Take the same short story, let six filmmakers adapt it as they wish and the outcome is sure to be unpredictable, writes Garry Maddox.
As the surreal Adaptation showed last summer, turning a work of fiction into a movie can be a painful business.
In recent weeks, six young filmmakers have been hoping for more success adapting a short story. The interesting part of their challenge is they have been adapting the same short story, Push!, a surreal tale by English writer Ben Rice about a couple dealing with a surprising pregnancy.
It’s all part of an experiment-cum-short film competition called POV, for Point of View. In its second year, it has resulted in one Australian short being made in a very out-of-the-way location.
While Andrew Lancaster has shot his in Sydney, Garth Davis in Melbourne, Felicity Morgan-Rhind in New Zealand and Elissa Down in Young, Simon Lyndon will start shooting his today in Serbia, where he has been playing "Americki pilot" in the feature Civilni Zivot. Nash Edgerton will finish shooting his film in Sydney this weekend.
The results, to be screened as an anthology-style feature in December, are expected to show how much a filmmaker’s own vision can change a work of fiction. Judges, including Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne, Samantha Lang, Jan Chapman and Lizzie Gardiner, will decide the winner.
Rice, who is adapting one of his novellas for Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo and another one for FilmFour, will award a prize to his personal favourite.
"There’s a lot of room for interpretation," says Jessica Brentnall, the creative director of POV. "Because of the length of the short story, people will have to edit significant amounts of it out. So it will come down to the selection process."
One of the filmmakers sees the story as being about forgiveness, another about being careful what you wish for, a third about overcoming your fears.
Last year, POV had eight directors shooting a script by Sydney playwright Brendan Cowell word for word. It resulted in some striking interpretations: the winner, Clayton Jacobson, had deaf characters signing the dialogue and there were sci-fi, period, outback, inner suburban and Japanese-language versions.
"Last year made audiences wonder how different films would have been with other directors attached," says Brentnall. "This year’s it’s all about adaptation."
Lancaster, who shot his film in Broadway and various Sydney suburbs last weekend, is intrigued by what the other filmmakers are doing.
"I think all the stories are going to be completely different," he says. "That just shows people’s interpretation is very much a way of making something original from a core idea."
Giving his film a 1960s setting and using an old-style supercomputer and dancing nurses, Lancaster cast a couple of name actors in Sacha Horler (Praise, Grass Roots) and Helmut Baikatis (The Matrix Reloaded).
Early on, he decided he wanted to be different with his film. The project lent itself to that, he says.
"There’s not a writer saying, ‘it has to be like this’ and no producer saying, ‘this is our vision for the short film’. The more personal your vision, the more individual you make it, the more it’s going to stand out from everyone else’s."
Horler sees POV as an experiment in how creative the filmmakers can be.
"There’s an unspoken desire to push yourself up against the basics of the material and be constantly imaginative," she says.
So how competitive are those taking part?
Down, who has set her film on a cherry orchard at the turn of the 19th century, says the filmmakers are so diverse that it’s not really competitive.
"Our signature styles are so different from each other that it’s really just a celebration of directors’ work. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s work."