You co-produced The Dreaming (1988) with Craig Lahiff and with Anthony I. Ginnane as executive producer. It stars Penny Cook who passed away recently. She worked with Lahiff, who is also gone, on the very good Hitchcockian slasher/horror Coda (1987). How would you sum them up? You must have known Lahiff well.
The period 1984 – 1990 was a great period for Australian filmmaking. By then I had recovered from the “failure” of Centrespread. I travelled to Cannes in 1981, where I met my hero Roger Corman and on the way home visited him in LA. I named my new company after his example – Australian for domestic, International for foreign and Pictures to explain what the company did. In 1983, Executive Producers Kevin Moore and Paul Barron gave me $220,000 to go to Brazil and meet the Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs. He was an amazing character, wonderful sense of humour, he was great fun. We hooked him up by satellite with former Scotland yard detective, Jack Slipper, who had spent many years chasing Ronnie, in a television confrontation for the documentary “Long Time No See, Ronnie”.
In 1986, I made a 10 part children’s television series for the ABC entitled “Pals” and then went on to make the feature film “The Dreaming”. Budgeted at $2.2 million and financed by Tony Ginnane. It was co-produced by Craig Lahiff and I, with Mario Andreacchio directing. Craig was originally going to direct the film but when Tony came over just before pre-production and went through the script, ripping out pages relating to the intimate relationship between the father (Arthur Dignam) and his daughter (Penny Cook), Craig decided to withdraw in favour of another director. In retrospect, I understand where Tony Ginnane was coming from, he was concerned about the box office and suggestions of “incest” never plays well with broader audiences. I really liked Tony, he got the finance for us and I have maintained a friendly relationship with him to this day.
Right from when I met Craig Lahiff in 1979 when he came around to Newfilms to show us a short film he had made, which I liked immensely, I had wanted to work with him. I admired what he did with Coda and then Fever, and I felt I could learn something about filmmaking from him. I was a producer but knew little about scriptwriting or direction, while Craig had studied Hitchcock in depth and was a talented editor. After “The Dreaming” , we collaborated again on the feature film “Strangers”, a genre homage to Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”. We shared a good relationship, I was a working-class boy educated in a public school, he was from Pulteney Grammar, so we were from different worlds. Craig had a great talent for raising finance, I was in awe of his ability to hold his ground when negotiating a distribution deal or investment, and to walk away from a deal if it didn’t suit him. I also watched the way he directed, he always knew how a scene would play out as he was basically redoing Hitchcock films. He understood the importance and emotional effect of POV in constructing scenes. After four heady years of collaboration, we fell out at the end of “Strangers”. I was getting ready to write and direct myself and he felt I was “abandoning” him, which was true I guess. We were estranged for a while but resumed our friendship after I made Maslin Beach. It was a great tragedy when he passed away in 2012. He was an underrated filmmaker and has left behind a fine body of work.
Re: Penny Cook, I didn’t really get to know Penny all that well, she was a well- loved actress for her numerous television roles and she was very professional and hard working. We were grateful to cast her in the film.
Gary Sweet was fun to work with and he recently narrated a documentary for me in 2019. Arthur Dignam was a fascinating actor, a socialist, friend of Vanessa Redgrave. I took to him as soon as we met in Glebe in his tiny bare flat with bare light bulbs in 1986. On “The Dreaming” he came to my place for dinner in my Brompton cottage, equally bare and bohemian, so we bonded ideologically.
What was the budget for The Dreaming? I understand there were problems with Ginnane over filming the entire script. Was it too ambitious?
See earlier re: script problems. The original budget was going to be $2.5 million I think, but Tony reduced the budget to $2.2 million, he was shuffling money to keep his operation afloat.
No, I don’t think it was too ambitious, we managed to bring the production in on budget. Michael Ralph was the production designer and had to compromise in a few spots when money was tight, but we managed fine. I think Mario did a good job, but it would have been a different film if Craig had directed it.
The problem with Tony was just over the potential ‘incest’ references in the script, as I mentioned earlier. Otherwise he was dynamic to work with, he is one the great unsung heroes of the Australian film industry.
The logistics of filming in remote locations sounds like it could have been a headache…
Yes, we had to shoot in both Robe and on Kangaroo Island, so we were constantly on the move. We also hired the Buffalo in Glenelg, a replica of the HMS Buffalo which sailed to South Australia in 1836, dressing it up as a whaling ship. We had many night shoots and it was a tough gig for the crew. I also lost my sister, Diane, in tragic circumstances during the filming on Kangaroo Island and had to leave the shoot for a week.
The Dreaming is part of the 80s horror cycle albeit a rare Aussie offshoot. It has atmosphere… it captured something. Was all that due to Mario Andreacchio as director?
I think Mario brought imagination and energy to the staging of the scenes and Michael Ralph had a great eye for visual decoration. The film was pure melodrama in my eyes, but it had an historic theme, regarding the history of Kangaroo Island and the whalers’ horrific relationship with the Indigenous population.
It was great to be making a feature film with a generous budget, compared to my previous films. It was the height of the 10BA period of tax investment in films, which unfortunately ended within a few years. It was a robust, exciting, exhilarating time for the film industry, there was a sense that anything was possible.
The opening shot of “The Dreaming”, skimming the ocean surface in a helicopter to the coast of Kangaroo Island, to the music of Shostakovich, was Mario’s idea, it worked extremely well and set up a mood of anxiety and tension. Frank Strangio was Craig’s choice for the rest of the film’s soundtrack, Craig had worked with him previously and admired his music.
Were the pre-colony invasion, the Aboriginal elements and the incest theme central to Lahiff’’s original story? I hear you are uncredited. True? They’re a good original mix…
I think they were yes, the original story ideas came from Terry Jennings and Craig Lahiff and Craig employed a host of writers trying to perfect the script (Rob George, Stephanie McCarthy and Josephine Emery). I wasn’t really involved with the development of the script and I was overseas on holiday prior to the start of pre-production, so I came back from Europe and began making the film almost immediately.
Finish this interview with Wayne Groom discussing Maslin Beach and PRESS HERE.
For further critical consideration of The Dreaming and an article on director Mario Andreacchio PRESS HERE.