Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel in ‘Ellipsis’. 

In the first of a two-part interview, David Wenham talks to IF about making his directorial feature debut, ‘Ellipsis’. 

Across a stellar career spanning 30 years, David Wenham had long wanted to make an experimental, improvisational film in which the story unfolds in the space of one night.

Wenham got his chance with Ellipsis, a low budget film he directed and co-wrote, which will have its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival.

Produced by Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney, the slice-of-life film follows Emily Barclay as Viv and Benedict Samuel as Jasper, who meet by chance and roam the city of Sydney, from bars, a park and a sex shop in Kings Cross, to Bondi.

In a remarkably tight schedule, the cast workshopped the script for three days, a collaborative effort between the two leads, Wenham and director’s assistant Gabrielle Wendelin. The shoot took just seven days, while allowing for improvisation. The DOP was Simon Morris and Nick Meyers served as the editor.

“Looking from the outside, what we did sounds daunting, but we all felt a lot of clarity when we were shooting,” Wenham told IF.

“It was actually quite liberating and a fantastic creative experience which took me back to when we shot The Boys.”

Released in 1998, that was the debut feature for Wenham, director Rowan Woods, cinematographer Tristan Milani, Nick Meyers and producer Rob Connolly.

“It gave us an opportunity to experiment and try new things. Over the years I have wanted to grab hold of that [sensibility] again and ignite something.”

Wenham decided to embark on Ellipsis when another project to which he was unattached unexpectedly fell over.

After a restless night’s sleep he came up with the simple idea of two people who meet by chance and spend the night together, encounter real people on their journey and see what happens. Kearney raised the money, described by the director as the “smell of an oily rag.”

Barclay and Samuel relished the chance to cast off the shackles, improvise and fully inhabit characters that are not too far removed from their real selves, according to Wenham.

“As an actor I always know when I am always on top of a character if I can drop that character into any environment and he would know how to act, react and respond 100 per cent naturally,” he said.

Connolly’s CinemaPlus will arrange event screenings for the film and Tine Klint’s LevelK is handling international sales. She introduced the film to potential buyers at the Cannes Market and garnered a fair bit of interest.

Wenham is a frequent collaborator with Connolly, including roles in The Bank (2001) and Paper Planes (2014).

Ellipsis was Wenham’s second turn as a director, but his first at feature-length; he directed one of the segments in Connolly’s omnibus Tim Winton’s The Turning. The actor whose credits include Lion, Goldstone, Banished and The Code cheerfully acknowledges he’s been bitten by the directing bug and he is writing several scripts which he will direct.

After completing Ellipsis, Wenham went to New York for seven months to star in the Marvel series Iron Fist for Netflix – playing the ruthless businessman Harold Meechum – so the SFF premiere will double as the cast and crew screening.

The director is proud of the film, which he describes as modest and charming, and is confident it will delight audiences.

Wenham also chaired the jury for the festival’s Lexus Short Film Fellowship. The jury evaluated 20 projects from writer-directors who were asked to submit a synopsis, director’s vision and examples of their work. The four winners, who will be announced on June 13, will each receive $50,000 to shoot a film which will premiere at next year’s festival.

Tomorrow: Wenham discusses his experiences shooting ‘Wake in Fright’, ‘In Like Flynn’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’.

‘Ellipsis’ screens at Sydney Film Festival June 8 and 14. Tickets are available here.

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