Ivan Sen

It was selected to open the Sydney Film Festival and it’s about to be released in Australian cinemas.  I caught up with Goldstone writer-director Ivan Sen to talk about the project…

Matt:  Australia has made some great films with indigenous characters at the centre like Ten Canoes, Samson & Delilah and The Sapphires but it seems to be that we don’t make a lot of them.  Would you say that’s the case?

Ivan:  Yeah.  It’s a small percentage but I think indigenous films punch well above their weight.  They seem to make a difference when they do come around.

Matt:  You’re someone who has now put together several feature films that have won and been nominated for awards.  Do you find it easier to secure funding for your productions or is the industry as tough as ever?

Ivan:  Every time you make a film you get a chance to learn stuff and I think people in control of the finance trust you a little bit more each time.  It therefore gets easier each time you go around.

Matt:  Someone was telling me that you wrote the script here in Brisbane in a coffee shop?  Is that true? 

Ivan:  Yeah, my local cinema is the Palace Barracks and I often go there and do a bit of writing.  It was great to write the film there and then have the Queensland premiere at the same place.  It was amazing.

Matt:  How long did it take to write the script?

Ivan:  It was a very quick write to start.  It initially only took a couple of weeks to get the first draft and then maybe about 3 months after that to get it finished and ready for finance.

Matt:  When you’re writing a script, how do you know you’re on the right track?  Is it gut instinct or do you have friends, or maybe even a muse, that you show it too and bounce ideas off?

Ivan:  It’s different every time.  I have a script that’s about 7 years old and I’m still going with it.  It’s a matter of following your gut and instinct in most cases.

Matt:  There are some quite sinister characters and subplots in this film.  Is it purely a work of fantasy or was there someone or something in your life that inspired it?

Ivan:  It’s hard to come up with any pure fantasy in this world.  You’re always getting bits and pieces from reality and this is no different.  It involves corruption on many different levels within the mining industry, the local government, and even the Aboriginal Land Council.  Similar tales have been heard in the news and that’s the beauty of film.  You can pick different parts from reality, put them all together, and package it up as entertainment.

Matt:  I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a scene early in the film where Jay (Aaron Pedersen) is fired upon with a barrage of bullets in a caravan.  It’s a dramatic, unexpected scene and I was curious to know how you settled on that as the film’s big action introduction.

Ivan:  It was important to set the film up as a thriller and so action and tension is a part of that.  It’s something that I wanted to make more of in this film compared to Mystery Road.  This is a bit of a spin off which is more laid back and more of an investigation story.

Matt:  Your last film, Mystery Road, was shot in and around Winton.  Where did the filming of Goldstone take place? 

Ivan:  I wrote this script and I then had to find a place to shoot the film.  I drove all over Queensland and I couldn’t find anything as strong as the land around Winton.  We went a few hours the other side of Winton this time and I think it’s the most spectacular landscape anywhere in Queensland.

Matt:  I can imagine it is hard shooting in such a remote location.  Was it a real challenge?

Ivan:  Yeah, it was very difficult to get out there and get set up.  There was no power, no water, no phone and no internet.  There was nothing at all really.  We had to bring in all our own accommodation and that chewed up most of the budget.  Once we were there, it became easier as we were out on location the whole time and there were no distractions.

Matt:  Did you need generators to power up the cameras?

Ivan:  Yeah.  We had massive generator trucks because we were out there for almost two months.  We also had to cook our own food which was trucked in from Longreach.

Matt:  There are some great flyover shots that provide a great perspective of some events.  Is that a drone that you used for those?  The camera looks so incredibly still.

Ivan:  Yeah.  Drones offer incredible technology these days.  Every time you do a film, the technology grows so much.  We had to use a helicopter in Mystery Road because drones weren’t available to us three years ago. 

Matt:  You’re working again with Aaron Pedersen after you combined so beautifully Mystery Road.  Did you write the roll with him in mind or was there a broader casting process?

Ivan:  I wrote the film Mystery Road for Aaron Pedersen and set up the character of this detective caught between worlds.  It made sense to do another one and I knew he had a lot more to offer.  He’s keen for me to write a third instalment or maybe even a TV series down the track.

Matt:  Perhaps the most interesting character in the film is played by Tommy Lewis – he’s caught trying to please so many groups of people that he seems to have lost all sense of right and wrong.  Did you see him that way when putting the screenplay together?

Ivan:  Definitely.  He’s a character we haven’t seen much in Australian cinema in that he’s an Aboriginal villain which is quite rare.  He plays someone with huge responsibilities in the indigenous community and shows that pressure from the outside can create unwanted temptations.

Matt:  And what was it like working with Jacki Weaver, a two-time Academy Award nominee?

Ivan:   It was amazing as I wrote the character specifically for her.  I felt like I couldn’t make the film without her.  To hear her say the lines that I’d written for her was great.  We only had her on local for a few days but she definitely packs a punch in the movie.

Matt:  You’ve been taking this film around the country with preview screenings in the lead up to its release this week.  I’d love to know what sort of responses you’ve been getting from audiences and in particular, indigenous Australians?

Ivan:  The feedback has been positive which is great.  We took the film to Winton for a premiere and indigenous audiences there were very interested in the representation of the Land Council and the connection with the mining companies.  Aside from that, they were wrapped up in the story and engaged by this thriller.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking what you’re working on at the moment?

Ivan:  I’m in talks with a couple of companies about two different films.  They’re both science fiction films which are quite big compared to Goldstone.