Simon Baker smoothly makes the transition to feature film director with the Australian film Breath
15 Sep 2017 - 3:31 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2017 - 3:52 PM

When The Mentalist star Simon Baker took to the stage for the world premiere of his directing debut Breath, he was so keen that he came in too early. “Oh I pre-empted by cue,” the Australian joked.

Festival programmer Jane Schoettle introduced the eager director to the packed house where she spoke at length about Baker’s passion to make the Australian film. Baker, who also served as a co-writer (with Gerard Lee) and producer on the film, offered a heartfelt thank-you to those that helped bring his film to life: “A lot of people put their heart and soul into this film and I’m very proud to be here to represent them, to hand this film over to you, an audience, a vital ingredient in any film. Thanks for being here. I’d like to thank the Noongar people, the traditional custodians of the land we shot this film on. I’d also like to thank the people of Denmark who were incredibly supportive. This film is for my kids and for the child in all of us.”

Breath, slow-burning in its pace, follows Baker’s surfer Sando as he lives a hippy existence on coastal rural land in South-Western Australia with his American wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), a former champion skier who had a debilitating accident. He takes two young boys, Loonie and Pikelet, under his wing where he finds a fellow daredevil surfer in Loonie. The story is told in voice-over by the adult Pikelet, who is more the sensitive romantic type and develops a thing for Eva.

SBS spoke with Baker and after the screening, joined by young actors Ben Spence (Loonie) and Samson Coulter (Pikelet):

What inspired you to direct this as your first film?

Simon Baker: I think the main thing was that immediately when I read the book I understood all the characters. To take the risk of making your own film, I felt like I really needed to know those characters inside and out. To be honest, I was very overwhelmed by the idea of doing the film because I didn't know that I could do the book justice as well as I’d like to. It was actually my wife (Rebecca Rigg) who shoved me over the edge and said, "Just go and do it and shut up." I said, "I’m afraid of it being bad." She said, "You know how many bad movies there are out there? It doesn't matter. Let’s make a bad movie, let’s go and do it." So thanks honey.


How have you personally maintained your Australian accent (with no trace of American)?

SB: Because I wanted to. That’s pretty much really it.


Did you do any of the surfing yourself?

SB: Yeah I did a bit of it. I go ok for an old bloke, but I did have a very good physical double who did some of the more freaky stuff, which is helpful.



What is your history with surfing?

SB: I’ve been surfing since I was 10 years old. Maybe 20 years ago I would have had a crack with some of the bigger stuff but I’m getting on now.

Ben Spence: I’ve been surfing since I was six. I’d been in a lot of big surf like that.

Samson Coulter: We both had doubles, but I think most of the stuff was me.


Tell us about the cinematography in the water.

SB: The fact that we’ve all spent a lot of time in the ocean and are very familiar in that environment is why I cast these two guys. It helps with the cinematography to have people who understand the water. We went out there and shot in the water. {Cinematographer] Rick Rifici wasn't on a surfboard, but I bet a few time he wishes he was! He was either in the water, under the water, or lying prone on the back of a sled on a jet ski. He’s a beast.


Where was the film shot? The waves are incredible.

SB: We shot it all in the great southern region of South-Western Australia around Denmark and Albany. It's a stunningly beautiful location.


Where did you find the two young actors?

SB: We had a long audition process through social media and we were inundated with auditions - little iPhone clips of them surfing. We narrowed it down to six kids over a year. We held a workshop and figured out which guys were going to work well together and who would develop as actors within the six-week shoot. And then we mucked in and did it.

BS: I didn't really know about the movie until Surfing Australia sent my Mum an email and asked if I wanted to do it. I said “Yeah alright". They asked for a video of me surfing and a photo. Then apparently they emailed us and we didn't get it and six months later they emailed us again asking if I wanted want to do the movie and then I said okay.

SC: I had a schoolteacher who’d done a bit of acting and he told me how they were looking for a kid for the movie and how you didn't have to be able to act - you just needed to be able to surf. Then my Mum and Dad put it forward to me, but I just wrote them off and listened to my schoolteacher. I got an audition with Nikki Barrett and we got called back a couple of times and then yeah we got it. We just took a stab in the dark.

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