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One of the most sought-after parts in the film was that of Bob, who gets his fair share of good lines as he applies his rough-as-guts love to the men he cares for in the boarding house. We’d always seen him as a slightly larger than life figure – in fact, back in the days when we still had a respectable budget, Timothy Spall was signed up to play the role. Greg Johnson, another long-timer in terms of NZ film and television, tried out for the role of Norm – not knowing that we’d already cast Ian Mune in the role. Our director Rosemary, who was doing the casting (and made a superb job of it) immediately asked him to read for the part of Bob.
I must admit that at the time it surprised me. While Greg is not diminutive, neither is a bulky sort of chap such as I had imagined. To my astonishment and Rosemary’s satisfaction, Greg fell into the role like a natural, and blew away the opposition. Maybe it was decades of practice in swearing, but the oaths and curses rolled off his tongue in the same way that others use prepositions. His beautifully underplayed version of Bob conveyed exactly what we were looking for.
Greg was always a lot of fun to have on set. He was mates with a large number of the actors we had cast for the boarding house roles, and together with them always managed a laugh in the long breaks between shooting. His instincts for the character he was playing were consistently insightful. His speech at a certain point (no spoilers here) was deeply moving. And when it came to an angry phone conversation, he brought the house down. We were surprised that after Rosemary called ‘cut’, loud applause issued from behind a closed door – turned out it was the manager and staff of the boarding house we were using as a location, who felt that Greg’s tone in rarking up the establishment was exactly right.
The kind of repartee that developed between Greg and the others playing down and outs was so good that we shot and are pitching a television series featuring them, to be called ‘House of Bob’. Greg will be another in the hunt for best supporting actor role when the movie comes out.
When I was writing the novel The Insatiable Moon (published in 1997), I thought to myself that there was only one person who could play the part of Norm – the alcoholic who sleeps rough and has befriended Arthur. That person was Ian Mune, legend of New Zealand cinema. So it was an astonishing thing a dozen years later to be auditioning him for the role. We gave him the part on the spot – he’s that good. And at the time I remarked to him that the part was written for him, he responded that he wasn’t quite sure how to take that – being typecast as a drunken derelict!
Ian is a patriarchal figure in the local film industry, where he has helped to define the craft over many years as a director, actor and writer. He was writer/director of Came a Hot Friday, The End of the Golden Weather, and director of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? His acting credits include Sleeping Dogs, Once Were Warriors, The Lord of the Rings, and Perfect Creature. It’s not surprising that he has earned huge respect among filmmakers and actors alike. He has a reputation for not suffering fools lightly, so we were all stepping lightly around him in the early days of the shoot. But Ian, perhaps recognising that this was a hard-won independent film, pitched in from the beginning and became a welcome presence on set. He struck up friendships with both the experienced people and the newcomers, never standing on ceremony or pulling rank. Ian has a great sense of humour and a keen interest in photography, which he shared with others in the crew.
His acting, of course, was superb. If ever someone was born for a role – Ian became Norm. We gave him the nickname of ‘scene-stealer’, because in his own quiet way he produced performances which were standouts. Many people who have seen the rough cut of the film have remarked on the strength of his characterisation. Ian also brought to the set a presence, lending the film a sense of ‘mana’ (Maori word roughly meaning honour, respect, strength of character) which gave us a sense of being legitimately included in the long history of cinema in New Zealand.
During the shoot, Muney (as he is affectionately known) had this to say:
A nation thinking its own thoughts and being true to its own characters will produce not only its own language but its own forms. With The Insatiable Moon I’m watching yet another NZ film being made by producers on their own without significant support. The Insatiable Moon is really very interesting and exciting, and it’s a pleasure to be on the set. I have a similar feeling on this script to that which I had when looking at Once Were Warriors before it came out.
We will always be grateful for having someone of Ian’s experience and ability as part of our production.
When it came time to cast the role of Margaret in The Insatiable Moon, we were lucky enough to assemble some of the top women actors in the country for auditions. While it made the task of selection all the harder, we kept coming back to Sara Wiseman. She brought a quality of stillness and vulnerability to the role that was palpable. It’s a decision that we’ve never regretted, and Sara delivered a fabulous performance for us. Her character is complex and demanding. She has to convince us as an audience that she, as a well-off married woman, might be attracted to a homeless man, Arthur. It’s a sweeping character arc for her. As a writer as well as an actor, Sara entered into the script with enthusiasm and discernment, frequently raising questions as to motivation and authenticity, finding her way to the essence of the story:
The heart of the piece is that it is based upon Arthur’s true story. Margaret really wants a child but has come to the realisation that her husband doesn’t feel the same way. She has a chance encounter with Arthur… she is drawn to him and he seems to know things about her that no one else does. He changes her perspective on the world. It’s an unusual, unique story, unlike any other; incredibly courageous. It shines a light on those who most people ignore on the streets. I was one of those people who could walk past the forgotten people, but I look at them in another way now.
After years of getting feedback on the script, the most common critique was that the relationship between Margaret and Arthur would not be credible to audiences. We always responded that it would happen on screen – something of a statement of faith. It’s a vital foundation of the storyline, without which the entire film would not stand up. As it happened, we shot the encounter in our first week of filming. And as I watched Sara and Rawiri, I knew straight way they’d nailed it. Each of them had got inside the heads of their characters, and brought real talent and insight to their performances.
Sara is well known in her native New Zealand as both a television star and actor in such feature films as Sione’s Wedding, Jinx Sister and Matariki. She holds a Bachelor of Screen and Performing Arts, and has a wide range of interests including stage, screen, writing and television.
Getting the opportunity to work with actors like Rawiri and Ian Mune was one of the reasons I was excited about getting involved. This was Rawiri and Mike’s child and I wanted to support them. With no massive budget and no executive producer telling what to do you had to take a lot on yourself. I had to take charge of my character and her journey.
Hardly needing any introduction, especially in this part of the world, Rawiri Paratene is a veteran actor, writer and director. Known to the world as Koro in Whale Rider, Rawiri is a lot younger than what he was aged up to be in that film. He expressed delight when the script for The Insatiable Moon described his character, Arthur, as a good-looking 43 year old. Rawiri, a former Burns Fellow at the University of Otago, has a long and notable career in film, television and drama. His involvement with Moon goes back to 2002. Having read the novel, he wrote wanting to take an option on the book to adapt it for film. Learning that it was already being adapted, he immediately sought the lead role, saying “But mostly, I want to play the role of Arthur!!!” He admits that it’s a part he went after. “I first read the story in 2002 and was sure I was meant to play the role. Arthur is a very innocent and pure character. He has a glow about him, a sense of magic – he’s complicated, but essentially he has this innocence.”
Rawiri had plenty of time to prepare for his role as a psychiatric patient who believes himself to be the second son of God: “I thought it (the film) would be up in 2004 and now it’s 2010,” he says. In between international film performances and a season at the Globe in London, Paratene stayed in touch with script developments and brought valued insights to the project. He consulted with advisors on aspects of psychiatric illness and boarding house life. When it came time to shoot the film, he was entirely on song and brought an outstanding performance to the role. It is a demanding part, requiring a complex character arc throughout the storyline – always a big ask with the necessity of shooting out of sequence.
It is no surprise to anyone who knows him that Rawiri is one of the most loved and respected actors in New Zealand. It is not only his considerable talent which makes him so. He also brings a deep and natural humility and spirituality to anything he turns his hand to. Often on set he could be found chatting to extras or the trainees on the crew, or finding someone on the periphery of things to bring into the centre. Rawiri has a sense of the importance of community, and together with the producers sought to bring a sense of family to those who were making the film. He has a graciousness which is infectious, and added to his natural sense of humour makes him a popular character on any film set.
He sees The Insatiable Moon as offering an insight into a different world:
Films can allow the viewer to go into the lounges, the bathrooms and the bedrooms of communities we’d never have the opportunity to go into – and by that we find that they’re the same as us. With Whale Rider… who knew? I hope this one has the same potential – it has a beautiful cast. I am just so happy that it got there, onto a screen, and I’m hopeful for how it will go.
Six months tomorrow since the cameras started rolling in the half light of dawn at Costley Park in Ponsonby. In a recent article in Onfilm magazine, I described it thus:
It’s 5.30am on a Monday in mid-November. A small crew of people gathers in a park in Ponsonby. The slate is marked up. There’s around $300k in the tank. Five clean weeks stretch out in front of us. Lead actor Rawiri Paratene offers a karakia for our safe journey. He looks beyond the city to where the skyline brightens. The first rays of sun strike his face. Somewhere a dog is barking. The slate falls. We’re under way.
After seven years of development; after false dawns and abject despair; after negotiations and the rumours of deals; after notes both insightful and insufferable; after several small forests have given their lives for funding applications; after meetings, meetings, and more meetings; after desertions, defections and derision; after stubborn and irrational pig-headed determination; after all of that, here we are. Located, crewed, cast, and ready to roll.
So what’s happened since then? Well, we shot the film on schedule and on budget. We got superb performances from our cast, and our crew went the extra mile to give us the raw material we needed. Our director developed shingles on the day of wrapping and spent the next couple of months out of action. Editor Paul Maxwell took to the footage and started cutting it into shape. We wrestled and wrangled together, and with Paul’s deft touch on the Avid and his refined air for music, we produced a first assembly which seemed pretty damned good to us.
We screened it in Auckland and Birmingham toward the end of March. Great responses gave us huge encouragement. Some further investment came in for post production. We began talking to potential distributors and other interested parties (watch this space). Maile Daugherty, who had brilliantly handled line producing for the shoot, came on board as post production manager. We found a great composer, Neville Copland, who has begun work on the score for the film. And here we are, on track for delivery by the end of June as scheduled. A little short of money, but full of confidence as this magic ride continues.
Where will we be six months from now?
Great having the film ticking along on a daily basis. Even though I’m on holiday, a fair amount of each day is consumed with working on The Insatiable Moon. It doesn’t bother me, because getting this film to screen is something I care about. I meet many people who dream of doing things, but who wait around for someone else to make them happen. But unless you’re very very lucky or extra cool, no one is going to hand you something like the cost of a film because they like you or your project. You need to have absolute determination to get there, and a good dose of stubborn intransigence.
One thing I learned years ago when I first started writing professionally, was that everyone someone talked to you and discovered you were a writer, they began talking about the book they were going to write. Sometimes the more keen had already started one. Very few ever actually produced a book. What they were attracted to was the idea of writing; and the romantic notion of being a writer. Those in the know realise there’s very little romance involved. It’s sheer hard work and application. To put it bluntly, writing a book requires endurance, persistence, and regular toil.
Doing films and plays, which require the coordination of large numbers of people, is even more demanding. There’s a lot of wannabes who fall by the wayside. Personally, and while this may sound arrogant it is at least based on experience, I think the worst possible attitude is to sit around waiting for someone to fund you to do something you believe needs doing. It creates an attitude of dependence which can shape a life. Art is always challenging; therefore it encounters resistance; therefore it needs determination to achieve.
I wrote the novel The Insatiable Moon in 1996 (published in 1997). The film project has been on the boards since around 1999. The current team has been together (including the faithful Rawiri Paratene) for 7 years. This year our work will see the light of day. That seems about right for a decent gestation.