It's early evening in West Virginia and Geoffrey Wright is busy at work on his first
Hollywood feature, Cherry Falls. "There's something here to offend everyone",
Wright admits laughingly. "We've got sex, violence and black comedy." Not to
mention a climactic orgy scene to end on. Protests have even dogged the production. But
the director, used to condemnation and derision for his controversial Romper Stomper and
less so follow up, Metal Skin, takes it all in his stride.
It's been four years since Wright last worked on an Australian feature film. Apart from
the odd pieces of television, he has been absent from the Australian movie scene. Rather,
he says, he's "been slogging at it in LA and doing lots of writing." He clearly
has mixed feelings about trying to make it as a Hollywood director.
"It's very easy to come over here and make a bad
"It's frustrating that I could not work as fast as I would have wanted to."
The reason has as much to do with learning the system, as with finding the right project.
"There's an awful lot to learn. It's very easy to come over here and make a bad
movie, which is what I never wanted to do. I was also very ambitious and wanted to rewrite
all the material that they sent me. That never stopped, and hasn't stopped even now."
But he calls Hollywood a frustrating town. "Everything you've heard about the place
isn't true - it's worse. Psychologically it can damage you, because it's so ruthless and
so cutthroat, you take it personally. Then after a while, you realise: I see, it's a game,
I'm on a chess board, I'm a piece on that board, so I've got to learn to see what the
powerful pieces are and what positions they're in."
Wright spent time doing a lot of such writing for both Warner Bros. and Fox, "and
though very little came to fruition, at least two good scripts came out of that period,
and I have a feeling that they might see the light of day in the foreseeable future."
The director has no regrets, and doesn't see the last four years as being wasted, more
frustrating. "If I go back in my career, to when I first started, it was exactly the
same, because I couldn't get a break in Australia. It took me a long time before anyone
would give me a shot, because my approach is so different. So in a strange kind of way,
the rhythm really has repeated itself. Once I got going, it was different." He
resisted returning to Australia, claiming that he "made more money here not making
films, just writing, than I did making films in Australia."
Yet now, even though his current project is an independent film, he is being entrenched
in the industry in Hollywood, but denies riding on the back of other successful Australian
filmmakers, working in the US. "That has nothing to do with it. The system in
Hollywood is about one thing and one thing only: the capacity to generate wealth. That's
all it's concerned about, and a certain level of quality if it's perceived that it could
lead to a box office return. That's the main focus. Whereas the self-perception of the
Australian industry is craft for its own sake."
"It was outrageous."
But it wasn't all a Hollywood dream for Wright. He had signed on to direct a
multimillion dollar sci-fi drama for United Artists, Supernova. A week prior to shooting,
he was sacked from the project by the president of the studio and replaced by veteran
Walter Hill. "We had a disagreement on cast and script and I stand by on what I want.
I mean, you want to play the game and get on with people, but if you think that what
someone wants is going to lead to a catastrophe, then you just say: go right ahead, let
them do it and put their own head in a noose. I think that's what's going to happen."
Wright has settled on this pure genre film, Cherry Falls, and the reason was simple:
"It was outrageous."
Cherry Falls is a disturbing look into the closets of small town America. When a
depraved killer begins murdering students at Cherry Falls High School, the quiet
all-American town begins to unravel. Once the teenage protagonist identifies the killer,
she brings to light the twisted secrets of the town's most respected leaders.
"I'm a big believer in being outrageous", Wright explains matter-of-factly.
"I think that anything you're doing with films should wake people up a little bit or
get them." And wake them up he has! Even well before the end of principal
photography, there's already an outcry about the film. "Here we are in this isolated
part of West Virginia, and what do I find? Letters to the editor and protests against the
movie. We lost an hour the other day because of a bunch of protests from concerned
parents." It appears that Wright and company used a local high school for shooting,
"and of course the parents found out and are asking: Why is it that we're trying to
give our kids a good education, and they've let these scuzzy Hollywood people in to shoot
a puerile, tawdry, z-grade horror film? None of these people have read the script, but
this genre is a little bit provocative to people over a certain age."
"combination of sex, horror, romance, sweetness"
One wouldn't expect the acclaimed director of Romper Stomper to make a stereotypical
teen horror flick, but he has a point: "Thematically, it's very ambitious, and that
sounds like I'm talking bullshit; maybe I'm just deluding myself, but the film has a
combination of sex, horror, romance, sweetness, comments about relationships and black
humour - it just doesn't stop." Also, he says, unlike most plot-driven horror films,
Cherry Falls is a more difficult film to shoot, "because it's so performance
orientated. At the same time, I'm supposed to deliver suspense, horror, romance, adventure
and sex; it's very demanding." And, he exclaims, "it even ends in an orgy. I
remember telling the film's distributor: any mainstream American film that ends in an orgy
has got to be worth making."