Sweet serendipity: David Wenham brings a sense of adventure to SWIFF’s cinema with Ellipsis

David Wenham barely requires introduction. Having enjoyed an acting career spanning three decades, last year the Sydney-born star made his directorial debut with Ellipsis – our closing night film for this year’s SWIFF.   

Set over the course of one night in Sydney, the film follows two young characters Viv (Emily Barclay) and Jasper (Benedict Samuel) who are brought together by chance and go on “a 24-hour odyssey” around the city, encountering diverse and eccentric characters and situations along the way.

The project itself was something of an experiment for David. Ellipsis was conceived, workshopped and shot in just 10 days, with just two main cast and four on-set crew. There was no written script nor rehearsal and the actors worked spontaneously in actual working locations and situations throughout the city, from the CBD to Bondi. 

We caught up with David to hear more, ahead of his visit to Coffs for the Closing Night screening.

Why did you choose to limit the timespan of the story to just one night?

The city looks extremely different at night, you see laneways that you’re not aware of during the day, those places light up with bustling vibrancy during the night. But more importantly, you encounter people you probably may not encounter during the day. These two characters in Ellipsis are on an unusual 24-hour odyssey.

There was also a practical element to setting the film over the course of that time – because it was a micro-budget film I didn’t have to worry about things like continuity. The characters just had things like one costume. It made a lot of things much easier and simpler to achieve on a micro-budget.

The short shoot and lack of script and rehearsals is a bold step for a first time at directing. Why did you want to go down the experimental route?

It wasn’t something that I’d set out to do, I was actually going to direct something completely different which I spent six years writing and working towards – and both Emily and Benedict were cast in it, too. But then the money collapsed so the film wasn’t going to happen. Ellipsis came about as a result of that – but having said that, I’ve always wanted to do a film like this.

The way that I’ve worked as an actor over the years, I’ve seen the possibilities within a conventional context of more experimentation that’s never been utilised. I wanted to do something at the extreme end of experimentation, and to see what can come out of that and possibly can be used in other methodologies for film-making. I got so much out of, as did the actors. I find that a lot of the time with conventional film-making you’re constrained and restricted by conventions, mainly. This film was literally throwing the shackles off.

It’s also relinquishing a lot of the control a director would usually have?

Exactly. The wonderful thing about a film like Ellipsis is the completely unpredictable nature of what may occur. And for me in any form of arts practice surprise is always the greatest thing – when you don’t anticipate something happening. For each of those scenes that’s in the film, more than 90% of them there’s no rehearsal and it’s only one take, from two different cameras. It was fresh; it was organic; it was alive. Whereas in more conventional films things are completely scripted, so you know the outcome before you even begin. There’s something very artificial about that and I wanted to see if I could play with it and get away with it, and make it much more real – and enticing for an audience.

There’s a sense of serendipity in this film. Given how much we use smartphone apps these days to connect with other people, there’s less and less space for that in real life, even in a huge city.

I completely agree – and when we first talked about the film we asked ourselves, how do these two characters meet? And then the idea of bumping into each other, and then the loss of that communication tool, the mobile phone, I thought was really interesting because those devices are ubiquitous, everybody has them. And they contain a huge amount of our personal details and our lives in them. As soon as you get rid of the device, suddenly you open up to possibilities, people and situations that maybe you wouldn’t be open to otherwise.

What do you hope that audiences will take away from watching this?

It’s an array of emotions – there’s certainly an uplifting feeling to it. Most people who watch it seem to be reminded of an occasion where that happened in their own lives, which is a nice thing.

Was there anything about directing the film that was unexpected or surprised you?

Lots of fascinating technical things that I learned in post production. I had a wonderful editor who I’ve known and worked with for many years, Nick Meyers, and he works very left of field. Some of his methodologies and thinking process really opened my eyes, the techniques involved in shaping the film.

Another big part of this film for me was to do it on a very very small scale. Like the crew was essentially four of us – four plus me, five that was it: a cameraman, a camera assistant, sound and another assistant. That was it. Which was great, because it gave us opportunities to move really quickly and get into places. Strangely very stress-free.

Interview by Louden Up Media