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Writer director David Caesar tackles two themes in his sixth feature film, Prime Mover: the first is love – as distinct from falling in love. What happens when the romance gives way to reality, and reality bites.

The second is perhaps best described by the cliché, be careful what you wish for, a notion Caesar constructs as part of the test for the two characters whose relationship is defined by the dream that Timothy (Michael Dorman) nurtures.

"I have always been interested in the relationship between falling in love and staying in love"

“As a story teller,” says Caesar, “I have always been interested in the relationship between falling in love and staying in love. After you’ve been with someone for a while, your work and their work, and having a family, can get in the way. I always had a sense that my being in the film industry and going away a lot from my family, was part of the narrative of Prime Mover.”

Caesar knows about trucks. He grew up in a country town on the New South Wales coast and was driving trucks at the age of 19. He still recalls the sense of invincibility and power they gave him, but also the pressures imposed by bosses who needed to meet deadlines.

“It was a strange mix of power and powerlessness,” he says. “Around this time there was a bizarre incident in which a guy drove a truck through a pub in Ayers Rock. It was something I could strangely understand at the time: you get distanced from reality when you drive long hauls. It inspired me to do research about sleep deprivation and hallucinations. I wanted to know what would drive a person to see that as the only option.”

The first to be cast was Emily Barclay as Melissa, after Caesar had seen her in her breakout role as Celia in In My Father’s Den (2005) – well before he saw her again in Suburban Mayhem (2006). “I liked her courage, the way she sort of just went for it,” says Caesar. “We wanted a character that had an external vulnerability but an internal strength. We wanted someone who seemed like they were a push over, a bit brittle, but when it came to the crunch, the person stood up and was strong in terms of fighting for the things that are important to them.”

Barclay had no problems giving Melissa that strength but also saw her character as a dreamer and a beautiful person, determined not to become bitter like her mother.

"It is not like the fantasy love stories you often get in films"

“What I really love about the relationship (with Thomas) is that it feels so real, like they are making it up as they go along,” says Barclay. “It is not like the fantasy love stories you often get in films, where it’s all great. In Prime Mover there are ups and downs and things are not necessarily okay ... but they love each other, support each other, know they have this real connection and they don’t give up on it.”

It was much harder to find Thomas than it was to find Melissa. Having Emily Barclay in place locked Thomas into being quite a young man and many contenders were auditioned but none seemed quite right until Michael Dorman came along. (“I had Russell Crowe down for it at one stage,” says Caesar, “but with Emily he would have been too old for the role.”)

To the filmmakers, Dorman was the only one that seemed capable of making the audience feel the big range of emotions that Thomas was going through. Thomas had to have a toughness that made it believable that he could live in a very masculine world, but he was also very excited by the aesthetic of the trucks, and the freedom and power they represented.

“We needed someone who was sensitive to the beauty of that world, and the sound and look of the trucks,” says Caesar. “He was in love with the image of being a truck driver and wanted to make his truck an extension of his own personality. He also had to be able to stand up in that world and survive. He had to be part of that world and also apart from it.”

Dorman decided to learn to drive a truck to prepare for his first lead role. It was definitely more difficult than he imagined it would be. He had always liked trucks, he says, Prime Mover made him love them! The experience of driving gave him a new respect for truckies, made him confident about technical aspects of the role, and helped him get a better feel for Thomas.

“I love stories of the little Aussie battler that just doesn’t want to give up,” says Dorman of the script. “Thomas is like the guy that gets punched by the bully and just keeps getting up again. He is also of the age when anything is possible, when dreams are real because you haven’t been tainted so much by life. But he is still trying to find out who he is and what he wants. We all have friends that call every week with a different idea about what they want to do ... That is Thomas.”

"wanted to capture the visceral nature of passions, dreams and the imagination"

While the acting style adopted for Prime Mover is naturalistic, the look of the world that the characters inhabit is not. Rather, it is heightened realism, Caesar style, and it enhances the visceral nature of Thomas’s internal world. After all, the film is not about Australia’s trucking industry, but about one young man’s journey from his fantasy of the future to its stark reality. Initially though, Thomas feels so passionate about his dreams that those dreams give his life a feeling of magic.

“Even the most seemingly pedestrian lives can and often do have magic in them,” says David Caesar. “I wanted to capture the visceral nature of passions, dreams and the imagination. You can see it in the way Thomas sees Melissa for the first time, and in the way he sees trucks and the world in general. I wanted the film to have a fable-like quality.”

Published November 12, 2009

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David Caesar


Written and directed by David Caesar
Young Timothy (Michael Dorman) has always aspired to be like his truckie dad (Andrew S. Gilbert), dreaming of driving his own prime mover. When he gets a loan from some dodgy connections through Mrs Boyd (Lynette Curran) to buy one, he is on his way, and he also makes a strong connection with pretty servo attendant Melissa (Emily Barclay). In debt and in love, Thomas is a vulnerable figure and local standover man Johnnie (Ben Mendelsohn) soon has him in his clutches. Things begin to spiral out of control on all fronts, just as his truckie mentor Phil (William McInnes) had warned.

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