Forget marauding rubber tyres, world's greatest dads, machete maidens and 3D cane toads, the hottest ticket at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival is Richard Gray's debut Summer Coda.
The romantic drama was the first film to sell out at the festival -- one of the large ACMI theatres no less -- and not even sweet talking or who-you-knows will get you one of the last minute reserve seats; they're gone too! I've tried.
Summer Coda was the runner up in the Australian version of Project Greenlight back in 2005, narrowly missing out on the $1 million first prize. However Gray stuck to his guns and shot the film with a stellar Aussie cast back in November last year, up in the orchard and vineyard country around Mildura in northern Victoria, and later in California.
"Stellar cast" may sound like the usual film hyperbole, but seriously when you've got Rachael Taylor (Transformers, Cedar Boys), Alex Dimitriades (Three Blind Mice), Jackie Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek), Bethany Whitmore (Mary & Max), Susie Porter (Two Hands) and Angus Sampson (Kokoda), what else do you say?
I spoke to Richard Gray briefly just before he shot his film over the last (Australian) summer, and ahead of the film's gala debut at MIFF this Wednesday I thought I'd finally unveil the results of our cider-infused chat.
Cheers [clink]. Tell us about Summer Coda. What does "romantic drama" mean?
It's ultimately a love story but there's a lot of twists and turns and there are real genre elements in it that are really important to me. So it's half a road movie, half a romantic drama, but I think the genres work really well together. It's about this character Heidi, played by Rachael Taylor, who travels back home to Australia after many years seeking family closure.
How did you get such a great cast? Even the supporting characters are major Australian actors.
I have this thing where I write roles for supporting characters to make sure everyone has a good arc make sure everyone is looked after. So if I want to get the actors I want, I need to be able to hand them the script and say there's something for them in it. So Susie Porter, Jackie Weaver, Cassie McGrath, Angus Smapson, Nathan Phillips, are playing supporting roles in the film. I've also got a great casting agent, Thea McLeod.
You've spoken about wanting to make this film resonate on the big screen, isn't that what all filmmakers want?
When I was working at the cinemas growing up, worked at Hoyts Forest Hill and Hoyts Chadstone I loved thinking about one day making a movie that was good enough to be seen in those cinemas. So I'm looking at this film as a fan. If I go and see an Australian film I'm really disappointed if I didn't have to go to a cinema to see it. If it's not cinematic, if the score's not great, then why should I go and see it? Cinema tickets are so expensive and I want to make sure that I would pay to go and see my film - and my buddies who don't know shit about film would want to see it - and that the film has the scope, although the story is small, to be worth being on that big screen.
The soundtrack is already something incredible - Glenn Richards of Augie March, Dan Sultan, Liam Finn all contributing original songs as I understand it.
Music is a big part of my life and my love for music has been progressing at the same time as the screenplay. I've had a real fascination with music in films. I think when a score is done well it can really make or break a film and I'm really hoping this will be an Australian film you'll want to buy the soundtrack to.
Summer Coda debuts this coming Wednesday night at MIFF and in cinemas on October 21.
Check out the film's trailer and stills gallery below.