They say you should never work with children or animals, but director Stuart McDonald, a regular Chris Lilley collaborator, juggles both in his latest film, the true-life story Oddball.
Shane Jacobson stars as kooky chicken farmer Swampy Marsh, who hits on an ingenious plan to save an endangered colony of wild penguins living on a tiny island just off the Victorian coast, near Warrnambool. The penguins are being picked off during low tide by a pack of wily foxes, but Swampy decides to guard them with one of his beautiful Maremma dogs named Oddball.
Largely shot on location in Melbourne and Warrnambool, the complications involved in coordinating Sea World penguins, dogs, chickens and foxes on set meant building a replica of the island on a massive sound stage at Melbourne’s Dockland Studios.
“Dogs can be in the same space as chickens, but a fox can’t be near a penguin or a dog, and a dog can’t be near a penguin, but they’re all in scenes together,” McDonald reveals. “I have a scene with a fox trying to attack the penguins, and the dog saving them. We had to shoot them separately and use green screen to blend them together.”
Luckily, McDonald is blessed with a talented young performer in Coco Jack Jillies, fresh from shooting Mad Max: Fury Road. She stars as Swampy’s plucky grandaughter Olivia and had a ball with all the furry friends. “The penguins are extremely adorable, but not as much as the dog,” she says. “He’s beautiful. He’s so fluffy and loves cuddles. It’s fun working with Shane too, he’s always joking around.”
Jacobson relished the chance to bring this quirky story to life. “It’s a good family film that has plenty of humour, but it also has a lot of heart. Everyone says not to work with kids or animals, but thank goodness they’re all incredibly cute and talented.”
McDonald wants the whole family to enjoy Oddball, and was drawn by the central relationship between Swampy and Olivia. “Most people grow up having a very strong relationship with a grandparent, but I struggle to think of grandparent/grandkid buddy movies,” he says. “It’s such ripe territory. Coco is amazing, and the chemistry between her and Shane is incredible. We have whole interactions that have evolved out of them enjoying each other’s company.”