Director Stuart Stanton will premiere his charming comedy Charlie Bonnet at this years's Dungog Film Festival, attending the much-anticipated event with cast members Peter Stanley, Mat Jones and Di Joselle, composer Brian Canham, director of photography Joel Frances and partner and co-producer Karen Elgar. Five days out from the screening, he talks to SCREEN-SPACE about his funny ode to blind ambition.
Where did the inspiration for Charlie Bonnet come from? Is he an inner-city wanna-be actor archetype with which you are familiar?
The inspiration for Charlie Bonnet came from years of doing short films and corporate productions where I had to watch many, many showreels. What I found was that there are some actors whose unswerving belief that they will be 'the next big thing' doesn't quite match their ability. I know that sounds a bit mean but it is the truth. I always found watching showreels of bad actors to be awkward; I felt embarrassed for them but at the same time I was greatly inspired by their passion and commitment to their art and what they believed in. Tragedy and comedy.
There is an ‘everyman’ quality about the character that goes a long way to making Charlie relatable. He’s not that pretentious actor/wanker type.
I think Charlie is someone everyone can connect with - a person who loves what they do so much but is completely oblivious to how bad they are at it. We all know someone like that: the karaoke addict whose voice can strip paint from walls or the Guitar Hero guru who thinks they should front their own band. Maybe it's also something we secretly fear about ourselves. But you know, it doesn't matter at all, these people love doing what they do and we love them for their dedication. It takes real guts to do that. Besides, we're Aussies and we love the underdog!
One of my favourite films is Peter Sellers in The Party; is Charlie that sort of clueless, talentless buffoon, devoid of self-awareness?
It's a very good comparison. You can draw similarities for sure. Charlie Bonnet is definitely a talentless awkward man who for the most part is oblivious to his actions, but that's what makes him loveable. Just like Peter Sellers in The Party, he's always trying to impress and no matter what he does the world and everything in it is just against him. He never gives up and he's always pushing forward no matter how challenging the problems thrown at him are.
How do you convince an actor to roll the dice on his career by playing a "bad actor"? Tell me how you and Peter Stanley (pictured, below) went about creating 'Charlie Bonnet'?
I've known Pete for a while, since film school. We always talk about funny characters and situations. There was no convincing, I just said “I'm writing a film for you, you're a bad actor (laughs).” He's great at awkward comedy and physical comedy. I could trust him completely, his comedic timing and delivery is flawless. Without this it would have been a very awkwardly unfunny film. But seriously he loved the character of Charlie Bonnet, he was on board from the get go.
Tell me about your creative relationship with Eddie Baroo and Peter? Was the 'Charlie Bonnet' concept the result of many long afternoons together at the local?
I knew Eddie from a film shoot years ago. We met once, then reconnected on Facebook. I said, “Hey mate, wanna be in a comedy feature film?” He said, “Send me the script.” I did, and he loved it. After that, yeah, our first meeting was actually at a pub and we all got on like a house on fire. I've never a met a man like Eddie, such a genuine guy with an awesome sense of humour. You can meet him for 20 minutes and it’s like you've known each other for a life time and could trust him with your life. Also, Eddie co-wrote his sequence in the film with Pete and I. Without giving too much away, it definitely showcases Eddie's 'unique' sense of humour. But yeah, between Pete and I, lots of writing involved beer and late nights. We would send over script changes and ideas back and forth at 4 in the morning, it was great. The best writing is done between 12am and 4am. And on set between takes!
Describe the production process on a low-budget film like this one. Was it the stop-start, day-by-day shooting schedule that is the norm with tightly-budgeted Aussie films?
The production process was simple: shoot when we can. If it was once a week we would, or maybe two days in a row. It was shot completely over a year; the largest gap of time we took was about 3 weeks between shoots. It was simply work around crew availability, locations and money - which came straight out of my back pocket (laughs). I was lucky to have access to specialty equipment through Brian Walker at Pro Cam Services - he helped with car mounts, jimmy-jibs, lighting you name it. I owe a lot to Brian, he's a really good man. (pictured, the director, at right, with DP Joel Frances on-set)
What does a Festival screening like the one you'll experience at Dungog mean for a film like Charlie Bonnet? From my experience, the James Theatre will be at capacity - around 650 patrons. How does that make you feel?
It means a lot. I mean we haven't even had a cast and crew screening yet. This is hot out of the edit suite! As I'm writing this we are outputting the file for Dungog. Having a packed house will be great, being a comedy I'm hoping for 90 minutes of infectious laughing! We can hope :) As far as how I feel? A little nervous, but quite confident. Outsiders who have seen the film so far have all given quite a positive response so it is encouraging. Ultimately though, we made Charlie Bonnet for the laughs. It's is a silly fun film and as long as people have a good time, a lot of laughs and walk out feeling good, we've done our job.