Production company: Head credits read: Filmco Australia presents an Alfred Road Films production. Tail credits read: A Filmco Presentation produced by Alfred Road Films, made in association with Australian Film Commission; copyrighted to Alfred Road Films Pty. Ltd. and Filmco Ltd.
Budget: $1.3 million, Murray's Australian Film; $1.5 million contemporary press reports.
Locations: Macau, standing in for the Philippines, and Sydney's Supreme Sound studios, also standing in for the Philippines. According to director John Duigan, a little bit of filming was also done in Hong Kong.
Filmed: according to producer Richard Mason, filming started in December 1981 in time for the then 10BA mandated completion date of June 1982. The unit spent the first 11 days of the shoot in the then Portuguese colony of Macau, though Mason said this only allowed seven shooting days. The remaining interiors were then shot in Sydney - including all Koala Klub and hotel interiors, with some street scenes also shot in Sydney.
Australian distributor: Roadshow
Theatrical release: the film was given a premiere in Sydney on 27th July 1982, and it then went into release in the Pitt Centre in Sydney on 30th July 1982 and in Melbourne at the Russell Cinemas on the same date.
Video release: Roadshow Home Video
Rating: M (July 1982 2935.01m.)
35mm Eastmancolor filmed with Panavision ® equipment
Running time: 102 minutes (Murray's Australian Film)
Magna Pacific DVD time: 1'29"50
Umbrella DVD time: 1'30"35
According to the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, the film did a respectable $1,972,000 in domestic business on first release, equivalent to $5,738,520 in A$ 2009.
The film didn't travel that well internationally, though it did pick up a release on tape in the United States. (An international version of the film was prepared and is listed at the NFSA here).
The film was a bust at the 1982 Australian Film Institute awards, picking up only one nomination:
Nominated, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (John Bell) (Gary McDonald won for The Pirate Movie)
For a long time the film was only available on VHS in speciality rental houses still carrying the original Roadshow release.
That changed when Magna Pacific first released the film on DVD, but it was a terrible, murky barebones 4:3 edition which should be avoided at all costs. If you find it for a dollar, save the dollar.
The preferred edition, available in region four, is by Umbrella. The slick promotes it as 16:9 widescreen, 1.85:1, and the image is good, being relatively clean and sharp. Sound is also good.
There are only a couple of extras - the film's theatrical trailer and a commentary track by writer-director John Duigan.
Duigan does his best to inform, but is prone to pauses and gaps. He might have been helped along by an interviewer or a moderator, as a way of focussing the insights and the information he's providing.
What Duigan does say is of interest, but the spasmodic delivery will mainly appeal to Ozmovie cultists. By the last third of the film, the commentary gets sparse, almost spartan, as if Duigan has forgotten the task - or perhaps the chore at hand - and has settled down to watch the movie.
The comments are not always that useful either, except for trivia buffs - for example, at one point, Duigan notes that actor Bryan Brown was very fit, and good for tough guy action scenes, a good swimmer and surfer, but Duigan then can't resist nothing that he held his own with Brown at tennis. Take that Mr. Brown, 40-love.
But in the meantime, interesting questions about the development of the film, the connection to Casablanca, and Duigan's feelings about the film tend to go missing.
The film seems to have dropped out of the Umbrella catalogue, but they can be harassed here about its availability. It also shouldn't be too hard to find in the second hand market. It isn't the best John Duigan film doing the rounds - it has too many script flaws for starters and Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously is a much more successful venture into Asia.
But it does represent a step away from other earlier films about Asia, such as going to war in The Odd Angry Shot, or heading off to fornicate in Hong Kong, John Lamond Felicity style, and is required viewing for Duigan enthusiasts and Ozmovie arthouse cultists (the Ozploitation crowd might be happier with Felicity).
Writer-director John Duigan started on Far East with a different film in mind, as noted by David Stratton in his 1990 book, The Avocado Plantation:
Far East ... started out as a much more austere project than it eventually became. 'I often think I should have stuck with my early intentions,' says Duigan, 'which were to make a film something like Volker Schlondorff's Circle of Deceit (which was set in war-torn Beirut). It would have been much more gruelling, and dealt with a situation where members of the Philioppines New People's Army surrounded the hall where an internatiional business conference was going on.'
But with Bryan Brown in mind, Duigan and producer Richard Mason drifted into erstatz Casablanca territory, though as Duigan told Stratton, 'The moral realities in the Philippines are completely different from those during the Second World War, where the moral issues were much more clear-cut.'
Duigan went to the Philippines to research the background to his story.
At the time of Duigan's research, the Philippines was run by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies, using the typical apparatus of a dictatorship to control the population, maintain power, and advance the corrupt interests of the powerful.
According to his DVD commentary, Duigan spent three weeks in Manila, meeting trade union officials and members of the opposition quietly in cafes and other places (one of the reasons given for not naming the Philippines in the film was to avoid pointing to those who helped Duigan in his research, thereby getting them into trouble with the regime).
Some of the events portrayed in the film happened at the time Duigan was doing his research, while the story of the character Rosita, played by Raina McKeon, is based on a particular woman's experiences.
Duigan heard about the military firing on demonstrators, and says it happened while he was researching the story. He didn't witness the incidents at first hand, but says they were reminiscent of events in Syria which were happening while he was recording his DVD commentary.
Duigan was given a number of protest documents, and some of the material given to him ended up in the film. He also explored the way some figures in the church were closely connected to the protest movement and to the opposition.
Most activists Duigan met in Philippines were devout Christians, hence the religious icons on the character Rosita's walls (Duigan notes the scars on the character's arms and wrists suggest she might well have been tortured in her past).
Duigan notes that the kind of encounter between the characters played oput by McKeon and Bell around the 52 minute mark in the DVD are similar to several encounters Duigan had in meetings with members of the then opposition.
Duigan notes that while on the ground, he saw signs of the military everywhere in Manila, and he often felt as if "they were observing, if not you, someone near you".
One of Filipinos who was extra in the "safe house" shown in the film told Duigan he had worked for Philippines intelligence in just such a place as that. Dugian says he had no way of knowing if it was true, but from the stories the extra told, he sounded very plausible and Duigan tended to believe him.
So far as the use of "safe houses" by the military dictatorship, Duigan remembers overhearing at a screening an audience member saying that they didn't believe this sort of place existed in Manila at the time.
Duigan asserts they most certainly did. They were places run by undercover intelligence or covert military, and were places where people could be taken, and in modern terminology "disappeared". At the time in Philippines, it was called "salvaging" and members of the opposition were "salvaged", and their bodies would turn up in rivers or in rubbish dumps.
Certainly members of the opposition that Duigan met with in Manila were very frightened by the methods used against them by the undercover military.
The story of a slum being demolished for a Japanese cannery was something Duigan said he found in the documentation given to him by Manila trade unionists strongly involved in various conflicts over favours granted by the Marcos regime to various multinational corporations.
Duigan also notes at the time that the juxtaposition of luxury hotels and poverty on streets was very apparent in the Philippines, and that the levels of poverty in the country were very extreme.
Duigan had himself come from the Pram Factory/APG/anti-Vietnam war/leftist culture of Melbourne, and so the subject matter appealed to him. Duigan also had an ongoing interest in ethics:
My main area of study at university was philosophy and I contemplated the idea of actually going to Cambridge and doing a doctorate there, but ended up choosing to work in the film industry instead. I think that interest in ethics has always been an abiding one for me and, to an extent, has some sort of resonance in many of the films that I make, though not all of them. (extended May 2012 interview at the AFI blog here)
There is, for example, a reference in the film to the situation in El Salvador, and Duigan notes in his commentary track that he had been following events there (the McKeon character notes that John Bell's character had made his name there, and Duigan became interested in the role of church liberation movements around the world. He would later make a feature about the difficult priest Romero set in El Salvador).
Because of the plot, the film inevitably drew comparisons to Casablanca. Star Helen Morse and producer Richard Mason acknowledged the connection in their August 1982 Cinema Papers' interview:
Morse: Well, people can draw parallels in that in Casablanca there are three people, one of whom runs a club, called Rick's Bar, and another who is an idealistic anti-fascist. They are Europeans in an exotic environment. But, Far East has very much its own story.
Mason: John and I paid tribute to Casablanca, which is a favorite film of ours. But Far East is 40 years later. The biggest difference is that there aren't goodies or baddies in the same sense. It's so much more complex now.
Duigan himself acknowledged the connections at a couple of points in his DVD commentary:
"Like the film Casablanca, the plot of which Far East is often compared to, the woman in this case Jo, has to decide which of the two men to go with. Unlike Casablanca, Keefe makes the unsurest choice, he wants Jo to stay with him and on this occasion lies to Peter Reeves ...
...See here, again unlike Casablanca where Ingrid Bergman's character leaves the choice to Humphrey Bogart, she (Jo Reeves - Helen Morse) actually makes the decision herself to go with Peter Reeves … she knows the nature of their relationship is too volatile, that they'd eventually burn each other out…"
The Casablanca element in the story would be used by critics at the time and later to give the film and Duigan a hard time.
One of the key issues revolved around the character played by Bryan Brown. It becomes clear in the course of the film that the women he employs to dance in the Klub also turn tricks, and one of the plot turning points is whether a woman will have sex with a character so that the Brown character can learn the whereabouts of the "safe house".
According to Duigan, some wondered if this meant that Brown's character Morgan might just be a glorified pimp, or whether he was adopting a more pragmatic attitude towards prostitution, in that it beats starving (Duigan in his DVD commentary doesn't pause to wonder if Morgan might be paying wages that allow for starvation, and is therefore running an exploitative, unprofitable business that requires prostitution on the part of his employees, so that he can lead a comfortable lifestyle).
Producer Richard Mason tried to clarify this in his August 1982 Cinema Papers' interview, and talks about the disgust the character Raina clearly feels towards Morgan Keefe's Klub:
...To her, the club almost epitomizes the exploitation she is fighting against. But not Morgan. That's his world and he believes in his code. He doesn't get money off the girls screwing, but if the girls want to do that, and earn extra money, then that's okay by him. He has his own world and he has tried to lock out all reality outside that club. But John and I feel you can't escape that reality.
In Far East we are trying to say similar things as in Winter of Our Dreams, about commitment and responsbility, about having to make moral decisions. These are questions that plague us. They don't come from outside our lives, but from within our personal experience.
Mason went so far as to suggest a continuity between the two films in terms of the characters:
John and I see Jo (Helen Morse) living up the road to the couple in Winter of Our Dreams. They don't know each other, but they live in the same street. In that environment, Peter is a respected journalist and his wife is well-known for her sometimes outrageous behaviour.
As well as the AFI blog interview linked to above, which was done on the occasion of the release of Duigan's 2012 film Careless Love (featuring an Asian woman involved in prostitution), for further information on director John Duigan, see a 1997 interview with him by Peter Malone, available at Malone's essential site here, though it only mentions Far East in passing.
Because of his theatre background, Duigan placed a great premium on rehearsal time prior to shoot, and in the DVD commentary, says he got in "a few good days" working with the principals.
Helen Morse says in an August 1982 Cinema Papers' interview that in fact that she rehearsed for a couple of weeks, using a friend of hers Francoise Villachom, to help her with her French accent. Morse says that the time allowed her to get it right, after she had been doubtful at first about Duigan's desire to add something exotic to her character.
Given it was a tight shoot on a small budget, Dugian claims the rehearsal time allowed him and the key cast to work out an enormous amount of detail in advance, so when it came to shooting scenes, he knew as the director exactly what he wanted to get.
Duigan notes in his DVD commentary that he takes a different attitude to that of some American actors, who think rehearsal can somehow jeopardise the spontaneity of performance.
Duigan thinks it's always possible to refresh a performance even if it has been rehearsed in a lot of detail, and thought the Far East rehearsals were particularly important for the inexperienced actors involved in the project - like the 'gentleman in the church scene' who hadn't acted before. According to Duigan, rehearsing with more experienced actors had made the man feel much more comfortable when it came to filming his scenes.
Morse, in her August 1982 Cinema Papers' interview, said that the rehearsals resulted in few changes to the script:
Very few lines were changed. In fact, I think all my lines were exactly as written.
Actually, I believe that unless you discover, after detailed investigation, that something is inconsistent, then it is the actor's job to realize the author's intention. Sometimes an actor comes up with a line in a truly organic way from an understanding of the character, and the writer says keep it. That happened a couple of times on Far East. But generally I think the job is to make work the intention of the script.
Given that the film was critical of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his oppressive regime, it was never likely that the film would be shot in the Philippines (the creative team also had the example of Peter Weir's difficulties attempting to film The Year of Living Dangerously in Manila).
Instead the opening shots were filmed in the "then sleepy Portuguese colony of Macau" along with most of the rest of the film's exteriors.
According to Duigan in his DVD commentary, Macau was a wonderful place to shoot, thouch he does concede that it's a weakness of the film that they couldn't shoot in Manila.
Macau, he says, had the sense of a fading colonial backwater, a kind of Graham Greene place, like the ones in his novels, and the Pearl river at dusk turned a Turner-like extraordinary purple colour. Duigan says he had read about it, but then when he saw it, realised it was true, the river really did turn purple. (The comment comes around the 50 minute mark in the DVD commentary over images of the Pearl river estuary).
According to director Duigan, Macau wasn't an ideal match for the Philippines, but Manila did have an extensive China town. That's where Duigan placed the Koala Klub, thereby allowing for a better match between Macau's predominantly Chinese street life and at least a well-known part of Manila.
Duigan, in his DVD commentary, says that he and the film most miss the signature colourful Filipino Jeepneys, the main public transport of Manila, 'which are unmistakeable for anyone who's been there and are a signature part of the street life'.
Because of differences like these, the city Manila is never mentioned by name in the film, but the setting is made clear by the signage and the occasional use of Tagalog (language) which, together with English, is the main languages of the Philippines. There are also references to Filipino place names such as Sibu island, where the character of Julia (Anna Rowena) comes from, and in close up it's possible to see such art department details as a Manila phone book.
To give an idea of the tricks involved in using the various locations for the shoot, Duigan notes in one scene that a taxi picks up a character in a scene staged in a Sydney back street. Then there's a cut to the Koala Klub exterior in Macau, and then the characters walk through to one of the Klub sets, which were shot in a Sydney studio.
According to Duigan, the Koala Klub was based on many similar bars in south east Asia, often run by expats Americans or Australians or Europeans.
Duigan says he was always struck by the number of ex-soldiers from the Vietnam war, particularly Americans, who chose to stay on in south east Asia after the war finished, and so he gave Brown's character that kind of background. Duigan also notes that many ex-soldiers from that conflict still live in Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines today.
The church exterior featured in theh film was in Macau, which, Duigan notes, as a Portuguese colony had many Catholic churches, and which were a very good double for some church environments he saw while in Manila.
The 'safe house' sequences were filmed in an industrial area of Sydney, away from residential areas.
A brief sweatshop scene was shot in a miniature backyard factory in Macau.
Another brief scene, featuring children exercising on rooftop, was noted by Duigan during a location survery of Macau. He discovered that the children did these exercises every day before school, so on last day of pre-production Duigan went up a nearby building with camera operator Peter Moss and shot the scene.
In a scene around the 58 minute mark in the DVD, Duigan notes that the crew filmed on slums built out on to the mud flats of the Pearl river in Macau.
Some of the walkways, built on very thin stilts, were very fragile, and the grips were worried that the weight of the Panaflex camera might cause the walkway to collapse, a problem compounded by filming late at night with minimal lighting. But they got through the scene okay.
Macau created another problem for a scene which appears towards the end of the film. It was shot late at night in Macau, at the docks, after the shipping offices had closed. It rained very hard for about three hours, so hard it was impossible to film, and the unit had to delay and delay, and just managed to get the necessary exterior shots in gaps between downpours.
Finally, a traditional Philippine dance, in which the dancers have to jump up and down to evade bamboo poles slamming on their feet, was filmed in Sydney with members of the Sydney Filipino community.
Morse and Brown had starred together in the television mini-series version of A Town Like Alice and this film was the second and last time they worked together as a pair on the screen.
The pairing was immediately seized on in the film's marketing with posters using the tag Bryan Brown Helen Morse Together In Far East.
Producer Richard Mason denied any attempt to trade off on the coupling (though he was in a Cinema Papers' interview with Helen Morse when he said it):
We never saw Helen and Bryan as "together again". People say to me, "God you are a clever producer bringing Helen and Bryan together." I never thought of it like that - I'd be a clever producer if I had.
Duigan remembers very fondly the collaboration - there was a "great vibe between them" he says in his DVD commentary - but after this film Brown went on with a screen career, while Morse retreated to mainly theatrical activities.
Her screen partner in the film, John Bell, also retreated to the stage.
Bell became notoriously camera shy, though he would go on to a long and successful career as head of the eponymous Bell Shakespeare company - the company's website provides a profile of Bell here which inter alia included these details:
After graduating from Sydney University in 1962, Bell worked for the Old Tote Theatre Company, all of Australia’s state theatre companies and was an Associate Artist of Britain’s world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company.
As co-founder of Sydney’s highly influential Nimrod Theatre Company, Bell presented many productions of landmark Australian plays, including David Williamson’s Travelling North, The Club and The Removalists. He also initiated an Australian Shakespeare style with Nimrod productions such as Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth.
In 1990, Bell took on an even greater challenge, founding The Bell Shakespeare Company. Since then, his productions as director have included Hamlet, Romeo And Juliet, The Taming Of The Shrew, Richard 3, Pericles, Henry 4, Henry 5, Julius Caesar, Antony And Cleopatra, The Comedy Of Errors, Wars Of The Roses, Measure For Measure, Macbeth and As You Like It, as well as Goldoni’s The Servant Of Two Masters, Gogol’s TheGovernment Inspector and Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.
Reviews for Bell's performance were mixed, but ironically he was the only member of the cast to receive an AFI nomination, and the performance wasn't so bad as to explain Bell's disappearance from screen acting.
In the October 2011 issue of The Monthly playwright Louis Nowra came up with an explanation, though some might think the comment snide:
In John Duigan's film Far East - a lame attempt at remaking Casablanca - Bell played Peter Reeves. This also seemed a defensive performance, as if the actor was unnerved at being unable to control what the camera saw (Nowra also labels a performance by Bell in a 1986 telemovie Hunger, written by Nowra, as a defensive, guarded performance, as if Bell was hiding something and protecting himself).
On the stage, where he can manipulate the audience directly without the filter of celluloid, Bell is more comfortable ...
Raina McKeon (who played activist Rosita Constanza in the film) was from India, though according to director Duigan, many took her for being Filipino.
She had married an Australian, and was, according to Duigan, a past Miss India and a runner up in either a Miss World or Miss Universe pageant, but, adds Duigan, that didn't prevent her from being a very nice naturally gifted actress who played her role with sureness and dignity. (For an Australian Women's Weekly profile of McKeon, see this site's photo gallery)
According to Duigan, Mitsuko Generoso (who can be seen dancing in the Klub in the role of Luz) was a fine choreographer at the time, who did the choreography for the dancers in the film, and also worked on another film for Duigan.
The women in the Koala Klub were cast from the Asian community in Sydney, then much smaller than at the time Duigan did his commentary track, and were a mix of Filipinos, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai.
Filipino actor Henry Duvall (who plays Rodolfo De Cruz) had acted in number of Filipino films before emigrating to Australia, and Duigan considers himself lucky to have found the actor in Sydney at a time when there were very few Filipino actors available.
The role of the priest was played by Filipino (Tony Barraga) then living in Sydney.
Sinan Leong, who plays the betrayed Nene, was also resident in Sydney at the time, and was involved in the music scene as a singer and a musician.
(d) The look of the film:
The film's DOP Brian Probyn had come from England and had worked there and in the USA.
Director Duigan notes that Probyn had worked on some very interesting films like Poor Cow and Downhill Racer, and the Terrence Malick film Badlands. Duigan was interested to work with him after seeing Badlands.
Unfortunately, Duigan says, Far East was to be Probyn's last feature film - he died about a year or so after the release of Far East.
The hotel room and Koala Klub complex were the two largest sets built for the film by production designer Ross Major, a bonus for director Duigan, who loved working on sets (for the control they offered), but tended to work on films that were low budget and so location based.
Duigan notes that he always worked out a detailed colour scheme for his films with the DOP and the production designer, and this was reflected in the lighting, sets and costumes for Far East.
The trio chose to use very bright, vigorous colours - in particular reds and greens as primary colours in the Koala Klub and the hotel. The garish colours were a deliberate contrast to the muted naturalistic colours of the streets, and docks and other exteriors.
The dominant reds in the Koala Klub were enhanced by the use of filters and coloured lights, while in the hotel the dominant greens were emphasised by the use of gels in the lighting.
(e) Slow motion:
The film ends with what was a rare burst of violence filmed in slow motion, at least for an Australian film with art house intentions and a director with arthouse credentials.
This agitated a number of reviewers - the Duigan they were expecting is the one in the DVD commentary who confesses to a certain level of anxiety whenever he works with guns. Though the real guns were supervised by armorers with very strict safety conditions, Duigan notes that you can still hear the odd story about accidents that happen.
It therefore startled some to see Duigan end the film with a slow motion shoot out.
Duigan explained his choice, and his influences in his DVD commentary track:
I wanted this scene to be like a danse macabre, sort of a slow motion magnifying of the reality of the horror of the deaths. I suppose I was influenced in this choice by filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah who used it to much more grisly effect in his films of the period. You have no control of course how the objects fall in such situations, but I was very pleased by the way that vase fell, so the flowers were across Brian's chest
Duigan wasn't happy with all the action scenes in the film, in particular a scene where John Bell's character is hit on the head in another violent scene. He notes that in later years he would have done the scene differently. At the time, he tended to do scenes in master shot, and thinks the scene would have benefited from a few 'more close, more jarring' elements being in the cut (though he also blames editor Henry Dangar for not making the most of what Duigan gave him for the cutting of the scene).
In one scene in the Koala Klub bar, Bryan Brown's character writes out in full the name Well Oiled, supposedly a horse in the Melbourne Cup field, It was actually the name of a very moderately performed race horse part owned by Duigan's aunt Suzanne (sp?) Duigan and was thus a small family in-joke.
Because bars like the Koala Klub in reality covered sporting events in Australia in detail - cup fields, cricket, football, even football matches from UK - the bar is littered with memorabilia of an Australiana kind (koalas in digger hats, Alice Springs' desert races and so on, while the Surfaris' song Surfer Joe turns up in the soundtrack as Bryan Brown's character makes a nostgalic period point to Helen Morse's character).
Duigan confesses to being an inexperienced film-maker at the time of Far East, but says he's still happy with the card scene (in which the Helen Morse character shows an ability to mingle in a man's world).
Duigan says he think it conveys a sense of familiarity with a group of people who would have repeated the scene time after time - expats in a little oasis in the middle of a foreign city, surrounded on the walls by lots of photos of Australiana - Ron Barassi, the then VFL, Little Patti, all sorts of other pictures of Australian life and times.
Duigan says he found expats who came to such places tended to be more Australian than Australians at home.
Duigan's interest in the decor even extended to the books on the desk of an Australian official. They included Anthony Eden's memoirs, Full Circle, and a book on El Alamein. Duigan says they were books he owned which he put aside in advance and then gave to the art department (in the background of the official's office, the keen eyed will spot not just the standard portrait of Queen Elizabeth 11, but also then Prime Minister Malcolm "the head prefect" Fraser).
There is much less Filipino memorabilia in the film, though Duigan notes the production did buy the rights to a Filipino commercial which is seen on a TV.
(g) 10BA days:
The film was a textbook example of the changes introduced into the industry as the result of the 10B/10BA federal tax breaks, which required films to be finished and ready for release by the end of the financial year.
Producer Mason explained the implications of the changes in his August 1982 Cinema Papers' interview:
We started shooting Winter of Our Dreams in January, whereas with Far East we started in December. So, we were right in front. Of course, it was a bigger film.
The worst aspects of the June completion requirement is that United Sound and the laboratories are working 24 hours a day. They have to bring in different crews, equipment breaks down, people get tired. The demand is so great, you have to plan months in advance. I booked the mix at United Sound the day we signed the contracts for the money.
John and I are going to do another film this financial year and, when I get back to Sydney, I'll have to start thinking of booking United Sound for June next year - and pay a deposit. Isn't that incredible? That's the tax disadvantage.
But apart from that particular pressure, it does make one plan ahead, and that is rather good.
The company that made the offer to private investors in relation to Far East under 10BA was Filmco.
David Stratton provided something of an epitaph for 10BA and Filmco in his 1990 book, The Avocado Plantation:
Kim Williams, Chief Executive of the AFC during most of the 80s and subsequently Chairman of the Film Finance Corporation, looks back on the 10BA films with mixed thoughts: '10BA was a double edged sword,' he says. 'Tax concessions gave the film industry rapid growth which was way beyond the industry's or the government's expectations. A great many people had opportunities to make films, some of which should never have been made. 10BA insulated and isolated Australian filmmakers from the harsh realities of dealing with the international film community. There were also cost pressures, caused by competition for film crews and by "bunching". The scheme was also subject to massive manipulation. Not all offer documents were manipulated, of course, but those that were were manipulated very severely, bringing the industry as a whole disrepute in the eyes of the government.'
Within a short space of time after the introduction of 10BA, investment companies were formed by people with only tenuous knowledge of the film industry: packages (that dreadful word!) were put together to siphon off all the tax millions flooding in. One of the most blatant of these companies was Filmco, which was established late in 1980 by Peter Fox and Bob Sanders (who merged his Pact Productions into the larger company). John Fitzpatrick, a former lawyer at the SAFC, joined Filmco to executive-produce the films.
The Filmco slate consisted of some of the most dismal films ever produced in Australia. Early Frost, A Dangerous Summer, The Dark Room, Midnite Spares, Double Deal - these were films that could never have been made under the old system. Ineed, of that particular bunch, only one - Midnite Spares - was actually shown in cinemas: and it did not last very long. The fact that, at the very end of its existence, Filmco produced two reasonably good films, Far East and Undercover, does not diminish the scandalous waste of money the Filmco productions represented.
This is of course a typically scandalous and pompous remark by Stratton. As any Ozfilm enthusiasts knows, watching all the finished films in the Filmco slate is a bit like the challenge facing a skilled, devoted mountain climber. If you've seen all Filmco's offerings, you've scaled Mount Everest.
The film was given a world premiere in Sydney on Tuesday 27th July 1982, attended by Tom Thompson, of the Sydney Morning Herald, who on 29th July recorded the cocktail party for posterity (Bryan Brown was unable to attend because he was shearing sheep in Los Angeles for the television mini-series The Thornbirds):
John Duigan's romantic thriller had lured all the stars to the Hilton Hotel for drinks, and George Negus had assembled his 60 Minutes crew to cover the star gazing. "It's one of those times when I can drink champagne and say I'm working," he said.
Other actors were working that night; Jack Thompson, a discreet John Waters, Angela Punch McGregor, Jackie Weaver, rubbing shoulders with the stars of Far East, John Bell and Helen Morse. On first seeing Helen Morse and Jackie Weaver together, in high heels, we realised what shrinkage in film terms really means - they're both tiny.
Three-hundred champagne glasses clinked. Low-key as it was, they all turned up - Sir William McMahon, John Dowd, John Mason (associate producer as well as former NSW Opposition Leader), his brother Richard Mason, the producer, looking very committed, very excited and David Stratton. Energy Minister Paul Landa was there, counting the lights. Senator Susan Ryan was aided by Circus Oz strongman, Jon Hawkes, who is the newly-appointed director of the community arts board of the Australia Council. George Negus paraded his new boots, John Michael Howson looked serious in a floor-length Arctic fox. Garry McDonald came, but too late, and missed the champers.
Jack Thompson wanted to go back to the bush. His next role is next to David Bowie in the new Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) film. Helen Morse, immaculate in black, with gold shoes, clutched a real red rose to her feather boa. John Duigan, the director of Far East, when pressed, said he liked the film. "Being an objective barometer of public opinion, I feel the public will like it too," he said.
At the State, 2,000 people star-gazed. Arthur Dignam, Steven Wallace, Meg Stewart, David Elphick and a casual Phil Noyce came along to check the competition.
It's a good film, but when Bryan Brown got shot, someone in the backstalls announced - "He won't be in any more pictures." The cast promptly reassembled at the Marble Bar for drinks till midnight, then rang Bryan to tell him the news.
A classic Sydney scene, but as for the actual release of the film, its distributor Roadshow got behind it, and it broke relatively wide, being released same day and date in the two key capital cities, and travelling to other locations soon after.
As a result, and perhaps because of the Bryan Brown-Helen Morse pairing, it did relatively well. According to the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, the film did a respectable $1,972,000 in domestic business on first release, equivalent to $5,738,520 in A$ 2009.
However, the film didn't travel that well internationally, though it did pick up a release on tape in the United States.
4. Richard Mason:
Director John Duigan ends his DVD commentary with a tribute to producer Richard Mason:
...he was a very good friend of mine, tall thin, slightly ungainly figure, a bit like a hunched Stork. He'd served in the Australian army in the last year of world war two in New Guinea and after that he worked his way up through the film industry, starting off in documentaries. He was a warm, very decent man, with a wry sense of humour, very supportive to me as a director and to the rest of the cast and crew. He played an important role in the film industry at the time and is much missed by his many friends …
Political junkies and collectors of exotica will be pleased to note that cleric-cum-politician John Mason, Richard Mason's brother, became an assistant producer on the show. In the 10BA days, such connections were useful.
Mason had served as a minister in Premier Tom Lewis's government and when the Liberal party was deposed by the electorate, Mason succeeded Peter Coleman and became leader of the State Opposition from 1978 to 1981, before giving the game away.
John Mason has a short but useful wiki here, with a number of links.
Music cultists will be pleased to note that one of Mason's sons, Dave Mason, was the lead singer in the Australian band The Reels (and they have a wiki here).