Rolf de Heer on The King is Dead!

17 July, 2012 by Rocheen Flaherty

Being on good terms with your neighbours is one thing, using their house to shoot a movie something else entirely. Rolf de Heer must be especially convincing, or just have the best neighbours in the world considering the film in question involved putting a hole in the fence, loudly playing bad rap music, growing the grass out wildly, and putting shopping trolleys in the front yard.

Using his own house and the two neighbouring ones as the main setting for The King Is Dead!, writer and director Rolf de Heer (Ten Canoes, The Tracker) saw moving house and his good relationship with his neighbours as the perfect opportunity to film a script he’d written a few years earlier.
“An opportunity came up that seemed to me to be too good to refuse,” he told IF Magazine.


“I knew I was going to move my residence from where I lived in Adelaide in the next year or so and it suddenly occurred to me – the film. To find three houses next to each other like that is a very difficult thing to do without compromise, and I suddenly realized if we did it there, where we were living, then it would be easy,” he said.

A film about the neighbours from hell, The King Is Dead! follows a young couple being pushed to the limit by their neighbour King and his noisy, drugged-up friends. Comedy ensues after law enforcement fails, and the quintessentially conservative couple attempt to take things into their own hands. With elements that anyone who has had less than perfect neighbours can relate to, the film was primarily shot in suburban Adelaide with two weeks on set.

“The interior of King’s house was a set – obviously the neighbours’ place doesn’t look anything like that – and that was a two-week shoot in that confined space. On the whole I really enjoy shooting in a studio because it’s so stable and lacking in interference from the outside world,” he said.

De Heer worked closely with his cast (including Dan Wylie, Bojana Novakovic, an unrecognizable Luke Ford, and Gary Waddell as King), stressing the importance of casting the right actors as well as getting the character dynamics right.

“After the script, the cast is the most important thing, and that’s what we do when we’re on set, we’re capturing the performance. Working closely with them in a way allows them to have more space to create good performances.”

In creating the right dynamics between the characters, de Heer said that many factors weighed in the casting decisions, such as creating a believable couple, the actors’ heights, and the way they were able to interact to create tension.

“All [the characters] have different sorts of dynamics but they all have to fit together,” he said.

Shooting on digital for the first time, de Heer discussed the differences between film and digital, and how shifting to digital influenced him as a director.

“There were differences, but many things were the same, it’s just a camera and you’re recording performances…The actors in particular of course are quite used to this and would just go ‘oh well lets just go for another take, it’s only space on the memory card’ and that was just something I wasn’t used to.”

He said that although shooting digital means you don’t have to worry about film stock and laboratory costs, there are other costs to factor in such as the tendency to shoot more footage which leads to more time in post-production.

“In a way I prefer the discipline and look of film, but it’s become increasingly difficult to shoot on film, and I think within a couple of years it will be gone,” he said.

The King is Dead! has received a limited release across just four screens. De Heer says it’s hard to reach Australian audiences with local content due to their cynicism.

“It’s hard to know how to reach Australian audiences with Australian films today because over the years they seem to have become so jaundiced by them,” he said.

The King is Dead! is now showing at selected theatres around Australia.