Cinema Australia Original Content:
Director Heath Davis has been a busy man having directed three Australian feature films over the last few years – Broke, Book Week and the upcoming Locusts.
Written and produced by Angus Watts, Locusts is a modern western action-suspense feature filmed at Broken Hill and set for release late next year.
Here, Watts talks us through three important factors which made up the shoot.
WHO’S IN IT?
Ben Geurens (Reign) plays the lead, Ryan Black, a troubled tech entrepreneur struggling with childhood demons who reluctantly returns to his desert hometown to face his past, but finds himself caught up in an extortion scam at the hands of desperate smalltown thugs. Ben is an amazing talent and really sunk his teeth into the role which was incredibly physically challenging, requiring him onset day-in day-out for the month-long shoot. We were doing late night shoots on remote desert highways in sub-zero temperatures (we shot in July), brutal desert stunts and long shooting days… but Ben took it all in his stride.
We spent a lot of time casting for the lead as we knew it would be a challenging role both physically and creatively. Ben was recommended by co-star Nathaniel Dean and taped a killer audition – he brought a veneer of toughness to an otherwise vulnerable, stressed-out Jimmy Stewart-type character. That was exciting to me creatively as a writer, and as a producer casting Ben was a lay-down mizaire.
The narrative follows a corporate fish-out-of-water’s homecoming to his sleepy desert hometown, but discovers that in the wake of the mining boom it’s degenerated into a kind of dangerous dystopian world where unemployment, drugs and desperation have become rife. Ryan’s arc is kind of a reluctant existential journey of self-discovery, and I think creatively Ben did a great job of tapping into the relentless stream of confusion, anxiety and self-doubt that runs through that journey. There’s no question Ben’s one of this country’s most under-rated performers, his dedication and passion are inspiring, and there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll move on to bigger commercial projects in the near future.
I felt privileged to have such an amazing wealth of talent on board my first film as writer/producer. Jessica McNamee (The Meg) did a wonderful job as Isabella, a jaded small-town single mum to a sick child – something quite different to what she’s been doing in the US. Nat Dean (Alien: Covenant) plays Tyson Black, the protagonist’s burnt-out ex-con brother, and I think he was excited for the chance to get into a tough-guy role with heart. Legend Andy McPhee (Animal Kingdom) plays Jake, a wizened station owner, and we had an amazing support cast including Justin Rosniak (Animal Kingdom), Steve Le Marquand (Two Hands), the late Damian Hill (West of Shnshine), Alan Dukes (Book Week), newcomer Ryan Morgan, Ken Moraleda, Peter Phelps, Caroline Brazier, NRL star George Burgess, and a cameo by Angry Anderson.
I’d just like to make a special mention of Ryan Morgan who was cast in a key supporting role, Caleb, after a fairly extensive national search. This was Ryan’s first feature outing at 22, and he was simply outstanding – which alongside some of our most experienced acting talent was no small feat. In my opinion Ryan has the depth and an understated smoulder to become one of our greats. You read it here first.
WHO MADE IT?
I wrote and produced the film, which is based on an extrapolation of my own experiences growing up in drought-ravaged outback NSW and post-mining boom areas of regional Queensland, and the very real issues faced by many small post mining-boom communities – drugs, poverty and unemployment. Heath Davis directed after two years collaborating on the project, in what was a quantum step up from his previous films in terms of size, budget and scope.
DP Chris Bland as always did a beautiful job. He has an amazing eye and sense of tempo and emotion behind the lens. I’m passionate about landscape cinematography and was keen to use Broken Hill’s epic natural canvass to its greatest potential, so in pre-production I gave Chris an ARRI and a 4WD, and sent him out into the desert for three days to shoot vistas until he could shoot no more. The results were stunning.
Tiare Tomaszewski was our Line Producer extraordinaire. She’s an amazing human being and brought a wealth of experience to the project, bringing it in on time and on budget. Legendary 1st AD Rick Beecroft was an invaluable set of hands with his outback shooting experience from the first Wolf Creek film; and Production Designer Carlo Crescini and his young energetic team did an amazing job with limited resources.
WHERE WAS IT SHOT?
In pre-production Heath and I spent a lot of time location scouting around the country. I felt the film really needed a gritty scorched-earth backdrop and obviously we’re blessed in this country with a wealth of epic natural vistas for filmmaking. We shortlisted Coober Pedy, Broken Hill and Winton in my home state, Queensland. To be honest I would have loved to have filmed at Coober, it’s like stepping onto another planet, but with a million or so opal mine-shafts scattered around the region I felt there were overriding safety issues. Winton boasts plenty of epic barren landscapes but access isn’t easy for a film of this scale. In the end Broken Hill was a logical choice for Locusts with ready air access for a cast and crew mostly based out of Sydney and Adelaide, plenty of local support – especially from Jason King at Screen Broken Hill. Without Jason’s local knowledge it would have been nearly impossible to get the film up. Most of the land out there is owned by private station owners who were hugely supportive of the film. The only disappointing aspect of taking a large cast and crew to shoot in regional NSW was Create NSW’s unwillingness to provide production support, despite providing a significant boost for many local businesses in a drought-stricken region.
Shooting in Broken Hill is an amazing feeling. It feels a bit like a shrine of classic Australian cinema. Everywhere you go there are snippets of classic Aussie cinema from Mad Max 2, to Razorback, Wake In Fright, and Priscilla. Films and desert vistas we grew up with, and to an extent shaped my own creative vision as an aspiring writer and filmmaker. We shot a scene on the stretch of road where the rollover scene from Mad Max 2 was filmed. It was very surreal. I wandered into The Palace Hotel (where Priscilla was filmed) for a quiet steak one evening, not realising it was Tranny Bingo Night. 15 minutes later I found myself dancing onstage with hostesses Shelita Buffet and Christina Kneesup doing karaoke in front of a crowd of rowdy locals. That’s the Broken Hill experience… quirky, raw and disarmingly hospitable.
Locusts is dedicated to our good friend Damian Hill who tragically passed away two months after wrap. It will sadly be his final onscreen role and an out of character one that will surprise people with his intensity I think.
Locusts will do the international festival circuit in the new year with a scheduled late 2019 release.
You can keep up to date with Locusts here.