David Parker on ‘The Menkoff Method’ and the 30th anniversary of ‘Malcolm’
Left-of-centre comedy The Menkoff Method marks a return to film directing for veteran David Parker – he last directed 1997’s Diana and Me.
Parker is best known for his extensive cinematography work and for penning the likes of Malcolm and The Big Steal, both of which were directed by his wife and frequent collaborator Nadia Tass.
He was drawn back to the director’s chair by the “crazy premise” of the The Menkoff Method’s script, written by Zac Gillam.
“I read a lot of stuff. I actually laughed out loud when I read this, which is really unusual,” he told IF.
Described as “comedy of human resources”, The Menkoff Method follows a quiet-mannered data processer David Cork (Lachlan Woods) whose true passion is drawing manga.
That passion is thwarted when Russian HR consultant Max Menkoff (Noah Taylor) arrives to reform the office through unorthodox means, and it’s up to Cork – along with Ruby (Jessica Clarke) from head office – to save his colleagues from murder and mayhem.
“It’s a traditional plotline but in a very crazy form,” said Parker. “I love that fact that we’ve not seen anything like this in Australian film; it’s not the sort of stuff we do here. I liked the heart in it and I like the quirkiness.”
Menkoff is packed with set pieces and action sequences, including green screen work shot at Docklands. Parker describes it as “dense to put together” on a short 25 day shoot, but he’s pleased with the results.
“I loved the sequences with the office workers once they’ve been ‘altered’ [by Menkoff],” said Parker. “I wanted to get really wonderful graphic images of these almost zombie-like characters all moving in unison.”
Parker says his greatest wish is for anyone who works a “9 to 5, dead boring” job to come out for the film. Seeing Noah Taylor with a Russian accent is also bound to amuse plenty.
“The woman who acts with him is Russian,” said Parker. “She’d come up to me and say, ‘David, the accent is no good.’ I’d say, ‘Olga, don’t worry – it just doesn’t matter’ (laughs).”
Taylor was able to play the titular character thanks to a hiatus in shooting Game of Thrones – but the director wasn’t allowed to alter his look too much.
“The hair had to stay,” said Parker. “We needed him for three weeks so he was in and out quite quickly. He’s so wonderful as a person as well as an extraordinary actor.”
2016 marks 30 years since the release of Malcolm, the film that launched his career and which he describes as “a groundbreaker” in terms of Australian comedies.
“I suspect that it started a bit of a movement,” the filmmaker said, pointing to the likes of Muriel’s Wedding and Strictly Ballroom.
Currently Parker thinks that Aussie cinema is in a tough spot. More than ever, he said, it’s critical you work to fill your cinemas on opening weekend – “otherwise you’re out the door.”
“It’s evolved into a situation where it’s really difficult to get screens for Australian films.”
However, distribution woes initially plagued Malcolm too – the film found success in the States before it did here. Even once it did get picked up locally, Parker said the distributor was still unsure about it.
“The people on staff didn’t realise what they had with the film. I wonder if that still happens with Australian films sometimes. We’re very hard on our own stuff.”
Asked which hat he’s most comfortable wearing after three decades – as variously a writer, director, producer or cinematographer – Parker said he’s still “trying to find that out.” He lists cinematography as his main skill, writing as a “biggie” and directing the “icing on the cake.”
One thing he’d prefer not to do is direct his own scripts – leaving that to Tass.
“There’s something about bringing another person – in this case, her. She takes the material to a new level,” Parker said. “I’m always surprised when I’m on set [by] how she and the actors have come up with something based on my words.”
The pair are currently working on a psychological thriller set in the outback, a family film and China co-pro Tying the Knot.
The Menkoff Method is in cinemas from today.