What inspired you to make films in the first instance?
“I don’t think that there’s ever been a time in which I even considered doing anything else. When I was younger, my brother and I would make stupid little skits with a camera our dad bought us; a lot of different comedians made us want to try comedy. Performers and TV shows like Lano & Woodley and Monty Python were very important to us, and that love of performing slowly transitioned into loving the process of creating films and telling stories. Sweethurt is the first feature I’ve made that’s a straight-up comedy, but it’s something that’s been gestating for years, like a fine wine. But I don’t like wine at all so the metaphor kind of stops there.”
What inspires you now?
“I find myself frequently inspired by those around me; for example, two of my lead actors, Rav Ratnayake and Mike Salameh – the film wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for their natural charm, humour and charisma. We wrote the film with them both in mind, and then during rehearsals and shooting, they brought their own ideas to the table, which we threw right in the trash. ‘You wanna mess with my script? Write your own script, guys.’
“There’s also the element of shared experiences; the things that transpire throughout the films are situations and feelings that everyone has gone through, like a particularly difficult heartbreak, fighting with a friend, and not knowing who you are or what you want to be. The notion of everyone feeling equally lost in life is something I find comforting.”
Do you work outside the mainstream industry on purpose or out of necessity?
“My train of thought has always been, ‘Tom, shut up for a second. No one is ever going to give you the opportunity to make a film, so if you want to do that, you’ll just have to do it yourself. And remember to buy more socks, you need more socks.’ Going the independent route has always just made sense for me in that way. But hey, when the mainstream industry gives me a call, I’ll sell out so fast. Please, someone, call me.”
There seems to be an unofficial collective of people that you work with – can you tell us about the origins and continuation of this collective?
“Luckily, I’ve followed some advice I heard a long time ago: surround yourself with people more talented than you. Now, that’s difficult because I’m SUPER talented, but that just goes to show how great everyone around me is. The story of my co-writer/producer Logan [Webster] and myself is honestly very romantic, to the point where my girlfriend worries about us running away together. Long story short, we met as children in drama class, then unknowingly re-connected a decade later without knowing who the other was, so we’ve become the best of friends twice without realising it. That led to casting him in Lead Me Astray, and we knew we’d be making films together for a long time. Alannah [Robertson] also returns from Lead Me Astray, so it really looks like I don’t know many actresses, but I assure you, Alannah won the part because she was simply the absolute best for the role. We wrote many roles in Sweethurt for people and performers that we already knew, so we knew how to capitalise on their strengths and comedic sensibilities. The result is a film that, for me at least, feels like a warm hug from many of the people in my life who I love dearly. I really hope it makes the film seem genuine and sincere, as opposed to terribly self-indulgent.”
SWEETHURT is very different in subject matter to LEAD ME ASTRAY. Was that deliberate? A different time in your life?
“Lead Me Astray was me putting my love of filmmakers like John Carpenter, Dario Argento and Wes Craven on the screen – the heroes of my teenage years, the blood-soaked punk rockers of cinema that did what they wanted, how they wanted to. And when I made it, I was an angry young man struggling with the death of my brother. When he passed away, I was only 19, and he was 21. I remember very little about the months afterwards, until I started writing Lead Me Astray. I pointed my anger and frustration in that direction and went from there. Sweethurt is a little more self-reflective. Less about anger, more about friendship. Less about hatred, more about love – even though it’s about losing it.
“When Logan and I first started writing Sweethurt, we wanted to make the kind of film that we never saw Australia making. Seriously, when was the last time there was a young adult comedy made and set in Australia, with that kind of demographic in mind? I’ll save you some time: there hasn’t been. Sweethurt is the kind of comedy I would have loved to see in high school; similar to other movies I loved, like American Pie, Say Anything, Chasing Amy or Can’t Hardly Wait. And you know what? Much like those movies, shooting Sweethurt was an absolute party. Long hours, difficult shoots, complicated set-ups, but goddamn, it was so fun. The cast Logan and I had chosen were either already some of our best friends, or they became that over the course of the shoot. It was like a never-ending slumber party. We could stay up as late as we want and eat ice cream for dinner. But we didn’t, because we aren’t five. Grow up. We hope the film sees some success on the festival circuit, as we feel the style of humour is actually quite international. Our cast is super talented and very attractive, so honestly, what more could you want? What more can I do for you!?”
What filmmakers inspired you on SWEETHURT?
“If I had to choose one filmmaker whose style informed Sweethurt, I would say Kevin Smith. He’s the king of independent cinema; having made a movie in his early twenties for an extremely low budget that managed to resonate with a lot of people and went on to become an absolute classic. He essentially accomplished what every young filmmaker dreams of achieving. His unique blend of extremely relatable characters and incredible dialogue changed the landscape of independent and comedy filmmaking. What I’m trying to say is that I would like Kevin Smith to adopt me.
“Aside from my dad Kevin, I would say my brother. He also made a movie in his early twenties, entitled Sick, just about a bunch of high-schoolers having a party and the shenanigans that ensue. It went on to play in Los Angeles and even won an award or two. Am I trying to impress my brother in an ill-fated attempt to earn his love and respect from beyond the grave? I don’t know. Why would you ask me that?”
What do you think the state of the Australian film and TV output is right now?
“I think that Australia has so much potential to create films and stories in every possible genre – we have the talent, we have the facilities, we have everything we need to create a film industry that resonates with audiences both here and around the globe. But is that happening? I’m not sure it is. Ask any person on the street what their favourite movie is, and it will mostly likely be American, or British, or something like that. A lot of people struggle to even think of a lot of Australian films. What a tragedy. We’ve produced some goddamn masterpieces. One of my favourite films from the past 20 years was Boys in the Trees, an Australian flick by Nick Verso. The issue is, simply, not enough is being made, and the stuff that is being made isn’t connecting with audiences in a meaningful way. Imagine not having a single young-adult comedy. We need to make movies that a variety of audiences can fall in love with, recommend to friends and watch over and over again. We need movies that define generations and speak to people on a personal level. Otherwise, what’s the point?”