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FAMILY CRACKERS: HOW CRACKERS IS YOUR FAMILY CHRISTMAS?

The 71 year old Warren Mitchell and the 13 year old Daniel Kellie co-star in Family Crackers, the new grown up comedy shooting in Melbourne, where Andrew L. Urban attends a chaotic dinner on set.

Cremated chops and sausages are served, giving off a stench of charred meat as the family gathers round for a pre-Christmas barbie at grandpa Jackís. One of the crew holds his nose between his fingers as he finishes setting up, and the cast crowd round the table in position for a take. Young Joey is feeding the dog under the table, his grandpa is emptying a can of flyspray over everything to everyoneís disgust and all hell breaks loose when the dog goes for a piece of meat that Joey has tossed into Brunoís lap. Itís going to be that kind of family Christmas: but Family Crackers, shooting in Melbourne until July 1997, is not a family film.

With its drug references, strong language and mild sex scenes, itís likely to be an M. Besides, the film deals with serious issues, albeit in the comic mayhem style of writer/comedian David Swann. "Still, kids will probably go just because it is an M," comments producer Chris Warner.

GO FOR BREVITY
Daniel Kellie plays Joey, a bright young actor - who is not sickeningly cute. Bruno (Peter Rowsthorn) is Joeyís mumís boyfriend, and they want to get married, but Joey hates both Bruno and his bullyboy son Angus (Chris Chapman) so he is intent on sabotaging their relationship. Joey was witness to his dadís death in a plane crash, and is not about to accept this nerd as a step father. But his friendship with his great grandfather, teaches him to come to terms with things a lot better.

Swann had worked on the script for some time and had completed eight drafts before he got Warner to join up as producer. "The essence of good film writing," he says, "is brevity; condensing things to the essence. Whereas theatre is 90 per cent dialogue, cinema is more visual. So I redrafted a lot to write out the cliches, searching for how I could find the freshness in the cliches, the uniqueness of the characters, especially in the dialogue."

LAUGHING, CRYING
The word on set is that 13 year old Daniel Kellie is a star in the making, with the cast and crew equally impressed by the newcomer who has more on-screen time than his co-star, veteran actor Warren Mitchell, who plays Albert, the great grandpa.

Susan Lyons plays Hilary, his mum, and Terry Gill and Maggie King play Jack and Vi, his grandparents.

Warner had worked with Swannís wife Deb on a mini-series in the 80s, and one day she rang him looking for a producer for David Swannís script. "Three pages in and I loved the characters and I was laughing out loud and by the end I had a lump in my throat," he recalls. "How often do you read a script like that? So I said Iíd be interested and itís turned out to be one of the most enjoyable projects."

Indeed, there was a great deal of goodwill towards the script and financing came through from Film Victoria and the Film Finance Corporation, with Beyond Films enthusiastically taking it on for international sales, and The Movie Network buying the Australian pay TV rights.

"The hardest thing was finding an Australian distributor," says Warner, but Natalie Miller of Sharmill films, despite being a small operation, took the plunge "because I have faith in Davidís talents," says the companyís principal, Natalie Miller, who also operates several cinemas.

"Iím an exhibitor," she explains, "and I have a feel for my audience. I talk to people in the foyer and have a good feeling on this. The story touches our psyche - a family Christmas dinner that goes horribly wrong. We can all relate to that," she says with a big laugh.

Family Crackers will be released in Australia in early 1998.

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