Whether it’s film, TV, comedies or drama, Matthew Saville’s directing career encompasses an enviable list that ranges from adaptations The Slap and Cloudstreet, to features Felony and Noise and comedies such as Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me and Chris Lilley’s We Can Be Heroes.
Here Matthew takes a break from filming the drama series Seven Types of Ambiguity in Melbourne to talk to Screen Australia about his new film A Month of Sundays.
Saville also wrote the film, about a divorced real estate agent Frank (Anthony LaPaglia), who is trudging through life when he gets a phone call from a wrong number and mistakes the elderly women on the end of the line (Julia Blake) as his recently deceased mum.
Screen Australia: How long had you been sitting on this idea for A Month of Sundays before you put pen to paper?
Matthew Saville: These characters had been in my head since I made a short film in 2002 called Sweetheart, in which a lonely office prole gets an unexpected phone call from a kindly soul. I often wondered what happened to them. A Month of Sundays also draws heavily on distant memories from my childhood. So, maybe, it’s been in me, somewhere, since the late 70s, and it’s taken me this long to actually confront it with pan and paper.
SA: It’s been nine years since the last feature you penned Noise. Was the process of writing A Month of Sundays easier or more difficult in comparison?
MS: Writing is always difficult for me. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I depend on the muse. Sometimes she descends, sometimes she doesn’t. My only quality as a writer is patience. I can wait. But thank you for reminding me that it’s been nine years. I’ll pass that on to the muse, next time I see her.
SA: What made you decide to make Frank a real estate agent for this particular story?
MS: That came from my Dad, Bill. Bill Saville was a land rat in Radelaide until the mid-80s. His approach to the profession was quite different to how real estate agents are generally perceived. He never bought or sold a property for anything except a fair price. He traded those properties with a deep understanding that they were, actually, a “home”. He took that seriously. And he brought that idea home every night. He and Mum taught that great lesson to me and all of my siblings. Good parents. I was lucky.
SA: What is a memory that stands out to you from the shoot?
MS: There isn’t one in particular. It was a quick shoot, so much of it remains a blur. I remember how much I enjoyed working with the cast and the crew, and how committed they were to the film. I remember shooting in streets that were the whole world to me in my childhood. I remember feeling grateful that people were working so hard to make something they decided to believe in. Maybe they wanted to honour their own parents. I sometimes got that sense.
SA: Anthony LaPaglia has said ageism is a problem in the film industry. Thinking about the ages of your central cast (who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s), do you think A Month of Sundays is a rarity in that way? Or do you think it’s not as much of an issue in Australian cinema compared to Hollywood?
MS: So many “isms” are terribly problematic, not only in film and television. It’s great that Anthony has brought that up. And what he says is very true. Equally, there’s a gender imbalance (Scroz is working hard toward redressing that) and an ethnic one (again, hopefully, that’s being addressed). I’m not interested in comparing Hollywood to Australian cinema. They are two very separate things, I hope. Every part of Oz culture – film, TV, theater, visual art, music, whatever – should reflect our population and, indeed, feed off how it is a diverse thing. A whole thing. With men, women, youth, the elderly, gay, straight, Caucasian, or not Caucasian, rich, middle class, poor. First Australians, or more recent arrivals. We should all try to enrich each others’ lives with our own stories. But Anthony is quite right. It’d be a terrible shame if we let one narrative dominate the others. Maybe Hollywood’s doing that. I wouldn’t know.
SA: You’re working on another adaptation with Seven Types of Ambiguity – when making adaptations whether it’s Cloudstreet or The Slap do you view it as a new interpretation, or prefer to stay close to the source material?
MS: The obvious answer to that question is “yes”. Both. Obviously, you want to make something that reflects the intentions of the author of the original text. Having said that, Tim (Winton) and Christos (Tsiolkas) and Elliot (Perlman) are smart guys who understand the vagaries of storytelling, and that it evolves as the story is told. I think they are excited by the possibility that their remarkable books can become something new, in another medium. Not a frame of a TV series will ever change a word of their novels. They know that.
SA: Television in recent years has become more about six-part series or 2-part miniseries, as opposed to the 22 episode seasons of something like The Secret Life of Us. What do you think are some of the pros and cons of this change?
MS: Those types of drama are interesting. Certainly I’ve enjoyed engaging in it, meeting its challenges. That has been fun. I recently had the pleasure of working with a crew in Adelaide. Quite often, at lunch, we discussed this very conundrum. The six part series or two part telemovie, or feature film is a fine thing and they are grateful for the work, but crews depend on a longer form to make ends meet. They want six months of guaranteed work, which I don’t think is too much to ask. What would be great – and these people would do this – is if we could get them long seasons, some surety of work, so they could then apply their skills and acumen to the occasional gig on a feature or telemovie. In South Australia, the SAFC and local producers are working very hard toward this aim. There’s a world class studio sitting there. There’s an incredible body of talent there. An ongoing series would nurture that, and feed into other forms of storytelling, even shorts and docos. That’s what I hope for, for crews in every state; a fair paycheque from consistent, ongoing work, and the opportunity to work on the occasional “passion project”.