There are high hopes for Top End Wedding, the latest film from director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires). I recently had the chance to talk to Wayne about the movie…
Matt: Every director starts out with high hopes and expectations, but did you ever believe The Sapphires would be as successful as it was – both with critics and at the local box-office?
Wayne: No, not at all. You make a film and you want your mum to like it and you want the immediate people around you to respond to it but yeah, everything else that comes after that is great. That film did well. You feel blessed.
Matt: You’ve been a busy man over the last few years but this is your first Australian feature film since The Sapphires. How did the project come about?
Wayne: I have an association with Goldpost Pictures who were the producers of The Sapphires. Kylie Du Fresne contacted me about this script that Miranda Tapsell and Josh Tyler had written. I went “this is good” but I said no at first. Six months later, they’d done a re-write and it was a different time period for me and I thought I’d give it a shot. They got the money and it all went from there. I didn’t have any hand in the original writing but I came on board as the director about a year and a half ago.
Matt: Balancing up the tones of this film must have been a challenge. You have moments out outlandish comedy and then other moments which are quite dramatic and poignant (particularly at the end). How did you approach that?
Wayne: The heart of the film lies in the last 30 to 40 minutes. In the moments leading up to that, you sort of work it out on set. The biggest thing is in the edit suite where you need to “go for it” as you try to glue these moments together. Chris Plummer did a great job. There were some funny moments that we had to cut as part of the balancing act.
Matt: Romantic comedies can often be a clichéd genre and it’s made more difficult by the fact that everyone has a different sense of humour. How do you know what’s working and what’s not working as you go through the shooting process?
Wayne: It’s a hard one. You’ll feel it if you’re smiling on set while shooting a scene. There are also times when you can recognise when the actors have gone to another level during the dramatic moments. It’s right there in front of you.
However, what you think is really good doesn’t always work when you get to the edit suite. Something might have been really funny on the set but when you see it on screen, it doesn’t work as well. You also get the opposite where something you were iffy about on the set looks really strong during the editing process.
Matt: Miranda Tapsell co-wrote the screenplay and gives a great lead performance but how did come across British actor Gwilym Lee to play her fiancé?
Wayne: Our casting director Kirsty McGregor and I went to seemingly every actor in Australia and we found some great talent but we thought about looking overseas to get a few more options. Gwilym just so happened to be one of the people who auditioned and when we saw his test, we felt there was something there. A month later, Miranda was going over to London with her fiancé for a trip and Kirsty suggested that she do a “chemistry test” with Gwilym while she was over there.
Once we saw the two of them together in that test, we were like “that’s the guy” and Miranda felt the same way. We proceeded to cast him and so if it wasn’t for Miranda’s world trip with her fiancé, we would never have got him. We also knew he was in Bohemian Rhapsody but we didn’t realise how big that film would go on to be. That aside, he was just really, really strong.
Matt: We don’t see a lot of Australian films shot in the Northern Territory. What was your process for deciding on the locations to best depict this story?
Wayne: It was a little bit to do with how great these locations were. We went to Kakadu and a few other places where we were guided by the traditional owners. The cinematographer, the locations person and myself then made the decision as to what worked best. We shot a lot around Jabiru, Katherine and Darwin. We made the film in 30 days across 6 different locations and so it was quite ambitious. As an example, the scenes in Kakadu were all shot in 1 day in an area called Hawk Dreaming. You had to be on the front foot and really prepared.
Matt: The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. What was that experience like and how was the movie perceived by American audiences?
Wayne: It was a fantastic experience. We had 6 screenings at Sundance with about 3,500 Americans there to see our film. A whole bunch of people went over including Miranda, Gwilym, the producers, the cinematographer and we all had a little celebration over there. Americans really got the humour which was great because you make a film for people to see.