A new column By Matt Quartermaine
I grew up in the cinemas of the 1970s. While others played sport or practised bombies in black footy shorts at the pool, I learned about life and the bigger world in movies like Dog Day Afternoon, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, The French Connection and Enter the Dragon. I also experienced the Australian story through movies like Sunday Too Far Away, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The Last of the Knucklemen and The Money Movers. The movies of the 1970s had heroes who could die at the end and the sequel didn’t raise its ugly head until The Godfather Part II.
But it wasn’t only the cinema that captured my imagination; the Saturday afternoon movie completed my history lessons, whether it was John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart and a vicious Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, roustabout Elvis in his black leathers and studded belt (I immediately went out and bought one), or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis trading slapstick and tunes in one of the armed forces. Film opened my eyes and my heart to a bigger world and complex adult issues with verve, intelligence, wit and even stupidity.
In the late 1980s I was lucky enough to begin acting in movies and realised all those intimate scenes between our favourite movie characters actually had 20 people standing around watching, doing their jobs and waiting for lunch to be called. One of my first movies was in Perth in 1987, in an extremely low budget double telemovie shoot of The Boardroom and Hot Ice, directed by Number 96 and Sons & Daughters veteran Brian Phillis. Making movies is an expensive, time-consuming technique that is fraught with peril; it’s a process that requires a group of professionals all simultaneously doing their jobs correctly to have any chance of working. And with next to no budget for this shoot, everything had to go right first time.
I had a small role as a bikie in The Boardroom, having clinched the part with my ability to skull beer and burp on cue, but I had a much larger role in Hot Ice as Jumbo the hitman. The greatest excitement for me was working with Peter Sumner. It was a dream come true for a young Perth actor to be working with Gunther from Spyforce, relentlessly referred to by Jack Thompson’s character as Fritz. Mr Sumner was a talented and generous bloke who gave me my best advice on this movie. He leaned close, his canvas chair nearly touching mine and said, “Listen, this bloke will keep everything. If you’re not happy with a scene, just swear”.
I must have looked confused because he emphasised his point.
“If you blow a line, just say the ‘C’ word, then they won’t be able to use it.”
It was a detective story; Sumner’s private eye hunts down a murderer who turns out to be me, the ambidextrous hitman. My big scene was a shootout with two pistols and a death monologue; what actor could ask for more?
The special effects guy put the exploding blood pack under my clean white shirt and my pulse raced as I was about to live out a boyhood dream and get paid for it. I wanted to get the complicated action scene correct as Brian was shooting in one go with two cameras and I knew I wasn’t likely to get a second go. The safety officer ran me through the handling of the pistols hurriedly as I stood waiting at the door for the big scene. I mapped out my moves in my head as I waited: I had to kick in the door and come in with both guns blazing, then be riddled with bullets and drop to the floor, where I would give my big death confession.
“The safety is on,” the safety bloke instructed me and turned to go.
“Do I have to turn the safety off?” I asked above the assistant director’s cry of “Standby”.
“Leave it on, it’s safer.”
I kicked in the front door, turned to fire my pistols at my first victim and nothing happened. Before my face could register the realisation that I should have switched the safety thingy to ‘off’ for the guns to make bang noises, the special effects guy fired the blood pack on my chest. Unfortunately, the blood pack was placed directly under my shirt button and when he set it off, it shattered the button and a piece shot straight across my forehead. I stood for a second, stunned, as a trickle of blood ran down my face, then remembered to collapse to the floor. Brian yelled, “Cut!” and when I told him my guns never fired – as the first aid officer dabbed the real blood from my forehead – he said he’d cut around it.
I positioned my body approximately where I fell in the previous scene and summoned all my concentration to nail my death confession. As I looked up at Peter Sumner, I was strangely overcome with emotion and felt the dialogue flow like real words and even coughed blood on cue, then died with my eyes open, of course. I was a spent force as Mr Sumner leaned close and told me my acting was terrific. I had nailed it!
Brian’s voice raised above the congratulations, “Sound missed that one, you were too soft. Same again, only louder. Take two”.
About the Author:
Matt Quartermaine has been a professional actor, writer and comedian for more than 30 years. He is known for the infamous Toyota Hilux commercials (Na Na-Na Na Na!), Full Frontal and as one of The Empty Pockets from ABC TV’s The Big Gig. He is currently writing the next ‘big thing’ and sucking up to potential producers.