Interview: Hugh Sullivan

It’s a crime The Infinite Man wasn’t nominated for the $100,000 prize at this year’s CinéfestOZ film festival. Ironically, it was the most talk about film over the five day event and, with all due respect, was a far better film in every regard than Robert Connolly’s Paper Planes which took home the loot. When I asked the film’s director, Hugh Sullivan, about his film not being selected he told me, “I would have been thrilled for our film to be nominated for the prize but at the same time it was nice to head over to CinéfestOZ without that pressure of the competition and we got to have a really good time.”

You made a handful of successful short films prior to The Infinite Man. Does making short films prepare you enough for making a feature?
Yeah, I think so. It allowed me to make a great many mistakes in an environment where the stakes are a little lower than features because there is a lot less money involved essentially. I’ve made many, many mistakes and hopefully I learnt from those mistakes by the time it came around to making The Infinite Man. A feature takes a lot more time and energy but as far as refining my skill set goes, making short films has been a great help. I felt adequately prepared and also quite terrified at the same time. But I definitely felt happier with this film than I have with any of the others I’ve made in the past.

Have you always been interested in the idea of time travel?
It’s always been something that I’ve really enjoyed in films and stories and I guess I wanted to try my hand at it at some point. This opportunity just seemed like a great opportunity to do that. I had this character Dean in mind as somebody who had this difficult relationship with his past and himself and time travel seemed like a great way of exploring that in an explicit way. The film was meant for a low budget, and I knew that before even writing it, and time travel just seemed like a good way of putting on a good show for the audience despite the low budget. It seemed like the right time to try out this thing I had always been interested in.

Director Hugh Sullivan on set. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

Director Hugh Sullivan on set. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

With such a minimal budget, what was the hardest part of the film to pull off?
[Laughs]. I think the hardest part was realising my vision on a level I’d be happy with. I knew that we could do it but it was going to be a little more challenging and require greater ingenuity and perhaps even harder work. We had a very small crew – a very talented crew but it was very small – and there were a lot of people multi-tasking. What would normally be quite simple tasks became that much more difficult. It was ensuring we would all walk away happy with what we’ve got despite the limitations that were imposed on us. That was probably the greatest challenge but I did feel we handled it all quite well in the end.

Tell us a bit about working with such a minimal cast. Was it easy to convince Josh, Hannah and Alex to commit to such an unconventional film?
No. Look, we just sent out the script and they liked it and they all wanted to be involved. Even the idea of spending five weeks in Woomera didn’t seem to deter them. They just seemed to get right into the spirit of things and really embraced the difficulties of shooting in such remote locations and on a set that didn’t have the luxuries of other film sets. [Laughs]. They were up for anything and it was a real pleasure to work with them.

Director Hugh Sullivan on set with Hannah Marshall. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

Director Hugh Sullivan on set with Hannah Marshall. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

In a way I guess there’s more than 3 characters in the film considering Josh McConville plays a few different versions of himself. How did Josh go at pulling off these different personas of the same character?
Well he had far less trouble pulling them off than I expected him to. Josh is a fantastic actor but I would expect that kind of thing to challenge any performer. In those scenes where he’s acting opposite himself we only had which ever member of crew was available at that time to stand in so he was acting opposite a complete non-actor. Despite receiving very little from that other person he was able to deliver a performance that I thought was outstanding. Those scenes with Josh are some of my favourite scenes in the whole film. I really couldn’t tell you exactly how he did it but he was amazing.

Especially the scene with the hot cup of coffee.
Yeah the coffee. [Laughs]. I’m pretty sure I gave him the lines for that scene on the day we shot so I thought he did remarkably well. [Laughs].

Josh McConville, who plays Dean, on the set of The Infinite Man. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

Josh McConville, who plays Dean, on the set of The Infinite Man. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

What was it like working with cinematographer Marden Dean? He seems to be the man-of-the-moment after shooting The Infinite Man and Fell.
It’s great to see Marden doing so well. I met Marden at film school and we shot a couple of films together there. I really wanted to work with him on my first feature ever since then, so it just felt really great to be working with someone who is so talented and just such a great friend. It’s a working relationship that we’ve developed over the years and it’s incredibly smooth and fun which is exactly how you want it to be in the desert. I really want to work with him again in the future if he’s not too busy or in such high demand that I can’t get him. [Laughs]. I’m thrilled with the results.

In 2006 you were awarded a mentorship with Phillip Noyce. How much of what he taught you do you still carry with you today?
Well we would catch up for dinner every now and then and just chat about whatever was on my mind at that time. I have no doubt that he helped to guide me into the direction that has got me where I am today. I’m very thankful for the time I got to spend with Phillip and he’s a really great guy who’s very generous with his knowledge and his experience.

Do you still chat with him now?
I haven’t caught up with him for a while actually because he’s an extremely busy man so I try not to trouble him. [Laughs].

Director Hugh Sullivan with Josh McConville and Hannah Marshall. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

Director Hugh Sullivan with Josh McConville and Hannah Marshall. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

The Infinite Man has been given a very limited release in Australia. Does it frustrate you as a director that a film as brilliant as yours isn’t embraced by a local audience yet something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is despite negative reviews?
[Laughs]. Look, it would do me little good to be frustrated by something that is completely out of my control. Unfortunately that’s just the way things are and I just really need to try to work successfully within that. Really, it’s a small release but that does seem appropriate for a film of this scale. We also don’t have the marketing budget that most films do and that plays a big part in getting people to see them. We’ll just have to wait and see who comes to see it I guess. Hopefully people do come to see it.

Hannah Marshall and Josh McConville on the set of The Infinite Man. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

Hannah Marshall and Josh McConville on the set of The Infinite Man. (Photo by Brendan Cain)

We invited members of our social media network to submit questions for us to ask Hugh on their behalf. It was interesting that almost all of the questions submitted related to time travel devices. Here’s one of them:

If you discovered a time travel device what would be the one thing you would change about your life?
[Laughs]. Can I please have a moment to think. [Laughs]. I would… Um… I guess I would waste less time. I feel very fortunate to be where I am now so if I was to go back in time and change something I may find myself in a less desirable place. If I’ve learnt anything it’s not to go back and mess with things too much. [Laughs].

That’s a great answer.
Well I hope it satisfies whoever asked it. [Laughs].

Interview by Matthew Eeles.

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