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PAPERBACK HERO: ON LOCATION

LOCATION REPORT –
This report is filed LIVE by Andrew L. Urban, from deepest Nindigully, 40 minutes by strong truck out of St George, which is two hours by crop duster West of Brisbane, Queensland. Nindigully is where Antony Bowman is shooting his second feature film, Paperback Hero, starring Claudia Karvan and Hugh Jackman. Cinematographer is David Burr; the producers are Lance Reynolds and John Winter.

Nindigully, Queensland - mid-morning, Tuesday March 10, 1998:
There is a buzz in the air, but I manage to shoo away the pesky flies long enough to take in the amazing view of the oversized Boomerang Café, its peeling blue walls standing firm in the red dust of outback Queensland, its roof proudly holding up three large, decorated wire boomerangs. Fairy lights flicker at night along the wires, I’m told.

The building stands alone in the dirt, opposite the ‘Lucktown Pub’ (actually the Nindigully Pub), a rustic establishment but with a beer garden straight out of suburban Sydney. I’ve come round the corner to catch the Café through the wings of a biplane that is standing in the middle of what must be the high street of Nindigully. It’s just a field of dirt, actually. Behind the bushes to my right, camels laze in the heat. Strange place, Nindigully, and remote. Also damn hot today: around 38 degrees and a trifle humid.

It seems odd that two giant lights blaze towards the windows of the café, made to look puny by the sun, but it is a reminder that the crew fussing around here are making their own reality inside the Boomerang Café: the reality of Paperback Hero.

While admiring the Café for its authenticity – circa 1956 – I am attracted to the bi-plane, which in the film belongs to Ruby, who is by day a crop duster pilot, running her café at night. I am introduced to its real pilot, 70 year old Bruce McGarvie, his leathery face matched by his 16 year old leather hat. He does the flying, except for the really fancy trick stuff at the end (which I am not going to tell you about so you can get the full effect of the surprise). His beloved biplane,a Tiger Moth more than half his age (built 1943), is his job: he flies joy flights on the Gold Coast in it and in several others like it.

From inside the café, I hear the unmistakable sound of snooker balls kissing and ricocheting; I’m going to check this out and then file the second half of this report, by noon today.

Nindigully – Noon:
Somewhat hotter but wiser, I can report that the snooker balls I heard were not my imagination. They are shooting a scene in the Café with Jack and Ruby playing pool. Jack chases Ruby round the table and around the Café, while Suzie (played by Antony’s wife Jeanie Drynan, who you may remember as Muriel’s sad mum in Muriel's Wedding) tries to calm them down.

Bowman, looking tanned, thinner in the face and clearly energised, is relishing the moment. He had time for a quick chat while cinematographer David Burr re-set the lighting for the next take.

"I can’t tell you how good these actors are," he says with a serious grin. "They’ve made the characters their own – all of them. Now I’m just guiding them through."

Claudia and Hugh look terrific together: she’s feisty and independent, an impish grin always at the ready, but her deeper side is also accessible. Hugh, tall and every inch of him leading man material, has an intelligence and warmth that mix with a masculinity that is highlighted in these conditions, his singlet stained with the sweat of his work.

"The best part of it is that Antony wrote this character specially for me," Jeanie Drynan

I ask about casting Jeanie, his wife, and he laughs. "When she first read it, she said ‘I hope you don’t want me to play another defeated housewife…." Thinking of her role in Muriel’s Wedding. "She is a downtrodden housewife - but at least Suzie, her character, does have hope – and besides, Jeanie is fun to have on set."

Jeanie sneaks out for a break and I ask her about it: "The best part of it is that Antony wrote this character specially for me," she says. She is in her pink Café uniform, her hair permed. And she looks as relaxed as everyone else. Bowman is calm, too, except when he gets excited by the scene, like a kid in a toy box, his enthusiasm firing everyone on the set.

Incidentally, it’s a quite a crew: David Burr’s camera operator is Richard Merryman, who does all of Kevin Costner’s camera work. Burr, often likened to John Seale for both the quality of his work and his can-do attitude, has already done quite a bit in Hollywood. (He came over to me with a grin and said he was missing having access to Urban Cinefile; the satellite dish on the roof of the Café is fake.)

Costume designer is Louise Wakefield, who designed the costumes on Shine, Doing Time for Patsy Cline, and assisted on Babe.

Production Designer is Jon Dowding, who has worked on many good looking films, from Mad Max to Diana & Me.

"It’s a very Aussie thing and that’s what I connected with." Hugh Jackman on his character

It’s a late start today, as the shoot will go into the night, planned to wrap around 11.30pm. So now it’s almost noon and breakfast is served – not in the Café but a barn beside the pub. Bacon and eggs roll, or roast chicken diced up in a roll, with salad. Before they start up again, I take Hugh Jackman and Claudia Karvan aside:

For Hugh, this is a big leap from the theatre, but he is relishing it. "Jack is coming to terms with who he really is, his feelings and emotions. It’s a very Aussie thing and that’s what I connected with. He’s very comfortable with who he is at the start, but unbenkown to him, his life has to change. It’s not like some burning ambition of his. And he has a great sense of humour."

"...his enthusiasm feeds us all." Claudia Karvan on Antony Bowman

As soon as Hugh finsihes this shoot, he is going straight back to theatre, playing Curly in Oklahoma at London’s National Theatre with director Trevor Nunn. It’s the biggest gig of his stage career to date, back to back with this starring role. Hugh is doing OK.

Claudia describes Ruby as "a fiery country chick" who is independent and strong. She is enjoying working with Antony, "because he is so open and so encouraging. He lets us make suggestions, which is rare for a writer/director. And his enthusiasm feeds us all."

"It’s like Australians used to be before they were urbanised." Tony Bowman

Also on set are producers Lance Reynolds and John Winter, co-producer Dani Rogers, and some of the support cast: Angie Milliken, who plays Ziggy, the publisher’s publicist, who comes to Lucktown to convince Ruby to come to Sydney; Andrew Gilbert, who plays Hamish, the likeable vet hoping to marry Ruby; and I caught sight of a wild version of Barry Rugles, and was told he was in make up: he plays Mad Pete.

Paperback Hero, says Antony, is a romantic comedy but one which he wants to be "truthful" and real. "I was born in Sydney but I lived in the country until I was 13 and I am very aware of the truth you find in country people. It’s like Australians used to be before they were urbanised. I like the idea of a truck driver - which may sound like a cliché, unless he’s writing a romance novel. And I like the idea of a strong young woman. So it’s a story set in an old fashioned romantic comedy structure but with modern people. And it has some serious twists."

Now I have to go and file this report: the film will be ready later this year, and will be distributed in Australia through PolyGram sometime in 1999. International sales are through Beyond Films, who will launch it to the world in early 1999.



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REVIEWS

PAPERBACK HERO
Written and directed by Antony Bowman


Antony Bowman
Producer, Lance Reynolds

"It’s like Australians used to be before they were urbanised." Antony Bowman

"I can’t tell you how good these actors are," Antony Bowman

Country truck driver Jack Willis (Hugh Jackman) has written a romance novel. Fearing ridicule from his mates, Jack uses a pen-name, that of his long-time friend Ruby Vale (Claudia Karvan), a local crop-dusting pilot. Trouble brews for Jack when he lands a book deal with a publisher who sends out a vivacious publicist to convince their new novelist to come to Sydney for the promotion of 'her' new book. Jack asks Ruby to do it in his place, as a favour. The publisher’s offer to pay for Ruby's wedding soon convinces her that the favour is worthwhile. Jack realises that he can't permit the high-spirited Ruby to run-a-muck in Sydney in her new role as romance writer, so he decides to escort her as her manager. Their relationship begins to take unexpected turns.


Claudia Karvan

on set


Photos and story by
Andrew L. Urban

UPCOMING EVENT
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, Sydney.

Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.







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