“Get in. Get out. Get Paid.” One of the few lines of dialogue in the award-winning, Melbourne made short film Knuckles, is the platitude of bare-knuckle fighter Matt (Tim Phillipps). He is the champion prizefighter, trapped within the confines of a criminal underworld.
The 9min drama, which world premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 is an understated morality tale of a young man’s road to redemption. Written and directed by VCA graduate Laura Groombridge, it presents a world of imperfect resolutions. All characters are either trapped or filled with bloodlust. The unflinching cinematography and realistic fight scenes transport the viewer ringside.
“It was essential for me to research the world of bare-knuckle fighting to create a realistic representation,” says Laura on her research behind writing the film. “I interviewed an ex-pro fighter in the UK, who gave me valuable insight into this world, which added to my fascination with the sport.
“While being intrigued by this world, I thought it was an interesting landscape to place my protagonist – a man trying to do right in the wrong way. Polarising the savagery of the sport, exposed through the commotion of the crowd, created a greater conflict of the protagonist’s morals.”
Knuckles brings to light desperate characters inside an ugly arena, yet the savagery is unexpectedly met with humanity. Notably, the performances of co-stars Mirko Grillini, Laura Jane Turner and Simon Todman also add considerable breadth to the film.
The film was produced in the western suburbs of Melbourne in 2017, by a team of independent filmmakers, including producer Logan Davies, cinematographer Matt Wood, editor Luke Dickinson and stunt coordinator Graham Jahne. Moreover, Knuckles would not have been made possible without the help of 50 supporting artists, and an exceptionally talented local crew.
Watch the film and read the full interview with Laura below.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR KNUCKLES COME ABOUT?
I wrote Knuckles six years ago when I was living in a cramped share house with three men who were obsessed with MMA. The blood lust I witnessed in our confined living room sparked my curiosity of man’s love for the barbaric. With no prior knowledge of blood sports, it was essential for me to research the world of bare-knuckle fighting to create a realistic representation. I interviewed an ex-pro fighter in the UK who gave me valuable insight to this world, which added to my fascination with the sport.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MORE SHOCKING DETAILS THE FIGHTER TOLD YOU ABOUT?
The goal is to inflict as much pain as possible, as quickly as possible, to take down the other fighter. Contrary to the name of the sport, the fighter’s fists are tapped, to stop their wrist from shattering with each blow. An “All in” fight has no rules; punching, kicking, eye gouging, biting – everything is fair game – two fighters go into the ring and one walks out. No matter how tough you think you are, the first blow always hurts and almost certainly draws blood. You can’t use your hands for days after the fight and always need a cornerman to take care of you on the night.
SO WHY WOULD ANYONE JUMP INTO THE RING?
Money. Large sums are up for winning in illegal fights. Bare-knuckle fighting has generated so much popularity there is currently a push to legalise the sport in the US and UK, emerging from underground to mainstream. While the sport is relatively underground in Australia, we shot the film with the intention for it to have an international appeal.
WHY TELL THIS STORY?
While being intrigued by this world, I thought it was an interesting landscape to place my protagonist – a man trying to do right, in the wrong way. Polarising the savagery of the sport, exposed through the commotion of the crowd, created a greater conflict of the protagonist’s morals – being a part of this world comes at a great cost.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES/SUCCESSES OF THE SHOOTS?
A huge success of the production was getting to work with our lead cast – Tim Phillipps (Neighbours), Mirko Grillini (Wanted), Laura Jane Turner and Simon Todman. They are phenomenal Australian actors who were outstanding in their commitment to their roles and brought great amounts of depth to their characters. Tim actually took a real hit in one of the shots and kept the scene in action like it was nothing! While Laura isn’t in any of the fighting scenes she is a practicing Muay Thai boxer and was on set giving all the boys tips on the shoot day. Everyone was very supportive and respectful of my vision for the story. I was very privileged to work with a group of 50 supporting artists making up the onlookers of the fight, who actively committed to the roles, creating a stirring performance.
The logistics of the shoot, particularly the fight scenes were very challenging, however I had a remarkable Victorian based crew to help bring this vision to life. It was incredible to work with all my camera / lighting, art department and production crew, as they all were so invested in making this awesome. In particular, stunt coordinator Graham Jahne taught me so much with his experience and knowledge. He was enthusiastic towards the research that I had done, spending days rehearsing with the actors to choreograph the appropriate moves for the fight scene.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
Directing Knuckles was the most fun I’ve ever had on set and I’m currently developing a thriller which I would like to see made in the next year or two. I am passionate about women breaking down stereotypes and making more genre films. We can’t let the boys have all the fun!