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 What was nearly a $60,000 mistake turned into a feature film co-starring Kylie Minogue and a group of great actors, directed by newcomer Clinton Smith, who tells ANDREW L. URBAN how it came about.

Clinton Smith is making his feature film debut with Sample People - and an ensemble cast that includes superstar Kylie Minogue. "She's so professional and really lovely," says Smith, "and normal and just nice. You hear how big stars are often consummate professionals, and she's like that. Not at all demanding and ready to take direction."

"Minogue... signed up because of the script"

Minogue - who was a trifle more nervous in front of a movie camera than on a concert stage or in a video clip - signed up because of the script, "and because we had the money in place." But it was nearly very different. Clinton had written a complex story involving 26 characters, full of kung fu and knife fights, and Minogue's character was more of a hooker than she finally turns out to be. They had $60,000 and the crew, and the film was ready to go. One day before the shoot began, Clinton's partners, producers Emile Sherman and Barton Smith, said Hold it!

"They felt the film may well get an R rating or not get a release at all. It was not quite commercial enough. So they went off to raise more money and we used the crew we had hired to shoot a promo for the revised version - which was very helpful in getting Kylie," explains Smith.

Smith calls his film 'anti-soap': "It's Short Cuts on speed, because it's a reaction to tv soapies with its anti-hero who's both good and bad. In fact all the characters are good and bad." A dozen young (and some not so young) characters cross paths one weekend in Sydney, seeking escape, love, drugs, a good time or just somewhere to hide a briefcase full of cash. Among them are tough guy crim, TT (David Field), his girl, Jess (Kylie Minogue), DJ Lush Puppy (Nathalie Roy), the eccentric John (Ben Mendelsohn), Andy (Simon Lyndon), and the troubled lovers Sem (Joel Edgerton) and Cleo (Paula Rundell).

"It's a sample of people sampling their reality"

"It's a sample of people sampling their reality. . . " he says. Originally, Sherman wanted Mendelsohn to play Andy, the maco guy at the centre of the maze. "But he always gets blokey roles," says Smith, "so I wanted to cast him against type and he just fell in love with this camp goth, glam punk character." Mendelsohn indeed steals the show with his showy, dissolute and fay creation, a dazzling tour de force of anti-type characterisation.

Smith workshopped the script over a year while Sherman was going round with cap in hand for finance. "We'd break into groups and workshop with the actors and change the sdript to suit. Then we'd do physical things - almost chronologically, and we did final blocking almost like theatre."

This preparation enabled Smith to focus on the crew once the shoot started, "getting as many as 30 set ups in a day. Gave the editor and continuity a nightmare, though," he admits.

Clinton Smith pays tribute to Peter Buckmaster, with whom he wrote the script. "Peter made his first film at 18 . . .and we made a film together, a serious film about an old man who is dying and he goes to heaven. People liked it but it also depressed them. We wanted to reach a lot of people so we began working on a structure of a multilayered story with cliffhangers through it.

"There are four key stories and each story has three colours in it. I was very clear about that in production design. In each trio of colours, one links to another character's story. It's all hyper-real and a bit Manga-esque."

Smith was just 5 when he started his showbiz career, doing some song and dance routines. Sometime later, after high school, he completed an arts degree -but knew than that he wanted to get into film. "Not video."

"often they'd prove me wrong…"

He is pleased he could do what he wanted with his first film, although he also admits that during the shoot there were changes made. "We'd do a scene my way first - then we'd do it another way. And often they'd prove me wrong…."

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Clinton Smith



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