There was a name change, long days and mostly good weather on set for Forbidden Ground (previously The Front), the latest film from Sydney-based Rebellion Pictures which wrapped up filming before Christmas. Cut Print Review caught up with Swedish-born co-director/writer/producer/actor Johan Earl on set in Wongarbon, NSW (18km south-east of Dubbo) almost midway into the 16-day location shoot, in an exclusive where we had a chat as Johan was in makeup ahead of his next scene.
Cut Print Review: How many hours are you on set?
Johan Earl: It varies. I’m usually out here by 10am and I go home 2:30am so 16 hours or something a day, not everyone’s here that long but you know, it’s at least 13 for most people. A long day! Makes it a longer day that we’re in wet mud and fighting… the boots I’m wearing today are clean because I was in water yesterday but normally they’re caked up and dirt an inch thick on the bottom. All the days blend into one; we haven’t had a break so it’s been continuous filming. I don’t even know what day it is.
JE: Yes, this weather really helps because it is set in World War I (WWI). When we first started we had a lot of sun so I had to set up these silks to try and make it look like a cloudy afternoon. Now it’s perfect, even light rain is perfect, and I’m hoping it stays like this.
CPR: Any details on the plot you can reveal?
JE: We’re keeping it pretty quiet, we don’t want to give away too much but we can say it centres around three British soldiers that are stuck in the middle of no-man’s-land in a French battlefield after a bungled charge from the trenches goes wrong. It leaves them stranded and it’s about their journey and their bonding while trying to get back to the British lines, all their little adventures along the way.
CPR: I’m disappointed that I missed most of the explosions; you did those in the first part of the shoot…
JE: Yes, you’re here on the last day of the battle charges, that’s been played over the last six days. There are more war sequences later but they’ll be done towards the end of the shoot as we move into night shifts.
CPR: You’ve filmed part of it already in Sydney, is there any shooting left to do there?
JE: No, that’s all finished, we only shot for about a week in Sydney and the rest of it’s all out here.
CPR: Had you visited Dubbo or Wongarbon before?
JE: Only when Sarah (Mawbey, cast member and whose family own the now-exploded property) dragged me out here to come and have a look for the film. When I was looking for a location, she said ‘come have a look at my family property, we have heaps out at Dubbo’, and I thought ‘no’ at first but it actually worked out pretty good. The trees around really sell the whole war zone; it’s kind of what it was like so I said ‘Dubbo, here we come’. And now that Sarah’s enjoying being home and done her acting we’re putting her to work behind the scenes!
CPR: You had another project that was postponed – has this been rewarding for you? Did you know a lot about WWI?
JE: I run another company, I’m an armourer and pyrotechnician so with weaponry and such I have had some exposure to stuff in different wars and researched them all but I never thought I’d be making a WWI picture! It’s kinda cool, and everybody loves it. Look at these guys (turning, I see a few ready ‘soldiers’ with big grins) – don’t they look happy? They’re not dead yet.
(A soldier chips in “10 more minutes and I’ll be dead again.”)
CPR: You’re acting as well as directing; have you had experiences with both and how do you juggle the two?
JE: With great difficulty! I’m the leading actor but I had such a strong vision for this particular film. I have directed other things as well so I have a real passion for being behind the scenes and in front of the camera, so I do juggle the two. They blend, and they’re blending quite well here. With Adrian (Powers, co-director), we’ve worked on a few things together so his vision for things is very similar to my own so we’re the perfect combination. While I’m acting, I know that Adrian’s going to deliver the visions that I have for this. We’ve put a lot of time and effort and energy into making sure we were on the same page before we got here, we went through the script together, storyboards, and he’s doing a really good job. Together I think we’re a good team.
CPR: How long has this film taken to come to fruition?
JE: It’s a really short period actually – we were primed to do another film and already in pre-production for that, so for this it was just a matter of getting a script and moving into it. It was only a couple of months between deciding to do a war film and being here, so it was very short. Normally it takes about six months for pre-production, getting it all prepared and ready, but it’s come together. It’s been pretty hair-raising and stressful, sometimes we just want to kill each other and die but it’s all worth it. When you look at the rushes, the footage we’ve got so far it’s just so good. A really really good feeling so we’re stoked.
CPR: Thankyou for chatting to us!
Forbidden Ground will be released later in 2012. To keep up to date with their progress, visit the film’s Facebook page.