RACHEL PERKINS A Novel Approach

RachelPerkinsWith the new Australian film Jasper Jones appearing in cinemas this week, we sat down for a chat with director Rachel Perkins about how to adapt a beloved book to film.

Perkin’s initial contact with the book was somewhat reluctant, as it amusingly haunted her bedside table for a period of time. “I resisted reading it for a while, as my then husband said ‘ you should do this film, this book would make a great film’. I was like – pfftttt! What would you know? So I didn’t read it. A while passed with it sitting on my bedside table, and I thought – OK, I’m going to read it.”

“Damn! He’s right,” Perkins admits.

What she discovered was the obvious power of the book to draw an audience in. “It starts with a murder mystery that draws you in, that perspective of Charlie and that great comedy, and it’s got a lot to say about small towns, racism, feminism, the sixties…it’s got it all.”

When Perkins did come into the film project it had already undergone a lot of development without her, but she wasn’t entirely happy with the way it was heading. “When I came on I thought it had drifted away from the book too much, so I wanted to bring the voice of the author back in the process. So Craig (Silvey) came on to do a shooting draft.”

What eventuated was an extraordinarily close collaboration with the author, allowing for the voice of the book to resonate through in the film. “When that went well I asked him to come to rehearsals,” said Perkins. “And when that worked out, ‘ You should come and hang out at the shoot.’ It was great, as he was as obsessed as I was. So we’d talk about it all, pull it apart, discuss it till late in the night, and shoot in the morning. It was a really great collaboration.”

Shot in Pemberton WA, Perkins makes great use of the location to bring the town of Corrigin to vivid life. It also makes good use of the tall trees, to lend a sense of mystery and menace to the surroundings. “The book had mashed up all these locations that had different attributes. A place with all these, didn’t actually exist. But when we went down South and saw all these amazing forests. As soon as we saw that I said – we have to shoot here. It’s a relatively low budget film. So we had to find locations to lift it, and the forest is so cinematic. It was an easy choice.”

Perkins also managed to get a great ensemble cast for the job. The young Levi Miller manages to bring the right sense of humour, intelligence, and innocence to the central character of Charlie Bucktin. Toni Collette was such a fan of the novel she reorganised her Hollywood schedule, just to be in the film. The results were rewarding. “A couple of scenes that were really wonderful to do. One of those is Hugo Weaving’s monologue. That was high risk as it’s a five minute piece, there’s lots of information, and it’s retrospective in a way. We didn’t know it would work, and that is one of the most gripping moment in the film.”

Even with all that going right, Perkin’s has concerns “I don’t know how this film is going to go. There’s a lot of competition. That guy with knives in the hands…what’s his name…Wolverine is opening on the same day we’re opening. We’re going out on 220 screens across Australia. Which is a really big release for an Aussie film with this budget.”

So far the response has been good. “Reception has been overwhelming. There’s been an emotional outpouring from the audience, particularly to Craig, as a third of the audience has been book lovers. People think it’s a very true adaptation of the book. Young people like it, older people like it. So it’s a wide demographic.”

DAVID O’CONNELL

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