Interview: David Wenham

Director David Wenham on the set of Ellipsis.

Cinema Australia caught up with director David Wenham to discuss his new film, Ellipsis.

Ellipsis gave me the opportunity as a director to experiment with a lot of different things that I’ve always wanted to do myself as an actor.”


Interview by Matthew Eeles

How excited are you to be getting Ellipsis out to a larger audiences?
Oh, it’s fabulous. I’ve been part of the audience in a few different places now like Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Byron and Coffs Harbour. It’s really satisfying being in an audience during a screening, but also to then have the opportunity to engage in conversation afterwards which is what we’re doing with these little event screenings around the country.

How have audiences been responding to the film so far?
Very positive. The overwhelming one really is the amount of people who tell me they’ve had an almost identical experience to the one in the film. I had a couple come up to me the other night in Coffs Harbour who saw the film then told me that’s pretty much exactly how they got together and now they’ve been married for twenty-something years.

That’s amazing.
It really is. The amount of people who have told me they’ve had these sorts of nights, they miss them, they have fond recollections of those sorts of encounters. Another thing that people have spoken to me about after they’ve seen the film is that Ellipsis has this lingering effect because it has actually influenced their lives and how they go and spend their days following it. The film sticks with them and there’s now a different purpose about their day. It certainly wasn’t an intended effect. It’s obviously a delightful little bi-product of the film.

Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel in Ellipsis.

This relationship between Viv (Emily Barclay) and Jasper (Benedict Samuel) got me thinking. Is this kind of instant mateship between two people who have just met unique to Australia and our culture?
It’s a great thing about this country but I’m sure it is common elsewhere. The amazing thing about having the opportunity to work in different countries and different cultures around the world, and the most eye opening thing, is that we’re pretty much all the same. Regardless of some cultural differences we’re pretty much all the same. I’d imagine it’s not completely unique to Australia but what is unique about this particular film is the environment. Kings Cross is completely changing and it’s a suburb which is disappearing and may disappear completely within the next few years unfortunately. Ellipsis will also offer some form of a document as to what the place was like previously.

Kings Cross is just up the road from where I live, so it’s very close to my heart.

Emily Barclay in Ellipsis.

You’ve branded Ellipses an experiment. Can you talk a bit about the process of making this film.
It’s a film I didn’t plan to make. I was making another film at the time and it fell over. Instead of packing up my tools and running away we turned the situation into our advantage. I always wanted to make an experimental film. An experimental film not in subject matter but in how the film was actually constructed itself and how the film was made. Because we didn’t really have that much money I came up with the idea of having just ten days to conceive the film from its very inception, right through until the very end of principle photography. In three days myself and the two actors put ourselves in a room and we workshopped an idea for a film, for storyline, for characters. And then for seven days we filmed sequentially in real operating environments. This gave me the opportunity as a director to experiment with a lot of different things that I’ve always wanted to do myself as an actor. Namely work with real people in real environments and also to be free of script – To be able to act completely instinctively without the constraints and restraints of full stops on the page.

How liberating was that for you? You’ve been involved in massive productions throughout your career, I could only imagine the freedom you must have felt with this.
Completely liberating. Strangely, because of that, it was totally stress free. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever actually been on a film set which is something I didn’t expect, but that’s how it was. It didn’t feel as though there were forces moving upon us towards a desired end. We were completely free. We were also lucky that we were working with a very, very small crew because of the constraints of money. There were only four crew members which gave us ease of movement and we could change locations up to fifteen or sixteen times a day. It gave us access to places we wouldn’t be able to get to if we were a very large film unit.

The production felt very relaxed. Were you drinking as much as the main two characters seem to be in the film?
[Laughs]. I wasn’t drinking at all.

Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel give the Breathalizer a run half way through the film. How much had they had to drink?
Well it depends if you believe the Breathalizer or not.

Am I suspecting some CGI?
[Laughs]. You never know. You never know.

Benedict Samuel in Ellipsis.

I want to talk a little bit about the film’s cinematographer, Simon Morris. Was there much preplanning when it came to the film’s cinematography or was that as improvised as the performances?
It had to be. When we came up with this idea I wanted to work with someone who was hungry and I thought it would be a great opportunity to give a young DP the chance to show their worth. I also needed someone who had experience both in documentary and in narrative feature film construction, purely because of what I had in mind. A number of names were mentioned to me and the first person I met was Simon. We clicked. He was a genuinely very, very nice guy to sit down and talk with and I instantly knew I could trust his instinct. I gave him the job and we did it the very next week. Three days in that room working with the actors to come up with the idea for the film, during the day time he would access the hardware for the film and then at night we would talk about how we would approach our shooting methodology because there was no rehearsal. I didn’t allow Simon to use any artificial light. Ninety-five-percent of the film is one take with two cameras. What he did was remarkable considering his limitations. He embraced it, he ran with it and he’s made a really beautiful looking film. His work is stunning.

How hungry are you to get out there and make more films like this, or are you just dying to get back onto a big film set?
I’m not dying to get back onto a big film set at all. If I had the means to just be behind the camera for the rest of my life I would. Unfortunately at the moment I have to do my day job so I can then step behind the camera. I’ve got lots of ideas so I will indeed step behind the camera again and hopefully I can put one of them to action this year.

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You can catch David at a bunch of Q&A screening for Ellipsis including…

Gold Coast Film Festival and Asia Pacific Screen Awards
The Arts Centre Gold Coast
February 8, 2018 at 6.45pm
Includes Q&A session with both David and executive producer Rob Connelly

Cinema Nova, Carlton VIC
February 10, 2018 at 6.30pm
Includes Q&A with David Wenham

Luna Leederville, Leederville WA
February 18, 2018 at 4.30pm
Includes Q&A with David Wenham

Camelot Outdoor Cinemas, Mosman Park WA
February 18, 2018 at 8.00pm
Includes an Extended Introduction by David Wenham

More screening details can be found here.

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