In director Peter Templeman and screenwriter Michael Lucas’ comedy/drama, ‘Not Suitable For Children’, a brush with infertility sends Ryan Kwanten’s hard partying twentysomething on an unlikely journey toward fatherhood.
For screenwriter, Michael Lucas, the genesis of his debut feature was born staring at his bedroom ceiling late one evening, his mind anxiously running through the type of absurd scenarios that only derive from a bout of middle-of-the-night paranoia. Lucas had discovered a lump in the place no man wants to find one, prompting a visit to his doctor, and growing concern over the possibility that he was about to be diagnosed with testicular cancer. "I'd gone to a GP on the Friday night, and he'd told me that I needed to get this checked out," Lucas recalls. "I had to go to a urologist to get ultrasounds done, but I couldn't get in until Monday, so I had a whole weekend of thinking about it. I went home and self-diagnosed myself on Google, which is the worst thing that you could possibly do. I remember lying there in the middle of the night stewing over it, and growing paranoid that my days of fertility were numbered! I started to think about relationships at junctures in my life where I could have easily had a family. I even thought about who I would ask if I did have to have a baby with a friend!"
Fortunately, Lucas' lump proved to be harmless, but the experience left an indelible imprint on the writer, and became the basis for what would become his first feature screenplay. Set in Sydney's trendy inner west, which is where Lucas spent his young adult years, the hip and heartfelt Not Suitable For Children follows the impulsive and charismatic Jonah (Ryan Kwanten), whose freewheeling twenties are cut short when he's diagnosed with testicular cancer, and told that, while his life is not at risk, his impending treatment will render him permanently infertile. Suddenly the ultimate party maestro has a convulsive shift in priorities and, despite his lack of funds or any future plans, he becomes obsessed with procreating before he misses his chance forever.
While the seed for the story was planted seven long years ago, it's only now that it's wrapped and finally hitting cinema screens. "I was 25 when I wrote a first draft, and I'm 33 now," Lucas laughs in acknowledgement of the long journey from page to screen. "Of course, I wasn't working on it full time. I was just setting aside a few months every year. Obviously, it was still quite early in my development as a writer, so I would return to it each year thinking that I could make it better. I was constantly compelled to keep on drafting it because of that. Then with every new person that got involved, particularly Pete, the director, it just kept evolving."
Lucas is referring to Peter Templeman, the film's director and his regular writing partner. Having attended film school together, the two hit it off immediately, and have been collaborating on projects ever since, including a number of short films, television work, and another untitled project that they've been working on for almost as long as Not Suitable For Children. "We didn't actually start writing together and developing a project until after film school," recalls Lucas, whose other screenwriting credits include the hit television series Offspring. "In the year after film school, Pete decided that we should write together, which really surprised me because he'd just gotten the Oscar nomination. He was so hot, and I was like, ‘Why would you choose to write with me?' But we had a connection."
Templeman had certainly been building buzz with a clutch of impressive short films (Splintered, Milk Men), which culminated in an Oscar nomination for his 2007 short, The Saviour, a wry and gently thought-provoking comedy about an evangelist in love with a married woman.
Templeman came on board Not Suitable For Children after Lucas had been working on the screenplay for two years, and while it was the initial intention that he would direct, the filmmaker found himself in the strange and slightly bemusing situation of having to audition for the gig. "Mike brought his first draft to me for notes," Templeman recalls, "but apparently my feedback was so scathing and mean that in retaliation, he went off and got himself a producer [Razzle Dazzle's Jodi Matterson]. He then told me that if I wanted in on this now, I was going to have to sing for my supper and audition. So I found myself on a list of directors that Jodi was approaching to develop the script with Mike. I basically auditioned to direct my writing partner's project, which was like being interviewed for a job by your little brother," the director laughs good-naturedly.
Not Suitable For Children hits cinemas July 12. This is an excerpt from a feature included in the current issue of FilmInk, which is on sale now and available online here.
Picture caption: Templeman directing Kwanten on set.