5 minutes with Riley Sugars

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Riley Sugars on the set of Hatchback.

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Regular Cinema Australia readers may remember this publication spruiking Riley Sugars’ last short film, Rabbits – a heavy-hitting family drama set in late 1960’s Australia.

If you watched the film, you will be excited to know that Sugars’ latest film Hatchback will launch its festival run this month when it celebrates its world premiere at the upcoming St Kilda Film Festival on May 27.

Written and directed by Sugars, co-produced by Sugars, Jon Grosland, Chloe Graham and Anthony Littlechild, and starring Stephen Curry and Jackson Tozer, the hilarious two-hander follows Vince (Curry) as he attempts to dispose of a dead body for the mob, but when he reluctantly enlists the help of his dim-witted brother-in-law Ted (Tozer), things don’t go to plan.

We had a quick chat with Sugars to find out more about the making of the film.

Riley Sugars on the set of Hatchback.

“I tried hard to make it as fun an experience as possible – including some hilarious carpark driving lessons for Jackson in which the crew were teaching him to drive the manual car.”

Interview by Matthew Eeles

Looking back on your body of work so far, comedy is quite rare for you. Other than your two-minute short Forced Smile, Hatchback is your first genuine comedy, and your last film Rabbits is quite a heavy film dramatically. What inspired you to follow it up with a comedy?
Rabbits, a very heavy and personal project for me, was both the best thing I had made at the time, but also emotionally draining creatively. After making that, the idea to do something fun was really appealing. I just wanted to make something fun. We experienced the very drawn out and genuinely depressing period of Covid lockdowns and Hatchback was a fun little project that brought me laughter and kept the creative spark going. It undeniably kept my spirit in filmmaking alive during that period.

Tell us about some of the challenges of directing comedy over drama. 
I think the biggest one was keeping my two wonderful leads, Stephen Curry and Jackson Tozer, on track as they were laughing so much off camera. But when you see that, then you know you have cast well and that you are doing something right. You can’t fake good chemistry and these two had it in spades. I said right from the get-go that both these two have forgotten more about comedic acting, writing and comedy itself than I will ever know. When you feel that you have written something that is of some quality, there is a temptation to stick to the script, but I always knew that was impossible. Giving the boys freedom to do what they do best was going to make pearls. We had two comedy racehorses here and I did not want to put a saddle on them. I wanted to give them the room to gallop and squeeze the most out of the characters and the script as they could. Keeping the set playful and fun was important too. I tried hard to make it as fun an experience as possible – including some hilarious carpark driving lessons for Jackson in which the crew were teaching him to drive the manual car.
I think also there is something to be said about the pressure I felt working with experienced and professional actors – specifically Stephen. I sought advice from filmmaking friends and other creatives I knew, but Stephen was so kind and really made me feel like I was doing a good job, especially when the imposter syndrome kicked in. I’ll always be grateful that he said yes to the project and his friendship since.

Even though Stephen Curry and Jackson Tozer are probably best known for comedies like The Castle and The Ex-PM respectively, they’ve both proved themselves as dramatic actors in films like Hounds of Love and Lazybones. Tell us about casting both Stephen and Jackson, because they truly are so entertaining in this film.
I met Stephen at the 2020 Peninsula Film Festival. When I struck up a conversation, it was about his dramatic work that I wanted to talk about. His portrayal of Graham Kennedy in the telemovie The King was always something I remembered and admired as he balanced both the comedy and the drama of that performance wonderfully. We solidified our relationship at another event a month later and then I asked if I could send him a script. We discussed another project which Stephen declined, and then life went on. Covid then struck and lockdowns began. My friend Chloe and I began to work on the script of Hatchback and by mid-late 2020, the idea of casting someone had one absolute. They had to be a Melbourne local as we were uncertain of when lockdowns would end. Stephen was at the top of the list and so I emailed him. Unfortunately for him, he had had a run at the MTC cancelled, however for our project, it was just great timing as I believe he was looking for a new project to scratch that creative itch.
Jackson Tozer was basically my one and only choice for the role of Ted. I had seen him in The Ex-PM and always thought he was a scene stealer. Since then, he has been in a lot of supporting comedy roles that I have always taken notice of. Having met him a few years ago at a festival, we had kept in touch since and when I pitched him the film, he was interested. Once I told him that we were in early talks with Stephen, he was in.
The character of Vince in Hatchback required someone to play it straight in the comedy. Think Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The audience has to both sympathise with him, as well as laugh at the situation he is in. I knew that it was a comedy role which Stephen could play in his sleep, but also one that was very much reliant on the chemistry between the two leads. Where I knew that Ted had to be loud and goofy at times, Vince had to be more frustrated and have the internal comedy and that is why I am grateful to both Stephen and Jackson. Them having a pre existing relationship made the on screen chemistry so authentic. Like most comedy projects I’ve worked on, the temptation for actors to make it a contest is rife. Yet both understood the assignment. Stephen lobbed up the setups for Jackson to smack them down with a funny line.

Stephen Curry and Jackson Tozer and on the set of Hatchback

I can see Hatchback working as a feature film. In fact, most of your short films would make great feature films. Are you keen to develop any of your shorts into features, or would you like to explore a completely different narrative.
Myself and the creative team would honestly love to see Hatchback turn into a feature. I am really certain that audiences will respond to the characters of Vince and Ted and since finishing the film, we have thrown around a lot of ideas about what the feature could be. I am honestly itching to do more with these characters and we are currently working on a few ideas, so if any producers are interested, please let us know.

I noticed in the credits that Hatchback is dedicated to Joan Graham. Can you tell us about Joan and why you decided to dedicate the film to her?
Joan was the grandmother of Chloe Graham (Story, Co Screenwriter and Producer). When we first began production, we shot in Chloe’s local area and Joan was on set to watch the petrol station filming play out. Sadly a few months after production finished, Joan passed away. We were extremely grateful for the love Joan showed the film, but more so that she got to watch her granddaughter do what she loved one final time.

Find our more about the St Kilda Film Festival screening of Hatchback here

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