mix, so that the person is also internally conflicted, disliked by both societies for that as well. So that's the central conflict of the whole thing, those two issues. There were a few priests who used to visit me because they had worked in aboriginal missions.
These awful situations that they were put in. They were out there seeing the aborigine living in the life that is so particular to them, setting up a conflict in the priest trying to take them out of this world into another world, and then questioning "Why are we really doing this?". And then only being able to do this with the boys, because the girls were unsettling. The priests were a bit sexually interested in a way they didn't expect to be, so they had to keep the girls away from them. They ddidn't deal with them, or treated them badly, emotionally badly. And this guy in particular, and I know a couple of others as well, were absolutely conflicted by this, that their celibacy was preventing them from doing the right job if, in fact, it was the right job in the first place.
One of the things I always thought was strange was that there was a lot of pressure on the missionary role of a person in religious life. It was always held up as one of the great things, you know, to go off to Africa or to go to New Guinea, somewhere like that, when right round the corner was a problem larger and more important than travelling to distant places. I was always unsettled by that lack of attention to the needs of the neighbourhood, if you like.
This particular priest I was talking about a minute ago, he was spectacular about it. He would get out in mufti, setting up coffee shops and all kinds of things for people to come in and talk. His branch of the church hated it and stopped funding him. But the number of people's lives that this guy touched effectively, I thought was fantastic, because he was really working within his own community to help cure and solve problems in a way he was never able - they used to keep pulling him out of there and then sending him off.
This is still the problem now for the Churches, whether there is any need for religious to go to foreign countries as missionaries or to go, collaborating with local Churches to build them up with the people. This is far more realistic than the old-time missionary effort. It's a different world and so it should be a different church.
We've been into this whole thing of imposing our belief system on them, or making them replace their system.
Black Robe dealt very powerfully with the issues of mission and inculturation. The real challenge for most people in the Catholic church today is for the local inculturation of the Gospel. However, at the end of Jimmie Blacksmith, Jimmie is actually captured in a convent and the nuns are rather horrified because it is the Bishop's room. This seemed to be a symbolic touch about the church and the cultures.
I don't even remember that one!
Many Australians found Evil Angels very embarrassing. It challenged the way that a lot of people had reacted during the '80s to Lindy Chamberlain, especially. That whole question of rumour - all those scenes of tennis parties and dinner gossip, the cousin who knew this, the acquaintance who said that. You also challenged the role of the media. That's irrespective, of the core of the film and the experience of the Chamberlains.
The really interesting thing about that film was the night when I'd just finished it and I showed it to Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. And and they were absolutely floored. They were in tears for ages afterwards because they had no idea of the scale of the thing, of what was against them.
They had no idea. And in it they realised how inadvertently, just by proclaiming their innocence and insisting on proving it, they realised how much they contributed to their own difficulty as well. It was something they put behind them very quickly, and probably continued to, and not incorrectly, but they were devastated. I think nobody understood.
The difficulty of making a film like that is there are no villains. It was the accumulation of so many things that just went to work against a person, at least five or six major things that contributed to the misunderstanding of those people. And, conventionally, in a film you wouldn't do that; you would reduce it. You would reduce the characters, you would reduce the dramatic throughline etc. So to me the pleasure and the difficulty in doing that film was not falling into that trap. It's something that, quite honestly, I don't think you could do in Hollywood. I know because I tried to do it. I know you can't. I just fell on that sword again in withdrawing from The Shipping News. People think there's only one way of doing things.
Everything about that film was presented so that it was just the facts: not coloured, we didn't emotionally colour the music or any other aspect. We presented the facts, and the facts spoke for themselves. And when you're dealing with something, particularly since it was an ongoing case at the time, you can't take artistic flight; it's very difficult because you keep tripping over the truth. See, what most people do is they take the truth and they manipulate it into an emotional reality, which it is not - and I haven't done that. I understand why they do that, but I certainly do not do that.
But what we did find, the thing that did take flight, it's best illustrated by one incident. There was always a lot of talk about how strange Michael Chamberlain was, standing there delivering this message to the crowd that he was praying for them. It was religious but it was kind of quasi-religious, very strange, God's will and all that stuff. Sam and I were struggling with it. He could have just stood there and delivered his speech the way a preacher would and it would have worked. But you're always looking for that deeper thing that gives it another edge, even if it's just to you.
The reports from that night were completely different; there were really three clear impressions given by the speech that he had given. And, you know, the truth was we found it - he found a way of delivering it which we were hunting for. He would say, "Let me try this or try that," and I would say, "We'll try this or try that." But, all of a sudden, he just hit a tone, a stance, a strangeness, and the hair went up the back of my neck and we knew, you could suddenly see: these people think that are going to get this impression, and these other people think that they are going to get another, but everybody got their own impression. It pointed out to us that if you find the right way of being that person, you can then understand how many misconceptions could come out of it. So, in other words, you could find the truth of the character always.
And that became our guiding thing. Every person in the film was told, "We don't want you to present the pathologist as a bad person, we don't want you to present the prosecuting attorney as a bad person. We don't want that; that's wrong." We got them to go and talk to and spend time with those people, find out their point of view, find out why they were like that, take up their zeal, their enthusiasm, their belief and sell it. Say, "This is what I was like, this is what I actually believe, this is who I am." Far more interesting. And then let the truth lay where it lay.
Yet the staggering thing is that after seeing the film, people came up and said, "So what's the real story." It used to make me so mad I wanted to hit them. Now I just say, "Go away."
Seeing Evil Angels was the first time that some people understood something of the inner personality of Lindy Chamberlain. It was a strength of Meryl Streep's performance. Australians were all caught up in the exotic aspects of the case. Would it have made such an impact if the Chamberlians were not Adventist, if it had not taken place with dingoes at Uluru? That's why it stayed in the Australian psyche.
And there's such a misapprehension about Seventh Day Adventists and their cultish behaviour and rituals. We think they're cultish. People think they're like Jehovah's Witnesses or Scientologists. And they get all that off-to-the-side religion misunderstanding. And what are the differences with Seventh Day Adventists? Well, their main diffrence is that Saturday is the holy day, not Sunday. Is that worth fighting about? Because when it's Saturday here it's Sunday over there or vice versa. So number one is that it's a basically decent religion.
The opening scene with the trucker commenting on and swearing about the Adventists is an immediate challenge.
My editor wanted me to take that scene out. The editor and the producer both tried to make me take that scene out again and again and again, and I said, "When you interrupt the film, it's always going to jar, because you're setting up a different grammar and it's always going to jar, so I don't care, I'm going to jar you, I'm going to really jar you, and then everything after that will be easy." And I think it's all right. It does confront you.
But the thing I hope comes out of it is that Lindy Chamberlain's faith is very real. She she still truly believes that God will help her. Michael, who went around doing death counselling and all that stuff - he's the minister - his belief was more a hope than a belief, and so even though he went round doing the right thing, he wasn't as convinced or as deeply convinced as she was that it was all right. He was very easily shaken.
Your overseas films - my favourite is Six Degrees of Separation. Is it a favourite of yours?
It's a good film.
There's a lovely scene at the end: after Stockard Channing has talked about the experience with the young man in their lives and reducing experience to anecdotes, she says it was more than an anecdote and, as she's walking down the New York street, you've got her almost leaping and reaching up as she did in the Sistine Chapel - meeting people is like touching God.
Slapping the hand of God, doing the high-five.
You've done a range of the films - Barbarossa, Iceman, Plenty, Roxanne, Russia House, Mr Baseball, IQ - have you enjoyed making them?
Yes, I have. Two of them were not as good as I would have liked. Mr Baseball and IQ. I like IQ. The trouble when you do that kind of comedy, unless the star - as say it was with Steve Martin and Roxanne - is writing and is really involved in it, you get a lot of interference. Everybody thinks they can help you with those films, so everybody's pitching in. And, as you get maturer, you accommodate a little bit, you give a little here. It doesn't seem like much, it's a one per cent thing, you give one per cent. Before you realise it, what was a diamond is now a round ball with no personality, no edge. In all honesty, I think IQ is a good, funny picture.
The problem was there were two other producers, there was a studio and there was Tim Robbins and they were all contributing, and Tim Robbins was being difficult because he said in the '90s nobody would like a character who has a woman fall in love with him because of a lie. That's the whole premise of the film. And it's all right for him to know that and believe it, but he should spend the whole time trying to say, "Hey, I'm lying to you," and be constantly frustrated. Because of that attitude, he pulled the film this way, he pulled it that way while we were writing and it just felt messy.
And nobody ever understood the value of those four scientists, and I like the cast that I had, but the other three scientists apart from Walter Matthau were originally going to be Peter Ustinov, Barry Humphries and John Cleese. I wanted them all the way through, but nobody understood how strong they would be. Nobody understood that with a garage and the scientists and this other guy, if you could just stay within that world, if you kept your two lovers together all the time under pressure and you do lots of silly things - there were a couple of wonderfully silly things when they were trying to prove his theory and they kept blowing things up - it had that whimsy about it that would have kept the lovers together and under tension. If they want subplots, they up the stakes and all this formulaic crap - and that's the problem.
Similarly with Mr Baseball, which really was just supposed to be about cultural differences using the baseball game, but also there was much funnier stuff. When he goes down to see the father and there's the noodle scene, all of that, that's the kind of humour that could have been throughout the whole film. Again the studio and Tom Selleck had script approval, which I didn't realise when I agreed to do it. I went in to help them out. They didn't understand it, so they pulled it into the conventional. They're not bad films, they're just not the great films they could have been.
Are you going to get Jack Maggs made?
God, I hope so. It's proving to be very difficult. I'm actually rewriting and trying to work out why I had a difficulty getting top actors to do it. And the script is complicated. They're not so complicated when they get on film, but they're complicated when they're on the page. So I'm in the process of trying to simplify it without losing any of the good bits.
You've contributed a great deal to Australian cinema, and to world cinema.
I would like to do some more.
Then you did some work on Fierce Creatures, but that was at the end of it, was it?
I reshot the last 25 minutes of it. I reshot quite a bit that was dropped in and out throughout. They did listen a lot, don't get me wrong. But in a film like that - and I think it's a funny film - but in a film like that you've got to have something right up front that really sets you going. If you look at A Fish Called Wanda, they literally go, "Here's a stutterer, here's a lawyer, here's a woman thief, here's a larrikin French-pretending idiot, here's someone else. Now let's go."
So you either do that and then you get into the romp, or you do what I did at the beginning of Roxanne - the guy walks down the street, he looks a normal guy, he's cute, and then suddenly people start picking on him and he has the famous swordfight with the tennis racquet. So right there you know all tones of the picture and you set up how to do the picture and what journey you're going on, and I think Fierce Creatures needed one of those right up the front, because the first real scene you get to, he's talking about, "I'm going to get rid of all the ...." It's not a laugh a minute stuff, it's sort of itchy-scratchy comedy, which John is good at, then sort of scratch your way through it.
Then the next big scene is where they're bringing all the animals in, saying, "Here you are, you kill them." And then he says, "Well, okay, let's have them ..." So that's itchy-scratchy humour too. You don't go, "Ooh-ah, I'm very uncomfortable here." If you're told right up-front, "Okay, just laugh, you'll be safe," then people laugh. But you can't have two of those scenes before you get to all your romping comedy, right, unless you have a romping comedy overture down here, or - now, what I tried to do, I tried to get the characters more established, but the scenes got cut.. So when we did our first test screening, it was sort of, "Okay, this isn't working," so on the way back in the car I said, "I know exactly what to do: just take all this out. We've tried to do that; people aren't interested in it. You didn't do the set-up comedy thing, so let's just take it out, let's just let people find out who they are as we go through the thing." We took 15 minutes out and we ran it the next night.
Audience reaction ...
When we got to that scene, the first scene I was telling you about, going to get rid of all the animals, they were ready to laugh, nothing had delayed them getting there, boom, they were laughing. William Goldman was in the car, "This is the best - I never heard anyone say this,". Now John Cleese and his producer got over-confident: "Well, we've got a success now. Let's put back this and we'll put back that," and I'm saying, "Don't put back anything. To you it's ten seconds here, thirty seconds there, 45 seconds there. It doesn't seem a lot, but they will kill the picture." And they did.
Now it wasn't my picture, I just was there to help. And also I did a funny little thing, a very funny thing on the end which would have sent you home with another moment, because the Kevin Kline character is running through the zoo with a gun and he's going to kill the gorilla, and in a sort "Whatever happened to Whatsisname," he's running through and going to kill the gorilla. It is coming along and just boots him into the sky, and he's dead... and it's a very funny extra thing. So I put that on the end.
Then the producer - because there's a scene where the lions are chewing meat - wanted to add the thing of the lions chewing the meat and I said, "Look, that's funny but it's one too many. You just need this one little kicker." He said, "Let's test them both." I said, "No, if you go out and you test the two of them together, this one will die. I'm saying to you, test this, then if you want to, test them both, but test this on its own first, because you will go out - it will have killed this and you won't think it works." That's exactly what they did. It didn't work. so they killed it.
Where do you stand on Tim Winton?
I haven't read any of Tim Winton, but I've been fascinated by the film versions.
My company made That Eye the Sky and I thought it was bad, because the director didn't know what he was doing or what side he was on. You've got to take a side. He went on an exploration. An exploration is all right but you've got to do it from a point of view.
I liked it. We actually gave it a prize for 1995, and I've listened to John Ruane reflect on it. But yes, you're probably right, it wasn't definite. But I tend to like exploration, so - - -
Well, exploration is okay, but you've got to look at an exploration through one microscope, you can't look at it through four microscopes. Now, in that one microscope you're going to look over there, you're going to look over there, look over there, look over there. There's nothing wrong with that. And because he had no point of view, and also he was very frightened of the emotion - he'll tell you this .......... when I went up to see him halfway through shooting, I said, "What are you doing? All your cannons(?) are all over here, the people are all over there. This is an emotional film. Why aren't you reading it on their faces? Why aren't you - - -" And he went .......... he got the impression of something from Evil Angels that he should stand back - you know, because there's a scene there in Evil Angels .......... close-up .......... flowers on the anniversary of .......... right across the room .......... but it's about where it is, it's about the act, it is the emotion on the actor's face, and then as they come together, I'd come into it. So he'd taken that as a principle, because I had explained to him the way it worked with .......... and he'd taken that as a principle for a whole film. I said no, it's a principle for one scene. And also he didn't have a lot of time, so I gave him some advice as to how to set his cameras up and how to do that .......... and then he started doing .......... a film that he had worked on.
It's a bit lopsided, I suppose, between the boy and Henry, the preacher. I was intrigued by In the Winter Dark. I was listening to James Bogle on it. He was certainly heartfelt into it, and I was talking to Ray Lawrence recently, who said they can't get the money for The Riders.
In the Winter Dark is bleak too. Somebody's doing Cloud Street, I suppose, ..........
They keep drifting around to me. I read the script; it just seems quirky to me. I think the same thing, in a way, about That Eye the Sky - it's quirky - and I think Cloud Street is very quirky. I may read the book. I'm told the play, a very long play, it's very good.
Interview: December 22nd 1998