Image - Fitzpatrick & Dingle Wall
Filmmaking is all about timing. The stars need to align – in all senses of the term – for a production to be financed, filmed and finally released on to the big screen. This capricious relationship between filmmakers and tempus has never been more evident than the thirteen-year rollercoaster Australian writer-director Mark Fitzpatrick went on to create his ballsy drama The Nothing Men. Screenwriting grants, Hollywood handshakes, sold out stage performances, and a race against Steven Soderbergh are just some of the highlights of Fitzpatrick’s remarkable tale. It could almost trump the film, which stars veteran actors Colin Friels and David Field amongst a small group of factory workers forced to wait two weeks for their redundancy payouts. So on the brink of the film’s release, Fitzpatrick’s relief is (understandably) palpable.
“I was running on baldy tires let me tell you!” the filmmaker admits with a laugh. “I wrote it in '97 and I got three writers grants from the Australian Film Commission [AFC]. Then I had a plethora of producers after that…but the AFC kept knocking them back.”
In the midst of what he diplomatically describes as, “a lot of tumultuous times with the AFC,” Fitzpatrick was wooed by Hollywood, with big gun producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, Armageddon) vying for the project and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) angling for a role. “His agent called us up twice!” “[Gale] offered me a whole bunch of money and I knocked it back because she wanted it lock, stock and barrel. I wasn’t going to direct and I was just going to lose it.”
“So after years and years and years, I just kept writing other film scripts while that was in the drawer…[then] in 2003 I decided to write it as a play.”
Predominantly set in the increasingly tense and claustrophobic factory room, The Nothing Men is well suited to the stage. “People seem to think it’s a film adapted from a play, but it’s actually not,” Fitzpatrick explains, before further outlining the plan to use the play to secure film investors. “We contacted so many investors and not one turned up, but we ended up filling out the [Newtown Theatre, Sydney] every night. I think we could have run it for another year!”
Cast in the stage adaptation was Home & Away alumnus Martin Dingle Wall, who, “took the bull by the horns,” producing the film as well as co-staring as Wesley, a worker brought face-to-face with the haunting consequences of his past.
This is where Soderbergh comes in. “We were the first in this country to shoot on the [high definition digital] RED camera,” Fitzpatrick proudly intones. “Steven Soderbergh was shooting Che [on RED]…and we thought, ‘ours is only a three week shoot; if we can get ours in the can and edit it, we’ll be the first.’ We didn’t. He still beat us because he was miles ahead, but we were the second in the world to use it.”
In the face of so much ‘lost’ time and so many ‘missed’ opportunities, Fitzpatrick remains sanguine. “Martin Dingle Wall said, ‘Listen Mark, you were meant not to get [the film] up. The universe is saying now’s the time and away you go.’ I wished they’d told me beforehand, I would have been a lot more relaxed!”
Published by Street Press Australia
Click here to read my review of The Nothing Men