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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “Mad Bastards” Director Brendan Fletcher

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "Mad Bastards" Director Brendan Fletcher

TJ is a mad bastard, and his estranged 13-year-old son Bullet is on the fast track to becoming one, too. After being turned away from his mother’s house, TJ sets off across the country to the Kimberly region of northwestern Australia to make things right with his son. Grandpa Tex has lived a tough life, and now, as a local cop, he wants to change things for the men in his community.

Crosscutting between three generations, “Mad Bastards” is a raw look at the journey to becoming a man and the personal transformation one must make. Developed with local Aboriginal communities and fueled by a local cast, “Mad Bastards” draws from the rich tradition of storytelling inherent in Indigenous life. Using music from legendary Broome musicians the Pigram Brothers, writer/director Brendan Fletcher poetically fuses the harsh realities of violence, healing, and family. [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.]

“Mad Bastards”
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Director: Brendan Fletcher
Screenwriter: Brendan Fletcher
Producer: Alan Pigram, Stephen Pigram, David Jowsey, Brendan Fletcher
Cinematographer: Allan Collins
Editor: Claire Fletcher
Music: The Pilgram Brothers, Alex Lloyd
Production Designer: Andy McDonnell
Sound Designer: Phil Judd

Responses courtesy of “Mad Bastards” Director Brendan Fletcher.

Brendan Fletcher, director of “Mad Bastards.” [Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]

Fletcher played on his strengths to become a filmmaker…

I started out doing music videos and photography, and I always loved writing. Filmmaking seemed to be a good compilation of all these skills in a way that allowed me to tell a story “greater than the sum of its parts.”

For “Mad Bastards,” Fletcher Explored Australia’s last frontier…

I found myself drawn to the remote Kimberley region of Australia – in the far Northwest corner of the country – our last frontier. I still can’t explain why. I kept coming back over many years and started shooting material. Gradually, I met a bunch of really impressive men who had the charisma and presence of movie stars, with the life stories to match. I was just entirely charmed by the whole “other-worldliness” of the place and thought “I wanna share this experience with as many people as I can”. And cinema was the obvious way to do it. It took a long time for that concept to become a reality – but it did!

On casting actors to play “themselves”

Our approach was “back-to-front.” First we found the key actors we wanted to work with, and then we spent a number of years developing a script based on the stories they told us about living in the remote Kimberley area. It was a very collaborative process and that continued during the shoot.

So Greg Tait plays “Texas” – a cop in a remote frontier town. Greg is not an actor, he actually is a cop from a remote frontier town (for the last 17 years!). Dean Daley-Jones plays “TJ” – a man with a shady past reconnecting with his 13 year old son. Dean is at the same point in his life. Our approach was all about giving as much creative ownership to the key performers as possible, so as to create a world so authentic that the audience would really feel transported to that faraway place.

The challenges of shooting in the middle of nowhere…

We worked in such a remote location that even the smallest thing was a challenge. Our daily run to the airport to send rushes was regularly 200kms, sometimes 400kms. Then the film stock traveled another 4,000kms to the lab in Sydney for processing. Being that far away and low budget was really tough.

Creatively, it was a huge challenge for me to balance the needs of the narrative whilst working so collaboratively with real people and their stories, in a real place. And because the actors played characters that were so closely based on themselves, it was like was living in the movie. When we wrapped for the day it made no difference – I was still surrounded by the actors/characters. Plus, we were all living INSIDE the locations we shot at in this tiny frontier town. A film set needs so much discipline, but because we had an improvisational structure our process meant being open to creative changes more than usual on set. So the process was exciting, innovative but really challenging.

The serendipitous moments created by a child actor…

On the page, when Bullet (the boy) is in trouble, he is sent off into the bush with the Aboriginal hard men to straighten him out. So on the shoot day, when the camera was rolling the old Aboriginal man decided to ask all the boys what law they broke to get sent here – which was not on the script page. When the camera came to Lucas, the 13 year old who plays “Bullet”, he said “I burnt a house down” – even though we had never talked about his back story! As soon as he said it I thought – brilliant! So we went back later and shot the scene of the kids burning the house down, which now opens the movie. It’s crazy that our process was able to absorb adding a major SFX scene like that, but that’s how our process worked.

An Australian John Wayne…

This film takes you on a journey deep into another world and the actors/characters are so raw and so real that they bring that world to life. I think that’s why people enjoy the film and I hope that it plays just as strong for the Sundance audience! It’s like a John Wayne movie out in frontier Australia – still! The whole place just echoes the “western” and the fusing of that aesthetic with Aboriginality is I think what makes this film so unique and so compelling for audiences.

The unique music of The Pigram Brothers is also a big part of what audiences have loved about the movie and Sundance is a great place for music films.

On influences…

“Amores Perros” and “Once Were Warriors” had a tremendous visceral quality that really influenced me. Films like “Samsara” and “Whale Rider” I loved because of how they placed ancient spiritualities in contemporary contexts. “Into The Wild” had a great sense of wild, unpredictable freedom that I loved and “Unforgiven” is just a great western with characters that walked the line between right/wrong with an ambiguity that felt very true to frontier life.

Fletcher’s next move? Changing gears.

There’s a couple of projects in the bottom drawer that I’m dusting off. But I’m open to new projects. I’m looking forward to doing something quite different from “Mad Bastards”. Not remote, not with non-actors, not even necessarily in Australia. I’m interested in moving more towards genre, but I think anything I do will have my original take on it – I can’t help it!

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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