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Turning a sunny Australian beach into an eerie and foreboding place is no mean feat, and Martin Murphy had a few challenges to make it happen, but 18 festivals later, Lost Things is released in Australia. Finding visual solutions was the biggest challenge, Marty tells Andrew L. Urban.

The last time I interviewed Marty Murphy was in 1996, when he had just finished Nightride, his graduation film for film school (AFTRS – Australian Film Television and Radio School); it’s a fine short, a well constructed psychological thriller set on a bus, and we were compiling material for the school’s 25th anniversary (a coffee table book and a tv doco for the ABC). I thought (and said) at the time that Marty’d go a long way on that bus, but I didn’t think it’d take him eight years. 

Now he’s attending the premiere of his debut feature, Lost Things, in his home town, Canberra, and talking to ‘people’ at Sony in Hollywood about a US remake. And talking to me in downtown Pyrmont, Sydney, about the making of. We meet in a modern hotel, and Marty could pass for one of the dark suited execs in the lobby – almost. His crisp white shirt, black tie, simple pin stripe suit, his slicked back black hair all qualify. But there’s something about the blue grey eyes and the hint of a smile on his lips that could alert a stranger that this is not your average Joe. For some reason, I think of idiosyncratic filmmaker John Waters … but that’s misleading.

He orders green tea and explains how well he’d spent those eight years in between. “I’ve been doing the best job I could have ever done after film school, working as second unit director. It was like a post-grad course…” His agent got him the first gig on the tv series Water Rats, gaining valuable experience in series drama and aerial shooting. “Great experience on water, on car chases, underwater, the lot.” He followed this with a second unit gig in Queensland, working on Beastmaster with animals (tigers) and on fight sequences. “I learnt a lot about live action, plus visual and special effects.” 

But that’s not the only thing Marty’s been doing; he’s been refining his Bob Hosking comedy character, described as a one man Goon show. Bob Hosking is a B grade movie director who meets a variety of freakish characters – all created and performed by Marty. 

"Where comedy and thriller meet"

Where comedy and thriller meet, he says, is in releasing tension for the audience. “They both cause a physical reaction; to laugh or to scream releases tension. And I find as a storyteller it’s a very clear reading as to how the audience is traveling with the story. It’s not so much that I need reassurance to see people actually laughing, but you can’t argue with a laugh. And when someone screams, you know that you’ve nailed it. That you’ve got them.”

He loves to anticipate the promise of a comedy or a thriller as an audience member himself; and as a filmmaker, he enjoys the challenge of meeting that promise, no matter how risky. 

In Lost Things, Marty tackles the challenge of making a typical Australian beach seem eerie, scary, foreboding. Four teenagers Emily (Lenka Kripac), Gary (Leon Ford), Brad (Charlie Garber) and Tracey (Alex Vaughan) set off for a surfing weekend north of Sydney. The boys are hoping to get lucky with their newish girlfriends, drink some beer and have some fun. But when they arrive at the deserted beach, Emily quickly begins to sense that there’s something strange about the place…and soon they all discover that they are not alone. There’s Zippo (Steve Le Marquand) for a start, and perhaps someone or some thing else. And pretty soon, there is fear and mayhem on the empty beach.

But don’t expect a high body count, don’t expect caricature teenagers, and don’t expect cheap thrills; the budget is low, but the thrills are priceless. 

“I found Stephen Sewell’s script very dense,” he says. “I had to do a lot of work to work out how to tell this story. And I thought maybe for my first film he’d write me a straight three act classical structure, something with a linear journey,” he says with a wry smile. “But he didn’t do that, and I’m glad that he didn’t because it really turned my brain inside out. Finding visual solutions and not relying on the dialogue, and finding cinematic solutions to express the shifting time, the repetition of memory and the recognition that the characters are remembering things … finding a visual way to say that was a real challenge.”

"it changes as you’re shooting"

But after the first rough cut, there was time – plenty of time, in fact – to construct scenes and get Stephen to write them, while waiting for investors to fill up the bank account. A year later, Marty went back to shoot a couple of days of pick ups, “to convey the sense of time and repetition and multiple points of view…” It was through the editing process that Marty realized he needed those scenes; “but I love that about filmmaking, where you shoot the film, and it changes as you’re shooting. You see what’s happening with the characters and the way they’re interacting, and you follow them. I feel I have to be very open to that, and in the edit to be very open to what you’ve got. Not necessarily cutting what you expect.”

Lost Things played at 11 festivals in the 18 months immediately before its Australian premiere season, and has been sold for distribution in 22 countries. But now, Marty is keen to take Bob Hosking on the road, preferably on the US campus circuit. Not that he’s jettisoning his filmmaking career; far from it. “I’m developing a screenplay…Pigeon of Desire, based on a story I wrote. It’s set in Canberra, about a depressed public servant who has a life changing weekend. It’s an ironic drama, and a bit surreal…”

Published November 18, 2004

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Martin Murphy


Lost Things

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