Michael Bodey gets the low­down on The In­fi­nite Man

A new Aus­tralian film brings to­gether time travel and ro­mance with agree­able re­sults, writes Michael Bodey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

THE in­ter­na­tional re­cep­tion for the

new Aus­tralian film The In­fi­nite Man was un­ex­pected. The time-travel com­edy didn’t quite come from nowhere; it was de­vel­oped though the South Aus­tralian Film Cor­po­ra­tion’s low-bud­get Film­Lab pro­gram. Nev­er­the­less, when Hugh Sul­li­van’s film gen­er­ated raves at its in­ter­na­tional premiere at the South by South­west film fes­ti­val in Texas ear­lier this year, some back home had to look it up.

Even Sul­li­van and his pro­duc­ers, He­done Pro­duc­tions’ Kate Croser and Sandy Cameron, weren’t sure how the off-kil­ter film would be re­ceived. They ap­pre­ci­ated it was fresh but couldn’t have an­tic­i­pated web­site Movie­fone dub­bing it the “most imag­i­na­tively in­ven­tive movie at the fes­ti­val” or another critic rav­ing it mixed “the meta­physics of Ground­hog Day with the emo­tion­al­ity of Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot

less Mind and a splash of the tech-y nerdi­ness of Primer”.

“We hoped that it would con­nect,” Sul­li­van says, but ad­mits he was ner­vous be­fore the premiere in Texas. “It was truly nerve-rack­ing but from the very be­gin­ning the au­di­ence was on board and re­ally en­thu­si­as­tic. I’d say it’s ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Not that The In­fi­nite Man will storm the Aus­tralian box of­fice. It is a low-bud­get film with a rel­a­tively un­known cast. Rather, it is likely to be a film that au­di­ences stum­ble across and en­joy over time, while kick­start­ing the ca­reers of Sul­li­van and his won­der­ful lead, Josh McConville. Not just yet, though.

McConville, pre­vi­ously seen in The Turn­ing and Red­fern Now, laughs qui­etly, say­ing he hasn’t been able to ex­ploit the film’s suc­cess. “I’m do­ing the­atre un­til the end of next year so I don’t re­ally have any time for that stuff,” he says. McConville is star­ring in the Mel­bourne The­atre Company’s pro­duc­tion of Bren­dan Cow­ell’s The Sub­lime be­fore join­ing the Syd­ney The­atre Company for Cyrano de Berg­erac and then An­drew Bovell’s After Din­ner in the new year be­fore play­ing Ham­let for the Bell Shake­speare Company.

“I’m happy do­ing the­atre and not earn­ing much money,” he notes wryly. Cin­ema can wait, and the­atre au­di­ences will ben­e­fit. That may give him cause for some re­lief after such a de­mand­ing role as the tit­u­lar In­fi­nite Man.

McConville plays Dean, an ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive-ish garage sci­en­tist in Sul­li­van’s de­but fea­ture as a writer-di­rec­tor.

After an an­niver­sary hol­i­day with his girl­friend Lana (Han­nah Mar­shall) goes wrong, Dean ex­per­i­ments with time travel in or­der to win her back from the clutches of her per­sis­tent ex, a for­mer ath­lete, Terry (played with comic elan by Alex Dim­i­tri­ades).

Ob­vi­ously, the film is in­ven­tive; time travel films have to be by ne­ces­sity, as they are al­ways one step from ab­sur­dity. Sul­li­van says, how­ever, that the film didn’t fin­ish as it be­gan.

It wasn’t al­ways a com­edy, he says. “I would say the ini­tial idea was a less comic idea be­cause it was cer­tainly more se­ri­ous, a lit­tle darker.

“But once the char­ac­ters came to life, it’s hard to have a character like Terry in the film and it not be a com­edy.”

When Sul­li­van found the voice for his three char­ac­ters, it light­ened the tone sig­nif­i­cantly and opened up its comic po­ten­tial.

The In­fi­nite Man has a hint of screw­ball com­edy and farce about it, par­tic­u­larly in its re­volv­ing-doors plot set in an aban­doned mo­tel.

Sul­li­van doesn’t think of it as such, although he ad­mits the in­flu­ence of the genre af­fected his cin­e­matic sen­si­bil­ity.

“But be­cause the film was low-bud­get and had quite limited means, I just didn’t re­ally have too many points of ref­er­ence,” he says.

Another point of non-ref­er­ence is the film’s lo­ca­tion, the aban­doned mo­tel in the mid­dle of nowhere (ac­tu­ally an un­named Woomera).

The set­ting is not quite dystopia, although the des­o­late, sandy and very dis­tinct lo­cale is more likely to be seen in a drama or ac­tion film than in a com­edy.

Sul­li­van agrees it is “an odd place to set a com­edy ro­mance”, but he liked the idea that “un­ex­pected in­gre­di­ents would cre­ate a more com­plete whole”.

His male lead ad­mits the un­ex­pected in­gre­di­ents didn’t jump off the page when he first read the screen­play.

“I was pretty con­fused just read­ing it to my­self in the room,” he says.

WHEN WE FOUND THE LO­CA­TION, THINGS RE­ALLY STARTED TO JELL

HUGH SUL­LI­VAN

“I un­der­stood the char­ac­ters’ emo­tional jour­ney and the re­la­tion­ships they had. It was pretty clear to me how they were feel­ing but I got very con­fused with the time trav­el­ling.”

Re­hearsals cleared up some of the con­fu­sion, as did Sul­li­van’s di­a­grams ex­plain­ing the logic of the time travel and the same char­ac­ters ap­pear­ing in the same scenes from dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods.

“The di­a­gram was just a lot of cir­cles and a lot of ar­rows,” McConville says with a laugh.

The screen­play was a mov­able feast, how­ever, with time travel and a re­la­tion­ship al­ways part of the core.

The Film­Lab de­vel­op­ment process also as­suaged any fears, Sul­li­van adds — it helped to know that the pro­gram had fully fi­nanced a num­ber of low-bud­get films.

“Ba­si­cally it was funded off a one-page idea so you could de­velop a project feel­ing com­fort­able there would be money at the end of the road,” he says.

“It was a great re­lief know­ing there was some­thing at the end of that de­vel­op­ment process.”

South Aus­tralia’s “low bud­get, high im­pact” Film­Lab pro­gram has given eight fea­ture films bud­gets of $350,000 each. The re­sults are al­ready strik­ing: a num­ber of in­ven­tive films in­clud­ing the trans­gen­der com­ing-of-age tale 52

Tues­days and the rau­cous doc­u­men­tary fea­ture Shut Up Lit­tle Man! An Audio Mis­ad­ven­ture.

Through that process, Sul­li­van con­cedes his film’s story had “a cer­tain vague­ness or fuzzi­ness” un­til he found his lo­ca­tion — at the end of a statewide search of South Aus­tralia — and his ac­tors.

The idea of a ro­man­tic time travel tale changed sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the project, he adds. How?

“It just got bet­ter,” he says. “More unique and more per­sonal and more emotionally res­o­nant.

“When we found the lo­ca­tion, things re­ally started to jell.”

Even so, the screen­play then re­quired a sig­nif­i­cant rewrite be­cause the tale be­came as much about the un­usual lo­cale as it was about time travel.

“The script be­came a lot bet­ter after that, hav­ing some­thing con­crete in my mind to work with,” he says. “It’s just a great cin­e­matic space, quite a strik­ing lo­ca­tion.”

He was look­ing for some­thing des­o­late, per­haps an old car­a­van park but couldn’t find one (“They’re all quite nice and green”). So he de­cided to make do with an aban­doned de­fence hous­ing project in Woomera.

“That’s a prac­ti­cal thing, and then find­ing the cast was im­por­tant,” Sul­li­van adds. “We au­di­tioned ev­ery­one and see­ing those au­di­tion tapes and see­ing it all come to life was a great re­lief to me.

“See­ing the voices I’d cre­ated were com­ing to life and the script was in just such good hands was a very com­fort­ing thought go­ing into what was still, for me, the un­known.”

Sul­li­van had the sce­nario and tim­ing mapped in his head; McConville and Mar­shall had to find it as ac­tors per­form­ing against dif­fer­ent ver­sions of them­selves.

McConville ad­mits it was a “dif­fi­cult chal­lenge”, even though he comes from the­atre, where ac­tors re­hearse and re­peat un­til it works and be­comes nat­u­ral.

And he knew this com­edy should be played straight, no mat­ter how curly the screen­play. “I was try­ing to think of it as a drama with a bit of quirk,” he says. “It’s a rom-com time travel film.”

And a film that works. The In­fi­nite Man will roll along, re­mem­bered as a movie that kick­started a few ca­reers and al­lowed a di­rec­tor’s am­bi­tion to grow.

The In­fi­nite Man opens na­tion­ally on Thurs­day.

Josh McConville in The In­fi­nite

Man, left; McConville with Han­nah Mar­shall in the film, be­low

Hugh Sul­li­van

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