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Bridie Connell on Theatresports

Bridie Connell

It's that time of year again: the Cranston Cup Theatresports grand final - in which some of the best improvisers you will ever see (until next year's Cranston Cup) battle it out for the prize of best people who can make stuff up on the spot and entertain you in the process - is taking place at the Enmore Theatre tonight.

In honour of it, I interviewed Bridie Connell - not just a brilliant player and performer (she was one of the multitude of talented Sydney Uni alumni Michael Hing produced at the recent Sydney Fringe Festival) but also a teacher of Theatresports. But I'll let her tell you all about it…

Cranston-Trophy-lo-resThe Cranston Cup

Dom Romeo: What do you do?

BRIDIE CONNELL: I teach a lot of impro, and I’m an actor and writer.

Dom Romeo: When did you come to impro?

BRIDIE CONNELL:I was very lucky; I went to one of the few primary schools that had a Theatresports club. A lot of high schools have it, but I was lucky that I got a taste quite early. I did it all through high school and I really loved it. When I went to uni there was no impro and I really missed it, but then I moved to Sydney to finish my degree, and there was such a big scene over here for it that I fell back into it after a few years of having a break.

Dom Romeo: Were you mostly educated in New Zealand?

BRIDIE CONNELL: I did all of my high school and primary school there.

Dom Romeo: I do not detect a New Zealand ‘ick-cent’.

BRIDIE CONNELL: My mum’s an Aussie so we’ve always had a mixture of accents. It’s weird because when I go home to New Zealand to see my family, they tease me for sounding like an Australian but some of my friends here still pick up on words that I say with a bit of a Kiwi accent. So no matter where I go, I get teased for my voice.

Dom Romeo: In a way it’s an advantage: to always be an outsider means you can always be making fun of something as an observer…

 BRIDIE CONNELL: Yeah, I guess so. It’s not like we speak a different language in New Zealand but when I moved to Sydney there were a few moments, even on stage, where I’d say something – a phrase that we say in New Zealand that just hadn’t made it across here – and there’d be an awkward moment where they were trying to work out what I was saying.

Dom Romeo: When you started improvising out here, you would have looked like an amazing newbie, when really you weren’t a newbie at all.

BRIDIE CONNELL: I had done it all through high school, and it was quite fun because I had had a break for a few years, studying in New Zealand. It was one of those nice things, like riding a bike: I got back into it so quickly and I had so much fun immersing myself in it again.

I was really nervous to start again though. I felt really rusty. And I hadn’t improvised with all these people at Sydney Uni before. It was scary going into my first jam, and my first time on Manning Bar stage because I just didn’t know anybody. That was actually one of the reasons I picked it up again: to meet people.

Dom Romeo: Even though New Zealand and Australia are close in many ways, are there any differences in the way we improvise and in our senses of humour?

BRIDIE CONNELL: I think, in New Zealand, a lot of our humour is sort of even more laconic than it is here. Flight of the Conchords is very typical of the sort of thing that you see a lot in New Zealand: a lot of awkward humour, a lot of laconic stuff, blokey jokes. And that definitely happens here, but more so in New Zealand. I think that because I had come from doing Theatresports at a high school level in New Zealand, it was totally different kind of standard, so when I moved to doing uni Theatresports in a different country, it was like being hit over the head: people were so much wilder and tackled topics that we never had in high school and the standard was so much better.

Content-wise, there was a bit of difference, but the main thing I noticed was that suddenly from high school to university, it was a whole new world: no holds barred, do what you will…

Dom Romeo: You also do this for a living.

BRIDIE CONNELL: I teach Theatresports and host Theatresports at Sydney Uni, and I teach at quite a few high schools – I run Theatresports clubs and co-curricular drama. So I perform a lot, and I teach even more.

Dom Romeo: Does that mean you’re always working, or always playing?

BRIDIE CONNELL: Sometimes it feels like work! But I’m quite lucky that it is so much fun that I do really enjoy it and it doesn’t feel like work most of the time. There are some students who are more trying than others, but most of the time it’s just so much fun, particularly because I work with such a wide age range. I teach five-year-olds, right up to people in their 30s I get so many different types of students so it’s always really fun, and there’s always something new every day, so it’s really nice.

Dom Romeo: And you run the University of Sydney Theatresports program?

BRIDIE CONNELL: Yeah, I took over from Steen Raskopoulos at the start of this year and I co-host with Tom Walker, who’s in my Cranston team.

2012-11-18 - Cranston Repechage Winner 2 - Mother Father - by Jim Wilson 2 medium
Tom Walker and Bridie Connell

Dom Romeo:
I was on campus when Rob Carlton was handing over to Adam Spencer. I think it was Gabby Millgate before them. I don’t know if there were many women in between (and apologise to anyone I’ve overlooked).

BRIDIE CONNELL: I was thinking about this recently – I know that Rebecca De Unamuno used to play, I don’t know if she hosted. Still, it’s the first time a girl’s hosted in a while, so that’s been quite fun, and a lot more women have been coming to the jams at Sydney Uni this year, so that’s been quite nice.

Dom Romeo: What’s the difference between teaching adults who are doing it for the first time at 30, and teaching kids?

BRIDIE CONNELL: The wonderful thing about teaching at uni is that everyone wants to be there; they’re there voluntarily rather than, it’s last period Friday and you had to pick an activity and you chose this. Everybody’s there because they want to be there, so they’re really passionate about it.

A lot of the time people get into it just for social reasons, or as an extra-curricular thing, to meet people – so there’s a really, really nice environment at uni with the older group. It’s almost like a friendship group hanging out and jamming every week, which is really nice. With my younger students, it’s a lot more structured and regimented. It’s still a lot of fun, but there are a lot more structures in place around what we learn.

Dom Romeo: Is it harder for adults to free up part of their brain and indeed, their body, to accept offers and to play?

BRIDIE CONNELL: You see with a lot of older people, when they start out, definitely, there’s a process. When they finally have that moment where something switches over in their brain where they really start to accept offers and understand it, it’s awesome. But there definitely can be a bit of resistance, and a little bit of holding back at first.

That’s what’s so refreshing about working with the little kids. Even though, obviously, they’re not hugely experienced and they don’t have a lot of technical skill, they don’t care: they will do scenes about anything and they’ll just take risks. I always come out of class with these amazing stories from all the kids. They have huge imaginations and just don’t care what anybody thinks, which is nice, because the older people at uni are more conscious of what people will think of them or how they’ll be perceived.

Dom Romeo: What are the differences between playing Theatresports at a professional level in competition, and just playing for fun?

BRIDIE CONNELL: That’s a good question. First and foremost, if anyone was doing this purely for the competition then I doubt that they would make it into the final because one of fundamental principles of Theatresports is that you are just mucking around, having fun. I always tell my students this when competition time rolls around: the minute you start counting your points or focussing on the competition elements, it’s a big mistake because you stop focussing on your play and you stop taking risks and being free.

The competition is definitely fun and important, and it’s a great way to learn really quickly and get feedback from judges, but I think the more relaxed you can be about it, the better. All the teams that are playing the Cranston final this weekend are approaching it from a ‘let’s just have fun on big scale’ attitude.

Dom Romeo: So you’re saying that once you start ‘competing’, looking for angles to get ahead, you’re almost losing the whole reason Theatresports exists – to play and discover new things.

BRIDIE CONNELL: Absolutely. It just interferes with your mindset. And I’ve gone through that before. I’ve done shows where you really want to make it to the final round, and you start thinking about that. But as soon as you do that, you start to get tense, and relaxation is so important in Theatresports, to be in the zone. That’s not to say that people aren’t competitive; everybody would like to win the Cranston Cup, and everybody wants to play as many rounds as they can without getting eliminated, because we all want to play. But first and foremost, we all want to have fun, and we all know from experience that the more relaxed you are the more fun you’re having and the better your score will be anyway.

Dom Romeo: One of the reasons Theatresports was developed was to get away from ‘shtick’ – the comfortable bag of tricks we all carry and fall back on. There are times, even when improvising in Theatresports, when players ‘get comfortable’ in the ways they play, sometimes to the point where you can almost certainly predict the character they’ll pull out and the way the improvised scene will play. Should they try to get away from that? And if so, how?

BRIDIE CONNELL: You definitely should get away from that because impro in its purest form would mean that we couldn’t be predictable. And that can really be frustrating for a fellow player or the audience member when you can predict the way a scene will go because you’ve seen a player bring out that character before. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with little kids, and one of the reasons they’re so good at Theatresports: they have such boundless imaginations that every time they do a scene it’s totally different.

I’ve been thinking about this concept of patterns and habits this year with my students. One of the things we do at high school and university level is an exercise that’s rapid-fire coming up with as many characters as you can really quickly: a set of two characters, then you change, and you change and you keep changing. You’re meant to get to bare minimum ten characters. But after about four or five characters everybody started to falter. The exercise totally exposes the fact that we have default characters. I do too: I have types of scenes that I’m more comfortable with, characters and accents that I tend to go to. But the more we’ve done that exercise, the more we’ve stretched our minds a little bit to find different types of characters to play. As well as that, there are some players who do the same sort of things physically, so we’ve really focussed them on doing different things with their voices to get them out of their comfort zone a little bit.

Dom Romeo: There are times when there are props available on stage and there are players who always look for a prop for inspiration – sometimes, I feel, to the detriment of their improvising.

BRIDIE CONNELL: I’m not really one of them. Sometimes you’ll get the perfect prop and it will really help you, but I find Theatresports is so fast-paced that when I rummage through the prop box to find something perfect for the moment, the moment’s passed. I’m not quick enough with the prop to do it. Some people just love them, particularly the physical players – they find things to help them be even bigger on stage. It works for some people, but it always just stresses me out.

Dom Romeo: Tell me about a time you did something on stage that not even you knew you were going to do – that took you by surprise, as well as the audience and the people you were playing with.

BRIDIE CONNELL: Those moments are the reason everyone keeps doing Theatresports! It’s a bit like a drug: sometimes the highs are so good – those moments when the whole team just clicks and they’re totally on the same wavelength.

I had a great experience about five years ago, in the final scene in the high school grand final. It was a plagiarism scene: all the lines, characters and settings are stolen from all the other scenes that had been played earlier that night. It’s a bit cheeky and it’s so much fun. But towards the end of the scene – it wasn’t a musical or anything but somebody started to sing a poem in a scene and everybody just got up. All the other teams got up and suddenly it was an impromptu musical. It got a great score and the audience loved it. I always remember it because to me that was the perfect summary of how important the concept of ‘the team’ is in Theatresports – everybody just supported each other and got up. It was amazing. The audience was floored that everybody in the space of about three seconds got on stage and jumped on one idea and took it to the extreme. It was so much fun.

Dom Romeo: It’s amazing when everyone gets the same idea and is on the same wavelength instantaneously.

BRIDIE CONNELL: It’s so organic, too: you can’t force it. It’s so amazing and it’s so much fun to play with people you meld with. Whether it’s because you know each other really well or you have similar styles, when that happens – when everybody just magically is on the same page and knows what’s going on – you can’t beat it. It’s so rewarding as a player and as an audience member.

Dom Romeo: If you didn’t have Theatresports in your life or as a way of life, what’s one thing that would suck in everyday life?

BRIDIE CONNELL: In high school, if I’m thinking back a bit, I was really grateful that I did Threatresports.

I actually started it because I was a debater, and I gave that up many years ago because I enjoyed Theatresports more. But I got into it because I thought it would help me with my debating, to think on my feet. And the more I did Theatresports, the better I was at thinking on my feet. So in high school, I would say the answer to that question is, I would have gotten so many more detentions. Because I could think on my feet I talked myself out of so many detentions and punishments in high school – more than anyone else in my year – which was great. But for now, the thing that I’m most grateful for in terms of what Theatresports has given me, is just general confidence and playfulness in everyday life.

My first ever Theatresports coach, when I was little, said, the people who played Theatresports were just better at life for those reasons: you’re more playful and imaginative and have more confidence. Whether or not you want to be a professional performer, I really do think that what Theatresports gives you is really valuable.

2011Cranston_Cup0419 Jon+Bridie
Jon Williams and Bridie Connell


Fine Print:

The Cranston Cup Theatresports Grand Final is on tonight at 8pm, Enmore Theatre. Hosted by Susie Youssef. Doors open 7pm.

Click Frenzy? Quick Endsy!
The Downfall of Click Frenzy

The US gets some cash-flow easing the economic crisis with Black Friday. And Australia… doesn't….

And so, as Chris North rightly points out, the Downfall meme regarding Australia's continued inability to get the Interwebs right is inevitable:



But there's also this contribution - an episode of the daily dose of excellent satire know as The Roast.



So has it made you wanna go back into a physical shop? Or just back to the online retailers you always go to?

Turning the Tables


After the usual series of career missteps, I find myself back in retail. It’s less fun this time because rather than the music shops of the past – few of which still exist – I’m selling furniture.

While all retail is painful, at least customers in music shops either wanted to buy the CD, or they didn't. Sometimes they’d need to listen to a bit in order to decide. And maybe haggle over a couple of dollars. But they’d make a decision: they genuinely wanted to buy some music.

Furniture’s different. Nobody wants to buy furniture. They certainly don’t want to buy a table.

Sure, they'll pretend they do, admiring the exquisite, intricate marble inlay that makes a golden mango wood extension table even more attractive than the rustic paneling of the Tasmanian oak equivalent. They’re both fine tables: handcrafted from solid hardwood whose respective grains display great character, they’re beautiful as well as sturdy. Built to look good and to last.

You'll show them how the mango wood’s synchronic extension mechanism works: pull one end and the other moves automatically. Much nicer than the Tassie oak, where it takes two of you, or just one running up and down the length of it.

Sometimes your customer has no self-respect, and is happy for you to have none for them either. They'll tell you they love the table so much, they’ll go home to measure the room to ensure they have the space for it.

You won’t be seeing them again. They don’t want a table. If they did, they’d have come armed with measurements.

Although measurements are no true measure of a would-be table buyer. When they want you to believe they’re serious, they already know whether or not the double extension table will fit in their house, both leaves unfolded, with room to spare. If they still need to ‘go home and think about it’, you won’t be seeing them again. They don’t really want a table.

Sometimes people have far too much time on their hands. They’ve been in with the measurements, gone home to think about it and returned to pretend they want a table some more. Beware these time-wasters. They’ll feign a preference for chairs as they discuss the cleaning convenience of wood over fabric and the frustration of sticking to the leather in summer and freezing on it in winter… but rest assured: they don’t want a table. Not even if they send their cute daughter in a tight top and too short a skirt to have a look at it the next day.

Her outfit won’t influence the final price, of course. Her parents have ‘gone home to think about it’ twice. The purchase of no table requires that much thinking time, so she’s not fooling anyone. Just smile, perve as best you can without getting caught, but don't waste more time than it takes to commit her to your spank bank. Everyone has better things to do. Maybe tomorrow they'll send their dog to yap at a table they don’t want to buy.

My favourite one’s the guy who comes at closing time, the ruse of ‘customer’ so well developed he’ll go as far as to declare the one table he could actually afford as ‘ugly’, somehow implying that it's for reasons other than the wrong colour, size and style. Don’t fall for that – he’s just the furniture equivalent of a tyre-kicker. After running up and down the length of the Tassie oak, he’ll develop an infatuation for the extension mechanism of the mango wood so disturbingly intense that he has to ‘pop home – just around the corner’. Not to ‘think about it’, mind, but to ‘get the Missus’.

“Yes,” I’ll assure him, “of course I’ll stay open.” After all, isn’t that why a shop still exists? Otherwise we’d all have to pretend to want tables online, and that’d be no fun. Whose daughter would we perve at then?

When he returns with his wife, he’s clearly extolled the virtues of the mango wood table a little too enthusiastically. She regards it with the same distrust wives have for husbands’ sudden love of unlistenable chart-topping hits – that happen to be performed by impossibly proportioned, near-naked nymphets. She’ll roll her eyes whenever he’s sprung looking at it longingly. This leaves no option but the Tassie oak – a fitting punishment, as far as she’s concerned, since he’ll be forever consigned to the Sisyphean task of running up and down the length of it whenever they entertain.

Except he won’t. Because they don’t want a table.

But don’t imagine that they’re done.

He’ll start asking about the chairs. How much for the Tassie oak with fabric chairs? With wooden chairs? With top grain leather? Honey legs? Chocolate legs? How do all the variations compare with the mango wood (wife rolls her eyes and shakes her head)? What about, he asks, his decision to stop punching above his weight momentarily taking you by surprise, the one he can actually afford? The ugly one? The one that happens to be the wrong size and colour?

“Sir,” I’ll politely point out, more to the clock on the wall than to him. “Happy as I am to determine the price of something you definitely don’t want, wouldn’t it be more helpful to determine the price of something you might actually want?”

But that’s just it: he doesn’t actually want a table.

Now’s the time. Not to close the store – that was twenty minutes ago – but to have some fun. This is where I’m compelled to offer the customer the impossible discount: a sale price so good that he’d be a fool not to take it and I’d be an idiot to show my face in the store again even if my employer was too stupid to sack me. “But,” I’ll add, as I stand with the purchase order form in one hand and the key to the door in the other, “you have to buy it now. Before you leave.”

“Um…” they’ll reply, clearly torn, their world standing still for just a moment. “Let me go home and think about it…”

Lucky me, I get to keep my job. They just don’t want a table.


Michael Palin (image pilfered from The Guardian)


I was approached to provide a guest blog post on the Sydney Opera House 'Ideas at the House' website, about Michael Palin, in honour of his Life of Palin: From Monthy Python to Brazil appearance at the Opera House on Saturday.

Here's a taster:


It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a comedian in possession of a couple of good seasons of sketch or sitcom must be in want of a documentary series.

Bill Bailey (the put-upon Manny Bianco in Black Books) helped save endangered species; Richard Wilson (the cantankerous Victor Meldrew with One Foot In The Grave) drove vintage cars to beautiful villages across Britain’s scenic roads; Stephen Fry flitted across the United States; Griff Rhys Jones (Not the Nine O’Clock News, Alas Smith & Jones) climbed mountains, hurtled down rivers and visited capital cities; Martin Clunes  (one of the Men Behaving Badly) became one of dogs’ best friends; and Tony Robinson (The Blackadder’s dogsbody, Baldrick) remains the history go-to guy.

While you could argue Clive James pioneered the funny guy-turned-traveller trick there’s no denying the man who owns the trademark is Michael Palin. Read more…


Part 2 will be up later today.

I'll also be live tweeting the event, 5pm Saturday (Sydney time) with the hashtag #MichaelPalin.


Python-era Palin.

Paul Wiegard's story of Ian Darling's
Paul Kelly – Stories of Me

Film poster
(above) and trailer (below)




“I can’t imagine how many times Paul Kelly must have been approached over the years to make his story,” Paul Wiegard insists. “It’s just one of those wonderful tales…”

Paul Kelly is perhaps the seminal Aussie muso; whether fronting inner-city rock bands or presenting the purest of heartfelt ballads in roots music mode, his songwriting hits your soul with utter honesty. Filmmaker Ian Darling has gone and captured him in the documentary Paul Kelly – Stories of Me. At this year’s Melbourne Film Festival, Stories of Me sold out pretty quickly – and was the first film of that festival to do so.

More impressively, to launch its cinema release, Darling’s undertaken a national tour of theatre venues for ‘special event’ screenings in which the film’s followed by live talks with the director and Paul Kelly. The first weekend – featuring a screening in Brisbane and Sydney – resulted in the film taking $118,344 in revenue, setting a new record for largest opening weekend per screen average for an Aussie film ($59,172).

“Nice result, hey!” Wiegard acknowledges, rightfully proud.

Although it’s possible that you don’t know why Paul Wiegard is rightfully proud. Or who he is. Or why I’d be talking to him about this. Rest assured: you’ve enjoyed the fruits of his labour, even if this is the first time you’ve heard of him. Paul happens to be a founding partner and director of Madman, the company that, in addition to distributing all manner of films and television shows (“art-house, world cinema, docos and anime” their website boasts) also develops films from the ground up. Paul Kelly – Stories of Me is one of theirs. And I’m pleased that when a press release about the film’s record-breaking success lands in my inbox and I ask if I may interview anyone at all about it, with virtually no notice whatsoever one of the grand poobahs of local film and television entertainment puts his hand up.


Paul Wiegard and partner at the 2010 Samsung AFI Awards. Image pilfered from Getty Images


My initial gambit – hoping not to stretch the friendship – is to quite literally ‘set the record straight’. Why is the record that Stories of Me has broken significant? In whose footsteps does it follow?

“Good question,” Paul replies. Advising that the answer might be “layered in a number of ways”, he layers it this way: the ‘live tour’ is an “innovative ‘event’ release”, the likes of which doesn’t happen often in cinema. The previous record-holder, Paul tells me, was Warren Miller. Twice. He makes epic ski flicks such as Children of Winter (2008), which held the record at $50,716. Until it was broken by Dynasty (2009, $54,662). But to put Stories of Me in perspective, opening weekend revenue figures of other successful Aussie docos include the $8,308 earned by Bra Boys in 2007 and $6,984, by Mrs Carey’s Concert, last year. And these are both in the Top 10 list of Box Office results or Australian documentaries. So Paul’s “Nice result, hey!” is laconic understatement, one of the Madman managing director’s endearing traits.

“So,” he continues, “the significance here is it’s unusual to take feature films – and in this case, feature documentaries – and project them onto the big screen. We’re very much looking forward to seeing how the film’s going to come up down in Melbourne’s Hamer Hall in November, where there’ll be approximately 2000 in attendance. It’s got an enormous capacity; it’s an enormous venue.”

True that. So if the tour had opened with the Hamer Hall showing, that would have been the bigger record breaking opening revenue, surely. Paul Kelly has always struck me as the seminal Melbourne muso – Paul Wiegard must be anticipating a triumphant showing in that town.

“It’s funny – as a Melbournian, I think that,” Wiegard agrees. “But gosh, when you think about it, Kelly grew up in Adelaide where probably every second person is related to him. He probably wrote some of his most memorable songs in Sydney, and the guy’s been quite the ‘journey man’” – in this instance meaning ‘traveler’ rather than the traditional term for a tradesman in that phase between apprenticeship and master craftsman – “forever jumping on a plane, train or automobile to regional Australia to perform and work with our indigenous population.”

So yes, Paul concurs, since he lives there, Kelly is “very much quintessentially Melbournian in some respects but his career spans the width and breadth of Australia.”

And beyond, I have to chip in: the first time I interviewed comedian Rich Hall, back in 1998, conversation turned to music and he admitted how much of a Paul Kelly fan he happened to be. It wasn’t just name-dropping – mentioning a local artist to placate an Aussie journo’s parochialism. Hall knew the man’s work intimately.


Paul Kelly fan Rich Hall

“He’s obviously a man of good taste,” Wiegard says of the comic, before going on to acknowledge how universally loved both Stories of Me and Paul Kelly might happen to be, judging on the response the trailer has received.

“There are a number of dedicated film sites around the world that comment on trailers, looking at what’s being released around the world, and a bunch of these sites have picked up on the trailer we’ve cut about Paul and been almost amazed that they’ve never heard of the guy before. Hopefully the film will go some way towards broadening his appeal and seeding his music in more locations around the world.”

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me was, according to Wiegard, “very much a passion project” of director Ian Darling, a man who has “a great deal of integrity and a lot of runs on the board”. A quick look at their website reveals Shark Island Productions’ history of brilliant and award-winning documentaries: The Oasis, In The Company of Actors, Alone Across Australia and Woodstock for Capitalists. Of the many people who might have approached Paul Kelly for his cooperation in a doco, Darling was the most likely to get it together. Which is why the film turns out to be “wholly privately financed,” according to Wiegard. “Which is significant,” he adds, his voice dropping down the kind of whispered awe that only someone who’s hustled for finance within the industry can both understand and have: “that’s really rarely the case with feature films in Australia.”


Ian Darling (image pilfered from Canberra Times)

How does it work, I wonder. Surely it wasn’t a crowd-sourced enterprise – we’d all have heard about it and had an opportunity to contribute. Was it some über-fan recapturing a life left behind? A captain of industry, say, who was a regular at Paul Kelly gigs during the inner-city living, record buying, pub-going phase of their student lives, but who left that bohemian milieu for the upper echelons of corporate achievement… I’m not so much imagining the lyrics to a song Paul Kelly hasn’t quite written, as asking Wiegard indirectly if he committed some of his own personal savings in the project. Was he the visionary who went, ‘have this money, I believe in this’?

Australia’s tax rebates, incentivising film investment, is part of the explanation, according to Paul. It’s a case of “a collection of private individuals coming aboard”, he says, rightfully naming Shark Island Productions as “the visionaries”. But, he says, as far as Madman’s involvement is concerned, “it was an absolute ‘no-brainer’”. The key point of negotiation was to ensure there was ample time afforded to putting the final edit together. You’ll know it’s been time and money well spent when you see the film – particularly when you listen to its sound quality.

“I think this is one area that Kelly himself had, let’s say, ‘final cut’ on,” Paul assures me. Whatever technical hurdles appeared, they were jumped. “Without going into the details of it, the recordings are outstanding,” he continues. “It’s a credit to all the techs that have been involved with the film to have produced a work of such a high standard. I’m probably waxing on a little bit too much about that side of it, but they’ve really done an outstanding job of capturing the music.”

Yeah, but as Mr Miyagi might say, “wax on!” It’s a musician that we’re talking about – sound quality is important. But I can’t help myself from wondering, given some parallels (that certain fans will hate me for) – shouldn’t there be an excellent double CD of rare, significant and previously unreleased hits? Okay, I’m thinking in terms of the Dylan doco No Direction Home… No, come back, hear me out…

Before you get all het up, we are talking about another legendary songsmith. And off the top of my head, I’ll point out that ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ is adapted from the same traditional folk source as Dylan’s ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ (the original is a Scottish ballad called ‘Mary Hamilton’). I’m sure there are several other parallels that’d annoy a Paul Kelly fan…

“To date, there are no plans for a soundtrack recording,” Paul assures me. “The purpose of the film is not so much to open up and discover the music that hasn’t been heard previously, as much as to learn a little bit more about Kelly through his music.”

Fair call. And if you are a fan in need of a new release, Spring and Fall, Kelly’s first album in five years, is out now.


Spring and Fall cover

Talking at length about this project, it’s easy to forget that Madman is a big company with a massive catalogue of films and television shows. They specialize in art films, anime and even comedy releases – responsible for the Warehouse Comedy series of live performances by the likes of Sam Simmons, Tom Gleeson, Hannah Gadsby, Tom Ballard, Felicity Ward, Denise Scott, Sammy J, Charlie Pickering and Josh Thomas, to offer a significant example (“We have a second series on the way,” Paul assures me). Given the varied genres and the high quality of the different work, you might wonder how Paul approaches the different projects, and which ones lie closer to his heart. You shouldn’t be surprised to discover it’s the local talent that lies closest to this Aussie’s heart.

“As a distributor, we know there are so many different ways to connect with people,” he says. “Working with Australian talent and having that local voice is incredibly satisfying.” According to Wiegard, “it’s a little bit about our own national identity”. Not surprisingly, this is particularly the case with Paul Kelly, whose work is by now part of the Australian collective unconscious.

“There are a whole host of reasons why we’re motivated to do it,” Wiegard continues, outlining some of the projects in which Madman has been successfully involved. In addition to helping bring “a bunch of other films” to fruition, there are “two or three films per year” that the company invests in at the very beginning. They secure “absolute rights”, taking projects “from script” to screen. Examples include Kenny, Animal Kingdom, Snowtown and The Hunter. In the process, Madman helps establish fledgling talents, such as Glendyn Ivan. You may not be as familiar with his first film, Last Ride, as you are with his most recent screen effort, Puberty Blues. Likewise, Matt Saville’s initial offering, Noise – which he scripted – may have passed you by. Not so his subsequent directorial work, such as Cloud Street and “a bunch of comedy” like We Can Be Heroes and the soon-to-be-released Josh Thomas series Please Like Me. “He’s an outstanding young talent,” Paul says.

So what are the motives for getting involved? “It’s always personal. When it comes to distributing films it becomes a very close working relationship, always over an extended period of time.” Distributing a foreign film can be “a little bit hit-and-run”, but working with local filmmakers, often from scratch, is always full on. “And I’ll tell you now,” Paul says, anticipating my next question: “the experience of working with the team at Shark Island has been a nice balance of involvement. There’s been a degree of respect and plenty of points for discussion on the way through the post-production process, for comment and fine-tuning.” There has to be – especially when orchestrating the ‘opening event tour’. It’s been a lot of work, a huge collaboration. And it has paid off: “it’s terrific to see the people rolling out en masse to see the film.”

Okay. I’m talking to the director of the company. He must spend a lot of time deskbound. But he is a co-founder. That means he has to have been an enthusiast – dare I say a ‘film nerd’ – at some stage. What interaction does he have with the projects on a day-to-day level? I mean apart from taking questions from some foolish interstate blogger.

“For anyone who works in the arts, it is a 24-hour job,” Paul says.  The day doesn’t really end because there’s always something more that can be done. “The degree of involvement comes down to where you think you can make a genuine contribution that’s going to aid the project. In many cases, our role is one of just helping to bring people together. It’s trying to be that interface between the commerce and the creative.”

Having to juggle the extremes of commerce and creativity 24 hours a day can’t leave much down time to just enjoy watching, surely. Is there ever a time Paul Wiegard can watch a film without constantly analyzing what he’s seeing?

 â€œYou go through phases!” Paul says.

“There are times when you’re sitting there watching something for the first time and you’re thinking about the numbers, rather than enjoying it as a pleasure. Most of the exhibitors in this country are watching their films first thing on a Wednesday morning. I don’t know whether you’re quite in the mood, first thing on a Wednesday morning; there are times when it’s certainly not for pleasure.”

An honest answer. But I’m relieved to know that someone in Paul’s position can be successful and still have a soul. The proof is that he does still enjoy films as a casual punter. “There’s nothing more exciting than hanging out for the next Wes Anderson film,” he offers. “If you’re not a fan boy and you don’t have a passion and a love for films, it’s too tough.”

So good to hear. And the answer brings me to what has to be my final question: push comes to shove, Paul Wiegard, what is your favourite film or television show?

There’s a massive pause.

And then a chuckle.

“Do you ask this of everyone?” he asks. He has a soul; he’s just wary of baring it.

But I do ask this question, more-or-less of everyone. I ask comedians who their big influences were that made them want to do stand-up, and which musicians turned other musicians onto music. Of course I want to know what films spark the imaginations of filmmakers.

There’s another pause, shorter this time.

“This’ll be an unusual response,” he begins, “but it’s always in your impressionable years…” He’s interrupted himself abruptly. “How’s this: I’m giving you a caveat already!”

Rightfully, Paul explains, it is the stuff you see early on, when you’re seeing everything for the first time, which impresses you most. So his selections date back to his younger days.

“For me, I’m somewhere in between Blade Runner and a film called Betty Blue; they’re part of growing up. Blade Runner is visionary, and Betty Blue had a sense of romanticism and escapism that took me to another place.”

Perhaps I should point out the irony regarding Betty Blue, at least: certainly, it’s a love story about escapism. More than that, however, the gorgeous but erratic Betty has what we, in these politically correct times, would call ‘mental health issues’. That’s Paul’s favourite film. And he went on to create and run a company called ‘Madman Entertainment’.

But clearly, the more significant point is that the films Paul Wiegard finds most inspirational are artistic, creative and very successful. No irony there whatsoever.


Fine Print:

I should probably tell you where the film's showing, but chances are the DVD and Bluray are out by the time you read this. Own it for Christmas; it's a great doco.