BY:  Bears Fonte

The strongest film in the Slamdance Line Up proved to be Australian comedy THE TAIL JOB, the story of a man who believes his girlfriend is cheating on him with a guy named Sio Bohan and hires a taxi to tail her all night. “A friend of ours was snooping in his girlfriend’s phone,” explains Daniel Millar, Co-writer and Co-director, “because she’d been going in the other room and telling him it was just a friend. He found that she’d been texting a guy called Sio Bohan, he became irate and confronted her, and she laughed in his face and said, ‘It’s my cousin, Siobhan,’ right?” So the Irish name that normal people pronounce shi-VAWN became the leaping off point for a story of mistrust and mistaken identity. The team decided, what if he didn’t confront her, but instead stewed about it, and then went on a rampage. Even worse, what if there WAS someone named Sio Bohan out there, and he was not a nice guy.

THE TAIL JOB is a ridiculous ride through incompetence that hinges on two would-be heroes, a lover spurned and the cabbie after the world’s largest fare. Nicholas thinks he’ll just snap a few pics of Mona, and catch her in the act. Trevor considers himself a bit of professional, having driven around the block a few times, but when they lose her car, they have to resort to other means of locating her and the treacherous Sio Bohan. What would happen if you were looking for someone who didn’t exist? “Instead of clues bringing you closer, because, it’s not really happening,” says Millar, “the clues take you further and further away. And if you thought you were on the trail of something, you actually were on the trail of something completely different.”

In between screenings at Slamdance, I had a chance to sit down with Millar, his co-writer/director Bryan Moses, and Actress/Producer Laura Hughes (who plays Mona). They admitted that originally the story might have gone another way entirely, with it being more of a mystery. “Every time we told somebody,” Millar says, “as soon as we said ‘Sio Bohan,’ people started to go, ‘Oh, do you mean the name [pronouncing it right]Siobhan, the Irish girl’s name?’ And so, we realized it wasn’t a strong enough twist.” The redirection serves the film quite well, humanizing the characters and allowing the audience to just enjoy the ride. Because you know how silly their quest is, it is easier to forgive the jealousy that gave rise to it, and to cheer for them as they face off against the town’s most notorious drug dealer. “It means that the audience aren’t ahead of the film,” says Hughes, “because the audience is so smart nowadays.” Instead the film becomes a lesson in dramatic irony, almost a Shakespearean farce through the eyes of Guy Ritchie.

And like any good farce, the story becomes essentially a buddy pic, two people stumbling through an adventure together. Craig Anderson, who plays Trevor, was someone with whom the team was very familiar and the role was written with him in mind. “He did some comedy TV shows back in Australia,” says Moses, “and he’s just such a funny looking guy, just so great with comedy, and we knew we wanted him to play the taxi driver.” Nicolas’s character was a little more open-ended. “Yeah, we kind of just wrote him as a stock, charming, handsome leading man, with a bit of an idiot side,” says Millar, “and then we remembered that we knew someone like that.” Of course, they never told Blair Dwyer that, until now; “hopefully he never reads this interview,” says Moses.

The script is an actor’s dream because it’s full of action, but it’s also really talky and fun. As they traipse across town in search of Mona, Trevor and Nicolas have great, relationship-building dialogue scenes, often at the same time. The whole time the film has an energy that propels it through a very long night of ineptitude.

“It was interesting,” remembers Moses, “we started pretty much with the start of the film when we shot, and so their interactions are slightly awkward and stilted, but as we continued shooting they became more comfortable with each other.” Of course, being a low-budget film, the actors had to do all their own action, so they are running around with guns, sliding across hoods of cars, having a great time. “Daniel plays the psycho driver in the movie, says Moses. “That was only because there was so many stunts required,” says Millar about his role, “and because we didn’t have any safety, no stuntman, no controlled environments… it would’ve been great if we’d had the balls to ask anyone to actually do it. And when they said, ‘Oh, so what’s the special effect that’s gonna hold me to the car?’ And we said, ‘It’s your Kung Fu grip.’”

Obviously the team did not let minor worries hold them back in making the film, even in the writing stage, which was completed in 3 weeks. They had a shooting date already set and had to deliver the script to meet it. “Dan and I, we’ve worked together for such a long time, we’ve got a great rapport and really similar sense of humor,” says Moses, “and we’d just constantly help each other with this intense focus knowing we had to start shooting. Any time a plot problem came up, the other person would just jump in with a solution.

Farces tend to be more complicated in the writing process than most films, with every joke requiring a set up or three on earlier pages. “We sat in a room together for several days,” Millar says, “writing on post-it notes. Writing scenes, writing beats, writing characters, and moving them around, getting the structure right. Which is actually the first time I’ve done it that way.”

I’ve always believed that the faster you need to write, and the less time you have for rewrites, the more you HAVE to do the outlining structure work first. Millar and Moses knew that going in. “We got the scenes in the right order and then we went through and together wrote a list of each scene and what happens in the scene,” Millar explains, “then, we divided them up into sections, took it away and wrote separately, then swapped. Rewrote each other’s scenes, and then swapped back. So, I would then take out anything he put in my scene that I didn’t like, and vice versa. You know, so it got vetted back and back and back until we were both happy with every scene. It was a good process, I liked it.” Moses agrees: “we’d go  back and forth trying to improve, improve, improve, improve… anytime Dan would send me a scene, because we split them up,  I’d read it and I’d laugh.  I’d think ‘Oh, that’s so funny, I’ve got to beat that.’”

A perfect example of this collaboration is the extended and ongoing discussion that Trevor wants to have with anyone who gets into his car, about Bill Murray being the greatest actor of the current generation. “Bryan and I have had so many conversations about Bill Murray,” explains Millar, “and then I’d get Bryan’s scene  – which on the post-it note was ‘Trevor and Nicholas chat in a taxi’ – and then, he sends me a scene where they’re talking about Bill Murray – and I’m like, ‘that was our conversation.’ And then I’d think, ‘Alright well, what else have we talked about? How else can I make Bryan laugh in the next scene?’”

Although Millar and Moses had never written together before, they had each worked on things the other had directed, including Millar working on the TV show Moses directed starring Craig Anderson. The one thing the team didn’t discuss was how directing would work on set. “I think I just assumed we’d both be on the same page because we’d both written it together,” says Moses, “But there was a bit of – not friction – but just a disconnect. He wanted to shoot in a different style to what I wanted to shoot.” Millar agrees and admits they actually re-shot the first night’s shoot, the first scene. He explains: “The first night was too much of a compromise on both our parts for either of us to be really happy with it.” They realized Moses was kind of pushing it in one direction and Millar was pushing in another direction and they actually had to stop and have a conversation about what the movie looked like.

“I think the same thing happened in the edit,” says Millar, “it was really good for the film. I’d cut a scene and then send it to [Moses], he’d cut a scene and send it to me. We’d do any recuts that we felt, then swap back in case he’d say, ‘No, no Daniel I put that shot there for a reason, don’t take that out,’ or whatever.” The two filmmakers have very different editing styles and the film ends up being a hybrid of both. “I’d have all the wide shots in there, and that’s how I’d leave it if I was editing the film,” Millar explains, “and then when I’d get it back from Bryan it’s got all these nice little fast close-ups that make it really dynamic, and I would never have thought to do it like that.” Moses agrees: “and [it was]a bit interesting that you started to do the same thing to my scenes as well.” Says Millar: “yeah, I’d be like, ‘alright, this scene needs a bit of Bryan Moses-ing.”

In addition to the more contemporary Guy Ritchie comparison, the editing and tone of THE TAIL JOB brings to mind classics like THE ITALIAN JOB, or the films of the Coen Brothers. “The old 70’s and 80’s buddy comedies, and the action movies of that era,” says Millar, “we’re just really influenced by that. And the people that’ve already parodied that, like Edgar Wright.” Of course, this is all delivered through a particular Aussie lens, something the filmmakers call ‘taking the piss.’ “We don’t take life too seriously,” says Hughes, “everyone is fair game to make fun of.” But the team is quick to point out Americans have a similar sense of humor, if maybe just a little more politically correct.

“I think, in terms of the jokes, the jokes translate fine,” says Millar, “we didn’t write this in some kind of really specific Australian vernacular, you know, Bush dialect that nobody’s gonna understand. There’s one joke in there that falls totally flat because it references a ‘80s Australian pop song that just nobody gets here, they don’t even realize it’s a joke – so that’s fine. But the thing that I didn’t realize until we brought this film to America, was the fact that Australians swear very casually and very often in normal conversation.” The team wants ‘delicate’ audiences to know they we didn’t put any strong language to make it seem tough or to give it a style or anything. “When we started showing this movie around,” says Millar, “we got some feedback, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of swearing in it.’ And I was like, ‘Really, I don’t think there’s a lot of swearing in it.’ The first line is ‘Right, you fucking pricks.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, there is a lot of swearing in it.’ That’s not deliberate.” When they were choosing scenes to give to the press, they had been asked to select scenes with no swearing, and they we found that quite challenging.

THE TAIL JOB world premiered at Slamdance, keep up with their festival circuit on their facebook page.

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