THE FACE

GRAEME BLUN­DELL talks to ROB CARL­TON IM­PRO­VIS­ING EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

‘ I WAS as busy as a bas­tard, mate,’’ pro­ducer and ac­tor Rob Carl­ton says, his com­i­cal face twisted in dis­be­lief. ‘‘ My life felt like a gal­li­maufry, all the bits and pieces were go­ing well but couldn’t chuck a blan­ket over them to make a co­her­ent shape.’’

Now on a roll, field­ing calls from in­ter­na­tional television pro­duc­ers and agents, the bits and pieces have fi­nally co­a­lesced.

A vet­eran of the free- for- all that is Theatre­s­ports ( Carl­ton won its 2001 celebrity show), his ex­ten­sive im­pro­vis­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has taught him one ba­sic sur­vival les­son: ‘‘ As soon as a scene is set an au­di­ence has an ex­pec­ta­tion of what will hap­pen and you have to hit and de­liver in­stantly or you dis­ap­point.’’

He has cer­tainly de­liv­ered re­cently. Carl­ton is as­ton­ished that in­ter­na­tional dis­trib­u­tor Lion­s­gate has ac­quired the rights to his eight- part com­edy se­ries Chan­don Pic­tures , an orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion from Aus­tralia’s Movie Net­work Chan­nels. Now his phone never stops ring­ing.

The show pre­miered in Aus­tralia late last year to a de­lighted but, it must be said, small pay- TV au­di­ence. The se­ries fol­lows the comedic ad­ven­tures of a self- pro­claimed and thor­oughly de­luded doc­u­men­tary- maker, Tom Chan­don ( played by Carl­ton), and his strug­gling video pro­duc­tion com­pany.

Chan­don be­lieves he is a great doc­u­menteur , an artist who is re­duced to film­ing wed­dings and chil­dren’s birth­day par­ties in an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to pay the bills.

The prob­lem is that Chan­don has only one real doco to his name, some­thing called Oh No Bonzo: The Clown That Killed a Child, and he’s al­ways on the lookout for a way to turn one of his dull pay­ing jobs into art.

Like Ricky Ger­vais of The Of­fice and Ex­tras , Carl­ton’s is the com­edy of em­bar­rass­ment, adroitly com­bin­ing ego and des­per­a­tion, and he has an acute aware­ness of the pre­cise cal­cu­lus of hu­mour and so­cial hu­mil­i­a­tion. He knows just how far to go, just where the bound­aries are, and what de­cent sen­si­bil­i­ties he may be tram­pling to death.

‘‘ The show re­ally ex­plores the dif­fer­ence be­tween what we say and what we’re think­ing,’’ he says. And much of the hu­mour of Chan­don Pic­tures emerges from the hu­mil­i­a­tion of the mal­adroit lead char­ac­ter who can’t stop sur­ren­der­ing to the im­pulse to say what’s in his head.

The suc­cess of Chan­don Pic­tures is pos­si­ble be­cause Carl­ton and his part­ner, Amer­i­can film­maker Alex Wein­ress, won Tropfest 2006 with Carmichael & Shane , a six- minute mock doc­u­men­tary. Writ­ten by, and star­ring Carl­ton, along with his two- year- old twin sons, it pro­posed a novel so­lu­tion to rais­ing at least one suc­cess­ful child: ‘‘ choose a favourite.’’

The suc­cess of the short film, along with a 10- minute TV pilot video al­low­ing any­one read­ing their scripts to ex­pe­ri­ence the char­ac­ters and their kind of hu­mour, opened doors that Carl­ton had knocked at with­out suc­cess for years. A pro­fes­sional ac­tor since he was 14, Carl­ton is the man with the matey face in Qan­tas, Tel­stra and Mit­subishi ad cam­paigns and, per­haps most fa­mously, as the blind man with the world’s small­est guide dog in the Toohey’s beer TV com­mer­cial; Carl­ton is the star of more than 15 TV com­mer­cials.

He had his heart re­moved be­side the road in All Saints, was nearly tram­pled to death by women on horses in McLeod’s Daugh­ters , blew him­self up in Blue Heel­ers and was shot dead stalk­ing Frank Hol­loway on Wa­ter Rats.

Carl­ton started his com­pany Shad­ow­fax En­ter­tain­ment, named af­ter the wizard Gan­dalf’s horse in Lord of the Rings , to pro­duce his first play, A- Framed, a decade ago.

‘‘ I wanted to de­mand my ac­tors’ com­plete at­ten­tion,’’ he says. ‘‘ I didn’t think I could ask that of them un­less I cov­ered their bills and their rent dur­ing that time.’’

Shad­ow­fax mor­phed into a suc­cess­ful con­fer­ence and event busi­ness and, with 10 years ex­pe­ri­ence or­gan­is­ing and fronting events with au­di­ences rang­ing from 40 to a thou­sand, Carl­ton reck­ons he now un­der­stands the fine line be­tween en­er­gis­ing and pa­tro­n­is­ing, be­tween be­ing risque and crass. ‘‘ I’ve cov­ered pretty much all ar­eas of busi­ness; it’s given me in­sights into big com­pa­nies and how they work,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s taught me how to be a pro­ducer.’’

Th­ese days he’s at home with the com­mer­cial jar­gon of TV sales ( from neg­a­tive own­er­ship to de­liv­ery as­sur­ance) and he knows how to approach in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions with­out fear. ‘‘ It’s helped me get a big sale with an idea on a page, some­thing that is highly pre­car­i­ous in its de­liv­ery hope­fuls,’’ he says, giv­ing his words a crazy kind of Robin Wil­liams’s em­pha­sis.

His years of cor­po­rate ex­pe­ri­ence have en­abled him to en­dure the an­guish in­volved in con­stant re­jec­tion as a writer and pro­ducer. ‘‘ You learn not to be para­noid when things don’t go your way; it’s just busi­ness.’’

He says he spent the past 10 years fig­ur­ing out how to be­come a suc­cess­ful film and TV writer and pro­ducer. ‘‘ No bas­tard would tell me,’’ he shouts sud­denly. ‘‘ It’s about own­er­ship,’’ he whis­pers, as if we are be­ing se­cretly recorded. ‘‘ It’s about keep­ing the own­er­ship of your own writ­ten ma­te­rial; ev­ery­one in the busi­ness wants to take it away from you.’’ Es­pe­cially now, he adds, in this new era of in­ter­net dis­tri­bu­tion swamp­ing con­ven­tional TV.

‘‘ So many peo­ple watch TV on DVD now or down­load their con­tent from the ether, that ev­ery­one’s freak­ing out,’’ Carl­ton says. ‘‘ Soon we will get any show we want wher­ever we are and pro­duc­ers have to be across this.

‘‘ It’s why pro­duc­ers’ con­tracts all con­tain the phrase ‘ all medi­ums now known or not known in the fu­ture’,’’ he adds. ‘‘ You might as well grab 300 ques­tion marks, put them in a glass and say, ‘ drink that’, ’’ he says, of ne­go­ti­at­ing in the new world of in­ter­net me­dia plat­form­ing. Carl­ton faces the chang­ing me­dia uni­verse with the phi­los­o­phy he uses as an ac­tor. ‘‘ Say yes to at least two jobs a year that frighten the be­je­sus out of you; you have to be able to turn fear into joy.’’

Pic­ture: Gra­ham Crouch

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