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What makes a man a man, asks Brendan Fletcher’s debut feature, Mad Bastards. Fletcher and the Mad Bastard playing the lead, Dean Daley-Jones explain it to Andrew L. Urban.

It was on the set of Mad Bastards that director Brendan Fletcher got really angry – and showed it for the first time in his life. Even before the film was finished, it was encouraging a man to express his emotions. Anger is one such emotion that lurks throughout the film. “Mad Bastards,” says Fletcher, “is a tag for that masculine force” which has to be controlled and channelled. In this case, it’s ‘mad’ as in angry – as well as out of control.

“I often wanted to express anger,” he says, “and I wanted to explain that from the point of view of men.” He sees anger as a sort of explosion, “but the film helped me explore it from another side…” 

The trigger for his outburst was nothing major, “but it could have derailed the shooting schedule and prevented me from delivering what I wanted”.

"I only learnt to cry four years ago"

Sitting beside Fletcher in a Sydney harbourside café is Dean Daley-Jones, who stars as the angry TJ, his journey the one we will remember. “I used to drink, smoke and fight,” he says. “Now if someone is being racist, I’d rather talk than hit them. I only learnt to cry four years ago. I’m teaching my teenage son he should cry whenever he feels like it.”

Mad Bastards is about TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) and his estranged 13-year-old son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda), who lives in the Kimberley with his mother (Ngaire Pigram), on a fast track to becoming another mad bastard. After another drunken brawl and being turned away from his mother’s house in Perth, TJ sets off across the country to the Kimberly to finally meet and make things right with his son – and try to become a real man. Grandpa Tex (Greg Tait) has lived a tough life, and now, as the local cop in the outback town of Five Rivers, he wants to change things for the men in his community.

“We’re all looking for strong male role models – myself included,” says Fletcher. “I projected onto these characters and saw my own life reflected here…”

Fletcher harvested the stories of his cast and his friends. He shared a house with Daley-Jones during filming, and he’d scribble down bits of conversation and anecdotes, later writing them into scenes. “Like that line when TJ says he feels like he has a little man with an axe living inside him… or the scene where he visits his brother in jail, and his brother has carved a wooden toy for his son, the only way he could show love. That, too, came of Dean’s own life.”

The highlight of the entire filmmaking process for Fletcher was the screening of the film to the Wyndham community in The Kimberley where it was shot. “That community gave us everything they have … they trusted us fully. Well, they watched the film and laughed louder than any other audience, they cried …”

"they were out there choking up and trying to hide it"

And some of the big, tough Kimberley fellas snuck out for a smoko, says Daly-Jones, “except they were out there choking up and trying to hide it. The film’s too tough for them,” he adds smiling.

Fletcher’s own story - and how it lead to Mad Bastards - began in 1996 when he found himself talking on the phone for the first time to Stephen Pigram, one of the seven brothers that make up The Pigram Brothers (whose music is generously used in the film).

"I heard they were looking for some music videos," Brendan recalls. "I remember Steve saying 'We can't afford to pay you and I can't even put you up in a hotel because I only live in a tin shed, but we could take you fishing’. Long before I knew anything about anything I loved fishing and camping, so I was in. During the trip we conceived, shot and cut two music videos in two weeks and they are still two of the best things I've ever done."

Fletcher grew up thousands of kilometres away in a white middle-class family in the heart of Sydney, Australia's biggest city. He had no older siblings. "I was two years younger than the youngest Pigram brother and suddenly I had nine older brothers (two are not in the band). Meeting them was when the world changed for me. My relationship with Australia changed: I crossed to the other side and never really came back."

The Kimberley is now Brendan's second home and he has created a range of music orientated productions for and with "the Piggies", including several documentaries.

"incredible toughness and also a compelling presence"

"Again and again I would meet men who had incredible toughness and also a compelling presence," says Brendan about his early years in this frontier of Australia. "Around the campfire they told amazing stories about their lives and later I'd hear just how wild they used to be. But I knew them as men who hadn't had a drink for 20 years.

"I am really proud of this movie most of all because it does justice to the tough men of The Kimberley who have transformed their lives by tempering their wildness and channelling their strength into their kids, their families, their communities. I find that very real and very inspiring." 

Mad Bastards is a harsh tale told in a soft voice, the story of a man who discovers for himself that it is he alone who can calm the angry little man with an axe inside him. 

"It’s about all people"

After its screening at Sundance, Fletcher and Daley-Jones had all manner of people – Asians, white and black Americans, Latinos - come up to them nodding and understanding, seeing themselves portrayed on screen. “It’s not meant to be just Aborigines who connect with the film,” says Daley-Jones. “It’s about all people.”

Published May 5, 2011

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Mad Bastards star Dean Daley-Jones (left) and writer/director Brendan Fletcher (right)


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