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Q&A with David Wenham

The last time David Wenham was in Darwin was to shoot Baz Luhrman’s blockbuster Australia. This month the actor presents his film Ellipsis – and it couldn’t be more different.

Why did you decide to make a film like this?
It was a film that I didn’t plan to do. I was doing another film that I’d spent six years working on conceiving it, writing it, imagining it, I cast it and we’d just begun to preliminary shooting and then financing fell out and so I thought, what am I going to so?  After a sleepless night I thought, I’ve always wanted to do an experimental film. Experimental not in subject matter so much but in process.

So I pitched this idea to my producer the next day and said, ok that film’s fallen over we’ll let it go but what about we do this? What I came up with was this idea to have ten days. Ten days from the inception of the idea right through to the completion of the principal photography we would make a film and so what we did was in ten days, myself, Benedict and Emily the two lead actors in the film we came up with a very simple idea for a narrative, we invented their characters, we workshopped their characters, we came up with thematic ideas for the film and then the next seven days we shot sequentially in real operating environments with real people.
The result of that ten-day experiment is Ellipsis.

Did you have a feeling at the time that it was working?
The weird thing about it is people said, ‘wasn’t it stressful to have a time constraint on you and not have the security blanket of a script there?’ And bizarrely enough, it was probably the most relaxed I’ve ever been on a film set. Because we didn’t have constraints of a script, we were pretty open and we actually could just follow our instinct and out gut, as opposed to being rigidly forced to do things we’d set out to do. It was actually really liberating.

What were some of the improvised moments that you were really taken by and that you wanted to use?
There’s only two other actors beside the leads in the film, all the other actors are real people in real environments. People who see the film actually can’t work out who are actors and who are real, which I find really interesting. And some of those people who the actors encountered in their journey (the film takes place over the course of one night) change the whole direction of the film and change the story of our lead characters, so much so that I couldn’t invent – if I wanted to – the things that occurred in this film.
It’s set in and around where I live, in Kings Cross. The area is the most densely populated square mile in Australia, it’s extremely cosmopolitan and vibrant and up until recently it was like the hub of the night scene here in Sydney, but alcohol laws have changed that to some degree.
It’s always been a really fascinating place where through the night you can encounter people that you wouldn’t see through the day and things can happen there through the night that wouldn’t happen through the day – that sort of interested me.

Were these walk-ons just interacting with the characters like they were real people?
We had ideas about where the narrative would take us, but most of it was improvised and 95 per cent of the film is one-take with two cameras. No rehearsal, straight into it.

Will you attempt another similar film?
I’ll take a lot of methodology from that particular film and use it for other projects. The beauty of it as well is it was a small footprint, it was a micro-budget film so I can make these films relatively easily as opposed to waiting to get six years to get finance from government funding bodies and then a whole heap of people around the boardroom giving their opinion of what the film should be  and where it should go or whatever. By doing it this way, you control the process a hundred per cent creatively and you can actually do it.

How much did the film cost?
That’s like asking somebody their age! Suffice to say, very, very low six-figures. As low as you can go in six figures. For a whole feature film.

Ellipsis | Sat Sep 16 | 7.15pm | Deckchair Cinema

 

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