Backyard Ashes director tackles footy comedy

30 January, 2014 by Don Groves

Riding high on the unexpected success of his debut film Backyard Ashes, writer- director Mark Grentell next plans to tackle a comedy about a struggling Aussie Rules team in a bush town.

The film is based on The Merger, Damian Callinan’s one-man show in which he played all the characters. Callinan is set to play the lead, Troy Carrington, the coach of the fictitious Bodgy Creek Roosters Football Club.


Desperately short of men and faced with the prospect of the team folding or merging with its arch rivals, Troy has the bright idea of recruiting players from the local asylum seekers’ refuge centre.

“It’s very funny,” says Grentell, who cast Callinan as Spock in Backyard Ashes, the comedy set in Wagga Wagga about two neighbours who settle their differences with a bizarre game of backyard cricket, featuring Felix Williamson, John Wood, Andrew S. Gilbert and Rebecca Massey.

Callinan is a stand-up comic, sketch show performer, actor and writer who has appeared on Skithouse, Before The Game, Comedy Slapdown and Spicks 'n' Specks. In late 2009 he was commissioned by Regional Arts Victoria and VicHealth to write a one-man show that deals subtly with issues of racism in regional communities. The result was The Merger, which played at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2010 and toured nationally from 2011-2013.

For Backyard Ashes, Grentell and fellow producers Peter Cox (who co-scripted with Mark) and Anne Robinson raised $300,000 from community donations. After completing principal photography they obtained grants from Screen Australia and Screen NSW to pay for colour grading, legal fees and other post costs.

All told he says the budget was $500,000. The film premiered in November in Wagga Wagga, Tamworth, Orange and Albury, released by Umbrella Entertainment, and has since rolled out in other regional towns, raking in $320,000. That’s set to grow with bookings at the Ritz in Randwick, the Hayden Orpheum and in Nowra, Canberra and the Northern Territory.

“We never expected that reaction and connection with the film,” Grentell tells IF. He’s hopeful the gross will surpass Save Your Legs!, which played on far more screens and chalked up $385,000.

“We suffered being compared with Save Your Legs! initially,” says the director, who watched the cricket-set comedy and the AFL-themed drama Blinder before he made Backyard Ashes and says he learned lessons from both- presumably what not to do.

The DVD comes out in April and Grentell says the pre-orders from Sanity and JB Hi-Fi are strong. The international sales agent, Tine Klint’s LevelK, has sold the film to international iTunes platforms.

Grentell has had preliminary talks with Screen Australia and Screen NSW on The Merger and hopes either or both will fund development. He aims to start shooting, in a yet to be decided rural town, later this year. He says the budget will be modest but hopefully more than he could afford to spend on Backyard Ashes.