TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN - FEATURE
GETTING BIG BANGS FOR YOUR BUCK
A high concept, mass market Australian film (with big explosions) that isn’t
funded by a major Hollywood studio, Tomorrow When The War Began is intended as a
big, fun, roller coaster adventure, its director, Stuart Beattie, tells Andrew
L. Urban, who also talks to producer Andrew Mason and executive producer
(financier) Christopher Mapp.
“A lot of different defence experts scared the crap out of me with how easy it
would be for a foreign army to invade Australia,” says Stuart Beattie from the
comfort of an armchair in a swish Sydney hotel room overlooking the harbour. “We
have a small population and lots of unprotected hubs. So I always bought the
concept of [John Marsden’s novel] Tomorrow When the War Began. “There are wars
breaking out all the time all over the world … It’s a high concept movie, and
like all movies, it’s all about ‘what if’.”
We’re talking about his new film on the eve of its release in Australia, a
milestone event for a couple of reasons: it’s a stridently mainstream film
intended to make a profit, and the private financier behind it is Omnilab Media,
which has grown international movie muscles in the past decade. The Sydney based
family company (part of the Mapp Group) is edging ever closer to becoming
something of a film studio (without the excesses, tantrums and shonky accounting
practices of the Hollywood model, we hasten to add).
“Yes, that’s true,” says executive producer Christopher Mapp. “We’re not only
providing finance but packaging it with our production arm Ambience
Entertainment and the various post-production facilities and so we’re deep into
risk management of the projects. If we do well we make a good profit; the
downside is if audiences don’t appreciate the film we’ve got more to lose.”
"a film for everybody"
Of all the hundreds of film production companies in Australia, only Ambience
Entertainment and Kennedy Miller are self supporting entities, with Animal Logic
close behind. When people (commentators and industry alike) complain about the
minimal share of box office by Australian films, they forget that the majority
of our films are not made for the mass market. They used to be, back in the 70s
and 80s, but as supporting mechanisms fell away and changed, filmmakers had to
shrink their budgets and ambitions, says Mapp.
Tomorrow When the War Began is not one of those. And it is benefiting from the
newly introduced Producer Offset scheme. The books are written for teenagers,
“but I wanted to make a film for everybody,” says Beattie.
“I wanted to deliver a big, fun, roller coaster adventure, “says Beattie, “and I
was very lucky to have a skilled and experienced crew to bring it off.” The
relatively big budget movie is made along the lines of a Hollywood action
adventure, “but at a fraction of the cost and in less time,” he quips. He did
have some luck, too, both with the weather and with the stunts; “we used the
first take on all the major explosions,” he says beaming.
With over 400 special effects shots, major stunts and big explosions, Tomorrow
When The War Began relies on its scale and its strong story to appeal to
audiences, and a cast that works as an ensemble, but without a major name to put
up on the marquee.
The central role of Ellie is played by Caitlin Stasey, with Lincoln Lewis, Deniz
Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin, Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings, Andy Ryan, and
Rachel Hurd-Wood, who does have some profile in the US, completing the eight
teenage heroes from the coastal town of Wirrawee setting off on a camping
weekend. Their lives are suddenly and violently upended by a war that no one saw
coming, as a foreign army invades Australia.
"Stars are born through performance"
“Stars are born through performance,” says Mapp (in an adjoining hotel room).
“George Miller loves finding and nurturing fresh new talent in that way and so
do we,” he adds. Mapp and Beattie had been friends since their school days, but
it wasn’t just a matter of ‘who you know’; Beattie has adapted popular source
material including Pirates of the Caribbean and G.I. Joe.
In a third room on the 23rd floor is the film’s producer, Andrew Mason, whose
job was to manage the complex process to the end. “I’m embarrassed to say this
was a ridiculously smooth production. Stuart Beattie came into it knowing
exactly what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it.”
In fact Mason had more trouble trying to save data on his crashed laptop in the
hotel room than with the massive effects in the film. But the scale of the
project required a producer who could hold all the strings without having to
execute every specialist task – which is what smaller budget films require of a
producer. Mason says this film could not have been made that way and his
experience with large scale projects are valuable.
"he careful preparation really paid off"
He also praises Beattie. “The careful preparation really paid off.” Beattie
had written detailed notes on everything and he “didn’t change things – that was
my promise to the crew.”
Beattie wasn’t making a political film, hence the unnamed invading force (Asian
as inferred in the book, but too vague to identify) and their “gobbledegook
language, made up various languages and played backwards.” But what he did want
to explore is how Australians might respond when their safe and comfortable life
is suddenly smashed and they are faced with war.
“The story is from their point of view, especially Ellie’s and it’s about them,
not the invaders,” he says. “It’s about how these teenagers react when faced
with the deadly danger of war right on their doorsteps – literally.”
Published September 2, 2010
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