Mullet - Ben Mendelsohn, Susie Porter, Andrew S Gilbert, David Caesar
Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities
Family are like mullet. You just can't throw them back.
Life in the small NSW coastal fishing town of Coollawarra is disrupted when former football hero and local larrikin Eddie "Mullet" Maloney (Ben Mendelsohn) returns to face everything that he walked out on three years ago.
At first, things seem to be just as Mullet left them. His dad Col (Tony Barry) is still coaching the local footy team and "happily" not speaking to his mum, Gwen (Kris McQuade), who is just as "happy". His older brother Pete (Andrew S Gilbert) is still the incorruptible local cop, still the all-round nice guy who Mullet thought was bound to finish last. Kay (Belinda McClory) still serves beers down the pub, and still looks for love in all the wrong places, trying to extinguish that torch she still carries for Mullet. And the old row boat is just where Mullet left it, by the river near the old caravan.
However, Mullet quickly discovers that all is not the same and people have moved on. Especially his old flame, Tully (Susie Porter), the feisty young woman he walked out on three years ago and who is now married. Slowly trouble starts to mount. Mullet turns on his mates, estranges his parents and takes the daring step of calling on Tully, placing doubt in her mind about her marriage.
A good old Aussie BBQ - beers and burnt meat. If everyone can all act "nice and normal" everything will be fine...
Persons of interest
- Ben Mendelsohn .... Eddie "Mullet" Maloney
- Susie Porter .... Tully
- Andrew S Gilbert .... Peter Maloney
- Belinda McClory .... Kay
- Tony Barry .... Col
- Kris McQuade .... Gwen
- Peta Brady .... Robbie
- Wayne Blair .... James
- Paul Kelman .... Gary
- Steve Le Marquand .... Jones
- Aaron Blabey .... Terry
- David Caesar .... Screenwriter
- David Caesar .... Director
Cinematic intelligence sources
- Awards and film festivals:
- Awgie Awards 2001: Script award
- Cinematic Intelligence Agency Trenchcoat Awards 2002
- Film Critics Circle of Australia 2002: Best original screenplay, Best supporting actor (Andrew S Gilbert)
- Montréal Film Festival 2001: Screening: Cinema of today: reflections of our time
- Mullet production notes
- Studios and distributors:
Special Agent Matti
Mullet takes you out of the comfort zone (ie the city) and out into the danger zone (ie the country). People out there have been inbreeding since the first fleet blundered its way into Botany Bay.
As a result, there are stories within stories to be told about the yokels. Their lives may seem shallow and crass to a high falutin' city slicker but underneath they are seething pools of anger and resentment to rival any Amanda Woodward or Alexis Colby-Carrington. They just don't have the same costume budget.
Mullet is like a slow Saturday afternoon on a busy weekend: there's a lot going on but there's plenty of time to sit back and soak up a few d-rays. Ben is dazed and confused like he should be. He never tips his hand - none of the actors do, in fact - so you get the opportunity to try and figure out just what he's up to. Just like in real life where you never know the full story: you work from guesses, hunches, rumours, conclusions and misunderstandings. It makes for a much meatier film than your average piece of pre-processed Hollywood pap. For future reference, Ben does a nice line in bedraggled rat.
The other cast members bring a lot of background to their characters. There are things going on in their heads that you will never find out but the initiated can see those thoughts and wishes driving them in all different directions. They are all living, breathing, three-dimensional people living deeply complex lives and, even better, they are all damaged goods. Stark, bleak unhappiness is part of the Australian way of life and Mullet captures this very well.
There are some serious problems with the continuity when it comes to lighting. In long shot a couple are having a conversation in bright sunlight beneath a clear blue sky. In close up one of them is in shadow and the other is about to get rained on, the sky is so grey. Sure, there isn't much time or money to wait for the appropriate weather, but time and money should be "made available" for the sake of artistic (and technical) integrity. I'm giving David the benefit of the doubt here because it could just be that no-one noticed. They could be a bunch of amateurs; they could be a bunch of cowboys. I decide not. All budgets and schedules should allow for several days' shooting above and beyond what the script calls for so as to prevent such problems occurring. If nothing else, the "creative" people should demand it of the "organisational" people who should acquiesce because it provides a superior product.
Or is everyone's eye glued to the short term?
Family: can't live with them, can't kill them for the insurance.
Media intelligence (DVD)
- Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
- Disc: Single side, single layer
- Commentary: David Caesar and producer Vincent Sheehan
- Deleted scenes: 10 with commentary by David Caesar and editor Mark Perry
- Documentaries: location, production design, cinematography
- Living room: rarely seen David Caesar short film
- Music clip: Shane Nicholson
- Trailers: Unused trailers, promotional spots
- Languages: English
- Picture: Widescreen
- Subtitles: English
Security censorship classification
M (Medium level coarse language)
90 minutes (1:30 hours)
Not for public release in Australia before date
DVD rental: Undated December 2001
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"It can take a long time to get a movie up in Australia."
A conversation with writer/director David Caesar and producer Vincent Sheehan.
"I first wrote it as a two-page short story," says David Caesar, director of Porchlight Films first feature, Mullet. "Its genesis comes from a pretty bleak period when I'd not long been out of a seven-year relationship. We'd broken up the year before and suddenly she was getting married. I found that very confronting. I was doubting whether my career would set the world on fire at that stage and I seemed unable to keep a relationship going, and I began to think what would happen if I decided to go back home..."
At this early stage, Ben Mendelsohn wasn't in Caesar's mind for the lead role. "It's about a thirty-something and when I wrote it in 1991-92 Ben was too young for it. So the character came first."
Caesar says that even though the script sprung from a challenging time for him personally, Mullet is only auto-biographical "in an abstract way in that, like Mullet, I came from a coastal New South Wales town and found I had to move to the city for life to really begin. But unlike Mullet I didn't just up and leave - it took about three or four years. Where I grew up it was a four-hour drive to Sydney and I went from driving back to see family and friends every weekend, to every fortnight, to every month till it was just maybe twice a year."
The script had been kicking around for a couple of years when producer Vincent Sheehan took an interest in it. "That would have been 1995," Caesar remembers, "so we started talking about it."
Caesar then secured backing and the green light to begin production on Idiot box, and "that consumed everything for more than a year... it can take a long time to get a movie up in Australia."
Like Caesar, Sheehan also grew up in a coastal community and was attracted by the script's central themes of love, relationships, alienation and belonging. "These are universal themes. Young people the world over who grow up in small towns inevitably leave them for the promise of big cities. But that promise isn't always fulfilled and everyone at some point makes that journey back to their roots - whether to settle for good or to just to remember why they left in the first place."
"So before we began to consider the film itself we commenced a dialogue around the main themes that are found in the film - like the idea of leaving, or who leaves and why they leave, and who stays and why they stay."
"The script attracted me because I want to make distinctively Australian stories and tell them to the rest of the world - fiction films that have a core of truth and reality about them. I'm excited by and interested in working with people who share that vision. But as an independent producer in Australia making my first feature - it's been very hard to get this film made! It's a character piece, not a genre film and getting finance to make films like this is often harder, regardless of budget, even with a relatively marketable cast and an experienced director like David. But we agreed from the outset we wanted to make a quality film, and we both believe that there is an audience for films about real Australians, real people - that was the vision."
The dilemmas facing the modern Australian male is a terrain Caesar has explored before in almost all of his previous work, especially in his two features, Greenkeeping and Idiot box. "If there's one thing I know about, it's the dilemmas of being male in post-industrial society," says Caesar. "One of the things about the way men have been portrayed in Australian films since, say, Romper stomper, is there's a proud hopelessness about their characters. You see films which very stylishly say that 'everything's fucked for men' and I think that's a hollow thing to say.
"Hopelessness is a smirking adolescent response to the world and when it's combined with intellect I think some people mistake it as art. By the time I finally made this film, I'd been through - and way beyond - what Mullet is going through that I could bring clarity to the character. I felt that level of distance from the character really satisfying. It allowed me to be able to take the story and create a new world. It's a very confusing time to be male. All my films are trying to understand what it means to be a bloke in today's society."
Mullet was made for just over $1 million but up on the screen it looks like a film with five times the budget. "We developed a shooting philosophy that accounted for compromise on budget but not style or flair," says Sheehan. "This approach to production allowed us to pay homage to the classic traditions of Widescreen cinema, rather then the expectations of low budget production. I feel proud that what we've made here is a film that qualifies as cinema - Widescreen 35 mm with six-track Dolby sound."
Sheehan believes Mullet's low budget philosophy has contributed to realising a stronger final product. "You have to be very clear about what you want and how you're going to get it. From the outset we knew we wanted a small, tight, highly-skilled, movable crew. And there is incredible freedom and flexibility in making a low budget film - on more then one occasion the crew were able to go back to a location and re-shoot scenes. One crew member said she'd worked on films ten times our budget where that would have been out of the question. We shot the film in a relatively short four week period."
"A big part of why this film works," says Caesar, "is that I'd never worked before with three of our principal crew - Robert Humphreys, the DoP, Elizabeth Moore, the production designer, and Paul Healy, the composer." There's a freshness to this film, a lightness of touch which, thanks to these three, lends the film a stylistic unity. For instance, the music underscores the drama but also comments on it. Robert Humphreys and production designer Elizabeth Moore enabled Caesar to realise a rich and diverse visual style, capturing the breezy atmosphere of an Australian seaside town. Production designer Elizabeth Moore said Sheehan and Caesar's "very cohesive philosophy and vision meant their preparation paid off for everyone."
On working with Caesar, Moore says, "We achieved a unity to the world we were portraying, via a less-is-more philosophy. Less dressing, less colours - which can sometimes mean a richer film."
For DoP Robert Humphreys the clarity of purpose allowed the rest of the crew to concentrate totally on doing the best possible job. "David was pretty much the ideal director under which to make my feature film début. He was clear about what he required from his crew and confident he got what he wanted."
After more than eight years in the making, Mullet arrives in the cinema as an honest and grounded film that, despite the long road to the screen, both director and producer feel has been well worth it. "I think there's a broad audience for this film," Caesar enthuses. "I think there are guys like Mullet in New Jersey, New Zealand and New Delhi. People were expecting it to be darker but they come out and they feel positive."
On location in Coollawarra
By producer Vincent Sheehan
Mullet was shot on location in Kiama and the Illawarra district of the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia over 4 weeks in June 2000.
We had a film that was essentially a character piece set in a small coastal fishing town, where the character of the town - the world of the story - needed to be of equal weight as any of the human characters. The South Coast of NSW is a beautiful part of the world. For a long time during the development of Mullet we always thought we could not afford the costs of shooting the entire film on location. Ironically, in the end we couldn't afford not to.
Like most productions, the original shooting schedule combined some location shooting on the South Coast with all the interiors (and some exteriors) cheated in Sydney to save costs - this is a standard approach. However, once the film was financed, it became increasingly clear to the filmmakers that post-M:I 2 and The Matrix, Sydney was an expensive city to shoot in.
The fresh air, stunning coastal and rural locations and enthusiastic people of the Illawarra beckoned us like sirens. Almost overnight, the cost of relocating the entire crew to Kiama (and reducing the shoot to four six-day weeks) became a necessity rather then an option. David Caesar found the inherent level of production value enormous. As he would say, "You could shoot in any direction!"
With the assistance of Film Illawarra (an organisation formed to encourage film production in the region), we were able to secure considerable support from the local councils as well as the chamber of commerce. But it was really the warm welcome and enthusiasm shown by the locals that sealed the deal. The people of Kiama and the Illawarra region gave us open access and offered new insights into the real world - the real people of the South Coast - and you can feel it on the screen. The variety in locations was quite extraordinary.
The locals got involved at every level. The Kiama Knights rugby league football team (lead by Coach Richo) brought an authenticity to our team, the Coollawarra Crows. And who better to show Belinda McClory the technique for pouring a beer with a good head than Parramatta football legend and local publican, Mick Cronin. Robbo, larrikin Australian jockey and infamous roving reporter for The footy show played the ref in the scene where the Knights play the Crows.
Then there is Val Blunker, a netball legend in these parts. She started the Kiama Netball Incorporation in 1986. Within a year she had 10 teams and now she has over 70. And Val was on hand with players, uniforms and tips about technique for Susie Porter and Peta Brady. Steve Starling, respected fishing journalist, presenter from Rex Hunt's fishing world and resident of Gerringong joined the cast as the local trawler fisherman. He also came to the rescue with a few mullet on the last day of the shoot - you can see them in the dream sequence. Punters will be pleased to know that the hero mullet which features flapping in the red bucket was saved after the shot and returned to the estuary to suck mud for another day.
Tiny Murphy, long time local since the 1940s was glad to help out with her back yard for the barbecue scene. David Caesar describes Tiny's yard as "an iconic, big, broad, mowed rectangle, a boat with a VB sticker on the side and a shed with baby mullet in a tank. I'm not sure if it's uniquely Australian but it's certainly unique."
During the entire production locals were able to follow the production by my diary entries posted daily on the web site http://www.mullet.net.au/. Fans were encourage to log-on and email us, with many opting to visit the set. The site gave many of the locals an insight into what happens on a film shoot and then they could walk down the road and have a look and a chat. It was an invitation to the people to feel that they were a part of the production.
The Illawarra people should feel as though they own it as much as the filmmakers do.