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Tabula Rasa

The Roly Poly Man

The Roly Poly Man is a movie we saw premiered in Sydney, and had a lot of fun with. Since it has faded into obscurity somewhat (we can't find any reference to a video release), we present here most of the Press Kit -- albeit without the detailed cast and crew lists. We hope that, if nothing else, it inspires more giant slug movies to me made in Australia. Note the presence of Rowan Woods, who went on to direct the excellent The Boys, and also Jane Harders, who played Shirley Thompson herself in Jim Sharman's debut flick, Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens. Two of the producers have done all sorts of interesting things between them, including Metal Skin, Angel Baby and Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Press Kit

Starring

Paul Chubb, in The Roly Poly ManPaul Chubb
Les Foxcroft
Susan Lyons

Directed by

Bill Young

Produced by

Peter Green

Written by

Kym Goldsworthy

Rating: M
Running time: 91 minutes

Synopsis

Dirk Trent (Paul Chubb) is a chain smoking, hard drinking, low rent private investigator from the wrong side of the tracks who is thrown headlong into a murder investigation after he accidentally videotapes what appears to be a violent murder.

He goes to the police but they are unable to find a body and dismiss his tape as a hoax so he takes on the case himself. Along with pathologist Dr Sandra Burnett (Susan Lyons), and his punch drunk high tech whiz assistant, Mickey (Les Foxcroft), Dirk begins to put out feelers, tickling the seamy underbelly of the city.

But this is no ordinary murder case. The deeper he digs, the deeper the mystery, and the body count continues to grow. Dirk breaks golden rule number one -- never get in too deep. Before he knows it, he's up to his eyeballs and the tide is coming in.

When his ex wife Laurel is found murdered in his office, Dirk realises he's been set up. With the police hot on his heels, time is running out as he desperately tries to solve the case and clear his name.

Someone or something is making people's heads explode all over town and he is determined to find out why. That is his first mistake. His second is drinking mezcal. Mezcal con guzano. Tequila with the worm.

The Mexican Indians say to eat the worm is to discover the key to unlock your mind. For Dirk, the worm unlocks something dark and sinister. Nothing less than this roly poly man's own worst nightmare -- a creature with a heart and soul as black as Amazonian mud.

Background Production Notes

The Roly Poly Man is a macabre black comedy. A salute to the dark, brooding, film noir detective and the flash, trash tack of director Roger Corman, with just a dash of Darlo Street credibility.

Set in 1993 against the background of Sydney's inner city, The Roly Poly Man is Dirk Trent, a run-down private detective who during a routine investigation stumbles upon a bizarre death scene, the image of which he cannot shake.

"Trent's no great stakes in the sleuth department or for that matter in any department. He's no Tom Cruise" says writer Kym Goldsworthy. A balding, slightly overweight private detective in his early forties, with a failed marriage and an indeterminate number of kids, he could be regarded by many as one of life's losers, a down and outer with nowhere to go but further down.

"But Dirk doesn't see it that way" says Kym. "With just a touch of irony he likes to call himself the king of his own little castle, his domain: the seedy back streets of Darlinghurst and Pyrmont.

With his bottle of Mezcal by his side he ekes out a passable, if somewhat unsavoury living, collecting evidence to expose pathetic small-time insurance scams and philandering husbands".

"The script was written with Paul Chubb in mind" says director Bill Young, who had worked with Paul at the Kirribilli Pub Theatre. "With his exquisite sense of comedy and understanding of what works and what doesn't, he was contributing right from the beginning".

"There is black comedy and there is straight comedy" says Chubb. "What I like about The Roly Poly Man is that it sits on the edge of each.

I often find myself playing either crooked cops or characters whom an audience will find sympathetic as I hope they will Dirk Trent. He has no big expectations of life and he just manages to scrape through all the time. He is an ordinary man who encounters extraordinary circumstances and copes with them as best he can".

"Dirk has a style all his own", says Kym "though few would want to imitate it. His greatest relaxation in life is to spend a few hours practicing his beloved "butt" sculpture: creating works of art from discarded cigarette butts. Running a close second is Tony's Bar, a run-down establishment where Dirk has been known to sink a Mescal or ten".

Chewing the fat with Dirk at Tony's Bar is Mickey, Dirk's best friend and sometime assistant. A small man with a boxer's nose and a jockey's build, Mickey was crowned the Northern Rivers Amateur Flyweight Boxing Champion of 1951. He lost his title eventually to a Maori sheep shearer, twice his size.

"After he got out of hospital he was never the same" says Kym. "Talked slower, moved slower, though his simple smile belies an aptitude for electronics bordering on genius. Surveillance units, bugging devices, remote control gizmos, you name it Mickey can build it, or if he can't he knows where it can be found, usually hot off the back of a truck".

"Like Dirk he's an average bloke struggling to make a living" says Mickey's alter ego Les Foxcroft. "I was attracted to the role because it was a big one" he said with a grin, "but also because the character was so well defined".

Mickey's one pure joy in life is television, or more particularly "The Big Woozy Show", a kid's program starring the country's number one walking talking animal costume, Woozy Bear.

If Mickey is similar in character to Dirk then Sandra Burnett is his antithesis. A no nonsense, cool, efficient woman in her mid thirties, in the five years she has been working at the City Morgue, she has built up a reputation as someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Maybe this is why she steadfastly rebuffs Dirk's advances... until the night he makes her an offer even she can't refuse: agree to one drink and he'll never ask her out again.

"I think the film is very clever, very Australian in its humour" says actress Susan Lyons. "It sends up schlock in a way that appeals to me. I can't bear schlock that takes itself seriously and pretends it's high art.

I also enjoyed the grotesqueness. And the fact that this really ordinary guy had the most bizarre things happen to him. He was a little out of his depth with Sandra" she adds with a laugh. "She's a strong, ambitious woman with a certain amount of discernment. She knows what she wants and is used to getting it. She sees him as a total dag and treats him with polite bemusement until she actually becomes quite fond of him.

The thought of playing a baddie and getting to kill everybody with a pump action shotgun and then getting eaten alive by a giant Amazonian mud slug was just too much to resist. I was attracted to the role because I knew it would be a challenge. Comedy is more exacting than other forms of acting.

When you first meet Sandra you think she has some of the best attributes of the nineties woman: strong, in control of her life. My theory is when she has the slug inserted something goes a bit wrong and that's what tips her over the edge".

The film is a first for director Bill Young, writer Kym Goldsworthy and producer Peter Green. Friends and virtually next door neighbours, the idea to combine their talents to make a feature film originated in 1991 during a Sunday bar-be-que.

"We were frustrated at the lack of opportunities available in the film industry for actors and experienced film crew and we started discussing comedy and schlock" said Bill, "and I thought: why not make our own film".

Bill then gathered friends together for what was to become the first of his famous sausage sizzles and working with stand-up comedians, science fiction enthusiasts, film critics, actors, writers and technical experts, The Roly Poly Man began to take shape.

Writer Kym Goldsworthy came back with the first draft of the script within a matter of weeks. A read-through convinced Young and Green -- and the rest of the team -- that the film could be made.

It took a bit longer to convince financing bodies however, and it was two years before the money was in place. Executive producer Jonathan Shteinman came on board and introduced the trio to the New South Wales Film and Television Office. With assistance from the NSW Film and TV Office the script was improved and Jonathon helped finalise the finance package with the Film Finance Corporation.

In the end 75% of the production budget came from The Film Finance Corporation, 10% from the New South Wales Film & Television Office and the remainder from private investment including the principal crew.

After four weeks pre-production The Roly Poly Man went into production on July 15, was shot on location in and around Sydney -- including the old Callan Park mental hospital -- and wrapped five weeks later.

"We realised right from the beginning" said producer Peter Green "that to make this film work on a limited budget, we had to employ people who would be supportive of the project, not just in it for the money.

We knew we would be working against the clock so it was important in order to keep morale high to have a group of people who would get on well together. We just couldn't afford any politicking or discord. For that reason, the crew as well as the actors were hand picked".

Not only did the film come in on time and under budget, everyone involved agrees that it was the happiest set they have ever worked on.

Like most films The Roly Poly Man had its share of disasters but it proved to be a memorable experience for Bill Young's brother, special effects expert David Young.

David was returning a mock "corpse" in his car one day when a keen eyed neighbour spotted the body in the back of his car and reported it to the police. David explained what was happening and thought that was the end of the matter. But just before the film was completed, on the last day of shoot, two policemen arrived on the set and asked to interview him. "A body", they said, "had vanished from Callan Park at the same time as the filming was going on there". They wanted to ask David Young a few questions about this alleged "fake" body.

By this stage the cast and crew realised it was no joke and the film could be placed in jeopardy if David was arrested -even if just for a few days.

But once around the corner of the set the policemen removed David's handcuffs and revealed all. It was a put-up job inspired by his brother and producer Peter Green.

"They really had me going at the time", David said later. "I knew they were real cops and I had never seen Peter act so convincingly. I really thought I was in trouble".

Another minor hitch in the film involved David's brother Bill Young who appears in a very brief sequence driving his own unmistakable beach buggy late one night past the crowded cinema strip in George Street, Sydney.

With director of photography Brian Breheny set up with his camera ready to capture the action as Bill flashed past, his car chose that moment to break down, in front of hundreds of film goers. It didn't help that the director was dressed in bright shorts and a flying helmet at the time.

When it came to bit parts in the film nepotism ran high, though it was prompted by a limited budget as much as anything else:

Executive Producer Jonathan Shteinman played himself (if you could believe his fellow producers) a yuppie deal maker with a mobile phone. "We didn't have to give him any dialogue" said Peter Green, "he just used the same sort of shpiel he uses every day".

Line Producer, John Winter played Woozie Bear. Peter himself played Detective Sergeant McKenzie, the know-it-all cop who was romancing Trent's ex wife.

If his friends look closely they'll recognise Mr Clockie -- a clock on the Woozie Bear set -- as scriptwriter Kym Goldsworthy. And director Bill Young, "Well, Bill played God of course. We thought it was entirely appropriate" quipped Peter Green.

Peter's 16 year old daughter Kylie had a bit part as a convent schoolgirl. Kym's one year old son Sam also makes a brief appearance. Taking the old maxim "If the suit fits wear it", literally, David Young hopped inside the Amazonian mud slug suit to play his own diabolical creation.

As well as Paul Chubb, Les Foxcroft and Susan Lyons, The Roly Poly Man also stars Zoe Bertram, Frank Whit ten, Rowan Woods, John Batchelor, Jane Harders and Peter Braunstein. With special appearances by Richard Morecroft and the rock group the Exploding White Mice.

Directed by Bill Young, The Roly Poly Man was written by Kym Goldsworthy and produced by Peter Green. Executive producer is Jonathan Shteinman and line producer is John Winter. Director of photography is Brian Breheny. Production designer is Robert Moxham and costume designer is Margot Wilson. The sound is by Guntis Sics, music by David Skinner and the film I s editor is Neil Thumpston.

The Roly Poly Man is being distributed in Australia by REP and overseas by Total Film and Television.

 

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