Interview with Ray Lawrence

Talk to us about the very beginnings of this story.

After I finished ďBlissĒ, I was reading purely for pleasure and there was a story I thought would make a good film. I ran into Paul Kelly. We had common interests. We didnít become fast friends then, just interested in similar things. I started to tell him about the story, and he introduced me to the writings of Raymond Carver. One of these stories was ďSo Much Water, So Close to HomeĒ, which had at its heart the most fantastic moral dilemma. I thought maybe that would be better than the one I was planning. That was almost 20 years ago.

What was it about the story that made you stick with it?

I tried to do other things. It sort of came and went. It was the same with ďLantanaĒ. Thereís just one little thing in a story you like and sometimes you forget everything else. Itís just that one little piece, like a hook, it catches you. With So Much Water, So Close to Home, it was the difference of opinion that promoted very strong discussion between men and women.

There was a time when it wasnít politically correct to talk about men and women being different. Whereas now, especially with this film...

Theyíre really the only dynamics there are. Politics, the sexes, even if theyíre the same sex, itís still somebody playing a male or female role. I donít know who it was, but somebody said there are only three stories: man, woman and Godówhichever God that may be. Iím fascinated by how people stay together, why they break up and when they choose to or not, why some people have kids. There doesnít seem to be much else.

Can you talk about the first visits to the Jindabyne area, to the Snowy Mountains...

I used to go there all the time to fish, fly-fish, so I knew the area. That was part of the fascination with the story, the outdoors. I really wanted to do a film outside. So when Beatrix [Christian] and I decided we were going ahead I said, ĎLetís do what Raymond Carver did. Letís go where we want to set it and see what happens.í Thereís a story about the lake. It was starting with a germ, like a short story writer. We just walked around, saw a river and wrote about the river. Years later when we brought the key crew to the location they said, ĎItís very similar to the script isnít it?í So, that was the script. We knew where we were going.

Tell us about the first week of filming down at Yarrangobilly, in the river...

The logistical problem of the film was that everything was at least 45 minutes away. So, 45 minutes there and 45 minutes backóit cuts down on your shooting time. When we started we were shooting in daylight- saving time so that was good, but we were still only working with a ten-hour day. Having daylight-saving just meant I didnít have to get up so early. Our head grip [Dave Nichols] has done all sorts of big films and he said Yarrangobilly is probably the hardest location heís ever worked in. You can drive to the area but then youíve basically got to walk in and itís quite dangerous. It took forever to get the stuff and the people in. And we had to get them out before dark, so we had to light the path. It was about two or three kilometres in on a winding track.

Shooting there was really beautiful, and the beauty of the place made the logistical problems facing us all seem a lot easier. It was slow walking in the water, a lot like fishing except I didnít have a rod. We spent all day in the water. I think everyone really enjoyed it. It was the desire to embrace the landscape. The challenge for me was the beautyóthereís so much of it, and there are so many meanings in this landscape that I was always tense about whether I could capture it.

Can you talk about why you use natural light?

It radiates out of my desire and hope to get as natural a performance as possible. I think itís easier to get good performances without lights. Lights introduce a style to the film, they impose. The cinematographer has a style. Things he likes, even if theyíre subconscious, get imposed onto a film. On this film, except for the night sequences, where itís pitch black, we havenít used one film light. Theyíve all been domestic bulbs or daylight. I turn more lights off than I turn on. I think the actors subconsciously react to it in a good way. So itís not a style thing, itís a practical choice that Iíve made to try and get rid of the paraphernalia that goes with making a film. Iím not the only one who does it, itís just that I really do push it.

In the setting up, there was a lot of talk with the actors about how it was okay to stumble, okay to make a mistake, it was okay to just...

Be. It is. Ultimately, thatís what theyíre trying to do, just be there. Itís like giving them permission to work towards a particular goal a particular way. In the main Iíve chosen actors that embrace that particular style.

Can you talk a little bit about the cast, and working with them?

I always seem to end up with ensemble casts. Itís difficult because, even though theyíre all working basically the same way, they all have their needs. I donít like seeing anybodyís work. I donít like Ďhearingí the words, I donít want to know someone has written them. I want the words to sound like theyíve just fallen out of their mouths. I donít want anybody to see my work either. I much prefer to be like wallpaper. And they wonder what Iím doing. Thatís good. It takes away a lot of the pressure that I think is fake on a film. After a while the film starts to make itself. The notion of that happening, in the three times that Iíve done it, has never let me down.

Youíve also worked with a lot of the people around you for many years...

I go to the same restaurant, sit in the same chair and order the same meal. I find it very comforting not having to explain things. I think I work in an unusual way, or Iím told I do. When I find that I work with people that arenít used to working my way, itís just slower, because then Iíve got to get them up to speed and they donít always like it. So, all the people that I work with, in the main, are ones that Iíve worked with for years.

What would you like the audience to take away after theyíve seen the film?

The root of all this is to confirm peopleís lives. I donít like the aspirational thing, Iíve said it before. Itís odd, having spent so much time in advertising. In the stuff that I do, I always try to take the aspirational dimension out of it, and put in some sort of confirmation. Aspirational is just a way of controlling people. Itís okay to be human. You look at some of the magazines, and some of the shows, and some of the products you seeónot very average is it? Itís hard to feel sympathetic for somebody who gets out of a Porsche.

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