ELLIOTT, STEPH – A FEW BEST MEN
People the world over need a laugh, and Steph Elliott is giving them several with A Few Best Men, a farce that does for weddings what The Hangover does for bucks’ nights. Elliott stole Andrew L. Urban’s chips while they discussed the making of the film.
After a few glasses of wine, Olivia Newton John has “the dirtiest laugh” says director Steph Elliott by way of leading into explaining why he cast her as the bride’s mum Barbara in A Few Best Men. “Behind that carefully managed image of the sweet girl next door,” he adds over a butter chicken curry at the rooftop bar of the Intercontinental Hotel, “she’s a naughty schoolgirl.”
One of the little ‘director’s tricks’ Elliott used to shoot the scenes of Newton John a little worse for drink was to shoot them at the end of the day, “when she was a bit tired, her guard was down and she’d let go more easily. We just went for it.” The result is delicious. “It was a real hoot!” says Elliott, brazenly stealing some of my crunchy chips (which were better than the accompanying club sandwich).
Elliott had been working with Newton John developing a screenplay based on a true story about two English con artists (who have just been released from prison, incidentally) but the project faltered at finance. “But the timing for Olivia was just perfect… she had just changed everything about her life. I told her this [new image of her] would fit right in as part of those changes.”
The film, a farce about an Australian boy marrying an English girl and all that goes wrong with the hapless best men, the accident prone friends of the groom. It’s written by Dean Craig, creator of the comedy feature, Death at a Funeral, but it came to Elliott via film sales agent Gary Hamilton.
“He rang me up wanting me to read this script. I told him I don’t read other people’s scripts … I do my own. Gary said, look, I’ve just paid 96 pounds to see Priscilla on stage in London, so you read this script!”
To Elliott’s pleasant surprise, he laughed out loud on page 3, and then again “about eight or nine times … someone once said if you laugh out loud three times reading a comedy script, you might have something.”
"Elliott was hooked"
Elliott was hooked – especially as the project was camera ready. He was keen, but only if it could be done relatively quickly. “I didn’t want to spend years fussing about while it was put together. My experience has been about eight years per film from start to finish.”
But then disaster struck: the bank with the money pulled out just before shooting began. The producing team went into emergency mode, “and Screen Australia was amazing, leading the charge; they didn’t want to lose the project.”
It took three months “to re-finance and restructure and recast; we had a very different cast, and while they were great, I think the cast we ended up with is just perfect.”
It signalled the start of good fortune for the production. Heading to the Blue Mountains for two weeks of filming, Elliott was nervous. “Everyone was worried because it rains a lot in the Blue Mountains. Look at Baz Luhrmann’s poor crew – they went up there for The Great Gatsby shoot and waited in the rain for two weeks. We were there for 14 days and never a drop. The day we left it started to rain.”
"We even had good luck with Ramsy, the sheep,"
With everything coming together, Elliott feels positive. “We even had good luck with Ramsy, the sheep,” he adds, still incredulous. The lovely big Merino sheep plays an important role during the preparations in ways no sheep should have to … “We started working and he came on set and the camera rolled… he mewed, just the once, on cue and on camera. He mewed just once more in the entire shoot – and again it was on cue, and on the first take!”
With all my chips now gone, I ask Elliott if he had been specifically looking to do a comedy again. “I was, yes. England is going down the drain. The fitrst thing the new Prime Minister David Campbell did was abolish the UK Film Council. It’s really the end of the Empire. The only thing that keeps them going is the upcoming Olympics. America is dead, nothing works, everything is broken. Europe is a basket case…. People need a laugh!”
And a laugh they get, watching A Few Best Men. “It’s a farce, so the audience is ahead of the film. They sit there thinking ‘oh no, don’t open the door!’ and we make them squirm, and we open the door at the worst possible moment. At first I kept saying to Dean, you’re signalling the audience, and he said, yeah, that’s the point. This is a farce.”
Published January 26, 2012
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A FEW BEST MEN