Rip It Up
Mad Dog Bradley
May 9, 2014
Craig Monahan (who grew up in Glenelg) was in Adelaide last week for a screening of his Healingand a Q&A session, but beforehand he chatted withRip It Up about the film, and why it’s been so long since his previous effort, 2004’s Peaches.
Craig, it’s been 10 years since Peaches…
Well, I had some personal issues involving my parents, and because I just didn’t have a script, and every time I thought I had a script I didn’t really. Good things take time… I had a number of other projects, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t doing anything during that time. It was also about raising the money, which in this country is the hard thing to do: it’s very difficult and time-consuming. The film had a few lives: I mean, I could have made it in 2006 or 2007, but the finance just fell over. These things take their own sweet time, and it’s all about whether you’re prepared to walk away or keep going. And you can make a living in the industry in what is affectionately known as ‘Development Hell’.
And the basic ideas for the film?
It originated from an article in the Melbourne Age. Alison [Nisselle], my co-writer, found the article and we researched it and we contacted everyone involved, and that was the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Corrections Victoria. The article was this first-person story about this fellow releasing this bird, and it was relatively sweet and short and reasonably emotional, but that was basically it, and so we spent 18 months talking to all the people and going out to these minimum security prisons, but not all the time – very slowly and surely. And after those 18 months we thought we had a pretty good story, and we figured we had Viktor, who’s Don’s character [Don Hany], and we figured we had Matt, who’s Hugo’s character [Hugo Weaving], and we had the eagle, but the other characters were just being sketched at that stage.
Viktor was based on a real person, but we met other people and he became more of a composite character. Shane and Paul, played by Mark Winter and Xavier Samuel, are definitely composites of any number of guys we met… And Hugo’s character’s based on a real person, and the program is real, and it’s successful: teaming men with damaged birds of prey and giving them the responsibility of rehabilitating them. It seems to work and it’s been going for 15 or 20 years. It’s a win-win situation too, as Healesville don’t have the facilities to help all the damaged and injured birds that come to them.
It became more rich the more you looked at the story, and it had this very positive side, and so we embraced that and went with this very positive, emotional redemption story, and the metaphors there about damaged men and damaged birds are obvious. And it’s about fathers and sons and many things, and I do like to think that it’s very full. [Craig realises that he’s been talking for a while, and he laughs heartily] And what was the question again?
Why is Hugo Weaving in all three of your films:The Interview, Peaches and this? I hesitate to use the word ‘muse’…
The obvious answer is: why not? Hugo doesn’t have an ego and he works very hard. Mark and Xavier, the two young guys in the film, they were there on the first day of filming and they were quietly going, ‘Hugo Weaving!’, as they grew up with The Matrix and stuff like that. And then we went out on location, and it wasn’t long until Hugo had his script out and he just squatted down in the dirt to make a few notes for himself… And he’s there, just sitting in the dirt, and Mark and Xavier looked at this and the penny just dropped and they realised that the film was serious but that Hugo was a real guy too. Mark and Xavier, you know, I don’t want to give the impression that they’re not serious actors, but this just broke down the barriers and upped the stakes. And we put Hugo, Don [Craig pronounces Don’s surname Hany as ‘Honey’], Mark and Xavier all in a house together, and it was convenient for us but it also meant that they could talk, eat together and whatever, and I think that shows in the film, as there’s a familiarity there that I really like.
Don’s character here is as haunted as his Joe Cashin in the ABC TV movie The Broken Shore…
They shot that after Healing… You do have to smile sometimes with this sort of performance. I got Don to smile three times! And he’s got a great smile! Editing also plays a part with performances, as there’s a lot that didn’t make the movie, and it’s about finding that balance between story, character and emotion.
And what about the birds? Yasmine the eagle steals it, but the owl is awfully cute…
The birds did always come out of their trailers when I needed them! There are two key shots that have CGI: the helicopter shot that opens the film with the bird flying in, and later in that sequence when the kestrel and the eagle are in the same frame… But everything else is real.
But surely working with birds like these is quite dangerous, with their beaks and claws…
Yes, you don’t want them to go for you. Anytime you see Don in the same frame with the eagle then that’s real, but when you have those sequences where Don looks at the eagle and the eagle looks at Don, well, those are two different shots. Our bird handler also taught us the main rule in dealing with them, and it’s all about this [he makes the appropriate hand movements]: bird here – and food here!
And do we have to wait another 10 years for your next film, Craig?
The way that I work, well, maybe. I’ve got one thing that I’m writing, and one that somebody else is writing, and a miniseries that I want to do, and an idea for another miniseries for which I haven’t even put pen to paper. And I’m also hoping that someone will offer me a great job!
Healing is now screening at Palace Nova Eastend Cinema, Wallis Mitcham and Mount Barker, and Event Cinemas Marion