December 6, 2012 Posted by damian in NEWS

'Backyard Ashes' - See you later Wagga Wagga, you gorgeous old crow!

Random: How’s the film going?

Me: Umm yeah good

Random: My brother in law donated the mower

Me: Oh, Ok ...

Random: … And my husband runs the club.

Me: Right, which …?

Random: … We’ll be at the thing on Saturday. My daughter was an extra. I’m bringing the bread. [answers phone] … Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute. Just wait … I’m talking to one of the actors … No, not John Wood … I don’t know, I’ll ask ... What’s your name?

Me: Damian Callinan

Random: [to phone] Daniel someone. [hangs up] Better go. Kids are in the car.

Me: Cool, see you Saturday

Random: See you Danny

And so goes many a conversation in the welcoming arms of the Rural City of Wagga Wagga.

I’ve been part of the transient population of the City of Crows for the past month making a film called ‘Backyard Ashes’ – a feel good, knockabout comedy about backyard cricket, mateship and BBQ’s where no-one gets around to eating.

This town has embraced this film like it’s ‘The Hobbit’ but there will be no ‘Hobbiton’ for the tourists to flock too once the film circus packs up and leaves town. So what will be our legacy? Will there be a short-term spike in backyard cricket supply sales? Will we see a strip mowed down the centre of every yard? Will locals plant a Boony Bush at short leg?

In this case I feel like the legacy is in fact ours to take away. Wagga Wagga may get some scant recognition when the film is released. The town is name checked in the film but it could be anywhere. No-one is going to see the film and say … ‘Nicholas, did you see the burnt landscape on the fringes of that industrial estate, fuck Aspen, we simply must take our next holiday in Wagga!’

But even if I told the town that [as I am now … woops!] I suspect they wouldn’t care, because what I’ve witnessed here is a community prepared to celebrate their town and the artists they’ve sporned. The film is the creation of Peter Cox [writer] and Mark Grentell [writer/director] Coxy is a local drama teacher and theatre creator who seems to know everyone within 100 km radius of town and is loved by them all. Mark is an equally revered, multi talented local boy who is now a Sydney based director. This is a project they’ve been cooking up for years and it simply would have been foolish to shoot it anywhere but Wagga.

Helicopters for aerial shooting, Mr Whippy vans for children taunting, backyards for cricket, pool decks for cast and crew parties, factories for … well factory scenes. We’ve even had local cafes turn up to hand out free afternoon tea and the Mayor drops in so often, we’ve begun to question if he has enough to do.

I’m writing this at the Wagga RSL Motel, which has been my home for the past month [no charge of course]. I sleep here, eat here, change costumes here and sometimes film here. There are side effects to this level of RSL exposure. I balk at any drink that costs more that $4: I now instinctively stand for a minutes silence at 6pm and have to talk myself out of accessing the soft serve machine at breakfast.

The crew are a mixture of the best in the business and local students from Charles Sturt University’s Film & TV production course. As an ex-teacher I’ve relished watching the organic tuition on display as the craft is passed on the battlefield of the set. Greenhorns on Day 1, assistant grips and clapper-board operators have transformed into old hands in less than a month.

The patience and skill of cinematographer Damian Wyvill and his team, whose recent credits include ‘The Great Gatsby’, has been inspiring as they work with a first time director, lots of first time everythings and a cast determined not to compromise their cricket shot selection to the peril of crew and equipment.

The cast is similarly varied in experience. From the fresh out of NIDA Jake Speer to first intake at NIDA John Wood, the cast have taken to the pace of life in Wagga like a duck to the Murrumbidgee.

‘Is John Wood in there?’ was the popular refrain from locals slowly wandering past our location for the first few days but after a month in town that has slowly changed to ‘Is John Wood still in there?’

The large ensemble cast is roughly broken into two groups. Those who can’t play cricket [The Poms] and those that can [The Aussies] There are exceptions to that rule but I don’t want to name names and Jamie Way knows who I’m talking about anyway.

This film has a heart the size of Phar Lap and is possibly slightly Aussier than Phar Lap. That’s a big call: We all know that that you can’t get much more Aussie than a successful Aussie horse born in New Zealand. Who knows what the future holds for this film but those involved aren’t going to die wondering. Well Annie the tireless producer might: She’s spent the best part of 2 months sleeping in the un-air conditioned production office to save money. Such is the state of the shitbox she has called home, she may have succumbed to an asbestos related disease before the film is released.

I’m about to wander down the street to a BBQ thrown by Mark Grentell’s parents. It’s about time they did something, so far they’ve only let us take over their house as the primary location and unit base.

I leave here in a couple of days and it will be nice to be home but I must say I’ve liked calling this my home too. See you later Wagga Wagga you gorgeous old crow.

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