TEPLITZKY, JONATHAN – GETTIN' SQUARE
GETTIN’ IT MADE
Once director Jonathan Tepletzky read the script of Gettin’ Square, he was on a mission to gettin’ it made, and had the chance to cast a favourite English actor among the Aussies, for a crime caper genre film he never thought he’d be makin’, he tells Andrew L. Urban.
So how did you end up directing this film – did you find it, or did the project find you?
Well, we all found each other in a way. I’d heard from [Chopper director] Andrew Dominik actually, who said he’d read this really funny script and I should check it out. He didn’t think he was going to do it, so I went to Beyond Films, who had a loose production deal with [writer] Chris Nyst and his agent, under which if they found the money in that calendar year, they [Beyond] could make it. When I read it I thought it was sensational material, and not because of the crime genre, which isn’t something that particularly interests me. It had huge potential for a film and so I just pushed and pushed, and the year ran out. Chris wanted a production deal, a home for it. At the same time, I met with Tim White [head of Working Title Australia] and he had liked Better Than Sex and wondered if I was doing anything. I was having real trouble getting a commitment from Beyond, so I said I’d read this great script, maybe we could work together. He read it and then Chris came down for a meeting at Working Title. The important thing about that was that I hit it off with Chris. But Working Title weren’t quite ready to commit without further movement… and Chris had been talking to Mushroom Pictures, who were keen on it, so it became a Mushroom Pictures project. Then Chris and I worked for six months on it, and Macquarie Films got interested and then Working Title came back and wanted in.
You say the crime genre doesn’t interest you; do you think Australian filmmakers should be making more genre films, other than the comedies and romantic comedies they make?
Look, it’s not that genre film doesn’t interest me, it’s just not the first thing I think of. There was that spate of English crime genre films made, most of which weren’t that interesting … In this case, the quality of the writing superseded the question of genre. But in terms of the genre, I’ve always felt it’s the hardest thing for us to do here in Australia, to make genre films. The Americans do it with stars and with more money. And Australian audiences need only one little reason NOT to go and see an Australian film, and if it doesn’t have huge stars in it… Stars are money in the audience’s bank; they love seeing Julia Roberts so that’s money in the bank and if the film’s good, that’s a bonus. In my view, probably the most successful Australian genre film has been The Bank. But it’s a really hard ask to make a classic genre film. With Gettin’ Square I wasn’t aiming for a classic genre piece, but I was interested in using the crime caper genre as a narrative tool. First and foremost I thought it was a character piece, and a slightly stylised one.
Now let’s talk about casting English actor Timothy Spall, among all these Aussies. How and why…?
There are always a number of elements involved…the first one is, as a director you just want to work with good actors, and I’ve been a fan of his for a long, long time. To me he’s the archetypal actor; you see him in Secrets and Lies and what he does is exceptional. Emotionally so strong. I felt that with Gettin’ Square it would have been so easy to turn all those characters into caricatures. And I really wanted actors who were going to come at it from a strong character point of view. I felt the quality of the writing was such that they didn’t have to play it for laughs. The humour would come naturally from playing it seriously. And the character of Barrington always sounded English to me… there’s a boisterous bluster that Barrington has. And it was a simple process; within a week of him reading the script, he said yes.
And what was it like, the reality of working with him? Did it match your expectations?
It was really fantastic. What I like about Tim is that apart from the fact he’s a great actor, he’s a fantastic human being, very compassionate, which shows in his work. There’s a depth to him and he shares himself with you; he’s quite a sociable man. We had dinners together, I went to New Zealand to do some ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) with him while he was there shooting The Last Samurai … we developed a good friendship. Look at the film now and although the plot and the script don’t tell you much about him, somehow with the work that he does, he builds and empathy with the audience and a warmth … with lots of nuances. He builds a multilayered character, and for someone like me – I’ve made just two films – it’s an education for me. I’m very keen to learn from someone so talented.
The soundtrack plays an important part in Getting Square; how, and how early, did you get into the music for the film?
Well, after Better Than Sex, where I had an incredibly good experience with [composer] David Hirschfelder, but it was right at the very end of the process, I was determined to get someone involved early. Best laid plans… So again it happened right at the tail end. Anyway, I was very aware of the film being a kind of shaggy dog story. Instead of telling the story through a cut, scenes roll on through each other, in that shaggy dog-yarn feeling to it. I wanted music to help that. The second part of the brief was – because I thought it was first and foremost a character piece – to have the music fit the personality of the film and the characters. We’d made up a guide track with Into My Arms (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds), and the two Groove Armada tracks (Madder, Easy)…so I needed someone to score some bits and pieces. We found an instrumental from Machine Gun Fellatio that went so brilliantly over David Wenham [as Spiteri] being chased by the Criminal Investigation Commission. So we invited them in to have a look at the film. They were saying they really didn’t have time, being in the middle of another album, but they may be able to knock up another ‘Spiteri cue’ we could use. Well, they loved the film so much they came back a week later with nine cues, and two days later with four more. So they ended up doing the score! [At this point, Teplitzky’s mobile goes off, with the ring tone of Happy Birthday….]
Well, finally then, what is filmmaking and directing to you and what does it mean to you?
Oh, I think you have to have a passion for it, a belief that it’s a tool with which you’re expressing your point of view of the world. The work is 90% people management and relationships you build. And the better the relationships with the talent, the co-workers etc, is often rewarded with a better film. Part of it is to be incredibly self critical and to maintain that passion – from that sense of anything is possible, on paper, to when you’ve got two and a half minutes to film it, and you still have that passion. I love that stage. I love it from the moment the camera rolls and I’m disappointed the moment it stops.
The story of Gettin’ Square:
Barry Wirth (Sam Worthington) has done eight years inside for a murder he claims he didn’t commit during a robbery in which his major accomplice was the Aussie Gold Coast gangster Chicka Martin (Gary Sweet). He reckons it was crooked cop Arnie DeViers (David Field) who verballed him. Now he’s out on parole and wanting to ‘get square’ and look after his younger brother. His best friend Johnny ‘Spit’ Spitieri (David Wenham) is still hooked on drugs but also trying to ‘get square’ and is a go between for Darren ‘Dabba’ Barrington (Timothy Spall) who offers Barry a job in his so far empty Gold Coast restaurant. The tough new Criminal Investigation Commission is after all of them, and Barry has to stay out of trouble – but still ‘get square’.
Published October 16, 2003
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