14 May 2009 - 10:39 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:07 PM

Lantana director Ray Lawrence

With Lantana, director Ray Lawrence confirms the talent he displayed with his feature debut Bliss 15 years ago. So why the delay? FILMINK's Dov Kornits spoke with Lawrence to investigate this confounding mystery of the Australian film industry.

In between your two feature films you've made a living directing ads. So, do you consider yourself a film director or a commercials director?
“Making films is a hobby. It sort of sounds stupid, but if you take the real meaning of amateur as somebody who doesn't make a living at what he or she does and if you take two films and spread them over 15 years, I didn't make much money out of them, so it's not a living, it's a hobby.”

I would have thought that being such a successful commercials director, Hollywood producers would be knocking down your door…
“Jerry Bruckheimer has actually asked me to work for him. But I don't think I could make a film that way. They make great films but I'm a great believer in the independent route for filmmaking. There are very few great studio films but because they put so much money into it – not only the film but also into the selling of it – it has to lower its vision because you're trying to reach so many people. Once you start exploring a story from more than one angle it narrows its market. I could make money out of making films if I did everything that was offered to me but then it'd be like making year long commercials. And I think films are worse than ads in terms of selling out. When you're talking about the marketing of your film you're talking to a person from marketing not film. At least in advertising, when you're talking to a marketing person you know where that person is coming from. You see the devil a lot clearer in advertising than in film. I think the biggest problem with the film industry is that it's so marketing driven. The worst thing about advertising is research. The thing about research is that it's gone up 300% in the last two years but the rate of failure stays exactly the same. So it must be the same in the film industry. So if we stop being paranoid and start trusting our gut reaction then we'll get back to fundamentals.”

Are you pleased with Lantana?
“Lantana, for good or bad, is exactly what I intended. For me a good film is a balance between entertainment and intelligence. That's a difficult balance but I think I managed it with this one. If I hadn't made it, I'd like to see it. I don't want to sound arrogant but I actually love the film. But when I did Bliss I was accused of being flamboyant, now I'm being accused of not being very cinematic… ”

Well I thought it was very cinematic…
“There's only 5% artificial light in the film, the rest is natural. Twenty years from now you can look at it as a document of our time. It won't be clouded with style, lighting, set decoration, make-up or wardrobe. If I could have got rid of the camera I would have. I didn't want anything to get in the way of the emotion of the story and all those things tend to. Style, I hate style. The film has a style but it's not a veneer. You know, they say about Ridley Scott that he's such a great stylist that he almost gives things content when they don't have it. He fools you, he's a magician. Well, I didn't want to fool anybody.”

Why did you decide to make Lantana?
“I had seen Andrew Bovell's play Speaking in Tongues a number of times and thought it was a really good idea to make a film out of it. Jan [Chapman, producer], Andrew and I made a good team and we decided to work together on this four years ago. Lantana is a love story and a mystery. It's a mystery that we fall in love with somebody and stay with them. I think love is a struggle. For me, the film shows the importance of having somebody. Increasingly, people don't. If you want it, you can have it, but you have to work at it – that's a very important part of the film. It's a really human story. In the film there's a line – 'sometimes love is not enough'. Geoffrey [Rush] says that and to me that's the crux of the whole thing because we're brought up saying 'love will conquer all,' but it doesn't work that way.”

Is it a personal film?
“It's not an autobiographical film, but it's definitely a personal one. Bliss was personal. Lantana is personal. It's funny, everybody's saying 'don't take it personally', but the whole point is to take it personally. If you're going to write a book, a piece of music, draw a painting, you've got to take it personally otherwise you're not risking anything.”