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Interview - Guy Pearce Chats About The Rover

Guy Pearce

Guy Pearce was at the Sydney Film Festival over the weekend for the Australian premiere of the new David Michod film, The Rover.  I was fortunate enough to get ten minutes with Guy to speak a little about it…

Matt:  I was reading that David Michod had you in mind for this role as far back as when he was writing a first draft of the screenplay.  We know you guys worked together on the brilliant Animal Kingdom.  When was it that he first approached you about the role?

Guy:  I can’t remember exactly when it was but it was some months before we made the movie.  He called and told me he had something for me to look at.  I believe he’d been working on it for some time before he did approach me.  I was pretty excited because I believe David is an interesting filmmaker and I got on well with him when we made Animal Kingdom.  

When I read the script, I had some reservations.  I had a tricky time understanding who this character was.  By the time we find him in the film, he’s fairly devoid of who he used to be.  David and I had to have a number of discussions just to make sure we were on the same page.  

Matt:  I saw that David had described the role as someone who is embittered, jaded and full of resentment.  What sort of preparation do you put yourself into this character before shooting begins?

Guy:  It’s really about the discussions we have.  Once you have a clear picture in your mind of who he is, or who he was at least, then it’s really just a matter of enacting it.  It was an interesting character to play because he is so devoid of humanity and a moral/ethical standing in the world.

Matt:  The theme of the film is quite grim.  We’re looking at this futuristic world where capitalism has collapsed and there are some who believe, including friends of mine, that this is path we’re actually heading down today.  Did the backstory play a part when you agreed to sign onto the film?  Is it something you believe the world needs to think about?

Guy:  Oh, I’m very interested in the backstory.  It’s hard not to feel concerned about the direction that the world is heading in.  At the start of the film is 10 years after the collapse and we get a sense of a lawless, military run kind of state.  We know for a fact that there are parts of the world that operate like that as we speak – where corruption and greed and overpopulation and societal breakdown has meant that we’ve reverted back to a less civilised world.  It’s hard to imagine that isn’t going to dominate more parts of the world if we keep operating the way that we currently are.

Matt:  The film was shot in the Flinders Ranges in a remote part of South Australia.  I’m guessing that threw up its fair share of challenges?

Guy:  Yeah, the heat is the obvious factor but at the same time it’s kind of inspiring as well.  With that landscape, you’re given a view of the real life of the movie every day.  David didn’t want the film to look beautiful.  He wanted it to look barren and bleak… but there is a beauty there that’s undeniable.

In a way, that matched the relationships in the film where everyone is either desperate or at death’s door and yet underneath, there’s this need for people to love and to still be human and to still connect.  

Matt:  I was reading that you spent 3 weeks in the town of Marree – which has a population of just 90 people.  What was the level of interest from locals in the project?  Did they get involved with the film?

Guy:  Some were involved, yeah.  You end up getting to know people too.  Every town we went to people were generous and appreciative of you being there.  We’d bring a bit of business and as long as we weren’t destroying things, people were generally happy for us to be there.  Marree is a fascinating part of the world because it’s at the end of the road where the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Track start.

Matt:  Where do you stay?  Do you have some makeshift caravans that you could drive from town to town?

Guy:  Phil and Maz own the big pub in Marree and they had half of us staying there.  They also had some “dongers” out the back where the other half were.  There was another accommodation place that had tin sheds.

Matt:  Do you get a mobile phone reception out there?

Guy:  Nope.  If you wanted to make a phone call, you had to go to Phil and ask him to use the land line.  We had the internet though as there was a dish on the top of his pub.  In a way, it was nice to lose phone reception up there as it helped make us feel like we were an isolated little group.

Matt:  Let’s talk about your co-star in the film, Robert Pattinson.  He’ll forever be known for the Twilight franchise and he has a small army of adoring female fans.  But this is a very different role from him which is great to see.  What was he like to work with?

Guy:  I’ll correct you on one thing – I think it’s a “large” army of female fans.  I don’t know if there’s anything small about it.  (laughs)  Robert is great.  He’s fantastic in the film, he genuinely wants to do good work, and I think he delivers in everything he does.

I think he really enjoyed his time out there because he was away from paparazzi.  He was walking down the main street of town and he was saying “I can’t do this anywhere, this is great.”  We had a lot of fun together.

Matt:  The film had its world premiere in Cannes last month and now here it is getting its first wide release here in Australia.  What responses have you been getting to the film so far?

Guy:  Generally it’s been good.  It’s interesting that in Cannes, everyone was totally silent throughout the movie.  You could hear a pin drop.  When we were here in Sydney, there were lots of laughs through the movie which we thought was unusual considering the nature of the film and how heavy it is.  I assumed some of that was “uncomfortable laughter” at the prospect of what might happen next.  

I think people are finding the film evocative and powerful.  Some people have talked about not having enough storyline in there but I think it’s more about a very lean storyline where the subtlety in the difference between the characters is evident.  It’s not a dense, multi-layered film character wise like David’s other film, Animal Kingdom.  

Matt:  You’ve worked under a lot of high profile directors – Kathryn Bigelow, Todd Haynes, Tom Hooper, Christopher Nolan, Curtis Hanson.  You’ve worked with John Hillcoat a few times.  Do you have any dreams to follow in the footsteps of what Russell Crowe is doing and directing your first feature?

Guy:  I think about it but I don’t know if I think about it on a level that would see me doing something about it.  I’d love to do it but until I have a story that I want to tell, I won’t do it.  

Matt:  And can you tell us about what you’ve been working on and what we’re going to see you in next?

Guy:  I’ve been working on making a record!  After shooting The Rover last March and the new Jack Irish movie last June, I took some time off, spent it at home, and concentrated on music for a while.  I don’t have any other films to come out so it’s time for me to go to America to find a job.

 

A New Old Cinema In Brisbane?


One of my favourite cinemas in Brisbane was the Village Twin on Brunswick Street in New Farm.  I can remember seeing some of my favourite films there including The Ice Storm and Being John Malkovich.  Sadly, the cinema closed about a decade ago, the back half was demolished (due to structural issues), and the rest was boarded up.

It turns out there’ll be a happy end to this story.  The cinema was acquired by Peter and Stephen Sourris in 2013 who lodged a development application with the Brisbane City Council to breathe life back into the complex.  They had plans for a restaurant, bar, coffee shop and a 6-screen cinema complex (with room for a total of 535 seats).

Those plans are now well underway.  The cinema have set up a Facebook page (see here) and an Instagram page (see here) that provide a behind the scenes look at the current construction.  There are also a few heritage photos that show the cinemas in their former glory (and it brings back a lot of memories).

I believe the cinemas will be open mid-year and it’ll be interesting to see what type of films they go for (big blockbusters, small independents, or a mix of both).  One thing’s for sure – I can’t wait to set foot inside its familiar doors.

Interview - Director Chris McKay On The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is receiving terrific reviews (it’s currently 97% on Rotten Tomatoes) and I recently caught up with Chris McKay (the film’s editor and animation director) to talk about the film. You can listen to the full audio extract from the interview by clicking here.

Matt:  When I first heard they were making a Lego movie, my first reaction was one like “What? Really? How?”  Did you get a lot of people asking you the same sorts of questions when you signed on?

Chris:  Yeah.  That’s a perfectly reasonable response to the idea of doing The Lego Movie.  When I said we were going to do it in the stop-motion style and try to make it feel as charming and warm as a Rankin-Bass movie, they were still saying no one is going to want to watch a movie where the minifigs only move the way minifigs can move and where the style is trying to adhere to a stop-motion aesthetic.

For Chris, Phil and myself, we stuck to the vision of what it thought it might be.  When you watch those “brick films” that fans make on Youtube, they’re beautiful and silly and absurd.  Their ambitions are epic and that’s the kind of movie we wanted to make.  We wanted it to feel like Michael Bay or Henry Selick were 10-year-old boys and got together in their basement to make the coolest movie ever!

Matt:  I’m accustomed to a director sitting on a set, giving instructions, looking at footage overnight.  How does it work though as the co-director of an animated feature?  What’s your day-to-day routine?

Chris:  Day-to-day, I’m the guy who is down on the ground with the team.  I’m with the layout artists, designers and animators.  I’m then sending those images and edits back to the studio and back to the other filmmakers.  We then have a dialogue about where the movie is going and what other opportunities exist.  We may have come up with an idea in animation or with the dialogue that will require a change.

We also had some amazing actors who would go off on tangents while they were recoding that would open up other possibilities.  We would explore those things and then send them back to Chris and Phil and say “look, this is where the movie feels like it’s going” so let’s follow this path and see what happens.

Matt:  One thing I’ve always wondered about in animated features is the way characters mouths move up and down while speaking.  Is there a formula you follow – as in “when they say this, their mouth should always move like this” or is it more random than that?

Chris:  It kind of depends on the design but there are definitely rules people follow.  That said, rules are always made to be broken.  It has to be measured against what you feel like is “true”.  Every time there’s a rule that says “you have to do it this way” – for example a lip sync has to be “this” way every time a character does a “P” – there’s always another solution that does something completely different but rings absolutely true.  You have to go with your gut.  It’s way more art than it is science.

Matt:  In this film you have characters from DC Comics, The Simpsons, The Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter.  Do you have certain rules from the copyright-owners that you have to follow when bringing these characters to life in the film?

Chris:  Yeah, to a certain extent.  We were obviously in love with all these characters and so we never wanted to do anything like poking a stick in someone’s eye.  When you’re dealing with Star Wars and stuff like that, there are copyright owners that get nervous with the way they’re being presented.  But honestly, with every single person we approached, we showed them what we were doing and said that we might improvise a few things.  No one ever said “no, you cannot do that” or “here’s a set of rules”.  By background is Robot Chicken.  Phil and Chris made Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.  People knew that were going to treat these characters with love and respect because we’re also fans.  They trusted us.

Matt:  There’s so much going on visually in this film – not just with the characters but with the detailed background shots that all I have to look like some kind of Lego construction.  To give us some kind of perspective, how many people are working on a film like this?

Chris:  We had close to 300 people work on the movie but that’s actually a small crew for an animated movie.  That number is from top to bottom including sound and everything else.  Usually it’s closer to 500 or 600.  I had 30 animators at most.  I had 5 board artists.  There were a handful of people in lighting and in layout.

Compared to other animated features, this was a low budget movie but it’s a testament to the crew that we pulled it off.  Many of them wore multiple hats.  There were plenty of people that did a variety of jobs to just get the movie done.

Matt:  What sort of work goes into editing a film like this?  Given the expense of pulling every scene together, I’m guessing there’s not a lot that gets left on the cutting room floor so to speak?

Chris:  (laughs) Yeah, it’s different for an animated movie because post-production starts at the very beginning.  You’re starting in the story phase as you’re taking the boards that are coming in and you are editing them against music and voices that you and your co-conspirators are doing in order to make a scene work.  You get need to get the movie up in an emotional way to show people if this scene is working and if this act is working and if the character’s arc is working.

You are doing the pre-visualisation of the movie as an editor.  There are only a certain number of editors that have that skill set as other editors are only reactive to the material that’s in front of them.  In animation, you need to develop and build the idea and come up with new ways to solve problems.  For example, if a joke isn’t working, you may have to come up with a way to sell it through different visuals.  It’s something that you do in tandem with the board artists.

Matt:  You have your own little cameo in this film as Larry the Barista.  How did that come about?

Chris:  It’s because I was doing scratch voices and one of them stuck in the movie.  I recorded it on my desk while trying to meet a deadline and we needed to figure out who would be this character and I was like “ok, I’ll just do it” and so I recorded a bunch of things.  Believe me, I tried, I wanted to get other people to do it.  We had other people read it.

It’s part of the magic of filmmaking.  If you get it right once, that’s all you need.  Some people can psych themselves out of a performance because they’re trying to work it too hard.  At the end of the day, if you can just get one take right, you’ll be fine.  So actors out there, just relax, it’ll be ok!

Matt:  You’ve won an Emmy and directed a bunch of episodes for the animated TV series, Robot Chicken.  And I was therefore going to ask if you wanted to step up be the head director of an animated feature film… but I believe that’s already the case!  Is it true you’ll be heading up a sequel to The Lego Movie?

Chris:  Yeah, I’m going to direct The Lego Movie sequel.

Matt:  When will that get started?  When can we expect to see it?

Chris:  We’re working on a treatment right now.  Once the movie took off like it did, we knew we wanted to make a sequel.  It’s kind of a double edged sword because good sequels are very hard to come by.  I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to make this into something that’s worthy of the first movie because it’s so special.  Having watched it several times with different audiences and seeing how people respond to it, it’s something that’s very important to me.

 

Would You See A 4 Hour Movie? What About A $50 Movie?


There are two very different film going experiences on offer in Brisbane this weekend.

Firstly, for one week only, the Palace Centro will be screening both volumes of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.  Described in the press notes as a “wild and poetic story of a woman’s journey from birth to the age of 50”, the film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellen Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman and Willem Dafoe.

The film is rated R for its “high impact sexual themes, actual sexual activity and nudity”.  I suppose that will raise a few eyebrows… but what I really want to note is the film’s length.  The two volumes clock in at a combined 4 hours and 1 minute.  There’s also a 15 minute internal (not included in that runtime) that will allow me to replenish my popcorn.  From memory, this makes it the longest cinematic release in Brisbane since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet back in 1997 (which was one minute longer).  With only two sessions per day, it’ll be interesting to see how it performs at the box-office.

I should also mention that the 4 hour cut is not the whole film!  There’s a 5 and a half hour version that will most likely be released on DVD later in the year.  Bet you can’t wait.

Secondly, Event Cinemas are continuing a concept they launched last year and are holding a special screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier this Sunday night at their Chermside and Indooroopilly cinemas.  You’ll be able to see the film a few days before everyone else (it’s not released officially until next Thursday) and I’m sure many Marvel / comic book fans will be keen.

There’s a catch though.  The ticket cost is $50 per person and it includes a small drink, poster, figurine, 3D glasses and a Marvel branded bag.  This is piggy-backing off an idea that was trialled in the United States last year.  It’s a way of getting a few extra dollars from those people who are prepared to pay more to see a film in advance.  You may see it as a “cash grab” but it’s not a new concept in the entertainment world.  Some pay more to attend the opening night of a theatrical production.  Others pay more to attend the sound check at a major concert.  It’s economics 101 – supply and demand.

The likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas aren’t fans of the concept (you can read an article here) and I’m curious to know if this trend will continue in coming years.  Would you pay $50 to see a movie in a theatre?  A quick check of the Event Cinemas website shows that both the Chermside and Indooroopilly sessions for this Sunday are close to fully booked.  So I’m guessing there’s quite a few out there would answer that question with a “yes”.