From Rold De Heer's Vertigo Productions website:
GENESIS 0F PROJECT
During post production of "The Quiet Room" early in 1996, I received a call from France, asking if I'd be interested in a film set in "Amazonia". There was a 4th draft script based on a short novel, "The Old Man Who Read Love Stories" by Luis Sepulveda. The jungle sounded interesting, so a script and a copy of the book were sent for consideration.
They arrived when times were very busy, but an hour became vacant when a meeting was cancelled. I read the script, very quickly. It was lumpy (maybe the translation?) and not really there, but it and the first fifteen pages of the book seemed to indicate that there was a film there somewhere. On the basis that these things never happen anyway, and conditional on me having final cut and a chance to do some rewriting of the script (unlikely they'd agree to final cut), I agreed to do it. To my susprise, my conditions were agreed to.
Some weeks later I found myself on a plane to France, to attend Equinoxe, the European script workshop, for "The Old Man…". I settled back in my seat as the plane took off and began to read the script again, properly this time.
Somewhere over central Australia I was wishing the plane would be forced down in Darwin, so that I could get off and phone France to say that I wasn't going to do the film. The script was unmakeable, awful, edging on exploitative, nasty in tone, full of holes that I saw no way of fixing. There was no real plot, the characters were either unbelievable or unpleasant and some of the incidents defied credibility.
The plane duly passed over the northern coast of Australia and kept going, so I had little choice but to deal with it. Next thing was to read the novel…and lo and behold, it was lovely, the tone completely opposed to the script. It beggarred belief that such a beautiful book could have been turned into such an unpleasant script.
I didn't read that script again until four years later, when there was a credit dispute. By the time I reached Paris I'd begun work on completely re-adapting the novel, starting from scratch. Equinoxe was an interesting time, because there was little point in talking to anyone about a script I was never going to make. I set myself up in a basement room of the castle where the event was being held and worked. I talked through some of the issues with one of the instructors, Duncan Thompson, who became a good friend and later, as a result of more disputes, did a draft of the script that was never used.
A couple of months after Equinoxe I was back in France again, with my family, for the participation of "The Quiet Room" at the Cannes Film Festival. After Cannes we stayed, in an isolated villa by the sea, for three months while I wrote the script that ultimately became the film.
Financing for a film like this is very cast-dependent, and it took another three years before sufficient elements were in place to allow the film to go ahead. It all takes time, and when substantial actors are being approached in an out-of-studio context, you have to go through the entire process with each of them before you can start with the next one.
There were thoughts of making the film an official co-production with England, so that's where I began looking for my main actor.
Ian (now Sir Ian) McKellen was my first choice to play Antonio, the old man of the title. There were some months of to-ing and fro-ing as he'd read the script, hadn't yet read the script, hadn't actually even received the script, was going to do it, wasn't, was going to talk to me on the phone to discuss it and decide. Somehow the phone call never happened, to this day I don't know if he ever even read the script. It's hard to keep track of this stuff when you're in the wilds of Tasmania making a film.
Then it was Ben Kingsley (now also a Sir?), who I was told was going to do it but then I was told he'd become depressed (about the script? Who knows).
Anthony Hopkins (another since knighted) was next. I have no recollection as to why it took so long to end up with a "No thank you".
Nigel Hawthorne (since passed away, but not before he too, I think, became a Sir) took a while to get round to reading the script, but when he did, he was interested. He asked to see some of my work, so they sent him "Bad Boy Bubby". Upon seeing that film, he immediately declined "The Old Man…", citing that he didn't want to "…spend three months in the jungle with a madman!" They sent him some of my other films…he decided that perhaps I wasn't mad but simply made interesting films, so he agreed to do "The Old Man…" on condition that he met me first.
I was flown to London and had a long lunch with Nigel and his agent in a swank restaurant. It was very pleasant, we got on well, saw the film and the character in a way that was pretty well aligned and by the end of lunch were both happy. That afternoon Nigel officially agreed to do the film and the detail of his price and conditions were largely worked out and agreed to.
Two days later Nigel wasn't going to do the film. There had been a difficult development in his private life, and he couldn't begin to think about spending that amount of time away from his home in England. Was this the truth? Or was it an excuse by the agent, to cover that he simply didn't want to do it any more? I guess I'll never know.
By now we had just about run out of English actors who were about to be knighted, so the search widened, the thinking widened. I can't remember all the considerations, who was asked about but found to be "unavailable" (unavailable for when? We had no shoot dates, how can they be unavailable?). I do remember the next nearly interesting one was Morgan Freeman.
To cast a black actor in this role simply made it interesting in a different way for me, and I resisted the notion that the script ought to be rewritten to accommodate it. I can imagine the film being as it is, not a word of dialogue different, simply the different resonances of Antonio being black (and one may or may not cast Josefina differently).
And it turned out that Morgan Freeman was very interested, as were the people in his company. The one who was not so interested was his agent, because Morgan had just reached the exalted position of US$7,000,000 per studio film, and the agent was very keen on Morgan making hay while the sun shone, instead of doing an independent film for perhaps less than a sixth of that amount.
I was meant to meet Morgan at Cannes, where I was with "Dance Me To My Song", but somehow that meeting never happened (I did see him across a crowded party venue, but by the time I reached the other side, he'd disappeared). In the end, though, the agent won out, and Morgan also didn't do the film.
Then Pandora, the French sales company who were, if the cast was of sufficient stature, going to provide a big chunk of the finance, suggested Richard Dreyfuss. I'd seen his name on some lists previously and had studiously ignored it…he was not my idea of Antonio. By now, however, this had dragged on for almost three years, and I had to consider seriously any suggestion that might work.
I had myself a Richard Dreyfuss film festival. I watched 24 Richard Dreyfuss films in a week, trying to make him fit into the role. It was difficult to do so, he being such a speedy, New York, slightly abrasive sort of actor. In the 24 films though, I saw two moments, each of less than ten seconds, where I thought, "Hah! That little bit works…"
Less than twenty seconds in more than forty hours of material is not a lot to go on. I ran it through my head, and the logic of casting him was apparent: irrespective of his 'type', Richard Dreyfuss is a very fine actor; I've seen two moments where he did work for this role, so therefore it's at least logically possible that he can work for a whole film; on that basis I'd back his ability and mine combined to make him work. I rang France and said I'd be happy to work with Dreyfuss.
Some time later another meeting was arranged, again in London because Dreyfuss was appearing in a play there. We met, and Richard had some questions, some deep misgivings. When he'd read it, he'd thought the script had been sent to the wrong person (this I understood, having initially thought him wrong myself). I explained the process I'd gone through, and why I thought he would work. "But I'm so urban!", he kept saying. I kept countering with that he was a good actor. "I'm not just urban, I'm urban urban!".
We parted on good terms, but it seemed doubtful he could be convinced. I liked him, felt he'd be very good to work with, but was not confident. I travelled into the country several days later to see a performance of his play on tour, and he gave nothing away afterwards, though engaged in talking about the script. Then the word came…he'd agreed to do the film.
I had, to this point, strenuously resisted casting any of the other roles, despite immense pressure to do so. I didn't know how to begin to think about the other characters until I had my old man because all the necessary balances and dynamics came from him. Now we had Richard, that changed, and I began working with a London casting agent, Karen Lindsay-Stewart, with whom I'd worked previously on an aborted project (it turned out the producers hadn't locked down the rights).
A classic couple of weeks followed, ensconced in a small apartment with a video machine, tapes flying back and forth, suggestions, discussions, imaginings. The financial structure was not yet in place, but considerations had to be made for possibilities…it might be an English co-production, it might still be an Australian co-production, maybe Spanish (at this stage no one had mentioned Dutch).
Hugo Weaving was an obvious choice for me for the Dentist. We knew each other a bit, he seemed to me really interesting playing this role opposite Dreyfuss, he was starting to get a name internationally and he qualified as either Australian or English. And so on it went, Tim Spall for the Mayor, fine actor that he is, eventually Cathy Tyson for Josefina.
Later onto Spain, who were coming aboard as co-producers. A very fine Spanish casting agent, a splendid choice of interesting actors for the smaller roles of Onecen, Manule and Juan. Then the Dutch came into the picture, and off I went to Holland for only the second time since I'd left there 40 years previously.
There a small miracle occurred. The part of Nushino, Antonio's native friend, was going to be cast locally to the shoot location in French Guyana in South America, but the Dutch producer suggested a Dutch actor, Victor Bottenbley, who was originally from Suriname and who was not only a trained actor, but had substantial film experience and spoke English well. And months later, when we were filming, Victor discovered that the people we had cast to play his tribe were in fact from his own tribe in real life…it was an extraordinary homecoming after a lifetime's absence for him.
My first brush with where we were actually going to shoot the film was when asked about my availability to go on a location survey in Venezuela, where, I was told, we were to shoot the film. Venezuela had the locations, it was stable politically (back then) and it had a good film infrastructure, including a laboratory. So off to Venezuela I went, with Michelle de Broca, the diminutive but feisty 75-year-old main French producer.
It was a great and glorious time, flying all over Venezuela, a most beautiful country, going down all manner of river in all manner of watercraft (including shooting the rapids of the great Orinoco River), getting caught in rainstorms in small canoes, having motorboats break down and drifting helplessly towards rebel territory in Colombia…and everywhere I went, so did Michelle (except down the rapids), sitting in small boats clutching her handbag to her chest and worrying that the humidity was making her hair go curly.
The most beautiful areas were the most inaccessible, and therefore prohibitively expensive. I'd have liked to make it rough, with a tiny crew, go anywhere, but with the stature of the actors likely to be involved, this was simply not on…and, in the event, we did end up with a circus, which would have been impossible in a very remote location. We settled on Puerto Ayacucho, an area next to the Orinoco about 800kms south of Caracas, connected to it by road but also served by air.
Some years later, when we were approaching the actual shoot, things were different. Venezuela had become a political hot spot. Columbian rebels were becoming increasingly bold, staging daring kidnapping raids into Venezuela…and Puerto Ayacucho was across the river from Colombia. Richard Dreyfuss's agents demanded kidnap insurance. Kidnap insurance for what we were about to do, was not available for a premium that would still leave us enough money to make the film.
And by now too, the financing structure of the film was becoming clearer…it looked like being some sort of official co-production, which meant that the next alternative, French Guyana, would work particularly well, as we would be shooting on French Territory. And, in Guyana, there was jungle, and there were rivers, and I felt certain that, sight unseen, we could make it work (which we did).
I began to understand something of the complexity of this when I was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999. I had numbers of meetings with different people, and at one point was introduced, casually and by chance, to a French distributor who was not the distributor for the film. After all the meetings were done, I counted up that we seemed to have no less than seven different producers on board.
That night I went, out of obligation, to a party, one of those big expensive do's celebrating a particular film's inclusion in Competition. The budget for the party almost certainly exceeded the entire budget to make my previous film. I wandered a bit at the party, looking for the bloke who'd invited me. At a large gathering around a couple of tables I saw the French distributor I'd met very briefly (less than sixty seconds) the day before. On my second circuit past the table, the distributor saw me, jumped up and put his arm around me, announcing to the assemblage at the tables, "This is Rolf de Heer! I am producing his next film!". Eight producers, I thought, not seven.
The film finally became an official French-Australian co-production, with complications…the French side was further divided into being an official French-Dutch-Spanish co-production. That end of things was a nightmare, having to balance which crew came from which country, who was going to pay for what (the French, for example, insisted that the Australians ought to pay for the food for the [French] jaguar in Guyana because the jaguar was mostly being filmed by the second unit, which predominantly consisted of Australians…a very fine piece of logic), from which country the bit parts were to be cast, and so on.
But the money eventually flowed (about, depending on whose budget you looked at, $US 9,500,000 of it) and the film was made, with little real compromise on account of the financial complications.
A copy of a fax I sent off at some stage during pre is instructive.
Last days of pre-production: 30 September 1999
From the chaos that is French Guyana, I suppose you're entitled to some sort of direct news of what is happening, and how. It'll be difficult for me to give you an adequate overall picture, because in a sense there's so much of it, and to be comprehensive is time-prohibitive. But I've got some moments before I drive to Cacoa (an hour and a quarter away) to approve or disapprove the canoe they've found for Antonio to hide under when the jaguar attacks him late in the script (this is a more complex question than appears on the surface, because much of the filming takes place under the canoe, so the scenes on the outside have to be filmed first, and then the canoe has to be carefully cut up so that we have the space to film Dreyfuss underneath it…but into what shapes does it have to be cut?).
I look out the window of this third world production office near Cayenne and see a large red and blue macaw sitting on somebody's balcony, flapping its wings but going nowhere. When I first arrived here, I felt the film was about doing the same.
There was a space about 8 metres by 8 metres, divided into three offices by glass. There were six desks, three phones and about twenty five people attempting to function in this space (during my first morning here I worked at no fewer than five of the six desks). There was an air of desperation…French bureaucracy had apparently blocked the setting up of the bank accounts, so there was no money. Any purchase at all, even a twelve dollar lump of wood, had to be approved by the Paris office who would then send a cheque. It was impossible to operate, for anyone, particularly for the art department, who had only a few weeks to build a large jetty, half a town, Alkaseltzer's hut and Antonio's hut, as well as having the myriad specific props to source and buy/hire/make.
It forced me to get fairly aggressive with both Fildebroc and Pandora, threaten to get on the next plane out of here if something wasn't done immediately about loosening up some sort of functional cashflow and getting their documentation into order.
Since then there has been a gradual improvement in the situation, to the extent where now I can concentrate on what I'm meant to be concentrating on (the creative side of things), and can start to feel actually very excited about some of the elements that are coming together.
First thing at my end was to begin to sort out the locations. There are no less than seventy specific locations for filming to be pinpointed, and in this the script is quite deceptive…because so much of it says simply "jungle", you don't realise how many specific bits of jungle, each having to feel right in regards to the scene and in the context of what comes before and what will come after.
So, days and days of tearing around in a little Renault Twingo (they don't go for big cars here), spotting possible sites, getting out and plunging into the bush…many things to think about with each location, the main one being accessibility from the road. Every fifty metres further from a large open space where all the trucks and caravans and cars can be parked about doubles the degree of difficulty of shooting. Do we need rain in this location, and if so, where is the nearest water supply for the rainmakers and do they have access to get the pumps or the water truck close enough? Can we get Dreyfuss's trailer close enough so we don't waste ten minutes him walking to set every time we want to do a shot? Every extra ten minutes away from base in Cayenne robs me of twenty minutes of shooting time because of the time taken out of the day with travel. A location close to Cayenne may give me extra shooting time, but may equally give me substantially greater problems in post-production because of traffic noise.
All this and much more has to be balanced, seventy times.
My attitude going into this was that I'd rather shoot for five hours in a great location than for ten hours in a badly compromised one (although of course it's not so simple as that either…at a certain point you begin to compromise performance by not having enough time to rehearse). The attitude of the French production crew, god bless their little socks, is that jungle is jungle, and whoever thinks about sound when you can fix it in post, so why not shoot it all down the road and make it easy on us.
Well, jungle is not just jungle, there are many different sorts of jungle, different foliage and structure of plantlife creates profoundly different atmospheres (art department: "Why don't we just stick Antonio's hut here?"; me: "Because it looks like Hawaii."), atmospheres that must be right for the particular scene in its context. This is quite subtle stuff…at each part of the journey from El Idilio to Alkaseltzer's, and then for Antonio deeper into the jungle still, there must be the 'feeling' that we're getting further away…rivers must become smaller and turn into creeks, that sort of thing.
Despite the largely accurate truism that directing is the art of compromise, I must say we're doing rather well with the locations. Some are difficult…I took the sound recordist to one (about half an hour's walk/climb into an area with some spectacularly big trees) and he was so distressed (physically) by the time we got there that the journey back became so slow that we were almost completely trapped by the falling night. Still only halfway back it was already pitch black, and we were progressing only by shuffling along a sort of narrow falling path with jungle on one side and a steep drop on the other (not that you could see the steep drop…only the fact that there was nothing to touch on that side reminded me of the fact). Then a roaring sound started. We stopped, and I remarked to James, "I think it's going to rain"…and it did. The roar was the rain sweeping towards us, and within sixty seconds there was nothing dry left on either of us.
I had visions of being stuck there for the night, not a pleasant prospect (rumour had it there were jaguars in the area, and the spiders are as big as teacup saucers), but remarkably the rain brought with it, somehow (I don't understand the laws of refraction), some light…the harder it rained, the better we could make out the path.
Finally got to the car, James absolutely exhausted, almost beyond endurance. We sat dripping in the car, found some dry cigarettes and lit up. After a couple of puffs, James managed to croak, "Great location mate, worth every bit of it…". And that's the point really, that the really important aspects of the film do seem to be coming together into some integrated whole, such that there's beginning to be some real excitement about the potential of the film.
I've been spending a bit of time with the jaguar and the jaguar trainer. That too is suffused with promise and excitement (and fear: during training sessions, the jaguar is largely loose and free, and I was perhaps ten metres away watching; the jaguar took its quarter chicken, with feathers, that it had earnt for jumping onto the back of a ute and lay down about five metres away from me and began to eat it; it looked up at me at a point where I was looking at it…our eyes met and locked, and I felt an instant wave of something not quite right going on. The trainer saw and felt the same thing and began shouting at me, in as controlled a fashion as he could manage…"Get up! Stand up!! Stand up now!!!" as he came towards me to stand next to me. I stood up after a moment's hesitation, locked as I was in the jaguar's glare, and the moment passed. Apparently the silhouette of a human standing is unlike anything else for a jaguar, and is the one thing they'll generally back off from). But hey, this jaguar is going to look good.
So, many good things, some difficulties: breaking news has it that we now have a profound freight problem…the Australian freight (motion control equipment, sound recording equipment) has been off-loaded in Singapore, French freight is subject to a series of strikes and looks unlikely to get off the ground at all for the next couple of weeks due to the backlog (which the Australian freight will add to once it does arrive in Paris). Contingency plans are being drawn up…what is the minimum amount of gear I can begin shooting with? Well, the answer is sort of, stock, a camera body, a lens and a tripod, but from the moment we start like that, we're in trouble for the rest of the film, or we badly compromise the jaguar sequences, or we badly compromise something else later. Chartering planes seems to be out of the question (none practically available that are longrange enough), there's talk of us calling on the military to get us out of the shit. Thus I must end this…no knowing when I could get back to it, so I'd better send it off as is.
It was not the easiest shoot I've ever done…
I'd storyboarded the film during the months leading up to the shoot, and figured on a modest 14 shots a day, averaged out over the shoot. At the end of day one, it was already clear that we were going to be in major trouble if we continued as we'd started, and I could see that I had to completely change my approach if we were to achieve a film at all, let alone a good one. It was a tough day, made tougher at the end of it by having to decide to scrap what we had achieved in the day and starting anew on day 2. Throw out the rain. Throw out the fog and the mist. Just find ways to get the day in, somehow, yet still maintain quality and "cinema". Take each day as it comes. Don't plan too far ahead.
Over the entire shoot we could not average ten shots a day, let alone the 14 I'd planned on. Each day was a scramble to complete, yet somehow we managed, by scrambling, to complete each day not just so that you could say it was in the can, but so that you could say, hey, that wasn't bad, not bad at all…could even be terrific.
We had our share of troubles beyond the norm, the best one of which was to do with our river boat. I'd spent weeks arguing about the river boat and the depth of the river. I'd agreed to a certain sort of boat, pointed them out in the harbour in Cayenne, and thought we'd agreed to hire a particular one. But no, in their wisdom the art department decided to buy another one, an older one, and fix it. But first, after they bought it, the argued that it would never get to our specially built jetty way up the river…the river was too shallow.
I pointed out that the river was tidal, and it should therefore not be a problem, just come in when the tide is high. No no, it wouldn't work. I asked about the draft of the boat, then pointed out that it was much less than the difference between high tide and low tide, and there was still plenty of water in the river at low tide, therefore there would not be a problem. No no, it wouldn't work. I drew diagrams, argued physics in a mixture of French and English, and evetually the doubters could refute me no longer and went away without further argument.
They were soon back. The boat would not fit under the bridge that crossed our river about 10kms downstream.
I pointed out that the river was tidal, and it should therefore not be a problem. Just come in under the bridge when the tide was low. No no, it wouldn't work. You can guess the rest, more diagrams and measurements until eventually there was no argument left.
Now I wanted to see this bought boat before we needed to use it so that there was enough time to make modifications should that be required (I had learnt by now not to trust anything coming from the art department…the language difficulties (my poor French, their almost non-existent English, including the interpreter, who had been hired by the art department apparently for her looks rather than her language skills), these language difficulties made it impossible for either party to communicate with any subtlety or accuracy. So I wanted to see the boat. Maybe next week…the problem is that it's far away. How far? 60kms up the coast. Next week came and the week after and it was maybe later this week.
I had to throw a full-on wobbly to get a commitment for it to even turn up on the following Monday, the first day that we would be needing it.
And so it's Sunday morning, and I'm trying to recover from the week's shoot, doing my washing, just relaxing. There's a phone call…there's a problem with the boat. An hour later, the first assistant director and the line producer turn up. The problem must be a very big one.
What had transpired is as follows: when first I'd asked to see the boat, the engine had not yet been fixed, so they fixed it and waited for me to ask again. When next I'd asked to see it, they'd tried to bring it but the engine wouldn't start. So they fixed the engine again but had left the boat 60kms away just in case. Then when I insisted on seeing the boat, they'd started out but the engine had broken down after 3 kilometers and it had had to be towed back. Then they'd fixed the engine again but left the boat 60kms away in case it broke down on the way. Then when I demanded that the boat be there for shooting, they'd left it till the weekend just in case, then started out, got out to the open sea, the boat began to leak and sank in deep water. No crew were lost, but there was also a mobile phone at the bottom of the ocean.
In some ways this was typical of how things went in many areas. Somehow we had ended up with many of the crew simply not being film literate, not having any idea of script, action, consequence. Not that this is so difficult. The local inn-keeper, a Breton man who spoke only French and who had never been near a film set, proved my most useful collaborator with both locations and the nuts and bolts of the art department. He worked on the film almost full time, mostly not being paid, but he did it because he could see how stupid all this was, he understood my frustrations and he would generally know straightaway how to solve a particular problem. And he had a great eye for locations.
With all the difficulties came also the wondrous times. Working with the actors was a joy, each and every one of them. Richard Dreyfuss was truly committed, generous and giving, willing to take risks as an actor, and never shirking the stuff that he must have found very difficult (like being underwater in a tropical river from where moments before the second assistant director had been dragged screaming after having had an encounter with a mystery tropical aquatic creature, probably a stingray…like walking barefoot through the jungle…like facing off against a skittish jaguar). Hugo Weaving was also a joy to work with, and he had a great time with both the role and the shoot, and as a consequence has done some of his most interesting work. Timothy Spall is the opposite in real life to his character on screen. He's gentle, quietly spoken and a real gentleman, lovely to work with, easy to have fun with. And Cathy Tyson turned herself inside out to get the role right, to give the performance what it needed, and I always enjoy working with actors who are so committed.
Our arses were saved many times by second unit, which had not only the normal function of a second unit, but was also the visual effects/motion control unit. To see the motion control equipment, built here in Adelaide by my mate Charlie and Tony Clark of Rising Sun, and operated by them there, function so flawlessly in such difficult conditions, was akin to a miracle.
The shoot stories are endless, moreso than on the average shoot. But then we weren't in an average situation. Many of these stories involve trials and great tribulations, but at the end of the day I look at the film up there on the screen and I marvel at it, that we could find that film despite the traumas involved in getting there.
Post production took place in Adelaide during the whole of 2000, rather longer than anticipated, but that was a function of the number of partners involved and my willingness to be inclusive of them. As I had final cut, I could have simply locked off the cut and told them, here it is, bad luck if you don't like it or don't like parts of it, and we would have been through by the end of May. As it turned out, we didn't finish until December.
It's actually quite a difficult film to deal with in post-production. In the first instance I felt we wouldn't really know what was there as a film until the whole of it came to completion, when each of the elements was precisely in place…judging it before then was dangerous. Then, there are more structural change possibilities in this film than there are in most, but because of the specific and very precise motion control shooting, the options are actually quite limited. So, even when willing to try some new structural suggestion, we would often be stymied by a lack of option, and the person (overseas) making the suggestion would think we were not being co-operative. And finally there was the curse of the original script, the script that I'd forgotten about four years before, but which now became the film that some of the parties wanted us to make, the full-on, masculine action hunting film (after we'd already shot a much more gentle film, a beautiful film, a romantic film).
Tania Nehme, the editor, and I struggled on, honing the film, improving it, trying to also get it to a stage where all parties were satisfied by it, and then there came a turning point, the first of two that consigned the film almost to oblivion, irrespective of its qualities or value.
The first came out of an audience test in New York. The test itself, much as I loathe them, went quite well, but within hours there was a damning review of the film on a major internet site, written by a youth (not the target audience at all) who'd been in the audience at the very start of the film but had left early so that he could be the first to post a review. No matter that the review was factually grossly inaccurate in almost every respect, no matter that the results of almost the whole of the rest of the test audience contradicted the review, the damage had been done…the backers lost confidence in the film. And since the major backer was also the company that had the rights to sell the film worldwide, it was a catastrophe for the film.
The second turning point was the sale, before the film was finally finished, of that very same sales company. The Paris office was shut down, and suddenly the people who had the biggest stake and the greatest power in making the film a success, were no longer there.
Meanwhile back in Australia we were trying to finish a film. One of the great highlights of post production was the recording of the music score, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and a choir of thirty. It was huge.
I've worked with Graham Tardif, the composer, on every film I've done except "Dingo", which had to be Miles Davis and Michel LeGrand. On each film Graham has done something totally different, as befits the film (just think about the score for this film, then compare it to "The Tracker" and "Alexandra's Project"), and this film was no exception.
It is impossible to do justice in a document such as this to the distribution mess the film got itself into. An example will probably give an indication.
Each co-production country has the rights to dispose of their territory as they see fit. In France, part of the financing came from a television presale, payable when the film was released theatrically in a specified minimum number of cinemas (eight, I believe) for a minimum amount of time (two weeks, I believe).
A couple of months after we'd sent the remaining components of the film to France, we received a phone call from someone not at all associated with the film. "Ah", he said. "I notice your film is opening in Paris next week." We had heard not a thing about this. It was done in almost indecent haste. There had been no requests for promotional involvement (I don't know there was any promotion), I had not done a single interview for the French release (I don't know anyone who has). As I understand it, the film was opened in eight cinemas and ran for two weeks. This would have triggered the television payment. Figure it out for yourself.
And Australia? Well that's a mystery. Too many expectations, too many people dealing with it, too many financial and legal complexities…the film sat on the shelf even though there were distributors wanting to release it. It had been screened and voted in the top ten most popular films at both the Melbourne and Brisbane International Film Festivals in 2001. It had won a number of prizes at overseas film festivals (not that we knew it was playing at any of them, a plaque or some such thing would suddenly arrive in the mail). Yet still it languished.
Finally in February 2003 it played at the new Adelaide International Film Festival. It was a great success, and was voted best film of the festival by the patrons. It caused a shift somehow, and finally the film was allowed out for distribution. That's life. That's film making.
– Rolf de Heer