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Five years after the film’s theatrical release, one of the most powerful of Australian films, The Boys is out on DVD, with a central documentary about it directed by the film’s director himself, Rowan Woods. He wasn’t going to put any old dreary crap on this disc, reports Andrew L. Urban. He wanted something with substance.

Rowan Woods approached the making of the DVD extras for his debut feature, The Boys (1998) with two objectives: one to satisfy the cinephiles who are most likely to buy the DVD, and two to make the extras more meaningful than most of the mediocre material he sees on DVD releases. With a couple of exceptions from the recent past: Magnolia and Chopper.

“I didn’t like much of the extra stuff out there, but these two were hot concepts. The Magnolia doco was an uncompromising mini diary about making the movie. A bit shallow but pretty cool and interesting and it had some insights, some genuine stuff from the filmmakers. And with Chopper, Andrew Dominik went down to Tasmania with Eric Bana to interview the real Chopper Mark Reid. Still a bit shallow but scintillating viewing.” 


Considering Woods being something of a cinephile himself (“I buy a lot of DVDs”) he wasn’t going to put any old dreary crap on his DVD. He started looked at some of the older DVDs on his shelf, which had old fashioned documentaries on them. “One of them was the Taxi Driver doco, made about 1999. It was an old fashioned textbook documentary which got all the old guys together from the film; half an hour or so, but well put together. This is what I like, rather than the high concept little extras, this actually has substance.”

He got together with The Boys producer Robert Connolly for a couple of weeks of discussions about the DVD extras. What came out of those discussions was a decision to talk about not just the making of the film: “We decided we should begin by talking about the idea in the playwright’s head, way back, 15 years ago and follow that idea travelling and transmogrifying into a stage play and everything involved in that play, the people behind it…and how that led to film school student Rob Connolly holding the rights, and joining with a whole lot of other people, including me and David Wenham, and everyone else who ended up working on the film, as it evolved into a screenplay. And we wanted to cover every aspect of its development…the vision, the sound, the music…and how all that melded together into the philosophy we had – pretty intense young filmmaker philosophy.”

That was all very well, but there wasn’t much of a budget for a project like that. “Thankfully, today’s zero budget technology,” says Woods, “meant we could shoot it ourselves.”

As the production of the DVD doco progressed, they discovered all the coincidences that tied the people together: “Namely Tran The Man, the short I made at film school, with David Wenham, which is how we met. I also met [The Boys cinematographer] Tristan Milani who was camera operator on that short film . . .that was cute, so we decided to put Tran The Man on the DVD because there were several style reference points that were picked up on and we analysed in relation to the feature that was to be made by that group of people.”

"I can go back and analyse what we did"

It took the summer 2002 to put together the Filmakers Talking doco for the DVD, modest as it is, “but it was sweet for us because it was about appeasing the cinephile in us and hopefully the cinephile out there.” Woods admits, too, that there was a selfish element: “I can go back and analyse what we did, how we did it and hopefully will satisfy my grandchildren when I’m an old man.”

As for the commentary track, that’s something quite separate. Woods has done a lot of DVD commentaries for the series Farscape, “a cult DVD label for the nerds of the Universe,” he says not unkindly. “With The Boys I decided I’d do a ‘method’ emotional commentary . . . rather than talking over the top, I found myself getting into the drama… it ended up like a whisper track!”

The story of The Boys begins as Brett Sprague (David Wenham), returns home after a year in jail. He is one of three brothers, and he discovers things have changed and his insecurities build. Brett’s girlfriend, Michelle (Toni Collette) resents the way Brett has changed. His brothers, Glenn (John Polson) and Stevie (Anthony Hayes) are restless and boozing; Stevie’s pregnant girlfriend (Anna Lise) is a nusiance, hanging around. Chaos reigns in the Sprague home as their mother, Sandra (Lynette Curran), makes a stand against her sons' behaviour. George (Pete Smith), Sandra’s current lover, steps between Sandra and Brett at the height of a drunken rage and is flattened by Brett. Sandra orders her sons out of the house. Rejected by their respective girlfriends and their mother, the Sprague boys are united in a futile rage against the lot of them. Brett leads his brothers off into the night. Wound through the story is the aftermath of that night in the form of flash-forwards.

"joyful … in an analytical sense"

Woods found returning to The Boys with such a detailed covering of the subject matter and the filmmaking process, “joyful … in an analytical sense. It’s so removed in time. The film is so special to me partly because it turned out as I wanted it to. So the experience of making the doco for the DVD has been tinged with melancholy – and I didn’t want anyone else to do it. It’s been therapy in a way,” he says. 

And there was something else: The Boys had been made with a set of specific rules, not like DOGME, but rules all the same. Woods wanted to “touch that place again, to remind myself of all that stuff, because you learn a lot of bad things after your first film. You go and do tv and mini series and you do telemovies. You learn a lot of good craft, but you also learn a lot of bad things which you almost don’t realise.”

Since 1998, the notion of a DVD release is much more immediate and present in a filmmaker’s mind. Woods, whose next feature is Little Fish, starring Cate Blanchett in her ‘return home’ role, is already thinking of and even shooting footage for the DVD, and the film doesn’t go into production for a year.

Published November 6, 2003

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