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Debuting filmmaker Shane Abbess was determined to make an Australian gothic action movie, and the lack of money didn’t deter him. Now the film has been picked up for worldwide distribution by Sony – a deal he could have only dreamt of when his own movie ‘angel’ first came to rescue. Andrew L. Urban visited the set during production of Gabriel and talked to Abbess.

The outwardly conservative Vaucluse House in Sydney’s elegant harbourside suburb is seething with sin inside, as the crew turn it into Funhouse, a brothel run by the character in the film who represents Lust. Arcs (angels) and the Fallen, battle for souls in purgatory … not a place with which Vaucluse House is generally associated. Writer/director Shane Abbess sits on a wobbly chair next to my wobbly chair in the gravel outside to talk about his debut feature, Gabriel. “It’s a gothic action drama,” says Abbess, a young man with a long face and an intensity – or perhaps determination – about him.

"an impossible film that Abbess was determined to make"

Gabriel is an impossible film that Abbess was determined to make; it’s a genre film with an unknown cast, made for ridiculously small amounts of money (and lots of deferred payments to cast and crew). That strategy seems to have paid off, because on the eve of the film’s Australian release, Sony – which had acquired the Australian & New Zealand rights - also bought world rights. It was James M. Vernon’s Screen Corporation that picked up Gabriel at its inception and guided Abbess through production, helping with finance and experience. Vernon was the ‘angel’ that saved Gabriel, as it were.

“We very pleased with the outcome of the arrangements with Sony” says Vernon. “Sony was extremely responsive to the movie and we believe that they are the right company to do the best job marketing the movie world-wide. Screen Corporation is not a traditional sales agent. We act more like an asset manager, positioning a movie to get a better distribution and financial outcome” says Vernon, who gathered a small group of private investors to support the production.
Abbess has a very definite view of what it is he is trying to do. “I want to make a film in Australia that’s entertaining and fun. People go to see Spider Man for fun … I think there’s a place for all types of cinema. And I’m not going to be held back by a lack of budget.”

In a film that deals with angels and fallen angels, souls and sin, set in purgatory, you’d think CGI would be a must, but Abbess is adamant that he wants to “go back before CGI” and use reality as far as possible. The neutral setting – purgatory – also allows him latitude with accents, and for the sake of popular culture, the prevailing accent in the world is not Australian, but American. “We accept that these sorts of characters sound American, not Australian. As a film fan I accept certain accents as they have been implanted in my head. Popular culture is the issue.”

Of course the Australian film industry has argued long and hard that it’s precisely because of this cultural implantation of American accents that we need a vibrant film industry of our own – with our own accents – to ultimate provide an alternative voice in popular culture.

“We’re making a very commercial film,” says Abbess confidently. His confidence seems to have been well founded, in view of the Sony deal. But it was bravado at the time.

The film is shot on a new JVC HDV camera. “It has areal look to it,” says Abbess. “It’s set in an oppressive world, so there’s a lot style .. but it’s not over stylised. And there’s no tongue in cheek stuff … it has more a comic book feel. It’s intended to be closer to Bladerunner than Batman.”

"the clash between good and evil"

The story of Gabriel, says Abbess, “is basically the clash between good and evil. Story is imperative, and I want to do something that’s also interesting on an audio visual level. It has to be cinematic.”

Published November 15, 2007

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Shane Abbess

Shane Abbess (center) on set

Directed by Shane Abbess
Australian release: November 15, 2007
Arc Angel Gabriel (Andy Whitfield) is the last of the seven Arcs to step into the ancient war between the Light and the Dark, whose warriors, seven each side, have warred over the souls in purgatory for centuries. As Gabriel takes human form – as do all the Arcs and the Fallen – he faces an all-powerful enemy in the ruler of purgatory, Sammael (Dwaine Stevenson) who now holds the balance of power. But he revels in the redemptive power of love when he rescues Jade (Samantha Noble) and resolves to end the savage war.

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