by James Fletcher

Back in January 2020, FilmInk spoke with Australian actor James Pratt as he embarked on his first feature film as a director, the quirky rom-com Malibu Crush, pitched as a Shallow Hal meets The Hangover type affair. Set around a fictional film production crew assembled by a budding director in hopes of affirming his undying love to an ex-girlfriend, Malibu Crush takes on an ambitious task of exporting Hollywood comedy tropes to Australia.

Suffering a few false starts and production delays due to covid, Pratt’s directorial debut, which he also wrote and co-produced with fellow Australian actor Dan Musial, recently made its debut at the American Film Market [AFM].

With the comedy poised for international release, one of its stars and Associate Producers Damian Nixey, took some time to reflect on his role as Brandon, the calm and collected soundie whose nerves and collected demeaner quickly unravel as the faux-production within the film faces an onslaught of problems. Not unlike shooting in Sydney, Australia during a COVID lockdown…

Can you offer a little insight into your character Brandon?

“Brandon is the sound mixer of a small film crew that the two leads, Michael Chase (James Pratt) and Duey (Billy White), end up working with as Michael sets out to declare his love for an ex-girlfriend living in Sydney, Australia.

“Like so many film professionals, Brandon has to ride the highs and lows of a shoot. Initially calm and collected, it all unravels rapidly as the film progresses, which is Brandon’s character arc. The dynamics of film crews are always interesting, and Brandon embodies that.”

Was he a difficult character to find and embody?

“I’m a big fan of Sam Rockwell – he always appears to be happy to be simply working and brings something unique to his characters. In Iron Man 2, for example, Rockwell’s hands have fake tan on them to show the vanity of Justin Hammer. I love those little bits of detail.

“For me, half of the fun of acting is coming up with ideas for the character. I would create a character vision board in a word document, add photos and text, and then send it to James (Pratt) to discuss and brainstorm ideas. All the time I’ve spent through my love of film has helped shape a proper understanding of what crew members set experiences are like – life imitating art, so I could bring that to set – and cans of Red Bull! I certainly have more respect for soundies now – the crew always work hardest on set.”

The film’s being referenced as an Australian Film/American Comedy. As an actor, was it difficult to find a pace/balance in your performance that drew from the strengths of both storytelling cultures?

“American comedy does seem to be bigger and louder than Australian comedy, but the fast-paced nature of the shoot meant we had to think quickly, which helped me to bring high energy to the scenes required.

“Australians have a reputation for being laid back, as do New Zealanders, where I’m originally from, so it wasn’t too difficult to dial it down for the less frantic moments. I felt challenged to be better than before, and as an actor, that is often the best way to learn and grow.”

Billy White, James Pratt, Scott E Miller and Damian Nixey on the set of Malibu Crush

I understand that some of the location where you shot in Sydney really helped the production move forward while COVID was rampant. Can you offer a little insight into this?

“Definitely. Many original locations had to be changed after COVID, and it was surprising how many Australian businesses came out of nowhere to be of assistance.

WingMill (check out those chicken burgers) and Cammeray Golf Course played vital roles in getting the film’s production across the line following a temporary halting of the filming due to COVID. Much of the filming was done at WingMill and became a significant part of the storyline as Michael and Duey use the location to pretend to shoot an ad about WingMill.

“Cammeray Golf Course also came to the rescue and was just so hospitable over the four days of filming. Their motivation was to help us make the best movie we could – without the help of these two North Shore locations, we would not have completed the film.

Arthur’s Pizza in Bondi Junction was another one, they basically gave us the keys and said you guys can lock up when you’re finished filming. This sort of hospitality shows not just the best in people but also a part of the Australian attitude that makes filming in Australia unique.”

Billy White and Damian Nixey shooting Malibu Crush on Cammeray Gold Course

This was James’ first feature film as a director. Do you think that having been an actor himself, and appearing in this film, helped with his directorial style and how he related to the other actors?

“Directors who have been actors often have the best directorial style, and James’s certainly reflects this.

“He had multiple challenges to manage during the shoot, COVID being the main one, of course. However, I never saw him lose his cool, and he seamlessly moved his director hat to actor and back again.

“James always maintained that it was a team effort and everyone involved is valued, so you would feel confident that he will get the job done and do it well.

“The pressure in the closed COVD bubble undoubtedly made the relationships more intense but the mindset was always to find creative solutions to fix problems rather than let the project slip by.

“Determined, calm and very generous – dare I say it, we’ve become good mates.

“He was probably running on adrenaline a lot of the time, enjoying seeing the project take shape, although rumour has it he hasn’t slept since 2020….”

I understand you worked closely with Scott E Miller (Stargate, Smallville, 2012, Once Upon A Time) who improvised a lot of his comedic moments. Did you have a natural banter with Scott and what was it like improvising with him?

“Scott E. Miller plays my boss, Paul Gofuller. It was hard to give a bad performance around him because he’s so good! Scott would improvise several different versions of his takes – the car dealership and restaurant scenes, in particular, stand out in my mind. I think outstanding comedy can be more challenging to pull off than serious drama.

“Both Scott and I are getting long in the tooth now, so we connected on set (sorry, Scott!), sharing travel, film and life stories. Funnily enough, we both moved up to the Central Coast recently and are going to catch a beer or two with James when summer finally rolls around.”

I understand Malibu Crush recently screened at the American Film Market. Do you have an idea of when and where the film will be screening?

“There was a strong reaction from American audiences liking it, so, looking forward to seeing where it all lands with follow up meetings in progress; it did score well from the industry there. Brianna Cook (How To Build a Girl) did a great job editing the comedy for USA audiences too.

“We hope to announce more exciting news with another distributor for Australian territories coming up and awaiting the USA distributor to announce USA news.”

Finally, we imagine COVID must have made Malibu Crush a unique shooting experience. Have you kept in touch with the cast and crew since its completion?

“The cast and crew on Malibu Crush have been some of my favourite film folk to work with – an energetic professional bunch, there were plenty of laughs on set.

“I didn’t work with everyone, but I’ve kept in touch with those that I did – mainly through Instagram, to be honest!

“Kyle Lovett (Risen), who plays Johnny Watson, has made ‘Lickerish’ with Dan Musial, who acts and produces in Malibu Crush and a couple of the other actors are working on various creative plans together.

“James has always got a few projects bubbling on in the background, so it’s exciting to see what 2022 brings.”

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