Out on a ruggedly beautiful point on the west coast of
Rottnest Island, surrounded by what seems imported Aegean Sea
water in hues of aquamarine, cobalt and teale, production
designer Laurence Eastwood has built a weekender fit for ...well,
"But of course, I designed it as if for myself...or
anyone's romantic vision of a beach house," says Eastwood,
whose work includes films like Country Life and Crocodile Dundee
II, mini series like The Rainbow Warrior and A Town Like Alice,
as well as dozens of stage plays.
And now this, "an uplifting romantic comedy"
according to the producers, called Under the Lighthouse Dancing,
starring Jack Thompson and Jacqueline Mackenzie as the couple
mis-matched in age but perfectly matched in love - except she is
really ill and maybe dying, oh, sob ... but they are getting
married anyway, isn't it beautiful, sob.
Aden Gillett, Naomi Watts, Phillip Holder and Zoe Bertram play
the four support roles of David, Louise, Garth and Juliet.
"It could have been
set on a Greek island." Production Designer, Laurence Eastwood
"When I read the script," says Eastwood, "I had
the view that it should be something more upmarket than some
grotty house with a single fluro as lighting. It read to me as if
it could have been set on a Greek island."
They are rehearsing a scene in the house, while we are
whispering in one of the bedrooms; I ask about the atrium in the
middle of the building.
"It's to let in lots of light so they can film the
interiors and also get some of the views, which are worth
seeing." There is no glass in the windows (to keep costs
down), and the brusque wind off the ocean buffets the props.
Surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Indian Ocean,
the house is where much of the action takes place over one
magical weekend, when Harry (Thompson) realises he and Emma
(Mackenzie) are the perfect soul mates, and despite being short
of a priest and some paperwork, is anxious to marry her.
"They both allow
themselves to love for the first time in an adult way." Jack Thompson
"Harry has finally met the right woman," Thompson
explains. "She has a career of her own, she is a solicitor
and she's not been particularly looking for a man. I mean she's
had boyfriends. Then she meets Harry. And the two of them go
'Wait a minute, there isn't any nonsense here', and they both
allow themselves to love for the first time in an adult way. It's
a wonderful relationship between the two of them and it's
inherent in the script."
Pressed for time - with Emma rather ill - they are keen to get
married but they haven't complied with the red tape and the
regulations, and the local priest buzzes off to a golfing
Not accepting defeat, Jack claims it an emergency and so
enlists his friend David (Aden Gillett) as captain of the yacht
they came on, to perform the ceremony.
Then comes the wedding, arranged by their weekending friends,
but the less details audiences know about that the better the
uplift it will give them when they get to see it, sometime in the
middle of 1996, after the film's debut at the Cannes film
Inevitably, after the wedding, Emma dies, but that is when
some more uplift comes in, as she makes her presence known to her
friends - except for Harry. He has to wait...
"Well, the world is no
more or less stuffed that it has ever been" actor Jack Thompson
It is a indeed a splendidly romantic story; Thompson muses
about the film sitting in the wardrobe van. "Perhaps there
is a common theme beginning to appear [in films] that really has
to do with optimism, romantic optimism ... surely an inevitable
backlash and perhaps the only way out of the pragmatic cynicism
of the 80s. You know, 'the world's fucked and there's nothing we
can do about it. What we're more inclined to say now, I think, is
'well, the world is no more or less stuffed that it has ever been
and there is something we can do about it and whatever that is it
can only be done strongly and straight if it is informed by the
good grace of love and affection."
"We got stuck for
ideas one afternoon and went for a walk." scriptwriter, David Giles
Perhaps he has a point; producer David Giles and director
Graeme Rattigan do both seem to be "informed by the good
grace of love and affection" - at least outwardly. Novice
film makers, both talk about the spiritual and emotional aspects
of the film with great enthusiasm. They wrote it, too, on the
spur of the moment during a visit to Rottnest Island, ostensibly
to write an adventure script together.
"We got stuck for ideas one afternoon," Giles
recalls, "and went for a walk. Graeme told me about this
couple whose friends once arranged a wedding on the island for
them, and suddenly we had abandoned the adventure script and were
Within a year, they were back on Rottnest Island, shooting it;
in between, they had been advised by both the the Film Finance
Corporation and the Australian Film Commission that if they had
any sense they would replace themselves as producer and director
- preferably with people who have had more experience.
Of course, these were the two most non-negotiable aspects of
their project. If they couldn't raise the finance as
writer/producer/directors in Australia, they would go and talk to
their business contacts in Malaysia - contacts they had been
warming up and nurturing over the previous three years.
"They raised the
entire budget (claimed to be between $4-$8 million), from
private offshore sources,"
By the middle of 1995, Giles and Rattigan had done just that;
on the basis of the script and their relationship, they raised
the entire budget - which they claim to be "between $4 and
$8 million, but it's not $6" - from private offshore
sources, without giving away a single creative decision, or
writing in a spurious foreign element.
The industry is watching in some admiration; "It's a
great story but even so, they've done something remarkable to
raise that sort of money with no strings - from foreign
sources," says one film industry executive.
What's more, they are already talking about the next feature
(a historical drama), financed the same way, by the same people,
who wish to remain anonymous.
This is not how you make films in Australia, laddie, their
bank manager told them, even though Giles had reduced him to
tears with his pitch of the film. This pitch, essentially an
acting job says Giles, so impressed one executive at Columbia
TriStar in Hollywood, claims Giles, he branded it the best pitch
he had ever seen.
The pitch is one thing, of course, the film is another. But
Giles and Rattigan have hired the experience they themselves
lack, in a crew starting with the well respected line producer
Jane Scott, who did the same job on Strictly Ballroom and
Crocodile Dundee among others.
turtles never go backwards." Director/co-scriptwriter, Graeme
They also have the luxury of not needing to find a distributor
for the film until it is is completed, and they are thoroughly
confident. "We know this is a highly commercial picture, an
ensemble piece about human beings behaving extremely well...and
it's so visually beautiful," says Giles, 35, the only one
with film school training of the two. Rattigan, 48 in 1997, has
been a successful Perth lawyer, but now that they have formed
Silver Turtle Films, they are determined film makers:
"Turtle because turtles never go backwards."
And they have a clearly defined vision of the sorts of films
they want to make: uplifting ones.
"This script is loosely based on an event, but more on
the emotional journey," says Rattigan, balancing a lunch
plate on his knees on the back seat of a 4WD parked by the
"The real incident was the seed, and we've fabricated a
modern middle class myth. But unless it touches everybody there's
no point to it. I do want to show that there is another way of
looking at the world...that we're not merely material beings, but
spiritual beings who are living a human existence. That is to say
not humans with some spiritual expressions."
With his ruddy good looks and spiky white hair, Rattigan would
look at home on a yacht, tall and authoritative. Yet he works
quietly on the set, "bringing nothing to the actors: I'm
asking for their gifts of creativity, just choosing from the
options they give me."
Thompson, for one, is revelling in it. To him, it is the
middle class version of Sunday Too far Away, in which he played a
"If we're caught
acting for one millisecond we're in trouble." Jack Thompson
"What I mean by that is that when I first read the script
of Sunday Too Far Away, it was like a diary, cause I was working
in the bush in 1956 when it was set. The dialogue that appears on
the screen is not one moment of improvised dialogue. And it all
sounds like it's come straight from the mouths of people who've
come out of shearing sheds in the 50s.
"And I said in rehearsal to all of us, to remind all of
us is that this is so documentarily accurate about life and the
life that I've known and people that I've known that if we're
caught acting for one millisecond we're in trouble.
"And I mean that about this as well. If you attempt to
play these people as examples of something it will fall down.
Because it is a really accurate portrayal of the lives and
manners of the Australian middle class."