“Everyone wanted to interview Stephen Peacocke,” director Kane Guglielmi told me during an early morning Skype chat, just three days before his new film’s premiere.
I was surprised considering Peacocke has only one scene in the film.
“Now that he’s done a few studio films there’s a lot more buzz around him, rather than just being an Australian TV guy. He’s a movie star now.”
Cooped Up has three Home and Away connections. Peacocke, director Guglielmi who directed five episodes, and the film’s real leading man, Charles Cottier.
Cottier is a revelation here and there’s no doubt his career is set to explode off the back of his Jim Carrey-like performance.
“Stephen lending himself to the film also helps Charles who deserves all the credit for what he’s done in this film. He’s a very versatile guy and a very talented performer. He deserves for people to go and see the movie.”
Cooped Up is a bizarre yet heartwarming film which is driven by Cottier’s performance. It’s synopsis on the other hand is even stranger. After coming into contact with a potentially fatal virus, a bitter professional wrestler is forced to isolate himself in his childhood home for 21 days.
“Ultimately it’s about a weird guy who on the surface is quite a unique character. He’s a professional wrestler and a little bit of a loser to some degree. We find through the journey of the film that he’s actually a really sweet and sincere guy. The chemistry between him and the young, ambitious doctor played by Kathryn Beck is awkward at first but the Shakespeare play the film references quite a bit suggests that these characters will find common ground eventually.”
Guglielmi and his crew set out to do something a little different and it’s paid off with he final cut of the film.
“We certainly don’t take our film too seriously and I think that’s maybe a point of difference between our film and a lot of other films being made these days.”
“There are a lot of films released theatrically that probably shouldn’t be. Not because they’re not good films, but you have to play to your strengths.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
It’s rare these days, especially over the last two years or so, to come across an Australian film not written and directed by the same person. When were you first introduced to John Ratchford’s script?
John and I have known each other for about ten years. Our relationship started on a project through Paramount Pictures and MTV in Australia when they first set up shop here. They opened up their doors with the intention to produce some local films and content. Paramount themselves didn’t have the production capabilities which is how MTV got in the mix. John wrote a script a long time ago which was a finalist in Project Greenlight. His script got great reviews which lead to Paramount and MTV optioning it. It was a college comedy set in Australia and they wanted someone young to approach it and direct it. There had been a little bit of press about a short film I had made back then. Paramount must have heard about it and got in touch so that’s how that conversation first started. The film never ended up getting made because the Executive Producer at MTV left and he was the driving force behind the film.
John is like a lot of writers – they’re not incredibly ambitious and sometimes complacent. I think John would agree that I’ve been pushing him over the last ten years because I’ve always believed in him. I would say that he’s the most talented comedy writer that Australia has seen for a while. We got screwed on a few projects in America so I decided to turn to my own backyard and I told John I wanted to come up with something with him.
John and I spent the most part of a year working on this script and he deserves full credit as the writer. It was the best development experience I’ve ever had and I think John would agree with me on that. We’ve already got a couple of other projects in the works.
It’s been well documented that you sold your home to fund your film. Obviously you tried to secure more traditional funding for the film first, right?
That would be what most people assume. [Laughs]. I’m happy to tell people exactly what happened and the truth is that I didn’t approach anyone for any money. I made the decision to do this myself from the start. I did have someone contact me from overseas who heard me during a radio interview. He was an Australian who offered to finance the movie if I replaced Charles.
They wanted a bigger name. Which ultimately was an easy decision for me. I said no. It was easy in one sense because I believed in Charles and I knew that he was the perfect person for the film. Now being on the other side of it, I think I made the right decision. Financially it would have been much easier for me to accept that offer.
I didn’t seek any money from anyone and I didn’t seek any distribution upfront or pre-sales or nothing. I wanted to make the film how I wanted to make it.
Following a big screen world premiere the film is going to be available immediately via streaming services which you’ve previously described as being the “best business decision.” Can you elaborate on that a little more?
I want it to be made clear that I chose for us not to have a theatrical release. Digital wasn’t a forced path. It’s not like no one wanted to release it theatrically. I know quite a few owners of numerous cinemas around the country who I spoke with about doing a small theatrical run. But when I developed the script that’s not what I planned. I always planned to release Cooped Up digitally. I thought that my demographic is very familiar with multiple streaming platforms. On the other side of making the film a few opportunities came up to release theatrically and of course that idea is music to any filmmakers ears, but I had to get over the fact that it was probably more a pride thing for me to be in cinemas. In my opinion, there are a lot of films released theatrically that probably shouldn’t be. Not because they’re not good films, but you have to play to your strengths.
We’re in a time when going to the cinema in Australia is very expensive. My film is targeted towards 17 to 18 year olds right through to 45 year olds. That demographic love comic book films. It’s unrealistic to think someone would go to the movies and plonk down $50 to $100 to see my film when they could see a $100,000,000 studio film. I’m very confident in my film, and I’m confident people will really enjoy it, but at the same time I have to be realistic about how people are going to want to see it.
The film has a very small cast of seven. Because of the low budget did you have to call in favours from friends or did you have a casting agent on board to put the team together.
I hired everyone out of relationships, whether it be relationships with the actors themselves or through their agents. Charles and I have wanted to do something together for a long time, same with Stephen and I. I was always trying to find something for the both of them. I had another project planned with Stephen which was a much much bigger film and it didn’t come together. I also had another one planned with Charles which was a little bit out of my financial ability, hence why we developed Cooped Up.
Charles really takes his performance here to another level. Did he stick to the script or did you give him some freedom to improvise?
You’d be surprised that there wasn’t a whole lot of improvisation. It was pretty much word-for-word from the script. There were certain scenes we didn’t end up using in the final cut that were a little improvised. There are some great moments I will always get to enjoy. No one else will. [Laughs]. I spent a lot of time with Charles on the character and I would sometimes do these three-way Skype rehearsals with Charles and Kathryn which worked really well. If I didn’t sense something right about Charles on the day I’d mention it to him. As soon as I did he would switch back into his character. The good thing about Charles is that because he has such a large amount of dialogue he would rarely miss the mark. It was mind blowing to watch him do his thing in person. This character came so naturally to Charles that once he got into character I had very little work to do.
He sounds like a dream to work with.
He is. I’ve never had so much fun working with anybody in 12 years. We rented a house together and we stayed together for the entire duration of the shoot so his face was the first I’d see in the morning and the last I’d see after a long day. [Laughs]. We never stopped laughing and we never had one disagreement.
I’ve been scrolling through the film’s social media channels and I’ve noticed this cult following coming out of the UK and Ireland. What’s feeding this overseas interest in the film? Is it the Home and Away connections?
I had no idea Home and Away was so big over there.
They’re huge Home and Away fans and probably the most important territory for Channel 7. Huge following over there and huge money for the network. A lot of the Home and Away guys would go over there for appearances as a little money spinner. When I made the movie I didn’t think it was as crazy as what it actually is. We have a huge following over there now. We literally get over 100,000 people a day looking at our social media which is pretty cool for a little film. What’s sad, but kind of funny at the same time, is that Australian is probably the least interested territory for this film.
As sad as it is, that doesn’t surprise me at all.
That’s why Australian filmmakers have got to make films that appeal to other people in other parts of the world. It’s as simple as that. If you want to make films and pay your bills at the same time there’s a fine line between filmmaking being art and business. I’m very conscious of the business aspect, and not just because it’s my money. I’m not in it for film festivals and industry endorsements. Time will tell if we’ve made the right decisions for Cooped Up or not.
Cooped Up is out now via Vimeo On Demand, Google Play, iTunes, Xbox and Amazon.