When is a vacuum cleaner not a vacuum cleaner? When it's Ernie Dingo's didgeridoo.
Ernie's cameo appearance as a vacuum cleaner playing stand-up comic in Australia's latest
comedy film, Cappuccino, is sure to get a laugh - even though it's clean.
But Cappuccino's overall humour is much more sophisticated than stand-up stuff, and
while it's a small budget film, it is not a small minded film. (Nor is it that clean
Made for a miniscule budget in just four weeks, it's a contemporary urban comedy - a
desirable film species - written, directed and nursed by Antony Bowman.
"I thought I knew everything, but of course I knew
Who, you say, is Antony Bowman? Bowman is a writer/director with a bit of a penchant
for off beat, contemporary comedies. His first full length film was the telemovie
Relatives, a comedy about those dear, blood-linked people we can't sand but have to love.
It showed his natural, cinematic flair, and a deft hand at dialogue.
Before that, Bowman had studied for two years at the London Film School, and returned
in the mid 70s, to work on two tv series: Cash and Co, and Tandarra. "After film
school, I thought I knew everything, but of course I knew nothing. Those two series were
great experience," he says.
From the art department, he quickly moved up to assistant director, then to first
Outside television, Bowman has made several short films and drama documentaries, the
last of which, A Desperate Fortune, has won him an award at the New York Film Festival.
"I'm not much keen on straight documentaries," he explains, "but love
His telefeature, Relatives, so impressed Hoyts they wanted to release it in cinemas.
The film starred an impressive cast: Bill Kerr, Carol Raye, Rowena Wallace, Jeanie Drynen
and Norman Kaye, "but I had them all under tv contracts and couldn't afford to up the
money for a theatrical release," says Bowman, far from disappointed.
"No, I think it's just as well; it wasn't the right time."
"I've always been fascinated by actors,"
Shortly after making Relatives, Bowman began working on a script specially written for
actors he knew and admired, including his wife of nine years, Jeanie Drynan, "I've
always been fascinated by actors," he admits, and laughs at his eight year old
daughter, Elle, who DOESN’T want to be an actress, thank you daddy.
"I think the public is also fascinated by actors, by what they do, how they
live....I wanted to exploit this, without being too 'in', but enough to feed that
Besides Jeanie Drynan, Bowman had in mind Rowena Wallace, Barry Quin and John Clayton
for the lead roles.
"I approached the actors, outlined the idea and told them I wanted to write it for
them. They loved it. That was the good news. But I had no money: that was the bad news. So
I suggested we form a sort of mini United Artists, and let's do it for an equal share of
profits. We even included Danny Batterham, the cameraman, and production designer Darrell
Lass - we are all associate producers."
Producer Sue Wild shares Producer credit with Bowman, but everyone else got paid some
money. "These guys all gave me a month of their life," says Bowman with
He's proud of the end result: "It's a commercial film, with a bold structure and
some broken rules..."
And perhaps most rewarding of all, he has seen preview audiences react
enthusiastically. At last week's Sydney preview for media and other guests, the Academy
Twin's 300 seater was packed out; people were sitting on the steps, and laughing at all
the right places - of which there are ample.
The device is cleverly used, and holds the film together.
Bowman's script begins with Max (John Taylor) starting to tell a story about his actor
friends. We return to Max several times to pick up his narrative, cutting back to the
action. The device is cleverly used, and holds the film together.
Max, it seems, is one of a group of typical actors whose lives revolve around getting
stage or screen work - and driving cabs when they can't. Each of them reacts differently
to their changing fortunes, and much of the comedy comes naturally from the characters and
their reactions to life's fickle ways.
But interwoven with their stories is another, a sort of sub-plot. A passenger in Max's
cab is knocked unconscious in a prang, and leaves behind a briefcase containing
incriminating videos featuring the illicit frolicking of the Police Commissioner. (Not the
The passenger wants the tapes back: and he's very a determined type of guy.
There are a couple of surprises, notably the ending, which should not be given away,
and the ensemble acting is one of Bowman’s joys.
"I was lowered into a sort of security, I suppose, because I had written to each
actor's own specific style and strength," he says. "But then they added to it
"I'm very determined to get what I want."
He also believes in his own ability as a director: "I think I have a good way with
actors: I'm very patient."
Perhaps more than anything, though, Bowman succeeds because of what he calls "real
direction to what I want. A lot of people think I'm pretty soft, but I'm very determined
to get what I want. It's not through the fear of hell and damnation, though, I don't like
confrontational directing. I'm just very passionate and very confident about it."
Earlier this year, the film was all but finished, when Bowman ran out of money. He went
to America and showed some distributors what he had. "They liked it, and they offered
me the money, but they wanted the film with all rights. That would have meant I had to
just hand it over."
He decided to hang on, and on his return to Sydney, screened the unfinished film for
local distributor Andrew Pike, who runs Ronin Films.
It was a Friday, and Bowman also invited along Sue Murray and Hilary Furlong of the
Australian Film Commission. At the end of the film, Pike stood up, declared, "I want
this film. I'll call you Monday," and left.
The AFC representatives turned to Bowman and asked how much he needed to finish the
film. It was about $300,000 including marketing costs: not only did he get it, but the AFC
made it an investment, not a loan.
"I did that only because no-one else would."
Bowman is buoyed by continuing interest in him from America: following his US trip, he
has been approached with offers through the William Morris agency. "Nothing's final,
but it's very exciting. I would like to move into bigger films, and I don't want to
produce. I did that only because no-one else would."
He is concerned that Australia's supply of film entrepreneurs seems to have dried up a
bit. "We need more people who will go and passionately raise money for films they
believe in," he says.
As for his own future, Bowman is already working on his next script, a departure from
comedy. As yet untitled, it is a taut thriller: "I need to be more prolific. Look at
Peter Weir, I admire what he's done. He's laying down a path for people like me."
If this Cappuccino stays hot enough, long enough, Bowman will be moving along that path
somewhat more rapidly.