At the age of 21, directing a sprawling western in the outback of Western Australia is a phenomenal achievement. Even more so when you consider that The Decadent and Depraved is both Jordon Prince-Wright’s debut feature, and was made on a tiny budget of only $100,000. The result has won a slew of awards on the festival circuit overseas, and has finally come home for a cinematic screening, opening this week at The Backlot. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to Prince-Wright about his love of the genre, and what makes WA such a great venue to film a western.
How the hell does your initial intention of filming a couple of pieces for a sizzle reel, turn into a complete feature film?
(Laughs) It’s a bit like that. In high-school I made a lot of short films, and I grew up watching the old school westerns (Yul Brynner, John Wayne, Steve McQueen) while all the other kids were into Star Wars and superheroes. So, my parents thought I was a bit weird, to be honest. It kind of started from there. I thought, we have all these great locations in WA, why has nobody made a western? It just seems silly. So l thought, let’s make a western, and the fact that I was so young, and haven’t had the experience… was what blinded me to how hard it was to actually film. It started as a fun project with a whole stack of people, and bit by bit, everyone started to get on board. It was about halfway through filming, it dawned on me, it was actually happening.
Those old school westerns actually surprise me, I would have thought spaghetti westerns, with that lurid splash of red in the opening credits…
I did get into Clint Eastwood and spaghetti westerns, but The Magnificent Seven was my favourite film, and if you look at the title sequences you might see some similarities there. There are parts of this film where there are little homages, and others that are more noticeable. It’s about getting all the different styles and mashing them all together. I wanted to show what we can all do, because it’s a big team that pulled it off, with a little amount of money before we moved onto our next big project… little realising that this would turn out to be a big project.
The budget on this was minuscule. How did you get it to look like you were working with a bigger budget?
I was lucky to get support from local business and shires. It was just a year of preparation, and working out what to get in. We also started doing school programs and sharing our film-making passion with the kids. Then a number of corporate sponsors came on board and everything just blew out of proportion, in a good way.
And you managed to get some help from local history societies and collectors?
I needed a regiment to turn upon the film. So l looked up living history societies and the 1880 Rifle and Artillery Regiment, thinking they’ll know exactly where everything is meant to sit. It was interesting, to have that collaborative environment with these guys, that know their history so well.
All the firearms in the film were original 1860-1880 firearms, and when I say original, they are not replicas, they are from that era. The cheapest on set was 12 grand. The lead actor was carrying $25,000 on his hip.
Our lead armourer, not only looked after safety, but he created all the blanks himself, because I wanted it authentic. No CG, no green screen! (Even the sound effects are recordings of the authentic firearms recorded afterwards at a range, not stock Hollywood sound. Slow it down and you can actually hear the hammer striking and the recoil of the gun).
What about Western Australia translates so well to the tropes of the Western?
I did a short film Red Dirt a while ago, and I was up there (North) and I just went “where’s John Wayne”? It is red, but it’s like watching The Searchers. The landscape is so vast. When you’re out there, it’s surreal. You’re out there in the middle of nowhere, there’s these guys walking around in 1880s costumes, it’s like you’re back in time. The Australian landscape hasn’t changed much.
Having said that, in our next film we’re flipping that an it upside down to look like somewhere else in the world. Everyone should be making films in WA, you’ve got such a wide diversity. You go up North you have the Kimberley region, Mingenew, Mid-West looks like the Western Hills, then you go down south and it looks like somewhere in England (Prince-Wright is already working on a his next film set in World War 1 and the Battle of Somme). When it came to making a Western, for me it was a no brainer.
Hearing some of the tales from the shoot, it sounds like the actors went above and beyond – shooting in rain, at night, in very cold temperatures. What was the toughest thing for you?
When it came to the rain scene it was fine by me, as I had 10 to 20 layers on. It was an eight hour shoot, and then working on the logistics for the next day… and the next day… it was just constant. At the same time, I loved every moment, even when it was stressful.
We shot at minus five degrees, and a week later up North shooting in a little shed with five people that was 50 degrees. We went through hell, for sure.
How’s it been received?
When we had our premiere 800 seats went in four hours, and we had hundreds waiting – so we did an encore screening. People have gone in expecting a hardcore Western, but this is something a little different. It is a bit more dramatised with a quirkier sense to it.
The Decadent and Depraved is screening at The Backlot Perth, the Katanning Cinema Hall, Broome’s Sun Pictures, Melbourne’s Hoyts Highpoint, and Sydney’s Hoyts Entertainment Quarter . Check here for show times and to purchase tickets.