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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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