Tim Ferguson talks keeping it simple, both on and off the set of Spin Out – the veteran comedy writer’s directorial debut in cinemas now.
Doug Anthony All Stars veteran and now Director Tim Ferguson, fresh off the release of his first feature Spin Out, explains the genesis of the new rural-set Aussie comedy, describing the rev-heavy production as a mix of “dust, smoke, beer and extras.”
“We needed it to be very simple, watchable,” said Ferguson. “We needed people to eat the popcorn and walk out saying ‘I could have done that’, ‘my five-year old could have written that’. When people say that, you know that the ten years spent writing it have been spent well.”
Set amidst a Bachelor and Spinsters Ball and Ute Show, childhood mates Billy (rising-star Xavier Samuel) and Lucy (Morgan Griffin) aren’t quite sure how they feel about each other. After a show stunt that doesn’t go as planned, Lucy announces she’s moving to Sydney, with everything set to come to a head at the once-a-year ball.
“I write comedy, I’ve always done comedy and comedy works,” explains Ferguson. “Comedy is truth. Comedy is the most serious, it’s the highest writing art form. Comedy has no interest in you suspending your disbelief, there’s no interest in faking reality, comedy is the highest pursuit because you only laugh at things which are true. If you don’t recognise what you’re seeing as being true, why would you laugh? When people say comedy is light entertainment, that it’s fun, they really haven’t stopped to think about it. We don’t like to tell them that it’s not, but of course, it’s not. You look at any comedy, and if it’s any good, it’s about something serious. Spin Out just happens to be about young people in the bush making choices, deciding who they’re going to love, where they’re going to live and what they’re going to do with their lives.”
Describing the film as more akin to the screwball comedies of decades-past than modern laugh-a-thons, Ferguson and co-writer Edwina Exton made a conscious decision not to include the oft-customary foil or antagonist today’s audiences typically expect.
“You find in screwball comedies an antagonist is usually quite rare,” said Ferguson. “In When Harry Met Sally there are two antagonists, one’s Harry and one’s Sally, there’s nobody else around them who’s tried to stop them getting together, it’s a convention of the genre that you don’t need Darth Vader or someone actively trying to get in the way of the love.”
Simplicity isn’t stupidity, simplicity is just communication.
“Katherine (Hepburn) and Cary (Grant) are the two ones getting in their own way. It’s another reason why rom-coms are so hard, the idea is to make us by the third act have serious feelings for these people behaving like idiots. As soon as you see them there’s an inevitability about it, you want these two people to get together.”
Spin Out occupies an unusual space in film. Aimed, according to Ferguson, at 15-25 year-olds, everything about the plot, from the girl-next-door to the big-city dreams to the yearly dance is typically the territory of high-school dramas and the like, with Ferguson and co making the deliberate decision to set the action and its characters several years after graduation, too gearing the film by and large at a slightly older demographic. The screwball setting, readily familiar to a much older market, won’t be so apparent to younger film-goers; the quip-heavy, clearly exaggerated mise en scène and winsome stylings liable for wide-ranging reactions from unaccustomed audiences.
“We had no interest in writing something that was morally murky, that was difficult to understand,” says Ferguson. “Writing things that are hard to understand is just bad writing, there is no other way to explain it – if you’re not communicating what you want to say clearly then it’s bad, you have to write another draft. And we wrote many drafts. Simplicity is an aim but nothing ever starts on the page as simple.”
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“If it’s going to be entertaining it’s got to be direct…making them happy was always our intention, to create an Australian film that just makes people smile.”
Spin Out is in cinemas now