Production company: Margaret Fink Productions
Budget: A$250,000, with a substantial amount from government investment agency Australian Film Development Corporation in the form of a non-recourse investment loan. Associate producer Richard Brennan explained in a Cinema Papers interview that the interest was 7% over two years, but when the film failed, it would have been written off by the AFDC - there was no recourse to the creative team to repay the loan. The budget is also put at $240,000 in a Cinema Papers production report.
Brennan also lists other investments as potentially including a facilities and crew deal with Ross Wood Productions (cash and kind, cameraman, editing facilities and post production hardware) and the Clearing House, a small upfront pre-buy from TVW7, and an investment from Leon Fink Holdings (producer Margaret Fink was then married to Leon Fink), but he refused to confirm who finally put money into the project. It is almost certain that Ross Wood Productions did, because the DOP Graham Lind, was a Ross Wood employee, and they had done this facilities deal on the feature film Stone.
Locations: the old Cinesound/Ajax studios, Bondi, Sydney, for the two basic sets - police station and small flat in a housing estate (called Filmcentre in the film's end credits). It was the last feature film shot in studio, which became home for furniture retailer Norman Ross and then Spotlight, a fabric store. The play was originally set in Melbourne, but with the film's creative team mainly from Sydney, it was re-located, though there are few familiar exteriors to evoke Sydney.
Filmed: mid-1974 (May-June, five week shoot)
Australian distributor: Seven Keys
Australian release: 16th October, 1975, Century Theatre, Sydney. After completion of the film, the release was significantly delayed.
Running time: 93 mins (Oxford)
DVD time: 1'25"30 (including end music overhang)
Note re timings: the NFSA lists two versions, one running 93 mins. Presumably the DVD has been derived from from an edited version. A new Umbrella DVD scheduled for release in June 2013 lists a 93 minute timing.
Box office: poor. The film did relatively short runs in its major city theatrical release, never broke wide and didn't travel internationally. This wasn't helped by relatively unenthusiastic reviews. Perhaps also the play had already tapped into the core demographic - it was a cult theatrical hit - and perhaps a general audience was deterred by word of mouth suggesting the film was both physically and verbally violent.
None known. Williamson's play however won two Awgies from the Australian Writers' Guild, and the George Devine Award (in conjunction with the Nimrod Street Theatre) from the Royal Court Theatre London. Associate producer Richard Brennan confirmed its status, and that of Williamson, as hot theatrical properties in his July 1974 Cinema Papers interview:
The play of The Removalists had won the Evening Standard award for the best Commonwealth production, David Williamson won the Standard award for the most promising playwright - the competition being judged by Lindsay Anderson and Laurence Olivier. It was the first time a non-British play had won that award. I expect David Williamson to be very sought after in London by the end of the year ...
The film has been released in Australia in a barebones edition by Umbrella as part of the David Williamson collection, volume 1 (along with Don's Party, Travelling North, and the miniseries The Four Minute Mile).
The image was in 4:3 and hadn't been restored but is in reasonable shape and watchable, and given the other shows, part of a good package for anyone interested in Williamson's work.
Looked at now, the film is best seen as a theatrical record of a stage production. On the other hand, it has what, for the period, stands as a state of the art cast, with the engaging John Hargreaves given a chance to mix it with performers like Martin Harris and Peter Cummins. Throw in Jacki Weaver, Kate Fitzpatrick and Chris Haywood doing a play which helped make Williamson famous and/or notorious as a writer, and on historical merit alone, it warrants a viewing. And if a theatrical rather than a filmic work is anticipated, it has its share of rewards, not least the way director Jeffrey tries to sustain visual interest.
It is sometimes rumoured that the film's original negative was lost, and you can find this sort of mythology on the Pointblank Pictures site, an Australian production which is proposing to do a re-make of the project in 2014, with Craig Monahan (The Interview) as director, and a new script by Monahan and David Williamson:
Produced in 1975, in a simple, low budget version directed by Tom Jeffrey, The Removalists was popular at the time of release, and introduced a young John Hargreaves and Jackie Weaver to the Australian screen. (36 years later, Weaver would be nominated for an Academy Award for her remarkable work in Animal Kingdom.) The film however quickly gained notoriety as an infamous ”lost film”, only ever circulating on poor VHS transfers, most of which have now disintegrated. The original negative has never been located and the film has never been available on DVD, only fuelling its legendary status and stoking desire in a more fulsome, contemporary remake/reimagining. (here)
It's to be hoped that the re-make/"re-invention" has a better awareness of history than the film-makers. The image on the DVD is no great shakes, suggesting a lesser quality source than the original negative, but it does at least exist.
The NFSA has a list of preservation materials here.
The film has now been listed for re-release on 5th June 2013 by Umbrella, again in 4:3 and with mono sound, in NTSC format, but this time with an audio commentary by director Tom Jeffrey, producer Margaret Fink and associate producer Richard Brennan, together with an interview with playwright David Williamson.
The film was first released on VHS in Australia in February 1984 by Video Classics.
The film was based on David Williamson's stage play, first performed at La Mama in Melbourne in 1971 (press reports suggest that the very first season was seen by only a modest 1200 people but it quickly became a cult theatrical hit).
An edition of the play was published by Currency Press in 1972, shortly after its successful initial theatrical run, featuring commentary on society, the police and violence, by Frank Galbally, Ian Turner and Kerry Milte; further comments by Bruce Petty, director's notes by John Bell, edited by Sylvia Lawson, with illustrations from the Harry M. Miller Attractions production. This 128 page book was re-issued in 1980:
A decision was made early in the production that the play would not be 'opened up' - it contains only six characters - but that the action would be covered with mobile cameras. Consequently there are relatively few exteriors, with most of the action unfolding within the two sets, of a police station, and a small flat in a housing estate.
There was also some discussion about changing the title. Richard Brennan in his July 1974 Cinema Papers interview:
It was suggested to us that we change the title from The Removalists because people don't use that word overseas. I'm sure somebody went up to Jules Dassin and suggested he change the name Rififi because it's not known outside France. I think you can force an acceptance of cultural idiosyncrasies, or if not, at least an interest in them.
2. Adaptation, Crewing and Financing:
Producer Margaret Fink was new to feature film production, and originally had wild and ambitious ideas about the creative team, as explained by associate producer Richard Brennan in the interview for Cinema Papers, July 1974:
Margaret Fink approached me eighteen months ago. She had secured the rights to David Williamson's play and asked me what I thought of a film version. I went to England for six months during which time she came over and we discussed the possibility of using Robert Mitchum, and having the film directed by Polanski or Ted Kotcheff. Eventually the Australian director, Tom Jeffrey expressed interest in the film and after showing Margaret some of the films he had done for the ABC she decided to use him as director. We then set about putting the production together. At that stage it was only a matter of approaching people with the property. Tony Buckley was interested in cutting it, Graham Lind wanted to shoot it and Ken Hammond was interested in doing sound. I approached the AFDC with the screen-play in February, but you are always starting behind the eightball when adapating a play: If you cut nothing people say it is too talkie; if you cut anything they say it was the most vital section of the play, if you follow the original performance it has slavishly adhered to the original, if you try to improve it you are painting a rose red, if you take it to exteriors you are dissipating its original force and concentration and if you leave it inside it's too claustrophobic and like a TV drama, etc. etc. etc. The AFDC assessments came back saying most of those things. It was suggested we talk to the assessors and avoid having the project deferred. We met and satisfied them that the film would take into account the fact thant cinema and theatre were different media.
CP: What kind of film will it be?
Brennan: It reminds of William Wyler's Detective Story. David Williamson tells me he has never seen it but it does have a similarity - a good humoured, rather sadistic cop who in Detective Story turns out to be a crazed psychopath and in The Removalist turns into a stupid, mean minded prick. In both cases the audience's original acceptance of them is completely shattered by the end of the play.
CP: Who is the production company?
Brennan: Margaret Fink Productions. It comprises Margaret, her husband and other people who are involved in Margaret's husbands business activities. Myself, David Williamson and Tom Jeffrey stand to profit from the film's success, but aren't members of Margaret Fink percentages.
Brennan confirms that the net profit splits were "healthy" but then goes on to note that AFDC insisted on a 75/25 split.
At the time there was no mechanism to cope with overages, a function later taken over by completion guarantors. When asked who got the bill for overages, Brennan explained:
The private investors can't. Whether the AFDC send the receivers in or meet the lot and take the property over themselves is up to them. They are in a triple bind of course. They can't really take the line, "If you don't make it, you can meet me in the gym after school. At the moment they are saying the AFDC won't finance films unless they are satisfied with the producer's capability of executing the production.
The AFDC would shortly thereafter transmute into the Australian Film Commission in July 1975.
It was the first film produced by Margaret Fink, who also supervised the film's design, and it was also director Tom Jeffrey's first feature film.
Fink and Jeffrey aimed at a subdued, monochromatic look, in design and lighting, to help reinforce Williamson's bleak theme.
Jeffrey had worked at the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and in England with the BBC, and in 1969, he had directed the ABC television serial Pastures of the Blue Crane, one of the shows which helped convince Fink to hire him.
In 1973 he joined Air Programs Interntational Cinema, taking leave to shoot the Removalists. While the film was shot in May-June 1974, it wasn't released until October 1975.
At the time of the production, Jeffrey and production manager Sue Milliken were married, and according to David Stratton's book The Last New Wave, producer Fink's relationship with Jeffrey became problematic and Milliken was fired during the production by Fink. Milliken would later go on to work as a producer, and head up the Australian arm of the completion guarantor Film Finances.
Director Tom Jeffrey would soon after this production move on to the more successful film about Australians in the Vietnam war, The Odd Angry Shot.
The film attracted scant attention or praise at the time of its release, but it did continue to generate controversy with the police.
The film version of the stage play attracted attention in The Age when sixty Victorian police cadets were forbidden by Assistant Commissioner R. Salisbury from attending, even though the stage play was part of the Police Academy's English syllabus for cadets. This was interpreted as a continuation of the Chief Commissioner Mr. Jackson's attack on the film:
Mr Jackson was reported as saying that, although he had not seen The Removalists only read about it, he was shocked and disturbed by the trend to anti-police films.
"It is a weak society that allows this kind of claptrap," he was quoted as saying.
The police had previously refused to allow a publicity photograph of Jack Thompson standing next to a real policeman, as part of publicity for his film Scobie Malone, because the police confused it with The Removalists."
David Williamson joined in the fuss: "Some police have such an exaggerated idea of their own power they think it extends over the media so that every policeman who appears will be pure and clean. I believe at television studios making cops and robbers film the 'police advisers' spone out (sic - spoon out?) the lines not considered in the best interests of the police."
5. Margaret Fink:
Margaret Fink, born in 1933, was originally, as Margaret Elliott, one of the youngest members of the Sydney "Push", a loose libertarian bohemian artistically and academically inclined group of free thinkers inclined to gather in pubs and parties to debate issues and have good times.
The push included Darcy Waters, Germaine Greer and Harry Hooton, a poet and social visionary. Though she was nineteen and Hooton forty four, Fink embarked on a relationship with him, but then dazzled by Barry Humphries, she left Hooton and Sydney, only to return shortly thereafter and marry Leon Fink.
Leon Fink came from a Jewish family of real estate entrepreneurs and builders, and he became involved in such ventures as turning the Regent Theatre into a popular venue for musicals and performances, and turning Kinsela's Funeral Parlour on Darlinghurst's Taylor Square into the notorious Kinsela's Brasserie Bar and Theatre (he was also active in saving the Sydney Dance Company at a time it faced bankruptcy). These activities and many others, ranging through property development to film investment, included restaurants such as the Otto Ristorante and the Quay, and all would form part of the Fink Group which Fink ran for some five decades. Fink assisted The Removalists into production.
Margaret Fink had done stints as a clothes designer and art teacher, and accordingly she was attracted to the production design aspect of film production in The Removalists. Associate producer Richard Brennan explained the division of responsibilites on the production in his July 1974 Cinema Papers interview:
Margaret's particular interest is in the visual side of the film. She is taking a strong interest in the area of design and color. I see that it comes in on time and under budget. I also have control of the crewing, a say in casting and handling things like the insurance, budgets, etc.
Fink's career peaked early with her production of Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, possibly the best film for both of them (and also for Judy Davis), though Fink would go on to produce For Love Alone in 1986, and win an AFI and Penguin award for the 1988 television miniseries Edens Lost. She would return in 2006 for Candy, a relatively uninspiring tale of junkies, starring Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush, and has a short wiki here.
6. Plans for a re-make:
Craig Monahan, perhaps best known for the feature film The Interview, starring Hugo Weaving, has announced plans to re-make the play, weaving together the original storyline set in 1974 with a storyline set in the present - originally 2012, but perhaps 2014 or whenever the film is financed. The pitch according to Monaghan's Pointblank Pictures website, here:
In 2012, The Removalists will still make most of us laugh - most of the time. It’s barbed, visceral black comedy though, as Williamson’s pen slices through the layers of deception, macho posturing, ignorance, corruption and petty bureaucracy surrounding the world of a young rookie cop entering the force, (Ross) under the guidance of the grizzled, seen it all veteran, (Simmons).
In 2012, we have no interest in merely remaking David’s brilliant play intact. In this reinvention of the classic text, we don’t pretend that the world, and especially Australian society, hasn’t changed over the last 40 years.
Instead, Williamson and Monahan draw the audience into 2012, with a parallel story that illustrates how much has (supposedly) evolved in Australian society over time ; then revisit 1972 through the complex prism of all that we now know about the past.
It’s here that the films chemistry really starts to ignite; our 21stC vantage point provides the audience with a delicious insight into character, place and time.