Stephan Elliott on A Few Best Men
Stephan Elliott is a multi-tasker. For most of his career, he has juggled both writing and directing duties and now, while on the phone with IF, he is in the middle of sweeping his house.
If A Few Best Men seems like a change of pace, it isn't. Although the script was written by Dean Craig (Death at a Funeral), the film's producers gave the director the freedom to contribute his own rewrites.
"There's an awful lot of me in there," he says. "Dean took care of the English and I took care of the Australian."
Elliott first read the script after being persuaded by producer Gary Hamilton.
"I haven't read other people's scripts for years because I basically develop my own," he says. "So he kind of got me in an evil, manipulative way and talked me into reading it."
(For the record, Hamilton's dastardly attack plan involved seeing the stage adaptation of the director's hit film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, showering Elliott with praise, and then casually mentioning he had a script he wanted him to read.)
A Few Best Men tells the story of David (Xavier Samuel), an English groom who travels with his three best friends to the Blue Mountains for his wedding to the daughter of a local politcian. What is meant to be the happiest day of David's life quickly descends into chaos, as a cross-dressing sheep, a lonely drug dealer and a cocaine-snorting mother-in-law (played by Olivia Newtown-John) are thrown into the mix.
"It got three big belly laughs out of me, which is extremely dangerous," Elliott says. "Richard Curtis said if you get three really good laughs then you're onto something."
Elliott rang Hamilton while the producer was en route to the Berlin International Film Festival, admitting that he'd enjoyed the script but cautioning him not to tell anyone at the festival that he was committed.
"The second Berlin started I had about 37 phone calls from all these people saying 'Are you doing this movie?'" Elliott recalls.
Despite the fact that pre-sales were made at the festival with his name attached, Elliott did not make the decision to take on the project until he'd considered the prospect of developing his own film.
"I was looking at the concept of spending eight years trying to get my own stuff up again and thought: fuck it, why don't I do a broad comedy?" he says. "I've never done it before. Let's just give it a go."
The initial plan was to shoot the film in Queensland, but the production was moved to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.
"I went up to Queenslad and made up my mind in about eight seconds that there was no way we were shooting there," says Elliott. "It would have been suburban, there would have been no spectacle involved. I did not come all the way home for Queensland. There was nothing happening in Sydney, all my friends were unemployed or dead, so I put my foot down."
Hoping to convince the film's American backers that the Blue Mountains was the perfect location, Elliott enlisted the help of the late pilot Gary Ticehurst. Together, the two took the backers on a helicopter trip around the mountains.
"It was the ultimate joyride," says Elliott. "I said to Gary: 'Take them right down to the harbour, will you?' And they were down on the harbour and the sun was setting, that absolutely nailed them. Very much the reason the film happened here is because of Gary."
The director's one regret is that the film was locked off before Ticehurst's passing in 2011 and that he missed the opportunity to dedicate the film to the friend he had known since he was 19.
"Somewhere out there, I know I've made him proud," he says.
Filming lasted seven weeks, with the director making a particular rule that everybody on set had to be fun to spend time with.
"Anyone who wasn't fun or anyone who looked like being a pain in the arse – we simply didn't employ," he says. "It was a bunch of people just laughing, it was such a giggle. Every time I'd lose my temper, they'd just laugh more. To get paid for that, it's pretty damn good. The last time I had this much fun was Priscilla."
Elliott says that the film's only purpose is to make people laugh. "I've copped a bit of flack from the serious American critics, basically because it is so shallow, but there's not a single audience it hasn't gone through the roof with," he says. "The film isn't rocket science, it's not brain surgery. You'll forget about it twenty minutes later, but so what? It was funny. That's the whole job."
A Few Best Men is out on Australia Day. Watch the trailer here. For an in depth feature on the film, check out the December/January issue of IF, on stands now.
Tim Draxl, Kevin Bishop, Kris Marshall and Xavier Samuel in A Few Best Men