Interview with John Harvey, writer/director of Victorian-made short film Out of Range

Supported through the SBS Film Victoria Scripted Short Initiative and premiering at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival, Out of Range is the latest project from Melbourne-based Indigenous production company, Brown Cabs.

We spoke to writer/director John Harvey about why he wanted to explore the connection between an Indigenous father and his son on the verge of manhood, why he loves collaborating with actor Aaron Pedersen and how the opportunities offered to him and producer Lydia Fairhall through the initiative shaped the film.

Out of Range explores the theme of Indigenous men as fathers. Why was this theme important to you? 

I think often in our media and pubic commentary Indigenous men are portrayed in a negative light that feeds a political narrative. And of course we’re not just objects of political and social discourse. We’re people, we’re sons, brothers and dads at times struggling with day-to-day things. So I wanted to create this character who in ways reflected the men in my life. In a contemporary sense, I wanted to explore the exchange between a father and son at time when the son will be entering manhood. 

The film has more dialogue than your earlier projects, which were very visually driven. What led to this change?

As a creative person, I try not to restrict myself to one form or way of telling stories. My first film Water was very much visual storytelling with little dialogue. I love writing dialogue and I was keen to explore this in this film. I think dialogue for men in general is interesting as we have this tendency to not talk. I like the idea of a father and his son being stuck on a fishing trip and finding ways to connect both through their conversations, but also in what they’re doing. 

This is the fifth time you’ve collaborated with actor Aaron Pedersen. What do you like about working with Aaron?

I love working with Aaron. He’s such an incredibly talented actor and storyteller and I just love his company and being on this journey of storytelling with him. He’s also such a wonderful collaborator and as someone with so much experience in this industry he’s also incredibly generous with his knowledge, his energy and his spirit.

I was keen to explore the father character with Aaron and particularly the vulnerability that was cased within the confident exterior of the dad. Aaron’s very good at playing the serious alpha male role, but he’s also really funny and I wanted to explore this with him and with the character.

You cast a non-actor in the role of the son. How did this alter your filmmaking approach?

I took a long time to cast the son role. Actually I ended up casting my step son, Araluen. It was funny as my partner Lydia Fairhall produced the film and it was something we had both thought about – as my relationship with him helped in parts to inspire the film. But you know working with kids can be tough and working with your own children can be a whole other level. He hadn’t done any acting before, but there were qualities about him that I loved for the role of the son.

As an 11 year old, he didn’t really give a lot away in terms of his enthusiasm to be in the film. But we could see in his own way he was really excited. He’d never admit to it of course!

Aaron created the space and confidence for Araluen to own the character. To Araluen’s credit, he absorbed everything and really prepared himself for the shoot. He’s a good listener and responds to what’s before him, which is a wonderful skill to have as an actor. In many ways the development of Aaron and Araluen’s relationship was not unlike the characters in the film. 

Then there’s those beautiful things that happen – like when I learnt that Araluen wanted to donate some of his pay cheque to support an endangered species, the cassowary, which is one of my totems.

Out of Range was filmed near Lara, between Melbourne and Geelong. What were you looking for in terms of locations?

We filmed Out of Range on Wathaurong country. I was looking for a location that could speak to the idea that the father and son are adrift in a sea of fields as a metaphor for their relationship. Thanks to our location manager we found this incredible location that was even better than I had originally imagined. It felt rural, isolated but yet was still so close to Melbourne. It was a real gift for this film. 

Film Victoria supported Out of Range through the SBS/Film Victoria Scripted Short Initiative. How did this funding assist the production? 

I really enjoyed working with Film Victoria and SBS through the Scripted Short Initiative. I feel the process has given me the creative space to play and explore the story. I really appreciate the trust and confidence that Film Victoria and SBS gave producer, Lydia Fairhall, and myself to make this film.

This opportunity has allowed me to continue to explore my creative process and voice as a storyteller. I’ve been able to continue to build relationships with Victorian-based creatives from my first film Water and also develop some new relationships.

What do you hope audiences will take away from Out of Range?

I hope that audiences enjoy the road trip and connect with the dad as he struggles in his own way to find connections with his son. And I hope it offers another version of Indigenous dads and men.

Your company, Brown Cabs, is a Melbourne-based production company that tells Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders stories on stage and on screen. What is next for you?

Brown Cabs’ Warburdar Bununu: Water Shield is also screening at MIFF this year. I produced the documentary with director Jason De Santolo and it also received support from Film Victoria. It’s a really important story around water contamination in the Northern Territory community of Borroloola. We have a series of community screenings coming up in September followed by the broadcast on NITV.

Brown Cabs and Tamarind Tree Pictures will be releasing our online web series Kutcha’s Carpool Koorioke, which I directed and co-produced with Anna Grieve of Tamarind Tree Pictures. It’s a fun series cruising the streets of Fitzroy with Mutti Mutti songman Kutcha Edwards talking to various artists including Archie Roach, Alice Skye, Dan Sultan, Emily Wurramara, Bunna Lawrie and Bart Willoughby. It’s music and yarns on the streets of Fitzroy, learning about the connection the Koori community has with the neighbourhood.

Out of Range is screening as part of the Australian Shorts program at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival. Visit the MIFF website for session times and tickets.

The film will also screen as part of the inaugural SBS Short Film Festival from 13 to 15 September 2019. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the individual involved and do not necessarily represent those of Film Victoria.