Mad Bastards: A Story About Men (2011) by Film Maker Brendan Fletcher
Director – Brendan Fletcher
Screenplay – Brendan Fletcher In collaboration with Greg Tait, Dean Daley-Jones, John Watson
Producers Alan Pigram, Stephen Pigram, Brendan Fletcher, David Jowsey
Starring – Dean Daley-Jones, Lucas Yeeda, Greg Tait, Ngaire Pigram, Douglas Macale, John Watson
“A story of transformation that celebrates how country can lead a lost soul home”
Australian/NZ distributor: Transmission Films
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► THE STORY
In a nutshell …
TJ is a mad bastard, and his estranged 13‐year‐old son Bullet is on the fast track to becoming one, too. After being turned away from his mother’s house, TJ sets off across the country to the Kimberly region of North-Western Australia to make things right with his son.
Grandpa Tex has lived a tough life, and now, as a local cop in the outback town of Five Rivers, he wants to change things for the men in his community. Cutting between three generations, Mad Bastards is a raw look at the journey to becoming a man and the personal transformation one must make.
Developed with local Aboriginal communities and fuelled by a local cast, Mad Bastards draws from the rich tradition of storytelling inherent in Indigenous life. Using music from legendary Broome musicians the Pigram Brothers, writer/director Brendan Fletcher poetically fuses the harsh realities of violence, healing, and family. * With thanks to Sundance Film Festival for this Synopsis
In detail …
TJ is a tough, volatile man tortured by his own soul.
Fleeing a life of urban chaos in the city, and with few other options, TJ sets out on a 2,000‐kilometre journey north to the remote Kimberley town of Five Rivers to find 13‐year‐old Bullet, the son he has never met.
In the rugged Kimberly, TJ locks horns with local police officer Texas, who has family troubles weighing heavily upon him. He has just driven his grandson ‐ Bullet ‐ to a boys’ camp in the bush to save him from being locked up after he lit a dangerous fire in Five Rivers.
Fiercely protective of his community, Texas doesn’t like the look of TJ and doesn’t want him in his town. He has to fight to keep a lid on his anger when he realises that TJ fathered Bullet.
After years of partying, Bullet’s mother Nella has now cleaned up her life, but still feels real resentment towards TJ due to his long absence. This fuels his volatility. But Nella doesn’t stand in the way of Bullet, when he returns from the bush camp, getting to know his father ‐ she knows this is what her son wants.
Eventually TJ’s old ways surface and his anger boils over, sparking a meltdown in Bullet. Texas is furious and the two huge men clash violently, out on the endless River Rivers floodplain.
Texas offers a beaten and bloody TJ the chance for redemption and he accepts … deciding to stay in the community with his family.
► RUGGED, REAL, INSPIRATIONAL
“A mad bastard is our name for the one who is dragging the net in the deep end where the crocodiles are. They are brave to the point of being mad. We were all mad at some point, especially when we were young and full of stupidity because we’d been drinking.” Stephen Pigram, producer, composer, member of the renowned Pigram Brothers.
“I am really proud of this movie most of all because it does justice to the tough men of The Kimberley who have transformed their lives by tempering their wildness, and channeling their strength into their kids, their families, their communities. I find that very real and very inspiring.” Brendan Fletcher, director, writer, producer.
“TJ has hit rock bottom but is striving to get back on his feet. It is a positive story. A lot of people aren’t educated and don’t read but they watch movies.” Dean Daly‐Jones, who plays TJ, father of Bullet.
“There’s not much fake in the film. It is pretty real. If anything we played it down a bit.” Greg Tait, who played Texas, the police officer and grandfather of Bullet, while he was actually employed as the local police officer at the remote town of Hall’s Creek.
“There’s something up here that Aboriginal people have: a magic, a sixth sense, a connectedness. Uncle Black represents it in the film but it was one of the hardest things to get into the movie because it’s not physical.” Alan Pigram, producer, composer, grip, member of the renowned Pigram Brothers.
► A UNIQUE PRODUCTON PROCESS
The actors brought their own lives to the screen
Mad Bastards tells a story about the tough, primal men who live in one of Australia’s last frontiers, The Kimberley. There is a simple explanation behind its authenticity: the people in the lead roles brought their own lives to the story and basically play themselves.
Greg Tait, the police officer Texas on screen, was the local copper at remote Hall’s Creek for nearly 17 years. Dean Daley‐Jones, the tough angry TJ that arrives in town to meet his son for the first time, is currently getting to know his own teenage son in real life. When the cameras film John Watson taking a group of troubled boys deep into the bush to teach them Aboriginal culture, it feels natural because it’s what Johnnie does all the time.
“There’s not much fake in the film,” says Greg who, like Dean and John, is credited as writer in collaboration with director Brendan Fletcher. “It is pretty real. If anything we played it down a bit.”
“In most films actors act out the script but in this film we accommodated the actors,” laughs Stephen Pigram, one of the four producers on Mad Bastards. “We said ‘You tell us your story and we will write it into what we’re doing’. We wanted to show this part of the world and capture the kind of characters that this part of the world breeds.”
“A mad bastard is our name for the one who is dragging the net in the deep end where the crocodiles are. They are brave to the point of being mad. We were all mad at some point, young and full of stupidity because we’d been drinking”. Stephen has lived in The Kimberley all his life. This vast, remote, rugged, spectacular northwest corner of Australia is central to the film.
Stephen and his brother Alan, another of the film’s producers, are members of the Pigram Brothers, a country, folk, blues band from Broome, the biggest town in The Kimberley. They and Brendan were the creative core of the film from the outset. Along with producer David Jowsey. David has a long history of producing and commissioning Indigenous film and Television productions. He had worked in Broome on a number of productions including producing the “Stompem Ground” music concerts, which featured the Pigram Brothers, and this relationship developed into supporting development of Mad Bastards over a number of years, before joining the team as Producer. “We put messages in the film and one of them is the importance of men looking after their families,” says Stephen. “There seems to be men’s groups springing up everywhere. It seems everyone is battling to define what an Australian male is, let alone an Aboriginal male.”
It all started with a fishing trip. In 1996 Brendan found himself talking on the phone for the first time to Stephen Pigram, one of the seven brothers that make up The Pigram Brothers. “I heard they were looking for some music videos,” Brendan recalls. “I remember Steve saying ‘We can’t afford to pay you and I can’t even put you up in a hotel because I only live in a tin shed, but we could take you fishing’. Long before I knew anything about anything I loved fishing and camping, so I was in. During the trip we conceived, shot and cut two music videos in two weeks and they are still two of the best things I’ve ever done.” Brendan grew up thousands of kilometres away in a white middle‐class family in the heart of Sydney, Australia’s biggest city. He had no older siblings. “I was two years younger than the youngest Pigram brother and suddenly I had nine older brothers (two are not in the band). Meeting them was when the world changed for me. My relationship with Australia changed: I crossed to the other side and never really came back.”
The Kimberley is now Brendan’s second home and he has created a range of music-orientated productions for and with “the piggies”, including several documentaries, inspirational educational resources for young people in outback communities, and Kulli Foot, a critically acclaimed 10‐minute drama shown on ABC TV. David Jowsey was an Executive Producer at ABC TV at the time and he commissioned a number of the early documentary collaborations between Brendan and the Pigram brothers for television, These men were a movie waiting to happen “Again and again I would meet men who had incredible toughness and also a compelling presence,” says Brendan about his early years in this frontier of Australia. “Around the campfire they told amazing stories about their lives and later I’d hear just how wild they used to be. But I knew them as men who hadn’t had a drink for 20 years.” He knew star power when he saw it: in 2001 he co‐directed the feature‐length documentary Texas with Russell Crowe, a film about Crowe’s band Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunt.
“I thought that if these men could act, they were a movie waiting to happen, so I started writing a story around them that I felt captured that world. I am really proud of this movie most of all because it does justice to the tough men of The Kimberley who have transformed their lives by tempering their wildness and channelling their strength into their kids, their families, their communities. I find that very real and very inspiring.” Giving up alcohol was often the catalyst. Colonization first eroded traditional Aboriginal law and culture; alcohol further eroded it. But alcohol is a problem in many societies throughout the world, not just in Aboriginal societies.
There is a cultural underpinning to Mad Bastards; and a subtlety that goes much deeper than the story, that only Kimberley people may understand. “There’s something up here that Aboriginal people have: a magic, a sixth sense, a
connectedness,” says Alan. “Uncle Black represents it in the film but it was one of the hardest things to get into the movie because it is not physical.”
The film was made organically, collaboratively.
Brendan recorded hours and hours of stories over many years as he travelled up and down The Kimberley with the Pigrams. They all fed into the film. With the help of many confidantes and collaborators, gradually a narrative took shape. Brendan didn’t set out to make a father‐and‐son story but that’s what it became. He would read drafts of the script aloud to the men, mothers, aunties, kids, and whoever else was around the campfire at the time. He was rigorous about making it true to the place and the people.
“It was never an option for me to write a movie script and get people to act in it,” says Brendan. “It is not interesting what I thought. It was about what the men that I met in The Kimberley thought, what had happened to them, what they wanted to make a movie about.” “A mate of mine told Brendan to come and see me and all I knew was that he wanted to hear real stories from The Kimberley, not prettied up ones,” says Greg, who was cast in the starring role of police officer Texas because of the strength of a screen test. “We all had a part in how the movie was made. Along the way Brendan would ask us all questions about the direction he wanted to take the script.” When other key cast came on board, they too added life experiences that were already etched on their faces. Dean Daly‐Jones can remember being given a wooden toy one Christmas by his mother’s then boyfriend. At the beginning of Mad Bastards his character, TJ, goes to the jail to visit his brother, who has made a wooden toy for his son and wants TJ to deliver it.
On a much larger scale, the transformation the audience expects from TJ by the end of the film, mirrors the transformation Dean still sometimes struggles with. “I only became a man when I addressed my demons about three years ago but the devil was still trailing me,” says Dean. “Friends and family say it is amazing what the film has done for me. When I hear people being racist now I talk to them, not try to beat their heads in as I once would have.” “I am a proud Nyoongar man and when Brendan approached me I had to read the script because I wasn’t going to get involved in something that would exploit us blackfellas or have a poor‐fellow‐me tone. TJ has hit rock bottom but is striving to get back on his feet. It is a positive story. A lot of people aren’t educated and don’t read but they watch movies.”
Lucas Yeeda, who plays the youngest of the film’s mad bastards, also made a major contribution to the script. One day after calling action, Brendan suddenly realized he hadn’t thoroughly briefed Lucas about what his character should say. It was a scene involving a group of wayward boys who were being taken on a camp so they could reconnect with their culture and country. With the cameras rolling, John Watson, an elder, asked each of them in turn what trouble they had got into. ‘I lit a fire,’ were the words Lucas chose to put in Bullet’s mouth. On the strength of this, Brendan later filmed Lucas setting fire to a building with a Molotov cocktail and these dramatic night‐time scenes open the film.
Improvisation is a necessity in The Kimberley. After years of writing and planning, cameras rolled in June 2009. Most of the filming occurred in The Kimberley, a 400,000 square kilometre region in the northwest corner of Australia. It is thousands of miles to the nearest capital city and is very sparsely populated. “Being born into an isolated place like The Kimberley, with little infrastructure, means you are used to improvising and fending for yourself,” says Stephen Pigram. His brother Alan, for example, made several of the camera rigs and dollies used on the film from materials he had lying around. Everybody chipped in and did everything: Alan was a producer, a composer and the grip, but could often be found welding his handiwork. There were two significant periods of filming with six months of editing and re‐scripting between them to ensure that the story being told and the way it was being told was authentic. Much of what was said on set were not words set in stone in a script, but words that reflected what the actors knew was the intention of the scene from the workshops and rehearsals.
“On set Brendan would sometimes ask me ‘Does that look like how a real person would react?’ says Greg. “Whenever I was acting in a scene I would speak to the other actors and give them a pep talk, telling them to pretend the camera wasn’t there, to not try and be someone, to just be themselves.” The improvised filming process was both exciting and nerve wracking for producer David Jowsey – “but once I saw the performances in the rushes I knew we had something authentic and powerful” Pigram Brothers music is the music of the Kimberley Four of the seven members of The Pigram Brothers, and other musicians too, are seen performing in Mad Bastards. Alan and Stephen Pigram and Alex Lloyd compose and perform the film’s music. The soundtrack also includes Pigram Brothers music from more than 10 years ago, music from the band Scrap Metal, and the brilliance of Kasey Chambers and Native American rap performer Aki Redbird.
“Our music represents The Kimberley and we wanted to utilize all the other musicians that live in The Kimberley too but came to understand that would be too hard,” says Alan. “Working with Alex Lloyd gave our music a different twist, made it more global. The music is sparse but is the glue that connects country and character. I want to say its folksy but it is its own sound. It is very hard to define. It is very acoustically driven.” As with the rest of the film, the process of creating the soundtrack was very organic. When Stephen was on the road with Brendan, auditioning men from the vast Kimberley region, he would often pull out his ukulele and compose a song there and then, recording the essence of the country on a small digital player. Several of those actual recordings are on the film’s soundtrack. Attempts were made to re‐record them but the originals were judged better ‐‐ and better suited the film.
► THE CAST
TJ … Dean Daley‐Jones
Texas … Greg Tait
Bullet … Lucas Yeeda
Nella … Ngaire Pigram
Bush camp elder … John Watson
Uncle Black … Douglas Macale
All the key characters in Mad Bastards are from The Kimberley except TJ.
All those who play those characters are also from The Kimberley except Dean Daley‐Jones, who plays TJ.
Dean and TJ are both from Perth. Most of those on screen have never acted before and, if they had, only in minor roles. The exception is Ngaire Pigram, who plays Nella. She has formal training as an actor at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth.
Dean Daley-Jones ► TJ, father of Bullet, urban drifter
At the time Dean was cast as TJ, he was working in the building industry in Broome as a labourer and roofer. He moved to Broome in The Kimberley to escape the law. He had worked on film sets, but principally as a grip, and he approached Mad Bastards in the hope of being hired again as a grip. Eventually the creative team realized that a leading man was under their noses.
Mad Bastards is Dean’s first significant acting role, although he played “one of the little shits that were rapists” in the 1988 feature Shame and has done some modelling and commercials. He has signed with an agent since making the film. “My mother was white and ran away from home when she was 15 years of age and was looked after by blackfellas on the outskirts of Perth,” says Dean. “She loved Aboriginal people and saw the pain of their oppression. She taught me more about black people than anyone and taught me to walk tall.” YET By the time he reached his late 20s his attempts to live in both worlds failed and he turned to crime.
Dean was 10 years old when his indigenous father died. His mother subsequently married her first husband’s half-brother. Dean grew up being teased and called “a half‐caste”. He recalled difficult times in his own life in order to deliver an authentic performance. It made the film mentally draining and emotionally challenging. “I can remember people spitting at my mother because she was with a coloured man and I conjured up some of those bad, sad stories when I had to cry in the film,” says Dean. “I didn’t want to use eye drops ‘Just give me 10 minutes,’ I’d tell Brendan. It was the hardest job I have ever done in my life, psychologically.”
But it was an enormously positive experience too: “The film also made me want to be a true father to my own son. At times it was tedious being on set but then I would tell myself that this was the greatest thing I have ever done because I am representing my people. It was political for me.”
Greg Tait ► Texas, grandfather of Bullet, police officer
“Texas, the person in the movie is pretty much me,” says Greg Tait. “He realized he didn’t have to be a mad bastard, didn’t have to be part of the violence, but could start to believe in himself and become a role model for his family. I’m still a mad bastard to a point. How I control it has changed.”
In order to work on the film, Greg took leave from his job as the police officer at Hall’s Creek in The Kimberley.
Greg, a Gidja man, started work as a stockman at the age of 12. As a young adult, when he wasn’t in jail, he was building fences and windmills, operating machinery and so on. His criminal record was a barrier to him getting ahead until he joined the Army Reserve and was subsequently accepted by the police force. “I gave up the drink in September 1990 and there are days I really feel like a drink but I would be pretty embarrassed if I turned back into the person I used to be.” says Greg. “I have gone from being someone who was being locked up all the time to someone who locks people up. I don’t want to complete that circle.”
Greg has never acted but has toured as a musician and says this helped give him confidence when he was on the set of Mad Bastards. “I always dreamt of being an actor and always hoped I would have the opportunity. I look up to actors such as Charlton Heston and Clint Eastwood.”
Lucas Yeeda ►Bullet, son of TJ, grandson of Texas, wayward kid
Lucas was 14 years old when he made Mad Bastards. He lives with his father in the remote town of Wyndham and has been into a cinema only a few times in his life. He has never acted before but thrived on the improvisational process that enhanced the film’s authenticity and his performance as Bullet is outstanding.
Ngaire Pigram ► Nella, mother of Bullet
Ngaire graduated from the highly regarded WAAPA in 2004 with an Advanced Diploma in Acting. Since then she has worked on a range of television dramas, commercials and short films, one of which was the lead role in Beck Cole’s Plains Empty.
Ngaire is the daughter of Stephen Pigram and lives in Perth, but she grew up in The Kimberley: “People out this way are not afraid to be themselves like they are in the city. Everyone is so laid back and friendly.” She was in a relationship with Dean Daly‐Jones when the film was being planned and encouraged him to get involved. She has been a major influence on his decision to take responsibility for his life, just as his character TJ does in the film.
Before her leading role in Mad Bastards, Ngaire had only worked on one feature: as a chorus dancer in Rachel Perkins 2010 critical and commercial hit Bran Nue Dae.
John Watson ► Old Johnnie
John Watson runs “Yiriman” ‐ a diversionary program for troubled youth out of his home in the remote bush community of Jarlmadangah in The Kimberley. This is exactly what his character in the movie does. He spends two weeks walking with each group across tribal lands, trying to give them a new perspective on their troubled lives, trying to put them back in touch with their culture.
Douglas Macale ► Uncle Black
Dougie Macale is from the Turkey Creek community and is one of the foremost dancers in the East Kimberley. Just like his character, Uncle Black, he is a much‐loved elder with a great sense of humour and a winning smile.