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Two Hands got the nod from the pro crims in the audience, which augurs well for its success; but Gregor Jordan learnt more than how to write well in his debut feature, and is set to make three films with Miramax as a result. ANDREW L. URBAN spoke to him on the eve of the film’s commercial release.

As the applause died down and the Sydney Film Festival crowd was emptying out of the glorious State Theatre at the end of the closing night screening of Gregor Jordan’s Two Hands, one young chap came up to Jordan and shook his hand with a grin: "I actually grew up in Kings Cross and my dad’s a crook . . . I think you’ve just nailed it." Jordan asked if the guy’s old man was there at the screening. "Oh yeah, he was here and he was pissing himself all through the film…he loved it. But he couldn’t hang around cause he’s recovering from a knife wound."

"We’ve become very good friends now" on Heath Ledger

That little incident is revealing – first, about the patronage of the Sydney Film Festival (!) and secondly about the veracity that Jordan has been able to achieve with the setting and dialogue of his crime drama, set in Sydney’s wicked Kings Cross.

He feels "lucky to have found Heath ledger at a time when he was available and I could still afford him. He was just on the verge of taking off. And we just hit it off – we’ve become very good friends now."

Jordan had heard of Ledger through the grapevine. "People were coming back from the shoot of this US series, Roar, being shot in Queensland, and saying, wow, take a look at this Heath Ledger." Jordan obtained a copy of a tape (even before it had hit the US tv screens) to look at this Heath Ledger, "and within ten seconds I knew he was right for Jimmy."

"The film I set out to make is pretty much what’s on the screen"

Jordan had been worried about casting the role: "I needed a 19 year old with enough charisma to carry the film and also with enough technical skills so it wouldn’t be a nightmare to shoot with."

Rose Byrne, who plays Jimmy’s girfriend, Alex, "also blew us away," Jordan recalls. "There are more young women for leading roles than young men – perhaps it’s something to do with young men’s interests at that age. Anyway, we saw a lot of girls but we got so excited with Rose the casting agent kicked me in the leg under the table when she was reading."

As for Bryan Brown, Jordan couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Pando. "I always had Bryan in mind for the role. It really needed a strong actor because amongst other things, Pando isn’t seen on screen that often. But he’s talked about constantly so it feels like he’s there all of the time. That puts a lot of pressure on the actor to be this larger than life person who doesn’t disappoint when he does appear. And of course, Bryan never disappoints."

Then came the shooting: "The film I set out to make is pretty much what’s on the screen," he says, although he admits that in the transition from the written script on the page to the audio visual medium of cinema, "some things change…and some things you thought were clear on the page, are suddenly obscure. That was a surprise. I tried to get objectivity and look at it afresh – which I did, some months after I finished it."

"This was a great opportunity"

Indeed, Jordan had had the opportunity to attend the film’s real premiere at Sundance in January 1999, and a month alter at the American Film Market in Los Angeles, "and a few screenings elsewhere. I had had a bit of time away from it and saw it with a fresh eye. I also asked people questions – I was very aware, for example, that it was very Australian. It was a dilemma, actually, when I was writing it, whether to tone down the slang, but I felt that the context was strong enough to carry it.

"But I kept asking lots of specific questions; in Australia we don’t do test screenings, and this was a great opportunity. I think a lot of Australian film could have been helped with test screenings and the resultant feedback…"

After some head scratching, Jordan went to the investors and said he wanted to cut the film. "This was music to their ears," he says. "A shorter film means cheaper prints…"

In the end, after considering all his feedback, Jordan cut over eight minutes from Two Hands. "I tightened several scenes – just a line here and there, it’s amazing how much you can trim when you’re not so close to it anymore.

And in any future film he makes, Jordan will now insist on test screenings. "In many parts of the world that is a normal part of filmmaking. I don’t know why it isn’t done here. It was a real lesson for me – I used to be quite naïve about it."

"Miramax likes the fact I can combine drama and comedy."

Jordan, in his mid 20s, is still unsure of his next film: there is a script of his own, but that’s not near ready, and a few scripts he has been sent. But he has a "three picture deal" with the mighty Miramax, giving him a nice feeling. "It’s a pretty good deal, actually; they give you money and help look for the right project but if you get offered something else, you’re free to go and do it."

The deal was a direct result of Two Hands: "they saw it and approached me – but I didn’t rush into it. I said I didn’t want to make Two Hands again, but I want to do something I’m good at."

And what’s that?

"I’m not sure actually," he laughs. "I guess one of my strengths is comedy – humour that seems to come through my ‘voice’, I’m told. Miramax likes the fact I can combine drama and comedy."

Jordan comes to this position after a fast trajectory in short film making: Swinger, which won the Tropicana Short Film Festival prize and the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1995, and has screened at half a dozen other festivals. His second short, Stitched, was nominated for a Best Screenplay AFI award. He also directed The Confident Man in the Twisted Tales series for the Seven Network, produced by Bryan Brown.

"it’s a positive message."

"The title itself," says Jordan of Two Hands, "is quite thematic – a metaphor for the theme that is the main character’s journey, but it’s actually used in dialogue; as in ‘getting something done with your own two hands’. Or getting off your arse and doing something with your life. It also refers to the idea of being good with your hands and fixing things. So it’s a positive message."

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