Mike Green has been gradually building on his film credentials with a series of screenplays and work as 1st AD on a number of high profile films including Truth starring Cate Blanchet and Robert Redford. Now he has turned his attention to directing his first feature length movie, Outback, a tale of survival in the heart of Australia, and casts a bewildered and fractured American couple in the midst of this savage land.
Before its Sydney screening as part of Monsterfest Australia on Sat 2 Nov at 9pm, Mike sat down with the surgeons team to discuss his journey and his own challenges in creating his vision.
Mike Green interview:
What initially drew you to the story behind Lisa and Wade’s outback plight?
Well, I had a proper budget feature that I was hoping to make with a cast attached and building a team and then Nicole Kidman announced Angel of Mine which on the surface sounded very much like our feature film project. That really pulled the rug beneath our feet and I had a small window of time in which to shoot something because my wife was going back to work from maternity leave and a little bit of money saved on my credit card.
So I essentially reverse engineered something I could shoot in a compressed amount of time. And 10 days is what we shot Outback in.
So I took a familiar story which was Open Water, the two people that get stranded in the ocean. I thought about taking that situation and placing them in the outback. Limiting your cast means limiting so much of the production, so it was essentially going to be a two-hander.
Everyone has a perception of the Australian outback and how vast and dry it is, how it’s filled with critters and creepy crawlies. So I took that idea and instead of having a serial killer or madman as the antagonist, I made Australia and the outback, the antagonist.
No one has done a film called Outback which was surprising to me. So I put it all in a blender and out came a two-hander about this couple of Americans and the dynamic between them in a survival thriller with this tragic love story, and place them in a scenario that sees them stranded in the outback.
There is a lot of weight on the shoulders of the two leads, Lauren Lofberg and Taylor Wiese to carry the film.
How did you get them to tap into the gravitas of their situation?
The first thing I needed to do when casting was have the right face, character, and persona for the parts, so after reaching out to a few people I spoke to Lauren, who despite her small showreel had something there, but she was looking to do something substantial and put a stamp on something. She put a few self tapes down and she was really emotional and she was going through some things at the time, which I asked with her blessing if I could weave into the storyline because it was something so personal to her and we knew that she could tap into that so easily and access those emotional time stones.
What do you think fascinates us about human survival?
I think there is this primeval situation where you would ask yourself, “what would I do?”
It doesn’t take much for the audience to be there with them. The performance and environment helped from a cinematic perspective.
You often hear stories of how even locals get lost for two or three days in the Blue Mountains for example, and things can get pretty gnarly quickly. Even with the best intentions and with a phone on you, when you start to get dehydrated, what seems like a smart decision, upon reflection is like, “what was I thinking?”
What has been the most enduring thing that you’ve encountered in your lifetime?
Have you had much experience of the outback yourself and what impact did this beautifully vast location have on production.
For me taking from the theme of the movie of not taking tomorrow for granted, was a way into the storyline.
From the plot and survival aspect, I used to go to the outback a lot as a kid with a mate who had a property. We were in a couple of situations where we ran out of water and we didn’t have a compass, and when you are out there, you don’t really have any sense of direction other than which way the sun is going.
He’d been on the land a bit and I was more of a city slicker, and I remember him saying the mathematical equation that I use in the film, and he knew from my answers that I was dehydrated even though I wasn’t aware of it.
I could have been in a lot of trouble if it wasn’t for him and his experience on the land.
What would you say was your toughest challenge during filming?
I’m first AD, I’m producing, I’m catering, like I’m cooking at night, I’m printing off the schedule for the next day for the crew and everyone is working so hard, so you have to lead by example.
In that environment and working such long hours in the heat, working so intimately with such a tight-knit crew, It’s not always rosy and part of having such a good team is allowing people to let off steam in certain ways. The toughest thing was keeping everyone emotionally and physically on the same page in what we were trying to do.
You’re really fathering a group of people, in the most beautiful way.
What do you think or hope that people will take home after watching Outback?
I’m hoping the audience reflect on their own life and how they can embrace the day or the moment, whether that’s with their family, career, or just life itself, and appreciate it.
I know that sounds a bit arty farty, but being in Australia, there shouldn’t be anyone whinging really.
Any kind of developed country, I know there has been some bad things that have happened, but each to their own I guess.
Now that your first feature film is released into the festival circuit, what was the biggest learning you will take and what is next on the horizon?
I think the biggest learning for me is to keep making stuff, It’s not always going to click but you should be getting better when you make stuff and that’s the key to improving. It’s that old adage, “Practice, practice, practice”.
In regards to what’s next, I’m working with a bunch of writers I kinda wanna be aggressive and get projects made and being prolific.
SATURDAY 2nd NOVEMBER, 9PM
Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney
- Saul Muerte