My first feature film, Not Quite Hollywood -- The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation boasts amongst its diverse ingredients a marauding pack of post-apocalyptic bikers, a killer crocodile that chomps on Aboriginal children, a rampaging feral boar, various marsupial werewolves and the sight of a female animal activist stripped nude, strapped to the bull-bar of a monster truck and driven through the outback like a human hood ornament. Suffice to say it didn't make my churchgoing parents overly proud -- even when it premiered late last year in front of 3,000 people as the opening night event of the Melbourne International Film Festival.
I grew up in the Australian outer suburban sprawl. Think down-under Spielberg-land replete with school buses, tree houses and bicycle adventures. The local cinema was converted into a bowling alley when I was a kid so seeing a film on the big screen was a rare occurrence, and usually reserved for a school holiday special event. My mother didn't drive, so we'd catch a train into the big smoke (in this case Melbourne -- Australia's second largest city) for my big screen fix. Invariably it would be the latest Disney film (a Herbie sequel or an animated favorite on re-re-re-release). Otherwise the school holidays were spent watching Sid and Marty Krofft TV shows punctuated with classic Ray Harryhausen movies.
As a kid, as far as I knew Australia didn't have much of a film industry, although I had been taken to see Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film had been so lavishly praised and deemed culturally significant by local tastemakers that most Aussie parents felt it was just as important to experience this local film as a family as the "Where Do I Come From" sex education films showing at the local community hall. As an eight-year-old in love with stop motion dinosaur animation the tale of schoolgirls vanishing into a rock was an almighty snooze and an instant turn off to investigate any other local product.
That all changed a few years later when on late night TV I stumbled across three Australian films that would have a great impact on my future filmmaking career: The Man From Hong Kong, Patrick and Snapshot. This homegrown triple-shot was the antithesis of my previous Oz film experience.
The Man From Hong Kong had a helicopter chase and fist fight on Ayers Rock (just try convincing the protective Aboriginal elders to let you do that now!) and the sight of Australia's own James Bond, George Lazenby, karate kicking while on fire! Patrick was about an unblinking comatose killer with telekinetic powers and featured acclaimed ballet star Sir Robert Helpmann (The Red Shoes) dissecting and eating frogs. And finally, Snapshot had as its instrument of evil a killer Mr. Whippy ice-cream van!
They were broadcast pan-scanned and modified (all of the many Kung Fu kicks to the groin were cut from The Man From Hong Kong) but they were the most exciting thing this kid had ever seen. They were like the craziest of American movies but with Australian accents and identifiable locations. I raced to the mobile library bus that visited my school and scoured any book on Australian film to learn more about these newly discovered masterpieces only to find that they didn't even rate a footnote.
A few years later -- aged 14 -- I discovered that Richard Franklin, the director of Patrick (and the belated Hitchcock sequel Psycho II), had attended the secondary college I was serving time at. I invited him to return and give a talk. I'll never forget that day because the school bully scrawled the word "messy" in marker on the back of my shirt collar - and I spent most of my limited time with Richard awkwardly trying to keep the graffiti from his view. But more Importantly I realized that Richard was proof positive that a student from my sports and academic orientated school could one day be shooting in Hollywood.
Twenty-three years later I was filming Not Quite Hollywood at Ren-Mar studios on N. Cahuenga Blvd, having just wrapped shooting at Twickenham studios in the U.K.
During the intervening years I'd gone to film school and, like most aspiring feature filmmakers, had forged a career directing music videos. I ultimately directed over 150 of them and always made sure I employed old-school crews who had worked on the Australian genre films that I loved. Chatting to these veterans at lunch I quickly discovered that the stories behind the scenes were even more outrageous than the footage on screen. There were tales of Lazenby quickly discovering what happens when you get set alight on a film set (you burn)! Stories of a coked-out and boozed-up Dennis Hopper being pronounced legally dead while filming a local bushranger movie! Mice getting dressed in rubber werewolf fetus suits! Real ammunition fired at actors! These were the colorful stories that were missing from our history books. So I decided to make a documentary that would shine a spotlight on Australia's forgotten genre films and their neglected auteurs.
Have you ever tried to convince a government funding body to invest in a documentary that celebrates a large body of work that they're eternally and unapologetically ashamed of? It isn't easy. I recruited Aussie genre nut Quentin Tarantino to the cause via email. We flew to L.A. and shot an exhaustive interview with Tarantino, which I used as a pitch to get the film made. Along the way I coined the term "ozploitation" (to be fair, Tarantino referred to this eclectic body of work as "Aussie-sploitation" and I further streamlined the phrase) and became friends with many of my childhood film heroes (including The Man From Hong Kong director Brian Trenchard-Smith and Snapshot producer Tony Ginnane).
I also stayed in touch with Richard Franklin. He was a great supporter of the film always offering encouragement when the elusive funding hit another snag. When we finally had the budget in place, he admitted to me that he had been fighting a losing battle with cancer for over a year. He said that he would not live to see the final film -- but he would not let me down. True to his world, and in incredible pain, Richard sat before our camera and filmed his last on-screen interview only weeks before his death. It was at this point that I realized that my film was more than a collection of funny anecdotes - it was the only time this amazing story was going to be told by the people who were there in the trenches. No matter what you think of the films featured in Not Quite Hollywood, these Ozploitation masters had celluloid running through their veins. Back in the '70s in Australia there were no rules when it came to filmmaking -- but if there had have been they surely would've broken them to get their unique and slightly twisted vision up there on the drive-in screen.
It's been an amazing journey for me -- from watching Herbie Rides Again in a Melbourne hardtop to making a film that has been given an American theatrical release (via, ironically, filming a documentary on the making of Picnic at Hanging Rock).
Next up, if all the stars align, is a re-imagining of Patrick working with the film's original producer and with the blessing of Richard's widow. God bless Ozploitation!
Not Quite Hollywood will be released in theaters by Magnet Releasing in New York and Los Angeles on July 31, with a national release to follow. For further information: http://www.magnetreleasing.com/notquitehollywood/.