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The legend of the Jingra makes for an ominous bigscreen villain in Dane Millerd’s There’s Something in The Pillaga. The writer/director’s found-footage thriller tells the story of two blokish mates who, with digital camera and two local lasses in tow, head deep into the scrubland of western New South Wales on a lark. But they soon learn that the stories of a bipedal bush beast, the infamous ‘Yowie’ as told of since ancient Aboriginal times, may be based upon a terrifying reality.

“Impending doom is a strong and often neglected tool in filmmaking,” says Millerd (pictured, above), a journo-turned-filmmaker who, as a boy growing up in the regional hub of Gunnedah, was familiar with the tall tales told of the Jingra. “I wanted to make the film as illusive and under the radar as the many sightings I have recorded and reported in my research. ‘Less is more’ works for me, especially with creature features.”

Fittingly, the inspiration for the film came from a fearful recounting of a real life incident, in which Millerd’s cousin ventured into Pillaga State Forest in search of a hermit-like character, only to have her night turn into one of regret and terror (albeit at the hands of cruel, prank-playing mates). The vastness of the region lends itself to irrational fears (“It is dry, lonely and desolate and no place for the unprepared,” says Millerd), as well as fostering such supernatural entities as The Pillaga Princess, a forlorn woman who wanders the forest; ‘Hairy Mary’, a former prostitute who became a denizen of the bush night; and, of course, the enigmatic Yowie. “I wanted audiences to fear the unknown and I think that is what has been achieved,” says the director.

The key protagonist in the film is rough’n’tumble lad Jay, played with a boorish but disarming charm by Brendan Byrne (pictured, above right). He is a vivid outback archetype with which Millerd is very familiar. “Having spent years in the country, I had met many alpha males that were similar to (Jay),” Millerd says, citing his upbringing as fertile ground for inspiration. “There are also Chopper Read, (Wolf Creek villain) Mick Taylor and Romper Stomper inspirations that created the ‘Jay’ we see on screen.”

He is also quick to praise Byrne (pictured, left; with co-lead Leoni Leaver), a part-time actor who doubles as one of the film industry’s most respected armourers; in addition to his acting duties, his company Shadow Wolves Productions oversaw firearms management onset. “Brendan’s interpretation certainly left his own mark on the character,” says Millerd, who allowed his key cast members (Fay Beck, Rebecca Callander, Craig Hawley, Leoni Leaver) plenty of rehearsal time and creative freedom during the shoot. “I trusted them and they were allowed plenty of leverage. It needed to be that way as the film lent itself to loads of improvisation. That said, there was a script and certain things still needed to be done and followed and the actors followed it to the letter.”

The barren bushland setting, hand-held camera work and found-footage premise has drawn inevitable comparison to The Blair Witch Project, as well as the naysayers who bleat that the genre is in its death throes. “Yeah I’ve heard the cries,” shrugs Millerd, who knows the detractors will be silenced when they see the finished film. “I call this ‘stolen footage’ and when you see it you’ll know it’s a new genre. We avoided a lot of to-camera stuff, excessive titling in the intro (and) other obvious clichés." The filming technique was fine-tuned during downtime on the production, which was shot for a total of 20 days over nearly three years. "We put lots of time into locations and rehearsals so by the time we got out there, we had it sorted. (With) Paul Denham, my co-producer and DOP shooting it, I knew it would be great.” (pictured, right; Millerd, second from left, on location with cast and crew)

Millerd was determined that, second only to a tangible sense of menace and steady stream of convincing shocks, the people of the region knew that There’s Something in The Pillaga would represent them, their wilderness and its otherworldly inhabitants with due respect. “The locals were more than supportive,” he says. “In fact, it was a pre-requisite that locals worked on set, as we wanted them to feel a part of it. In the end we got a better product as a result.“

There's Something in The Pillaga had its regional premiere in Gunnedah and will be touring New South Wales in the weeks ahead. For full screening details, visit the website here.

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