Behind the Scenes of Strangerland with Colin McDougall
Director Kim Farrant’s Strangerland, which launched to VOD and DVD this month, is a determined drama about love and loss that is visually breathtaking and consuming with landscapes of reds and browns, and set in a isolated town which is intentionally choked by a myriad of mountains and brush that threateningly surround it.
Filmed in Broken Hill and Canowindra, Screen NSW talks to Location Manager, Colin McDougall on scouting for the film.
What was your brief?
My brief was to find a wide red arid landscapes, big skies combined with a small town of around 2,000 residents, ideally with a strong outback/desert feel which was of course visually interesting.
We also had some quite specific geography in the town in our story, such as the relationship between a number of businesses located on the main street of the town.
We also needed to find a house that was located on the edge of the town looking out to the desert, as this was a key element of our storyline.
The director and producer were quite clear on the look for the film.
They had reference photos of a small outback town and landscapes in a different state that they had visited and loved from a creative point of view - however - it didn't work so well from a practical and production point of view.
They also really wanted to make the film in NSW, so that was our starting point for our search.
How did you imagine the locations from the script?
In the script the landscape was intimidating and this intimidation became a key story point. The family in our story had recently moved to this town and into that hostile environment – it needed to unsettle the mother and make her fear for having her family in the world it created.
I immediately thought of the arid far west NSW and I initially imagined using one of the towns in the far west, or even parts of Broken Hill for our town.
What kind of look were you going for in Strangerland?
We were going for harsh arid environment, hot and red. That landscape and look was a key character in the story.
What was your biggest challenge in location scouting for Strangerland?
In the story a dust storm hits the small outback town and this is when the two children go missing. We created this dust storm sequence in the main street of Canowindra with a combination of visual effects and physical special effects.
Prior to filming the art department dressed all the footpaths and roads sides in town with ‘dust’. Then during filming we had a number of very large trailer mounted fans on location blasting wind down the main street. Into these fans we had crew shovelling a specially formulated mix of ‘dust’, which then blew throughout the town to give the post dust storm eerie look.
We sealed all of the buildings as best as practically possible however it was quite a challenge to manage.
Finding a town that had all the visual elements we needed while allowing for the filming of this sequence and the aftermath of the storm over a number of days was quite a challenge.
What were the logistics that you had to consider?
When working in remote environments, it is important to find a base that can service all the needs of the production such as accommodation, options for meals and of course the most important thing for any film crew, a good cafe. There were a number of towns that had a great look however they didn’t have the capacity to accommodate a production of this size.
Also the very remote looking landscapes in real terms need to be found as close to town as possible so as to minimise the travel time to get to set each day.
Broken Hill is an ideal town for a production base, with a proven track record of many successful productions in the past, while providing close access to remote looking locations. Decent food and coffee is a luxury in remote areas but fortunately there are a number of good options in Broken Hill.
How did you land on Canowindra?
We searched many towns in far western NSW and most weren’t quite working for our story. We were finding some of the elements in many towns however we were having trouble getting the complete package.
Canowindra was the right place for both look and practicality. We basically would have to shut down the main street for a week and we could see that it was difficult yet possible in Canowindra.
Canowindra is also a beautiful town with great historic architecture on its main street. It’s also one of the few towns of this type and size in NSW that doesn't have trees hiding this beautiful architecture.
And how was it working with the locals?
The locals were generally very supportive of the project and many went out of their way to either offer their support or help in whatever way they could, which was greatly appreciated.
The local business chamber was also very supportive and helped facilitate communications with local businesses leading up to and during our filming period. We ended up impacting the main street for more than a week and so open discussions with all the affected businesses and their customers was critical.
We hired many locals during the shoot and used up to 20 during filming to assist shoppers and other people needing access to the affected businesses during filming times. This included helping elderly residents to get to essential services such as doctors and the chemist located on the main street.
During the first days of the dust storm filming we had quite a bit of rain, which resulted in the clean up becoming more difficult than planned. The local council supplied specialist equipment and personnel to help with the huge clean up required, which was also greatly appreciated.
Strangerland was supported by Screen NSW's Production Finance Program and Regional Film Fund.
Strangerland is available on DVD/Blu-ray at Sanity, JB-HI and a range of stores, digitally it is available at iTunes, Google, Dendy, Fetch, PSN, Xbox Live.
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