Ivan Sen

It was selected to open the Sydney Film Festival and it’s about to be released in Australian cinemas.  I caught up with Goldstone writer-director Ivan Sen to talk about the project…

Matt:  Australia has made some great films with indigenous characters at the centre like Ten Canoes, Samson & Delilah and The Sapphires but it seems to be that we don’t make a lot of them.  Would you say that’s the case?

Ivan:  Yeah.  It’s a small percentage but I think indigenous films punch well above their weight.  They seem to make a difference when they do come around.

Matt:  You’re someone who has now put together several feature films that have won and been nominated for awards.  Do you find it easier to secure funding for your productions or is the industry as tough as ever?

Ivan:  Every time you make a film you get a chance to learn stuff and I think people in control of the finance trust you a little bit more each time.  It therefore gets easier each time you go around.

Matt:  Someone was telling me that you wrote the script here in Brisbane in a coffee shop?  Is that true? 

Ivan:  Yeah, my local cinema is the Palace Barracks and I often go there and do a bit of writing.  It was great to write the film there and then have the Queensland premiere at the same place.  It was amazing.

Matt:  How long did it take to write the script?

Ivan:  It was a very quick write to start.  It initially only took a couple of weeks to get the first draft and then maybe about 3 months after that to get it finished and ready for finance.

Matt:  When you’re writing a script, how do you know you’re on the right track?  Is it gut instinct or do you have friends, or maybe even a muse, that you show it too and bounce ideas off?

Ivan:  It’s different every time.  I have a script that’s about 7 years old and I’m still going with it.  It’s a matter of following your gut and instinct in most cases.

Matt:  There are some quite sinister characters and subplots in this film.  Is it purely a work of fantasy or was there someone or something in your life that inspired it?

Ivan:  It’s hard to come up with any pure fantasy in this world.  You’re always getting bits and pieces from reality and this is no different.  It involves corruption on many different levels within the mining industry, the local government, and even the Aboriginal Land Council.  Similar tales have been heard in the news and that’s the beauty of film.  You can pick different parts from reality, put them all together, and package it up as entertainment.

Matt:  I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a scene early in the film where Jay (Aaron Pedersen) is fired upon with a barrage of bullets in a caravan.  It’s a dramatic, unexpected scene and I was curious to know how you settled on that as the film’s big action introduction.

Ivan:  It was important to set the film up as a thriller and so action and tension is a part of that.  It’s something that I wanted to make more of in this film compared to Mystery Road.  This is a bit of a spin off which is more laid back and more of an investigation story.

Matt:  Your last film, Mystery Road, was shot in and around Winton.  Where did the filming of Goldstone take place? 

Ivan:  I wrote this script and I then had to find a place to shoot the film.  I drove all over Queensland and I couldn’t find anything as strong as the land around Winton.  We went a few hours the other side of Winton this time and I think it’s the most spectacular landscape anywhere in Queensland.

Matt:  I can imagine it is hard shooting in such a remote location.  Was it a real challenge?

Ivan:  Yeah, it was very difficult to get out there and get set up.  There was no power, no water, no phone and no internet.  There was nothing at all really.  We had to bring in all our own accommodation and that chewed up most of the budget.  Once we were there, it became easier as we were out on location the whole time and there were no distractions.

Matt:  Did you need generators to power up the cameras?

Ivan:  Yeah.  We had massive generator trucks because we were out there for almost two months.  We also had to cook our own food which was trucked in from Longreach.

Matt:  There are some great flyover shots that provide a great perspective of some events.  Is that a drone that you used for those?  The camera looks so incredibly still.

Ivan:  Yeah.  Drones offer incredible technology these days.  Every time you do a film, the technology grows so much.  We had to use a helicopter in Mystery Road because drones weren’t available to us three years ago. 

Matt:  You’re working again with Aaron Pedersen after you combined so beautifully Mystery Road.  Did you write the roll with him in mind or was there a broader casting process?

Ivan:  I wrote the film Mystery Road for Aaron Pedersen and set up the character of this detective caught between worlds.  It made sense to do another one and I knew he had a lot more to offer.  He’s keen for me to write a third instalment or maybe even a TV series down the track.

Matt:  Perhaps the most interesting character in the film is played by Tommy Lewis – he’s caught trying to please so many groups of people that he seems to have lost all sense of right and wrong.  Did you see him that way when putting the screenplay together?

Ivan:  Definitely.  He’s a character we haven’t seen much in Australian cinema in that he’s an Aboriginal villain which is quite rare.  He plays someone with huge responsibilities in the indigenous community and shows that pressure from the outside can create unwanted temptations.

Matt:  And what was it like working with Jacki Weaver, a two-time Academy Award nominee?

Ivan:   It was amazing as I wrote the character specifically for her.  I felt like I couldn’t make the film without her.  To hear her say the lines that I’d written for her was great.  We only had her on local for a few days but she definitely packs a punch in the movie.

Matt:  You’ve been taking this film around the country with preview screenings in the lead up to its release this week.  I’d love to know what sort of responses you’ve been getting from audiences and in particular, indigenous Australians?

Ivan:  The feedback has been positive which is great.  We took the film to Winton for a premiere and indigenous audiences there were very interested in the representation of the Land Council and the connection with the mining companies.  Aside from that, they were wrapped up in the story and engaged by this thriller.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking what you’re working on at the moment?

Ivan:  I’m in talks with a couple of companies about two different films.  They’re both science fiction films which are quite big compared to Goldstone. 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a wonderful New Zealand movie that is about to be released in Australian cinemas.  I spoke to director Taika Waititi (Boy) about the film…

Matt:  I was talking to Anthony LaPaglia last week and he was saying that the lower the budget, the more ingenuity that is required on the part of the cast and crew to get the film made.  Was it like that here?  Was it easy in the case of Hunt for the Wilderpeople?

Taika:  Nope, not at all.  I had to come up with innovative way of getting the story out without blowing the budget.  There were plenty of obstacles and compromises that had to be made.  The weather was a big factor here as 80% was shot outdoors in winter in New Zealand that brought it with it rain, snow and wind.

Matt:  What part of New Zealand was it shot in?

Taika:  It was a bunch of different places on the North Island. 

Matt:  It’s an obvious question but I have to ask – where did you come across Julian Dennison?  It’s a great performance but what I think I’ll remember most is his assortment of puzzled facial expressions.

Taika:  I actually made a commercial with him a few years ago when he was about 10 years old.  Everyone was blown away by his comedic and acting talents but he’s also a very mature, sensitive kid who “disarms” you very easily when you meet him.  I wanted to put him in a film and I did it here without even auditioning him.  He’s a real star.

Matt:  And tell me about Sam Neill – “the scruffy white drifter who smells like methylated spirits”?  Was it easy getting him on board?

Taika:  It was.  The timing was perfect as he had a break in his schedule.  He had been in the UK for a long time and he wanted to come home, be close to his vineyard and do some work.  I think he also found the role interesting – playing a man of the land who is more grizzled and rough than he’d been accustomed to.

Matt:  Watching this play out, I was reminded a little of a Coen Brothers movie in that the supporting characters are so distinctive and memorable.  I’m thinking about Rima Te Wiata as Aunt Bella and Rachel House as Paula.  How easy it to get that casting right so that these supporting players stand out and don’t get lost in the background?

Taika:  I did concentrate a lot on those characters because it is easy to forget that they should be layered and deeper.  For example, the “villain” in the film is the social worker spearheading the manhunt… I didn’t want her to be a flat, one-note, efficient bureaucrat.  I told her during the shoot that she should model herself on Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive – he’s a relentless professional who will stop at nothing to do what he thinks is right.

Matt:  It’s a nice tough how you squeeze in references to films like The Terminator and The Lord of the Rings.  They got huge laughs at the preview I attended.  How did those end up in the final script?

Taika:  The Hobbit hiding behind the tree roots is an iconic image in The Lord of the Rings.  With the location scouting, I kept noting all these places that reminded me of that scene.  I’d already put a bunch of movie references into my films and since everyone knows this particular moment, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to make fun of it.

Matt:  The tone of the film is really interesting.  There are moments that are quite tragic but they’re blended with moments of humour.  A great example is your own cameo where you play a confused priest at a funeral.  Was behind the choice to add laughs to those darker moments?

Taika:  Believe it or not, that actually happened at a funeral I went to.  That was pretty much the same sermon.  I remember being at the funeral thinking this is a sad moment but at the same time, this is both ridiculous and hilarious.  I always wanted to explore having a funeral scene like that.  It’s nice to undercut some of the tragedy from time-to-time during the movie and keep audiences on their toes.

Matt:  Your good friend Rhys Darby makes a cameo appearance in the film.  Was that part written just for him because it seems to suit him perfectly?

Taika:  I wrote the part having no idea who would play it.  In the script, I wrote a bunch of those parts thinking that I’d use my friends but not knowing who in particular.  I knew I wanted a crazy old guy who had been living in the bush for years who represented what Ricky and Hector could become if they stayed on the run.  Rhys’ schedule freed up close to the shoot and he ended up being perfect for it.

Matt:  I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a death early in the film but we don’t get told the cause.  A deliberate decision?

Taika:  Yeah.  I didn’t think the information was important.  A lot of people have died that I’ve known and I actually have no idea how they died.  The fact that they’re dead is often enough without needing to know why or how.  You can make up whatever symptom or cause you like in this particular instance.

Matt:  I’m a big fan of film scores and this one stands out.  I’m not sure how to describe it but it has an electro-type feel.  How did it come about?

Taika:  A lot of the movie is influenced by Aussie films from the 1980s and so I wanted embrace that.  There were even a few Peter Weir-style shots with zooms and cross-fades.  We got in touch with Jean Michel Jarre at first because the Gallipoli score is amazing.  The story is over-the-top and in today’s age, that manhunt would be over pretty quick.  I wanted this to me more of a kid’s fantasy as to what happens when you go on the run and the whole country is after you.

Matt:  The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and it’s done a few other film festivals since.  How’s it been received by international audiences?  I know there’s a few jokes that maybe only Aussies and Kiwis will get such as reference to the All Blacks.

Taika:  They’ve loved it.  We had great reviews at Sundance and then recently at the Tribeca Film Festival.  People get it.  There are a few small jokes that are specific to Australasia but they’re connecting with the story and it’s great.

Matt:  Are there plans for a proper release in the United States?

Taika:  Yep, it opens on June 24.

Matt:  It’s a curious time for the film world at the moment.  We’re seeing more and more big action blockbusters and there seems to be less room for smaller films, at least here in Australia.  I can’t think of anyone more appropriate to comment since you made this tiny film and are following it with the next Thor movie.  What are your thoughts on the film industry at the moment?

Taika:  I agree.  There’s less room for the smaller films but I compare it to fashion.  There are trends in films.  People get tired of seeing the same thing and so will switch.  For instance, people became sick of blockbusters in the 1990s and we saw a resurgence of independent cinema and foreign language films.

A lot of it has to do with what’s going on economically.  I have this theory that when people are struggling financially, they don’t want to go see a movie about other people with no money.  They want to see superheroes and escape from this world for 3 hours in 3D.  With my small films, I try to make stuff that is more entertaining than depressing.

Matt:  To finish up, we know you’re working on the next Thor movie at the moment - Thor: Ragnarok.  How’s it coming along?

Taika:  It’s coming along great.  I’ve discovered that’s not all that different from the independent world except that you don’t hear the word “no” as often.  It’s a big learning thing for me.  I wanted to challenge myself and do something out of my comfort zone.  This was never really part of my life plan but I guess I’ve now changed that plan.

Anthony LaPaglia

The latest Australian film to reach cinemas is A Month Of Sundays and I recently caught up with star Anthony LaPaglia to talk about it…

Matt:  We know how tough it can be to get funding for Australian films and often you need to attract a big star on a project to really get the ball rolling.  How did this script come across your radar?

Anthony:  This project had a slightly different journey.  I’m friends with Matt Saville and I really like his work.  He’d been working on this project for a while and when it came time to get it off the ground, he sent me the script.  It filled two criteria – I liked it and I wanted to work with him so it happened fairly easily.

Matt:  You star in the film but you’re also credited as an executive producer.  What did that part of the role entail?

Anthony:  That’s garnishing I think. *laughs*  To be fair, I took that part seriously.  Matt and producer Nick Batzias included me in a lot of stuff to do with the film. 

Matt:  We all know about George Miller and Baz Lurhmann but Matthew Saville is quieting put together a very impressive resume (Felony, Noise, The Slap, Cloudstreet) and is becoming one of Australia’s more prolific directors.  What’s his secret?  What’s he like to work with?

Anthony:  Matt thinks outside the box.  He’s got a warped sense of humour that is in line with my own.  First and foremost, he’s very committed to his craft.  He likes actors and while that may sound unusual, there are times when you work with directors who don’t because they think actors are ruining their film.

Matt:  You grew up in South Australia but I was reading this was the first time you’d actually made a film in South Australia.  Was that the case?  What was it like?

Anthony:  In the 30 years prior I think I’d spent about 2 days in Adelaide.  That in itself was quite a surreal journey.  I caught up with old soccer mates and a bunch of extended family.   It’s funny because I failed to recognise a lot of Adelaide as so much has changed over that time.

Matt:  A Roy Morgan poll last year that just 8% of those surveyed felt that real estate acted with a high amount of ethics and honesty – ranking it the 3rd lowest profession behind car salesman and advertising people.  Was there a lot you learned having to play one in this film?

Anthony:  I’m now of an age where I’ve bought and sold a few properties and so I’ve had plenty of experience with real estate agents.  I drew on some of the not-so-positive experiences to put into the character.

Matt:  Who came up with all the blurbs about each property that we hear you narrating in the film?

Anthony:  That came from Matt as he wrote the script.  His father was in real estate and I think that background knowledge also helped.  Speaking the jargon felt like speaking Chinese to me.

Matt:  You play quite a forlorn, depressed character which can often be difficult to illustrate on screen as it’s something entirely within the mind.  What’s your approach?  How do you go about that?

Anthony:  I see film as a visual medium.  It’s not radio.  The less dialogue you have, the better.  When you look at it on screen, you can pick up on the subtlety of a raised eyebrow or a look sideways.  These things tell a story in themselves.  

Matt:  The plot device that brings you and Julia Blake together struck me as odd at first but then the connection that develops between you two really is the heart and soul of the movie.  Was it an easy connection to build?

Anthony:  When you’re working with fantastic actors, it makes you look so much better than you can be.  She’s so good as an actor but also as a human.  It was quite easy to develop that relationship with her.

Matt:  John Clarke offers the comic relief in the film where you’re playing the straight guy and he’s the one being sarcastically humorous.  I’m guessing those scenes were a lot fun?

Anthony:  He has the best comic timing of perhaps anyone I’ve ever worked with.  I messed up a lot of scenes with him because he’d make me laugh.  You could see the crew working hard not to laugh also.  You can’t teach that.

Matt:  You’ve been touring the film around Australia over the past week with some Q&A sessions.  What’s the reception been like?

Anthony:  It’s been fantastic.  You can always tell with Q&As.  The response has been enthusiastic and there have been a lot of questions.  A guy last night asked me about a transition from Julia’s character getting involved with John Clarke’s character’s father who was in an institution.  He didn’t see how that jump could possibly happen.  It shows that audiences are very astute.  My theory was that Matt Saville wants audiences to work as opposed to having the emotional content of a film spoon fed to you. 

Matt:  A lot is made about the state of the film industry in Australia.  Some are optimistic, some are pessimistic.  After a record year at the box-office in 2015 with films like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dressmaker, what are your thoughts on the state of Australian cinema at the moment?

Anthony:  My views of Australian cinema are always positive.  We have a track record over the last 30 years of consistently churning out world class movies.  We have world class talent not just in front of the camera but also in behind the camera.  Because of the lack of finance, Australian storytellers have to be so much more creative in how they achieve what they want to achieve.  That energy generates ingenuity and that’s what makes Australian films unique.  I’ve always said that the mistake to make is to follow the American model.  It doesn’t work here because Australians have a different sensibility and a different sense of humour. 

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  When will we see you on screen next?

Anthony:  I’ve had a busy year working on 7 independent films.  The next thing coming out will be the second series of The Code.  That’s the first thing that’ll be coming out.

My apologies for the lack of updates on the website for the past two weeks but I have been away on a golfing holiday.

It was a bucket list trip to the USA and it was an absolute dream. I met some amazing people, played some incredible courses, and created some unforgettable memories. It finished with a stop at The Masters in Augusta. I'm not sure how I'll top this but I'll give it a crack in future years!

I've posted a single photo from each day below but you can view more in my Facebook albums by clicking here (Masters only) and here (other stuff).

2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Friday, March 25 - After 22 hours of travel, it was good to set foot in New York City. Caught up with some old friends and went to dinner in the East Village at a cool place called Momofuku Ssäm Bar. The steamed pork buns were divine!


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Saturday, March 26 - I’d been to the baseball before so this time around, I attended my first NBA game. The Brooklyn Nets were taking on the Indiana Pacers at the Barclays Centre.


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Sunday, March 27 - Couldn't get tickets last time I was in New York City but didn't make the same mistake this time! The Book of Mormon is a hilarious show.


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Monday, March 28 - The next stop on the bucket list was a golfer’s dream. Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey is often ranked as the #1 course in the world but you can only play there if in the company of a member. Pine Valley features a 10-hole short course. Most of the holes are modelled on the main course and it’s a great place to warm up and work on your golf game. We took to the challenge on the Monday afternoon before our round.


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Tuesday, March 29 - The par was 70. The scratch rating was 76. The slope was 155. The length was 6,500m. The wind was up to 50 km/hr. I shot 85 and had an absolute blast at Pine Valley Golf Club. As good as it gets!


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Wednesday, March 30 - It's hosted the Ryder Cup, US Open, USA PGA and US Amateur. Found a bit of form at Pinehurst #2 and shot a 77 (blue tees). As I learned after a 4 putt on the 2nd hole, you gotta watch out for the steep run-off areas on the tricky greens!


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Thursday, March 31 - At Pinehurst #8 and played with an old friend who now lives in London. He and his mate were off to Augusta on Sunday. Not to watch... but to play! I have officially concluded that tabletop greens are not my forte. Came home nicely on the back nine but the final score was 83.


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Friday, April 1 - Rory McIlroy won the US PGA here in 2012 and it's hosting the event again in 2021. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is the longest course I have ever played at 6,800m (with a scratch rating of 78). Played worse than a 3-legged mountain goat and shot 87 but had fun. The lone highlight was on the signature 17th hole where I hit a 200m hybrid over water to 15 feet!


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Saturday, April 2 - I've never had the chance to play a course so close to a PGA Tour event. Harbour Town is hosting the RBC Heritage in just over a week for the 47th time. Grandstands and corporate boxes were being erected as we went around. As for the golf, it was very ordinary! Doubled the 1st and 18th en route to a score of 80 (off the close-to-back tees).


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Sunday, April 3 - My week of golf came to an end with a round at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass - my third Pete Dye design in as many days. In last year's Players Championship, Rickie Fowler went 6 under for his last 6 holes to take the title. In contrast, I had 4,000 putts as part of round of 82 and will be keeping my day job.


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Monday, April 4 - I only had tickets to the Monday practice round but my first trip to the US Masters at Augusta was an absolute blast!


2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Tuesday, April 5 - The last item ticketed off the bucket list was flying business class from Los Angeles back to Brisbane. It was like a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. I put my feet up and watched a bunch of movies and TV shows. The food was great too!