Megan’s got what she thought she wanted – a hot surfer boyfriend and a chance to reinvent herself over the summer. But who’s the weird kid that keeps crasher her party? And how long can she get away with ignoring him?
Article written by Hannah Moon (co-writer and direct), Robin Geradts Gill (producer, co-writer) and Stephen Sholl (co-writer):
It never seemed fair that films about teenage boys falling in love and having sex for the first time were so fun. American Pie, The In-betweeners and Superbad are all films about boys trying and failing with hilarious consequences. When it comes to girls, the path to sexual maturity is often dark, with the risk of danger or regret. It’s certainly true that teenage girls are vulnerable, but as a writing team we wanted to tell the story of girls trying and failing in the same ways as the boys and to give them the opportunity to laugh at themselves too. We wanted it to be fun and true to our own memories of adolescence.
It was with this in mind that we embarked on the feature script “Starfish”, which is a story of four teenage girls who head to a beachside caravan park for the summer with various sexual and romantic agendas. My co-writers Robin Geradts Gill, Stephen Sholl and I started the process by sharing all our most memorable characters and stories from adolescence. We found we had all experienced the freedom of the caravan park as teenagers and remembered it as a place where you could try on new versions of yourself. Best of all, we all had a funny, bittersweet caravan park romance story to tell.
With a solid first draft complete, we were lucky enough to be accepted into Screen Australia’s Springboard program in which we were supported to develop a short film to serve as a proof-of-concept for the feature. We knew we wanted our short to be set in that same world as the feature, but with all our ideas it was a challenge to contain it to short film length. Working closely with Paul Welsh, story editor, we managed to distill the central conflict of what we were exploring – the ‘limbo’ time when you’re too old to hang with the kids at the foreshore, but too young to fit in with the older crowd. You want an adult relationship, but don’t know how to do it.
The result was Dario, in which 16 year old Megan’s summer fling Luke is “good on paper” – an attractive surfy guy who’s old enough to drive – but there’s something not quite right. In his role as boyfriend, he’s overprotective and patronising. They don’t click. Cue trouble maker Dario, who is young and doesn’t know how to be a ‘boyfriend’. He’s not as physically developed and is basically a big dork, but he’s also spontaneous and individual. Megan’s not sure which guy she belongs with. It’s a simple coming of age story about working out what’s important to you, with some laughs along the way. Interestingly we found that our short plays a little straighter than the feature, but the story world and the character arcs work in similar ways.
We always knew that this age group would be a challenge to cast. We needed actors who could make the drama credible, whilst also playing the comedy. Thankfully, Fiona Dann our Casting Director suggested an open casting call from the Gold Coast to Melbourne. We received over 300 YouTube auditions, shot in all sorts of locations – bedrooms, dad’s tool shed, the bathroom, the stationary cupboard at work. It was a wonderful insight into the world of all the teens and the performances were often intimate and brave. We ran callbacks on the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne and assembled our cast across three states. We couldn’t have been happier with the final cast. They all brought real integrity and truth to the roles.
Katie Milwright brought an elegant, formal approach to the cinematography which gave the performances room to breathe and shine, and I worked closely with her to develop our look. We kept the lighting natural and true to the locations, with a dash of romance in the right places. Tim Burgin’s production design built on the familiar elements of the pub and the caravan park, creating a range of signs that set the ‘rules’ of the world. In the end, Dario doesn’t necessarily feel like a nostalgia piece but is hopefully timeless. It could be set now or twenty years ago.
Our shooting schedule was incredibly ambitious, with many out-of-town locations and scenes with lots of extras, so we were very fortunate to have such a dedicated cast and crew. The whole team embraced an overnight stay in the caravan park, which led to plenty of sharing memories of adolescence. We had a large interior pub scene that we shot in Melbourne in order to include the maximum number of extras. Steve and Robin appear in various scenes in the background, dressed as party-goers while simultaneously performing producing duties. It was a quiet time of year when we shot the exterior caravan park scenes so we had to rely on sound to really flesh out the world of a busy summer camp ground. Sound designer Emma Bortignon had a great instinct for comic moments while still making everything sound natural and true. Geoff Hitchins brought a real sensitivity and simplicity to the edit, pacing the jokes and drama with a keen eye for performance.
We were thrilled when given the opportunity to premiere at MIFF alongside a whole swag of amazing films. In both screenings we got great laughs, and often in quite surprising places – moments that we didn’t realise, or had forgotten, were funny. It’s such a delight to see an audience connect with the world and the time of life we’re trying to capture.
The experience of developing, producing and screening Dario has been a great source of material and inspiration as we focus our energies back to the feature script. Hopefully our audience feels the same way, and is keen to continue exploring the world with us.