The writer talks to Scoop about finding inspiration in WA, mating musical instruments and why we really shouldn’t mention his small budget.
Ben Elton is clearly chuffed to bits with his first Australian film project, the delightfully entertaining Three Summers – a charming, quirky rom-com set at a fictional music festival in Pinjarra.
‘I was looking for a way to do a major Australian project, something that I’ve never done before,’ he says. ‘I thought, a festival is a lovely place to set a whole bunch of stories because people of all types go to festivals – different politics, creeds, religions, sexuality, gender are all equal in the queue for the Portaloos.
‘A music festival is a sort of one weekend community,’ says Ben. ‘That setting also allowed me to use music as a character; when the violin and the theramin meet they’re kind of having sex while the two people who are playing still think they hate each other. I figured that would be a fun filmic thing and I thought that was a very nice use of music in the film – if I do say so myself.’
He says the decision to make the film was made with two reasons in mind; the desire to tell Australian stories and the practicalities of the project. ‘The Pinjarra has the Fairbridge Festival that’s a permanent installation in Fairbridge Village. I thought if we could shoot there and get our crowd scenes, then come back later with some wonderful actors and a couple of tents we could make a film that looks like it cost $30m but was actually only $3.5m.’
But whatever you do, don’t mention the small budget. ‘I certainly don’t want to over-stress the small budget because the movie looks fantastic,’ he says. ‘The incredible cast worked for the minimum which was testimony to their belief in the project, so we got an enormous amount of bang for our buck.
‘I’m very grateful for the money that we got and it’s proof that we can make brilliant movies without $100m of CGI. The best way to do that is to tell good stories and cast wonderful actors.’
Three Summers is a fun but thoughtful movie, encompassing everything from romance and comedy to issues of race, history and gender. ‘I don’t really write entirely internalised stories, I never have,’ Ben says. ‘I didn’t choose to put alcoholism, race and gender into this, I did so organically because when I sit down to write stories that’s what comes out. I just use the stuff that I’m passionate about.’
Much of that stems from the times we’re living in, he says. ‘If you’re going to write a story set in Australia in 2017, then to avoid indigenous recognition and the debate over refugees would be quite perverse. Sadly indigenous recognition is often ignored by politicians, which I think is very sad.’
But the tough stuff doesn’t always have to be serious; ‘When people try and write stuff about indigenous recognition from the outside they get terribly serious, whereas I think it’s good to tell a story more lightly.’
Ben has been touring the East Coast for the last month before heading back home to Fremantle. But where’s his favourite place to catch a film? ‘Well I live in Freo so it’s Luna on SX, but I love all cinemas. I’ve been in some great theatres, there are some jewels still around the country and it’s been an absolute privilege to introduce my movie in these theatres.’
Three Summers is on general release from November 2.