"I gave the cameraman five lights as we couldn’t afford any more," says
filmmaker Murray Fahey, "and he did it brilliantly." Fahey shot his fourth
feature, Dags, in the holiday cracks between Christmas and New Year, when Australians
generally doze off into summer. "This was the best time because I could get all the
crew I needed and the cast were free…" He means they were available, as well as
free; the low budget film was shot on deferrals, and the wrap party was held just 10 days
after the first day of shooting.
"I wrestled with the changes that Australian society is
Sydney-based Fahey, who has yet to make a film using Australia’s internationally
envied Government funding mechanisms, walked out of a stage performance in Sydney last
year "and saw all these unemployed comic actors in the foyer, and I thought I should
write something to make use of their talents."
The result is Dags, which Fahey scripted in three weeks. But the material had been
accumulating for years: "I used all the places where I live and go shopping every
day, and I wrestled with the changes that Australian society is going through. There is
the older, traditional Australian dag and the newer, younger generation of dags. Then
there are the ethnic dags. . . it’s a nice mixture of Aboriginal and Anglo dags . .
.the older ones have stiffer barriers, but I wanted the kids to reveal themselves. They
are all uniquely daggy and that’s the common ground. They don’t talk about their
different cultures or their different ethnicity – they’re focusing on the footy
or the car repairs."
This ode to Aussie dagginess is dealing with the sort of people who might live in the
neighbourhood of the Kerrigans, from The Castle.
"Dags are so tacky they’re cool"
It would be wrong to project the dictionary definition of a dag onto these characters:
a dag is the clotted fur at the back of a sheep’s bum – but it can also be an
amusing person who has lived in Australia long enough to be acquainted with its mores and
customs. Fahey explains it with examples like: "dags watch Melrose Place and believe
it; dags are so tacky they’re cool; dags love a shopping channel…"
The script is a volatile mix of character assassination and pyrotechnic Australian
varnecular: there is a scene, for example, where the conversation about engine problems of
the car, under the open bonnet, is a duel of expletives, rising to a crescendo of
meaningless but somehow earnest foul-mouthings.
Fahey’s parachute-less descent into daggidom triggered the threat of law suits,
from companies like MacDonalds and Pepsico, who feared for their products if they appeared
in the film. Coke and Dominos Pizza, took the opposite view, and fed the cast and crew
"It’s pure megalomania... and I come cheap!"
As he always has in his films, Fahey takes a role in Dags, and this time a larger role:
"It’s pure megalomania," he quips, "and I come cheap! No, seriously, I
do love to act. I’ve worked on stage with all these guys over the years doing comedy
so we had a history."
Conscious of his dual role, Fahey structured the script "so that my character was
written out of the more difficult directing scenes."
Although he’s back at University to study law ("so I know when and how
I’m getting screwed by lawyers," he says after an expensive experience last
year), Fahey is already working on his next directing project: Cubby House is a suburban
horror film, written by Ian Coughlan and produced by David Hannay, who is executive
producer on Dags.
"I’ve been a fan of Murray Fahey’s since he
was a film school student," producer David Hannay
"I’ve been a fan of Murray Fahey’s since he was a film school
student," says Hannay (Mapantsula, Shotgun Wedding, Gross Misconduct) "and I
regard him as almost unique in being a true independent filmmaker who writes, produces,
directs and acts in his own films."
And now, Dags marks Fahey’s debut as a distributor of his own films.
Adds Hannay: "I’ve seen Dags a hundred or a thousand times and I still have a
terrific laugh every time."