Before Australian writer/director David Caesar became a filmmaker, he was a truck driver.
And while his short stint on the open road ended abruptly when he crashed his truck, the impressions of the culture stayed with him and informed his first feature film script - an dark road thriller - which he wrote, tucked away in a drawer but revisited from time to time as his career in television and film directing took off.
A decade later, after making his mark with explosive bank robbery black comedy Idiot Box and one of Sam Worthington's first Aussie hits, Guy Ritchie-esque gangster movie Dirty Deeds, as well as lots of TV, Caesar came back to that first script, Prime Mover, and set about transforming it into a film closer to what he now wanted to make.
Greatly influenced by Korean directors' extreme mixes of styles and genres in their films, the resulting film is part open road thriller/part romantic fable - a strange hybrid to say the least - featuring drug induced psychotic hallucinations, mystical flights of fantasy paired with gritty fights, truck chases and...a gypsy caravan.
Michael Dorman (Daybreakers, Acolytes) plays Thomas, a guy dead set on owning his own rig and getting the girl, Melissa (Emily Barclay) only to find that neither dream is what he thought it would be. The always brilliant Ben Mendelsohn (soon to be massive with his major role in Animal Kingdom) turns up as a menacing drug dealer, while in some sort of Garret-Dillahunt-in-Deadwood-like performance, Anthony Hayes turns up in at least three roles.
David Caesar tells ScreenAnarchy about mixing diverse styles and genres in Prime Mover.
I guess Prime Mover could be called your dream project. How long was the journey to screen?
It had fits and starts but I started writing it in the early 1990s, probably before any other feature screenplay I wrote really. But it was a very different thing, influenced by the documentaries I was making at the time. It had a very big documentary element to it, and it had three parts, a real documentary, a fake documentary and then a dramatic part. So it was complicated in a different way. I'm not one of those directors who has one idea and sticks with it until it gets made, it's more a case of which idea gets the most interest. So Prime Mover was on and off as other films got made, but I started working on it seriously in 2003.
How did it change from the version you first wrote?
The original screenplay was just the darker elements of the story and much more like Taxi Driver I guess, but [my producer] Vincent Sheehan and I were interested in making it a warmer film, and working on the idea of the guy's redemption because that was much more important to us for whatever reason. As a storyteller I feel now, as opposed to 15 years ago, that hope and redemption are really important parts of films; you can go to really dark places as long as you keep hope and redemption for characters.
You've got all these bright fantastical sequences in the film, but the drug world these drivers inhabit gets pretty hardcore, especially when the main character starts seeing things. Why the contrast?
As the earlier versions weren't narrative driven there's always been the idea of a hallucination amphetamine psychosis aspect to the story that is a really big part of that world. And that came from the original research stuff I did. I went out to Alice Springs and places like that to research the story and talk to truck drivers. There is this level of pressure they are under to get the job done in time that doesn't take things like the law into account. They'd tell me stories about drugs but also about being really tired not having slept for days and seeing things, seeing their wife floating alongside the window and having a conversation with them which at the time seemed completely natural and they struggle with that.
There's also this magical element to the film. No matter how far the character drives, he always seems to end up at the same truck stop. It's like Wake in Fright, the characters are all contained in the one isolated place.
I'm very conscious of trying to make a world. Not an expansive world, but a world these characters inhabit. I really liked the idea that the film is set in these great plains of Australia but it's really claustrophobic. Thomas has his cowboy trucker dream but the space he in habits isn't Australia but it's a metre and a half wide and a metre and a half deep; [the truck cabin] is a metal box, and sure it's moving around, but he's inside it. Whereas Melissa has got this gypsy idea she is excited about, the idea of freedom, but really she's bound to the caravan - her world is completely contained. So their dreams make their worlds claustrophobic.
Prime Mover is now on DVD in Australia.
Check out the trailer below.