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PRAISE

A love story between a guy with no sex drive and a girl who can’t get enough… Praise be! ANDREW L. URBAN reports.

Praise was the first word that came into Andrew McGahan’s head when, desperately at the last minute, he was to submit his manuscript as an entrant in the Vogel Young Writer’s Awards. He slapped it on the cover sheet – and went on to win the Award. Notoriety followed acclaim, for the book’s frankly explicit details of sex between the hapless Gordon, whose libido has been in a terminal coma, and Cynthia, a girl with an insatiable appetite for sex.

"They are real, warts and all people"

"I read the book and felt I’d just seen the film," says producer Martha Coleman. "I felt an empathy for the characters. They are real, warts and all people and it was great not to be patronised. The book was told from Gordon’s point of view and is not at all judgmental. That was a relief."

Coleman immediately rang the publisher, who was about to sign a deal with another producer. "So I got on to Andrew and had a talk; I think he felt confident in me and how I wanted to make it, although at the time he was not going to write the adaptation himself."

Three years later, however, McGahan changed his mind and wrote the script.

For first time director John Curran, Praise had a character he understood in Gordon, and a challenge in having the audience stepping into Gordon’s skin, to see Cynthia as he does, without judgement, with all her imperfections dimisnished. "We need to ignore her faults and blemishes …" of which there are a few. Like eczema.

"That approach is to define Gordon’s humour, which is very dry and understated. What’s accessible is a guy inept sexually, but we aren’t playing off easy laughs. He’s very open and honest about it and I wanted the film to be the same. People smile because they relate."

"the sex is not be avoided in the film"

The book’s more explicit details are omitted, but the sex is not be avoided in the film, says Coleman: "There is full frontal nudity and frank, but not glamourised or eroticised sex," she says. Cinematographer Dion Beebe explains how in one key scene, "Gordon’s testament to sex, we experimented with strobe lighting which looks like a photo flash – very hard front light, and we’re using those as freeze frame stills." Above all, say the filmmakers, the sex scenes contain an element of humour.

It took Coleman three years to get the creative team "right". She says it was "never a grunge look sort of film – more a great love story. We had to battle preconceptions that it could be shot on Super 16 and grungy. We never felt that. We want a wider audience, like the book, which had five re-prints."

Coleman and Curran approached casting "with no preconceptions. We’d look at anyone. If you got Cynthia wrong she’d be unsympathetic and if you got Gordon wrong he’d be boring. You have to show why he wants to be with her – we wanted actors with humour." In the end, neither of the leads, Sacha Horler nor Peter Fenton, had any feature film experience, though Horler is a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and Fenton is lead singer with Sydney band, Crow. (Coincidentally, one of the supporting roles went to Tex Perkins, lead singer of another band, The Cruel Sea.)

It was not until Coleman felt the script was really ready that she began to put the package together. "It was at Sundance in 1997, when I was there with a short I had made with John Curran, Down Rusty Down." Coleman showed the script to Southern Star Sales chief executive, Robyn Watts, who had been tracking the project with interest.

"They’ve shown great respect for the book," Producer Martha Coleman

"They’ve shown great respect for the book," says Coleman, "and accepted the project as is – without even asking for any compromises for the sake of television." Coleman adds that of course, the film will attract an R rating (over 18). A few months after Southern Star was signed, The Globe Film Company in Sydney acquired Australian rights.

The six week shoot on Sydney locations and three weeks in a studio, began on January 16, 1998; Coleman delivered the finished film in August 1998.

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