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Lawyer, writer, director Chris Nyst takes us into the Surfers Paradise underworld for some Crooked Business; it’s full of colourful, honestly dishonest characters he rather likes, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

After seeing Crooked Business, you get the distinct impression that the film’s writer/director Chris Nyst – a long time criminal lawyer – actually likes these people. Well, some of them. “I suppose I do have an affection for the milieu,” he admits with a wry smile. “There’s a certain honesty about their dishonesty [laughs]. Over the years I’ve had a lot to do with this milieu and met a lot of warm, colourful characters.”

Characters like the cheeky rat Elmo, played by Teo Gebert; “as soon as Teo read a few lines, I saw he was the right cheeky rat for this character,” says Nyst, who ended up directing from his own screenplay more or less accidentally.

"the underworld of crims and spivs and conmen"

“When I was first shopping my screenplay there was a Brisbane production company which was interested and they asked me to direct it. But then that deal fell apart and we picked it up.” ‘We’ being his own business enterprise, Nyst Entertainment – which has also spawned Picture Show Distribution to release the film around Australia. Nyst is acutely aware of the pitfalls of distribution, following the underwhelming box office results for his debut feature, Gettin’ Square (released exactly 5 years before this one). Gettin’ Square was acclaimed by critics – and ignored by the public. Nyst, and the film’s director, Jonathan Teplitzky, had expressed concerns over the marketing of that film and vowed to have a bigger say in the future. Here’s Nyst’s chance. “Fingers crossed,” he says.

Crooked Business is in the same vein as Gettin’ Square, taking audiences into a world they know exists but never get to experience: the underworld of crims and spivs and conmen – and worse. When Surfers Paradise hustler Elmo’s (Teo Gebert) petty crim pal, Stand-Up Stevie (Firass Dirani), gets into hot water for selling a dodgy watch to Russian Tony (Mark Bullus), his way out is to transport stolen jewels in a briefcase from Melbourne to Brisbane for Surfers Paradise hood Bondi Bob McLean (Chris Betts). What Stevie wasn’t told is that the jewels were stolen from Four B Two Lou Wiseman’s (Mark Erickson) pawnshop. Which is why Lou sends two thugs to intercept the briefcase, but the thick mugs get the wrong man and the wrong briefcase – which contains a rare horse-speeder drug that belongs to Peter Cho (Anthony Wong) a Chinatown villain. The simple solution is for Stevie and Elmo to trade the case of jewels for the case of the drug with Cho. Simple in theory ….

His inaugural experience at directing was a lot of stress and effort, “but it was fun and I really enjoyed it. It was really exciting to see all these actors bring to life the characters in the story. With casting,” he says, “there are artistic considerations and commercial considerations … but the first is artistic. Our cast is a delightful surprise.” Indeed, the depth and quality of the casting is partly responsible for the film’s perfect pitch as it takes us into an underworld that is filled with all sorts of shonky operators from the naïve to the nasty, each with their individuality outlined.

"It’s not meant to be more than just a fable … and entertainment"

Nyst is quick to play down the film’s stature: “It’s not meant to be more than just a fable … and entertainment.” But for an Australian film to find an audience, entertainment value is crucial.

One of the stylistic elements that make the film work well in that regard is Teo Gebert’s Elmo and his ‘over the shoulder’ comments directly to the audience. His larrikin nature and cheeky spirit give the film much of its tone.

On his first feature film (he has made several shorts in between running his law practice, which continues), he learnt an important lesson – from the mouth of his experienced cinematographer, Mark Wareham. “Mark said to me, all you need to be a good director is to know what you want. And that’s true: if you have the right crew around you, they’ll figure out how to get that.”

Published October 16, 2008

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Chris Nyst


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