In the Australian film industry, the trend for debut filmmakers is to either make a splash with a low budget genre movie (preferably horror) or to bring on the pretention with a hard hitting drama (complete with social message).
With The Wedding Party director Amanda Jane has refused to conform to such laziness, instead offering Australian audiences an ensemble dramedy that deals with themes of sex, love, family and money yet does so in an entertaining and moving way.
A graduate of the VCA Film School, recipient of the Australian Television Awards Young Director of the Year, MTV video music award winner for her work on Taxi Ride’s “Oh Yeah” and Sydney International Film Festival winner for Best Short Film, Amanda now has a bright future ahead in feature films if The Wedding Party is any indication.
Matt’s Movie Reviews spoke to Amanda about making The Wedding Party.
The film recently had its Australian premiere at the Melbourne Film Festival. What was it like showing the film to a home grown audience?
It was amazing! It was really spectacular considering it was my first film and all of the actors came, which was amazing. Josh (Lawson) and Isabel (Lucas) were in Los Angeles and they came back for it, so it was a full cast!
It was really incredible. 2000 people…you couldn’t have dreamt anything better. The Regent Theatre, where it screened, is just so beautiful...it was incredible. One of the best nights, but it’s been a bit of a road since then.
Usually most indie Australian filmmakers will either direct a low budget horror movie or a hard hitting drama for their debut. You’ve gone another way with a rom-com ensemble. Are you a big fan of the kind of filmmaking?
Yes, I’ve always been a massive fan of ensembles and that’s how the film started. It was focused on being a relationship ensemble film and we wanted it to be an ensemble, but we knew the problems in getting an audience with ensembles and that it wasn’t as easy to track distribution and things like that, so we decided to have the climax of the film to be set at the wedding, but that was secondary to the multi-narrative structure that we were working on. So it was always gonna be an ensemble.
I’m a massive fan of Robert Altman and especially John Hughes films and things like that, so that’s where it started out and it was a bit of a battle sometimes to keep it that way because a lot of people during the funding process didn’t really understand if it was a rom-com, or an ensemble, or what we were trying to do with it. I was always intentionally trying to mix the two. I wanted to have commercial accessibility but I also wanted it to be structured in a way that it’s also more level and have a bit more than the standard romantic comedy.
So for me it was a real goal to keep the ensemble and keep that going throughout and against a lot of people trying to push us in a direction to make it more about the wedding. We just continued to fight to keep it ensemble based and I’m sure that we have, because to me the joy of the film is all of the different characters and their stories. The wedding plot is just something that takes us through all of those stories.
"For me the moral or the message (of the movie), if there is one, is being who you are and not being afraid of who you are, and being honest in relationships is the key." - Amanda Jane
What I really liked about the film is that it’s about sex, and love, but told with class and without a hint of schmaltz. Was that a goal of yours or did that come about naturally?
It’s kind of hard to analyse…when you’re making your first film you’re just so focused on the way you want to do it and you do a lot of the analysing afterwards when, you know, people are reviewing it and talking about it.
But definitely it was always a goal not to turn it into a sexploitation. Sex is such a major theme and we didn’t want it to become…because it was based around a family as well, we didn’t want it to become explicit, so it was definitely a goal to…if you see a lot of the times, characters when they have sex they still got bits of clothing on and things like that…I wanted to show the relationship with all of the different types of sexual chemistry and sexual problems and sexual relationships without turning it into something sexy, if you know what I mean? Because sex is not always sexy (laughs). To me, anyway.
I’ve described this film as a morality tale about love, money and relationships. Are there any ethical or moral lessons you think audiences will take away from the film?
Well…our plan was to study vulnerability in relationships in the context of a family unit and how the different members of the family sort of react to the patriarch of the family, who is this sort of slandering kind of male.
For me the moral or the message, if there is one, is being who you are and not being afraid of who you are, and being honest in relationships is the key. Which I guess is quite simple, but I think we’ve explored it in different, complex ways and whether that suits the audience or…I know a lot of people take it in different ways, but that’s sort of the message I think the film has. Don’t be afraid of who you are. You’ll still be loved.
In Josh Lawson you have an actor who is really on the rise. What was it like working with him and how beneficial was casting Josh in getting the film made?
Well this is Josh’s first feature. Even though others have been released, this is his first feature as a lead role, so it was really helpful in gaining other cast because other people knew him and loved him and wanted to work with him, so that was fantastic.
But actually getting him through the funding bodies and things like that wasn’t as easy as you would think, but we had a script that had this sort of central character that was guiding us through the story and that was unlikeable, which a lot of people thought was problematic. I actually thought it was one of its strengths, because if you think of films…one of my idol filmmakers is James L. Brooks and his characters always are deeply flawed, such as As Good as It Gets with Jack Nicholson, and I think deeply flawed characters are the ones that are the most interesting.
So I knew I had to get somebody who was gonna play this role and who is causing this big problem and lying and gets the whole family involved and he still has to be likeable, and at that time Josh was doing Thank God You’re Here and shows like that, and I just thought he was just perfect for it and I knew he’d be brilliant. So I actually contacted him and told him, and we started actually adjusting the script and writing it with him in mind, we took the screen test to the investors and everybody got it.
Then we had to build the family around him, so casting was a little bit tricky because everyone had to sort of look like him in the family, and look like his sister, mother and the relationship chemistry all had to work. So the casting with Jane Norris at Mullinars was really intense but tricky process and it was just great!
Being my first film having such great actors trust me and come on board…having Steve Brisley play the father and Essie Davis coming on board, I flew out to see them both and talked them into being a part of it and told them about us, so yeah it was a big part of the process of building the ensemble and building the family to all have that chemistry together, which I think comes across really well. They all got along so well together and there was no dramas on the set, they only drama was that they got along so well that it was getting their attention out of their conversation to shoot a scene sometimes, which was very funny (laughs).
I’m just so grateful to the cast because it’s hard to come on board a lower budget Australian film with a first time director, and I’m just so thrilled that they trusted me.
"Being my first film having such great actors trust me and come on board…they all got along so well together and there was no dramas on the set, the only drama was that they got along so well that it was getting their attention out of their conversation to shoot a scene sometimes, which was very funny!"- Amanda Jane
Another actor who appears in the film is Bill Hunter. What was it like to work with an Australian legend and how does it feel knowing that your film features one of his last on screen appearances?
You know I was just so devastated when I heard he was gravely ill. I actually feel so honoured that I got to work with him and it was amazing. He came in as a guest role and we were really praying he would do it and we didn’t find out until a few weeks before that he was gonna do it, so it was incredible.
I remember at one stage during our lunch break he stayed in the Church and he was rehearsing his lines and I was sitting there, and the organist of the church she’s playing the song to Gallipoli. It’s when you have those moments in life when you think “it’s one of them”… it was a great moment for me as I was sitting and watching him rehearse his lines and listening to the Gallipoli music thinking, “this is one of those special times.”
So it was quite magical and obviously we were all so devastated to hear about him getting sick and passing away and sending all of our love to his family and everything…very sad.
Very sad, but he did a great job in the film for you.
Didn’t he! It was just amazing. He’s just one of those actors that has a small role in the film, but he gives it so much character and when he winks at Josh…it’s moments like that which are priceless. It was just an honour. An absolute honour.