“2,000 dollars for whoever catches the chicken!” yells the third AD as the crew surrounds the shot. FilmInk joins director, Matthew Holmes (Twin Rivers), on set for his upcoming bushranger epic, The Legend Of Ben Hall. Adapted from Holmes’ successful short, the film explores the true story of Ben Hall’s return to bushranging and eventual rise to notoriety. “It’s the story of a man trying to reconnect with his estranged son and his lost love. And it’s about a man trying to reconcile within himself what he has become,” says Holmes.
It’s difficult to maintain your historical bearings, as Jack Martin, who plays Ben Hall, comes galloping across an open field of sun-sapped grass. The film is being shot in rural Victoria and New South Wales, away from the visual distraction of modern landmarks. “The locations are great; we’ve spent a lot of time scouting, and we’ve been fortunate with a lot of property owners who’ve opened up their doors to us,” explains the director. “The landscape is Australian, but it’s got all of those Western hallmarks. It’s the frontier.”
Holmes’ vision began with an ambitious 160 page script, which had to be broken down into three parts, the third of which provides the foundations for The Legend Of Ben Hall. “It all started with the history, so I got all the books and mapped out the linear timeline of the whole history: every beat, every character, every event,” notes Holmes. “I’ve gone to such painful detail in every part of this film to make everything authentic, from a belt buckle all the way through to an actor’s face.” One such face belongs to Sydney actor, Jack Martin, who appeared as Ben Hall in Holmes’ original short, The Last Days Of Ben Hall. “When I saw his actor headshot come up, I immediately saw the features of Ben Hall,” says Holmes. “I didn’t actually audition Jack; I just watched him in a number of other short films. I could tell that he had the intensity and the ability. I took a chance on him, and it’s paid off big time.”
Martin’s intensity is immediately recognisable, with the actor pacing in the tree-line between takes, away from the socialising cast and crew. “He’s probably the most committed and dedicated actor that I’ve ever worked with,” explains Holmes. “Once he gets into a scene, he stays there. He locks himself into the emotion.”
Although the film maintains many classic bushranger tropes, Holmes is intent on exploring his characters with a sense of depth. “We’ve put these characters right under the microscope and studied them historically,” notes the young director. “We’ve figured out what kind of personalities they had and how they behaved in situations. From there, we’ve built these three-dimensional characters that you can’t just define as good and bad.”
The trajectory for The Legend Of Ben Hall already looks good. It boasts powerhouse Australian filmmaker, Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue), as an executive producer, and sales agent/distributor, Odin’s Eye, make their debut as a production company with the film. “As soon as I met Matt Holmes, I recognised someone with real talent, tenacity, and ambition both in terms of what he had done in the past and what he was proposing to create with the film,” says Michael Favelle of Odin’s Eye. “He was a complete filmmaker in the sense that he lived and breathed every aspect of the story that he wanted to tell.”
The Legend Of Ben Hall will be released on December 1. Check out the teaser trailer here.