The independently produced Men's Group is a tough film — a painfully real insight into six men's lives; strangers who meet once a week to simply, talk.
With moving performances by an ensemble cast, including Grant Dodwell, Don Reid, Paul Gleeson and Steve Rodgers, Men's Group has been nominated for Best Film, Best Script, Best Music, and Best Actor (Grant Dodwell) at the 2008 Inside Film (IF) Awards – the people's choice awards for Australian films - and writer, producer and distributor, John L. Simpson has been awarded the AFI Fellowship 2008.
KB: It's been a busy time for you since your success with the distribution of The Jammed. You co-wrote and produced Men's Group — the debut feature film, from director, Michael Joy. The use of metaphor and traditional scripting techniques are ongoing throughout the film's arc as well as a clear sense of research into the area of group psychology. Tell me about the process of co-writing.
JLS: It was a very intuitive and collaborative process. Michael and I gathered stories and did research together with Men's group facilitators, psychologists and councilors.
Michael worked with each of the actors, work-shopping in isolation over two months; developing their characters from birth till the day they join the Men's Group. He would then record this and make notes and the two of us would draw out key character points and events that we would hone into scenes.
We then crafted a comprehensive script that was only given to the heads of departments. The actors were not allowed to see the script, as we wanted to capture their first responses to their lives as they unfolded in real time as the cameras were rolling.
KB: How did you and Michael Joy work with the actors to approach the material to achieve both the understated and emotive individual performances on the shoot?
JLS: Michael is a very intuitive director; he has the ability to elicit trust from actors.
He would spend up to 45 minutes briefing each actor in private prior to shooting, whispering in their ear what they could reveal in each session. As the actors knew nothing of the other characters, every utterance was a fresh revelation.
KB: The film was made with an incredibly small budget, in fact you are calling it a 'no budget film'. What did you accentuate and what did you lose to make the film in this way?
JLS: The film was created on a reverse finance model, with each key crew member and actor taking an equity position in the film. Put simply, if the film does well, everyone benefits; if it does not, they have had a unique experience and they have invested their time. As far as what we lost, nothing in fact, we wanted to make the film this way and we ended up with everything you would normally have on a low budget film of approximately $1 million dollars (catering included).
What we gained was great freedom as we were able to make the film our way without investors and funding bodies dictating their tastes, agendas, politics etc. The support we received from the industry and community was nothing short of overwhelming!
Men's Group screens around the country in regional and urban centres including Eaglehawk and Melbourne in Victoria, Noosa and Brisbane in Queensland, Perth, Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide. Visit www.mensgroupthemovie.com for details.
The Inside Film Awards is broadcast live on SBS: 13th of November at 10:05pm.