When I was five years old I wanted to be an actor. It wasn’t a choice in fact, it was something I just had to do. A little bit like how my five year old son now wants to be an actor too. The first time you hear applause and realise that it is aimed at you, is the first time you feel a course of energy through your blood, pumping its way to an overactive heart beat and leaving a tingling sensation through your body. It is more commonly known as “the bug”. And I caught it when I was five.
Fast forward exactly thirty years later, and that bug came back biting me firmly on les fusses.
The result was a role on a locally funded, low budget feature film shot here in Wagga Wagga. And hasn’t Wagga Wagga embraced such excitement! Written by locals Peter Cox and Mark Grentell with Grentell also steering the ship in the right direction as Director, this was going to be my big chance to jump back in front of the camera after 10 years of selling real estate full time and give it all a go all over again. “Backyard Ashes” will hopefully be one of the many great achievements from our town to put it firmly on the National map and the minds of millions across the nation. It will also hopefully get millions of people playing backyard cricket again during the Ashes series.
When I first read in our paper about Backyard Ashes being shot here in Wagga Wagga, I instantly sent a Facebook message to screenwriter Grentell asking what I had to do to get in the film. “Audition, mate” was his response and there would be no favours for friends, acquaintances and investors.
Two months later I found myself auditioning as an English businessman between open for inspections on a Saturday. “Love the suit” Mark said when I entered. “Gee, you’re getting into character already”.
“Actually, I’ve just come from an open house and I have to do another straight afterwards, so it’s more a happy coincidence” I replied.
Well, I did the audition and felt pretty lousy about it to be truthful, but about three months later I get a call from Mark saying, “you’re in mate, and you’re a Pom so practice your R.P. (received pronunciation)”. I couldn’t wait to tell the news to my wife and family, and friends and even the guy I’d never met before sitting quietly by himself on a park bench just after the phone call from Mark. (And no, he didn’t give a toss.)
So time goes by and the script is re-written quite a bit and I’m not quite sure which Englishman I’ll be playing and who will be in the film. The only “name” actor I knew who was attached from the start was John Wood from Blue Heelers and Rafferty’s Rules fame, so that was pretty cool. Eventually we are gathered inside the Wagga RSL Club rooms for a “read through” of the script and I realise just how big this production was going to be for the first time. The “names” attached were now “faces” in front of me and I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Felix Williamson who I recognised immediately as Paul Keating in “Hawke” was going to be playing my boss, Edward Lords. Andrew S. Gilbert from “Round the Twist”, “Mullet” and “Look Both Ways” was in the lead role of Dougie Waters. Damian Callinan who has been keeping people laughing for years in shows like “Spicks ‘n’ Specks” and “Skithouse” would be playing Spock. Lex Marinos (who wasn’t present on the day of the read through) was attached, Shingo Usami (Red Dog), Rebecca Massey (The Black Balloon), Waseem Khan (Fat Pizza), Daniel Krige (West and Redd Inc. Director), Ande Cunningham (Sparticus), Zenia Starr, Alice Ferguson, Marty Harper, Berynn Schwerdt, Jake Speer, Norah George, Maddison Smith-Catlin (very talented young actress) the list just goes on. And to top it off I would be also sharing the screen with some local mates, Jamie Way, Michael Mack, Genelle Mullins and Steve Holt in particular. I was now shitting myself! John Wood is going to hear my English accent and I don’t want him pulling out on account of me!
Well the read through came and went and two weeks later we are shooting a movie!
People have just been asking me: “How’s John Wood?” “What’s John Wood like to work with?” “Is John Wood a nice bloke?” The answer of course is; John Wood is your regular bloke. He loves a chuckle with the boys, talking about his grandkids and playing backyard cricket. He’s unassuming and enjoyable to be around. He also likes the odd bit of ad libbing which on some occasions he would do during filming, and on others he chose just to leave for rehearsals (Thank God!)
Everyone was just fantastic and hard working. From the beautiful people in wardrobe and make-up, to the amazing Damian Wyvell behind the lens and our First AD Liam, you could not have asked for a better crew. The cast were just as generous. Felix Williamson burnt me a copy of his RP training CD whilst he was filming one day (how nice is that!) And the local Brits got along so well it as like we had all gone to school together at Eton Public.
Mark and Coxy have really done Wagga Wagga proud. Under the watchful eye of the Perfect Producer, Anne Robinson, these guys have assembled an amazing bunch of people to throw together a production that looks like it has been shot for $5 million dollars, but has actually been shot for less than $300,000 and in just four weeks. It’s simply defies logic.
Every time I showed up to a cast and crew BBQ or a pre-wrap, wrap party I was in awe of the company I was in. I’m used to putting up for sale and sold signs, not signing bats and cricket shirts for sponsors and “Backyard Ashes” fans – (yes there is already a local following!)
Fitzpatricks Real Estate Directors and staff have been amazingly supportive as have my wonderful clients who have had to wait patiently for my full time role as real estate agent to start up again. I couldn’t have coped without my awesome Assistant Letia – you are incredible mate!
So from the locations including the Heinz Factory in Bomen, the Gurwood and Dobbs Street houses to the Wagga Cricket Oval and The Riverina Hotel, I will miss being on set like nothing else. Not many bloopers either I’m afraid, because we were just all that good! But there were plenty of laughs in between and I know that little bug is slowly creeping itself back into my blood stream. I think I’ll shoot another property DVD to keep it at bay!
And finally, a big thank you to my wonderful wife and boys who had a chance to pop down on set one day, but other than that have been very patient in my absence during shooting and late night partying!
To everyone else, check out the film and fall in love with the local heroes, the fetching Brits and the little Aussie Battler, “Backyard Ashes”. See you on the GREEN carpet!