Interview - Writer Tony McNamara Talks About 'The Favourite'
- Written by Matthew Toomey
It’s one of my top 10 films of 2018 and so it was great to speak with Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara about his involvement with The Favourite…
Matt: I believe the original script was written by Deborah Davis so can you tell us how you become involved in the project?
Tony: Yorgos Lanthimos, the director, read Deborah’s script and he liked the historical story of it. He’s a very particular director and he wanted it be different. He was looking for a tragic kind of comedy. He had liked a couple of things I’d written and so he rang me up and we then spent the next 7 years turning it into what he wanted it to be.
Matt: Yorgos Lanthimos is seems to make such wonderfully messed up films. Can you tell us about your interaction with him? Do you guys have a similar sense of humour?
Tony: Yeah, we’re different but we have a similar sensibility which is what he looks for in everyone he works with. We hit it off immediately and became good friends. I’m writing another movie for him at the moment. He’s a director I admire and I think he’s really funny.
Matt: I think is the first time he’s made a film where he’s not the writer and so handing that control over to you is a big step for him.
Tony: It was. He’s very involved and we spent a lot of time together. At the time, he’d just moved to London and I think we wasn’t comfortable writing a script in English because usually he writes in Greek and then it’s translated.
Matt: Without giving too much away, one of the most striking elements in the profanity and sexual references. Not exactly something you’d expect from British royalty in the 18th century. Is there poetic license being used here or is that actually how they dealt with each other?
Tony: Deborah’s original script was very historical but when Yorgos and I got involved, we decided to be a bit “fast and loose” with it. We wanted a period movie that was more fun than usual. They did swear a lot. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales there’s a lot of bad language which was the sort of language they used. I thought to myself “we use it, they use it so let’s use it.”
Matt: And what were you able to draw on historically in trying to make these characters as authentic as possible? I admit that I found them so wonderfully complex.
Tony: There wasn’t heaps about them. We understood the basics of what happened but there was no real detail about why the story happened or what their individual desires were. We tried to come up with the most interesting version of this story.
Matt: The film is very careful in how it divides up its time between the three leading ladies. How easy did you find it giving the balance to each of their particular storylines?
Tony: It wasn’t easy. The trick of the movie was how to create this triangle, go back and forth with their respective stories, and give them all enough weight. That took a few years to get right. It wasn’t like we were doing it all the time though. Yorgos was off making movies and I was here making TV shows.
Matt: Perhaps the thing I love most about the film is the dark humour and the way it’s delivered by these characters. How easy was it taking this rather serious narrative about war and conflict and weaving in such wonderful comedy?
Tony: It wasn’t that difficult because it’s how Yorgos and I think about things. It wasn’t possile for us to make a straight, serious movie. In our first conversations, we knew it should be funny.
Matt: You’ve been in the industry for a while now. This film has received such incredible critical acclaim. Did it come as a surprised to you or was there always something about this project that felt special and different from the rest?
Tony: It has come as a surprise. Once you’re in the industry for a long time, you don’t know what’s going to go and what’s not going to go. I knew we had a chance once we got Emma, Olivia and Rachel on board. Yorgos had also become a bigger director. He hadn’t made The Lobster when I first met him. Even once it was made, we didn’t know if people would like it and so that too came as a relief when we found out.
Matt: You’ve earned your first Golden Globe nomination and the ceremony will be in a couple of weeks in Los Angeles. Booked your flights and ready to head over?
Tony: Yes, I’m heading over for it. Absolutely.
Matt: And I’ve got to say, you’d be a strong chance at an Oscar nomination. What would that mean to you?
Tony: It’s be great so fingers are crossed. The people who worked on this film are all great. There’s another Australian, Fiona Crombie, who did the production design and we’ve known each other for 20 years. The actors were also super lovely people and we spent a lot of time with them.
Matt: As the writer, did you get a chance to speak a lot with the actors?
Tony: Yeah, we did three weeks of rehearsal and I was then on set for a couple of weeks in case Yorgos needed me. I then got to spend more time with them during the film festivals in Venice and London and New York. They’re all really great.
Matt: Are you working on anything at the moment? Could this film open a few more doors for you?
Tony: I guess so. People have liked The Favourite and so of course they’re more interested in hiring me. I’m working on Yorgos’s new film and I’m also making a show for Hulu in America with Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning.
Matt's Top 10 Movies of 2018
- Written by Matthew Toomey
As I do each year, I always like to finish up by revealing my top 10 movies of the year. It’s a tradition I’ve had since 1996 and you can see all of my old lists here – http://www.thefilmpie.com/index.php/special?id=174.
Honourable mentions this year go to Roma, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Blank Panther, Sweet Country, In The Fade, Avengers: Infinity War, A Star is Born, Love Simon, RBG, The Other Side of Hope, Isle of Dogs, First Man, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bad Times at the El Royale, Hearts Beat Loud, Hereditary and Ladies in Black. As you can see, there were a lot of great movies in 2018.
All of that said, I’ve been able to whittle down my top 10 and here they are in reverse order…
10. McQueen (out Sep 6) is a terrific documentary that looks at the life of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. It finds the right balance between celebrating his beautiful creations while also exploring his troubled mindset. It's made even better by Michael Nyman's film score.
9. Unsane (out Apr 25) is the latest from director Steven Soderbergh and was shot entirely using three iPhone 7 Plus phones! It's a tense thriller about a young woman who is unwillingly incarcerated in a psychiatric ward and has to battle both capitalism (they're locking up sane people for profit) and a creepy stalker who has been following her for 2 years. Clare Foy is amazing in the lead role and the way she reacts is how I’d see myself if placed in the same position.
8. C'est La Vie! (out Aug 16) is a riotous French comedy about a wedding caterer trying to keep everything on track behind the scenes at a lavish wedding organised by a needy client. The characters are all fantastically memorable and it's one laugh after the other.
7. Custody (out Sep 27) is a French drama that delves into the complexities of a relationship breakdown when children get caught in the middle. Director Xavier Legrand uses a number of techniques to create a tense, uneasy experience for the viewer. The unrelenting narrative and flawless performances make this a powerful piece of cinema.
6. The Favourite (out Dec 26) is a rich, dark comedy filled with great one-liners and unexpected twists. For an 18th century period piece centered on British royalty, there are a wonderfully surprising number of sexual references and “c-bombs”. The most riveting element is the interplay between the three lead actors - Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. A fascinating tale of power. Grade: A.
5. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (out Dec 6) is based on the true story of Lee Israel, a struggling writer who forged personal letters from deceased authors in the 1990s to help pay the rent. Melissa McCarthy and co-star Richard E. Grant deserve praise for creating rich, complex, interesting characters. Audiences will form different opinions of them but hopefully most will agree this is one of the year's best films.
4. A Quiet Place (out Apr 5) is a terrific horror-thriller that should hook audiences from the opening scene. The world has been attacked by giant grasshopper-like creatures which devour any living thing that makes a sound. Could you go the rest of your life without making a noise if your life depended on it? Lacking in dialogue, sound and music, you may feel very uncomfortable watching this!
3. Back to Burgundy (out Jul 5) is a wonderful drama from French director Cédric Klapisch. It's the tale of three siblings who inherent their father's vineyard and must decide whether to sell or carry on the family legacy. It's a nicely balanced film that takes into account multiple perspectives while also exploring the wine making process.
2. Lady Bird (out Feb 15) is about a restless high school senior from Sacramento who isn’t sure what she wants out of life. There are storylines that we've seen before in other teen flicks but what separates this from the pack is the way in delves into the relationship between mother and daughter. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deserve all the praise they have received.
1. Phantom Thread (out Feb 1) is the latest from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and dissects the power struggles between a renowned fashion designer, his sister, and his latest lover in 1950s London. The less you know going in the better. These are fascinating characters who are part of an unorthodox love story.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year!
Interview - Director Christian Rivers On Creating 'Mortal Engines'
- Written by Matthew Toomey
He’s an Oscar winning visual effects artist who has made his feature film directorial debut with Mortal Engines. While he was recently in Sydney, I had the chance to talk to Christian Rivers about his blockbuster film…
Matt: You and Peter Jackson have known each other for a long time. Can you remember the first time you met?
Christian: I can remember how we first met. I was a teenager in Wanganui in New Zealand. I loved drawing and I wanted to work in the movies and there was only one guy I loved who was making movies in New Zealand and that was Peter Jackson. I sent him a letter with basically every drawing I’d ever drawn. We got in contact and then he asked me to storyboard Braindead for him.
Matt: Wow. So have you worked with him on most of his films since yet?
Christian: Yep. Every one of them. During Lord of the Rings, we transitioned from traditional drawn storyboarding to using CG pre-vis as our storyboarding tool.
Matt: It’s such a fascinating world where this film is set but to create it, you are obviously relying on a lot of special effects. How do you approach that as a director?
Christian: We knew from the outset that we wanted to evoke the character of the books and we wanted this to be character driven. Even though it’s set in a world of giant cities that crush the landscape and feed on other cities, that’s not the story. The story is about a character. We started there and built out the visual effects sequences we needed to convey how this world works. Because we don’t have any landscapes that look like the Great Hunting Grounds, we had to create everything with sets or CGI.
Matt: This is clearly a big film with a big budget. Is there any limit as to what you can do? Is there stuff you wanted to do but some accountant comes out and says “yeah, nah, we can’t afford that.”
Christian: Yeah. There are always financial limitations. Actually, our budget was much smaller than you’d expect for a film with this much in the way of special effects. We had to be smart about it. A lot of visual effects heavy films creep up to the $200 million mark and we were sitting down around half that. There’s always a balance with how much you want to spend with how much you’re allowed to spend.
Matt: You’ve got a young cast here and a lot of names won’t be familiar to wider audience. What was behind that decision? Was there any temptation to cast a big Hollywood star?
Christian: There always is. In modern economic times, that always gives a certain amount of security to the studio to help get people to come and see the film. When we were casting it, we wanted to create a completely new cinematic universe. If you create someone who is too famous or too iconic, you can break that spell a bit. We ultimately just tried to cast the right person for the right role. If the right person was someone who is quite famous then we would have done that but we were fortunate to find these wonderful new actors who transform into these characters.
Matt: I think the character I was most interested in was Shrike who is played by Stephen Lang. Can you tell me a little about your thoughts in working out how to portray him and bring him to life?
Christian: Mortal Engines is the first book in a series of four which tells the life story of Tom and Hester. Shrike is central to that story. He continues on through the stories in another capacity. He’s one of my favourite characters and we knew we wanted an amazing actor to be the heart of Shrike and give us that consolidated performance. We knew we were going to create him with CGI but through the experience that we had on Lord of the Rings and King Kong, we know the value of having a wonderful actor driving the performance of a CGI character.
We love Stephen’s work and we thought he had a wonderful voice. He’s terrifying in Don’t Breathe – that voice from the shadows. We met with him and he agreed to do the role but then we had a lengthy design process. It really came together when we put a mummified version of Stephen’s features on Shrike.
Matt: The film is set hundreds of years in the future and there are a few unanswered questions about what happened during the Sixty Minute War. How do you balance up exploring the past in the film versus telling the current day story?
Christian: Just as it is in the books, we didn’t want to over-explain. The films I loved growing up included Star Wars. The characters are dropped into this fantasy world and the audience is given the bare minimum that you need to follow them. For the rest, you can draw your own conclusions. Audiences are spoon fed so much that they stop engaging with the story. We have moments where we need to explain some details but for everything else, we want to leave the threads hanging so audiences can grab onto them and use their imagination and have a greater connection.
Matt: We hear references to the “ancients” and “old tech” and then there’s also the dialogue and accents of the characters themselves. How did you approach the language of the film?
Christian: A lot of that is in the book. Philip Reeve wrote such a wonderfully rich world. We love the idea of referring to us as the “ancients” and then you’ve got things like the Minions which are fibreglass statues that would have been in some cinema foyer that they dug up. It all wanted to be an echo of our past.
It’s like going to ancient Rome and wondering how the world would look thousands of years into the future. We still have sports stadiums based on things like the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. We still have pillars and arches in our buildings. People visiting today from ancient Rome would see a lot of new stuff but they’d also see things that were familiar. We treated it that way.
Matt: It’s a very bold, distinctive music score which fits with the action packed nature of the film. Can you tell us about your working relationship with Tom Holkenborg and how the score was developed?
Christian: We were very lucky to work with Tom. He’s a busy man and he’s highly sought after but just happened to have a window that worked for us. We got him out early on and he saw a long cut of the film and then he wrote this beautiful music that we could pick and choose from. He was so collaborative and a dream to work with. He wanted our feedback on what we liked and what we didn’t. I’d love to work with him again.
An Unforgettable Week At The 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open
- Written by Matthew Toomey
I was fortunate enough to play in the event as a 28-year-old back in 2005 when it was held at Ipswich Golf Club. I navigated my way through a pre-qualifying round at Redland Bay and thanks to 3 back nine birdies, I shot a round of 70 (2 under par) to make it through by 2 shots.
I shot 79-75-154 for the tournament itself (without a single birdie) and while it would have been nice to play better, it was still great to say that I’d played in a professional golf event. The low amateur that year was Jason Day and I was one of just 24 amateurs in the field.
I’ll be honest and say that as a 41-year-old who doesn’t practice and plays only on weekends, I didn’t expect to ever play another professional tournament. That said, I decided to enter this year’s Isuzu Queensland Open at last minute (3:30pm on 11 October 2018) after a friend said he was doing the same in a Facebook chat.
I haven’t been playing particularly well but was excited to be paired with 16-year-old West Australian Josh Greer for the pre-qualifying round at Nudgee Golf Club on Monday, 29 October 2018. I saw him defeat Min Woo Lee at the 2018 Australian Men’s Amateur back in January and make his debut for Western Australia at the Australian Men’s Interstate Series in May. He was a great kid and I’d love to see him get better and better over the coming years.
For me, the day started as expected with a bogey on the 10th hole. I missed the green, hit a bad chip and hit an even worse putt. I don’t know how… but suddenly everything turned around. I holed a 30-foot birdie putt across the green on the 12th and then holed two lengthy par putts on the 18th and 2nd holes. Neither par putt deserved to go in (I pulled them both) but the breaks were going my way.
After holing a 20-foot birdie putt from off the green on the 7th, I was able to make a nervy 5-foot par putt on the 8th and an even nervier 2-foot putt for par on the 9th (my hands were shaking) to finish with an even par score of 71. There were 91 people in the field (a mix of professionals and amateurs) with the top 15 players advancing into the tournament. Would my score be good enough?
The answer was “yes” but with an asterisk. 13 players had shot 70 or better and 5 players were sitting on 71. That meant I was in a 5-man play-off with only the top 2 going through.
On the first play-off hole (the 10th), I drove in the trees and had almost no shot to the green. If it was a normal round, I would have chipped it sideways back into the fairway and played for a safe bogey. Given the stakes and the fact that bogey would have most likely meant elimination, I went for the high risk shot through a tiny gap in the trees and managed to get the ball in the front bunker.
It was a great/lucky result but I still faced a lengthy 30m bunker shot out of thick, wet sand. I splashed it out to 20-feet with a 46-degree wedge. I have no idea where I found the confidence from (I’d been a nervous wreck 30 minutes earlier) but I somehow made the putt to stay alive. It would have to be one of the most clutch shots that I’ve ever hit under intense pressure.
On the next play-off hole (the 18th), I was able to split the fairway with my drive (gasp), hit the green and two-putt for par. When the two remaining players both made bogey, I had secured a spot in the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open!
Someone on Twitter asked what the best part of the whole experience had been and it was an easy question to answer. I was touched by the number of friends and fellow golfers who sent me messages of congratulations on social media and/or came up to me in person to shake my hand out at Brisbane Golf Club. It was a thrill to know that so many people were happy for me.
The rest of the week seemed to fly by in a flash. I played the Tuesday pro-am with New South Wales professional Troy Moses and 4-time AFL premiership player Luke Hodge. I teed it up again in the Wednesday pro-am with comedian Fred Lang and Titleist representative Matt Dowling. Another nice touch of being a player was getting 24 golf balls and a new cap from Titleist!
The tournament began on Thursday and I had a 12:15pm tee time with two professionals – Braden Becker from Western Australian and Sam Lee from Fiji. Becky Kay was paired two groups ahead and she had some big crowds out following given she was the first woman to ever qualify for the Isuzu Queensland Open.
I’d like to say it was a Cinderella-like story where my great form continued during the tournament… but that wasn’t the case. I’ll admit to being very nervous! I parred the opening 2 holes but then had a run of bogies to finish with a score of 81 (10 over par). At least I had a birdie though! That was something I was unable to achieve when playing at Ipswich 13 years earlier.
Things went a little better for my Friday morning round but a few late bogies left me with a score of 78 (7 over par) and I missed the cut by a sizeable 14 shots. Of the 132 players in the field (94 professionals and 38 amateurs), I finished 127th.
It’s not a great result but it’s hard to be disappointed. I got to compete against some of the best professionals and amateurs from the country in a PGA Tour of Australasia event. I remember standing on the 18th green on Friday and trying to soak it all in for a final few seconds before the round came to an end. It was also fun to have two great friends caddy for the week – Zac Sheehan on Thursday and Brady Duncan on Friday.
Congratulations to New South Welshman Jordan Zunic who won the event with a clutch par putt from about 10 feet on the final hole. He’s a top guy and I had the pleasure of playing a practice round with Jordan before the 2009 Australian Men’s Amateur Championship at Virginia. Blake Windred took the honours for low amateur and given my role on the Board of Golf Queensland, I thought it was cool that the worst amateur got to present the prize to the best amateur!
It’s now back to normality. I’ve got a full week of work and plenty of films to catch up on. I’ve got a hunch this will be my last crack at a professional golf event but as I’ve learned over the past 7 days, anything is possible!
You can check out some highlights from the week (featuring my commentary) on the Golf Queensland YouTube page using the links below. If you look carefully, you’ll spot my shabby looking swing in the videos for round 1 and 2. Enjoy!
|With West Australian Josh Greer, my playing partner during the pre-qualifying round at Nudgee.|
|How good is free stuff? An unexpected perk of qualifying for the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open.|
|Not a bad pro-am group! 2014 Keperra Bowl champion Troy Moses, 4-time AFL winning premiership player Luke Hodge, super caddy Brady Duncan, and local hack Matt Toomey.|
|In action during the Tuesday pro-am. That's my normal look of concern after most tee shots.|
|On the 5th hole during Thursday's opening round of the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open. Flubbed this chip about 40 feet short. :)|
|A rare good drive off the 6th tee during the opening round of the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open.|
|Super caddy Brady Duncan ready to roll on the 1st tee of the second round.|
|Presenting the low amateur prize (in my official Golf Queensland capacity) to New South Welshman Blake Windred.|
|Getting a snap with the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open champion, Jordan Zunic!|
|A new shelf in my trophy cabinet with a few memories from an unforgettable week at the 2018 Isuzu Queensland Open.|