… in which the green shoots of David’s early screenwriting career take root and begin to blossom…
* This metaphor has been brought to you by ‘Gardening Australia’, returning soon to Fridays on ABC TV.
DP: So, leading up to that first question (and this is why we might take more than an hour!)…
Sweet and Sour was a further development; that was early 80s. By that stage, Paul and I had written a short film that got made that was quite successful; it actually made money. We made money from a short film!
SH: That’s fantastic.
DP: And after that, I can’t think who the connection was, but we were called in to work on this new ABC rock-and-roll soapie. It started off a lot more adventurous and radical than what it became. It got so watered down because of concerns about drugs and language and the type of music… It worked and the audience loved it, so they did the right thing. But for those of us who were in the mix, it all seemed to be getting diluted.
SH: My memory of it is that it was on at six o’clock at night. So, no one on it did drugs or smoked or drank… Rock-and-roll, dude! Shortly after that, in 1985, you and Paul wrote a movie! And it got made! And then it got released! That’s a very rare and impressive thing. How did that come about?
DP: In ‘81 or ‘82 and the New South Wales Film Corporation announced a screenwriting competition for budding screenwriters. But one of the conditions was that you had to have the signature of a credited feature producer on your entry form. As it happened, an Australian film that we really admired at that point was Newsfront, so we sought out its producer, David Elfick. Do you know of him?
SH: I know that name.
DP: He was a guy who grew up in the 60s – he was a keen surfer, he’d started a couple of surf magazines. I think he’d made Morning of the Earth which was a very successful feature-length surf documentary. So, Newsfront was his first fiction feature, and we thought it was a terrific film. So David read our screenplay and said, “Look it’s obviously written by neophytes”, (actually, that word’s too big for him). “Newcomers; it’s written by first-timers, but you got potential so I’ll look at anything else you write. You can bring it to me. I’ll be happy to read it.” We then wrote this screenplay a few years later called Emoh Ruo, which is “Our Home” spelled backwards. I think it’s always a terrible thing when you tell someone the title of your film and you explain that it’s a couple of words backwards.
SH: I noticed that the tagline for the movie is “Try saying it backwards”. The poster tells you what it means.
DP: Yeah. I’m looking at the poster here and it also says, “The funniest Aussie movie ever.”
SH: Wow, that’s pretty good! That’s high praise (according to the movie’s own poster). That doesn’t come along every day.
DP: I know! And posters are pretty discerning…
SH: They really are. The poster advertising the product always is very discerning. Whose idea was the title?
DP: I can’t remember. I went off it – I was concerned it sounded vaguely Polynesian. I didn’t think it conveyed anything to a potential moviegoer. But it came from the idea that in the 1940s and 50s it was an Aussie custom for a lot of homes to have plaques by the front door with a fancy name, as an ironic comment on the fact that this was just a suburban home. Like “Dunroamin’” or “Gloria Soames”… and “Emoh Ruo” was a popular one. Often, they were printed on glass in nice frames; essentially they meant “Proud homeowner”. I actually wanted to call the movie Homesick, because it was about a couple who were desperate to be homeowners. But the decision from the producer was that you couldn’t have a movie title with the word “sick” in it.
SH: I noticed it was re-titled for some foreign markets as House Broken.
DP: I don’t know if it worked in those small African countries.
SH: Their posters were great, though!
DP: Certainly… but ultimately the movie was a very big flop. It may well have been “the funniest Aussie movie ever” but no one cared. I believe the poster went along and enjoyed it immensely.
SH: Yes, the poster must have booked out a whole cinema! Was it fun to make? Was the production of its happy memories for you or was it too stressful?
DP: No, it was a completely depressing experience.
SH: Oh really? How so?
DP: Well, earlier, the short film I told you about (Making Weekend of Summer Last) was picked up by (Australian cinema chain) Greater Union and they ran it before a couple of very successful features. And we got regular cheques from Greater Union, because we were on a cut of the box office!
DP: Yeah, it wasn’t much, but it was like “who makes money from a short film?” So, that was terrific. And when Emoh Ruo came around, the idea was that Paul and I would not only write the film, but we’d also direct it, because we’d had experience directing a successful short film. There was a bit of nervousness from all concerned about that. So there was a board meeting in the Greater Union head office, where Paul and I had to sell ourselves as directors. And it’s one of those kinds of cliched horrible scenes where you’re sitting at a very long table with serious-looking men in dark suits who aren’t going to put up with any bullshit. At the end of the meeting they just said, “Look you’ve convinced us. We’re going to put money in the picture and we’re happy for you to direct.” And we just thought “This is terrific!”
Things are on the up-and-up! David’s kicking goals left, right and centre! Everything’s coming up roses! Nothing can possibly go wrong!
Or can it?
To find out, tune in next Tuesday afternoon, right here at HowToWinGameShows.com…