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ELLIOTT, STEPH :WELCOME TO WOOP WOOP

A (EXPLETIVE DELETED) ODE TO OLD AUSTRALIA
Steph Elliott’s latest film, Welcome to Woop Woop, is an ode to an Australia he believes is vanishing, one which was rustic, raw and rough-tongued – but very real. After a lengthy post production period and re-editing, the film is ready for release (Aug. 13, 1998); on the eve of his promotional tour in Australia, Elliott talked to ANDREW L. URBAN.

It’s Saturday morning in the British spring of 1998 and Steph Elliott is on the phone from a converted a garage in stately Surrey. He is taking a break from editing his next film, Eye of the Beholder, to talk about his latest, Welcome to Woop Woop, which is finally to be released – more than a year after its work in progress screening at the 1997 Cannes film festival.

The garage on the 500 acre property now serves as an editing suite, and the 500 acre property belongs to Tony Smith who was Phil Collins’ manager – at the time Collins starred in Elliott’s debute feature film, Frauds. Now Smith and Elliott are business partners and the crush of a Soho editing house was forsaken for the country airs of a beautiful Surrey mansion and its grounds.

It’s taken longer than planned to release the film, partly because after the Cannes screening, Elliott went back to the editing room to finish cutting it, and then it was decided to have some new music composed. By the time all that had been done, one of the film’s most profound and important champions, Alan Finney, had accepted the top job at the new Buena Vista distribution operation being set up in Australia, and left Roadshow, where he was to have a hand in its launch, in May. "It’s horrible to have lost Finney," laments Elliott, "he had a complete handle on the film."

"Woop Woop is the arse end of the world, and this young American is just passing through it."

Elliott is well aware that Welcome to Woop Woop is a tough film to market, but that’s why he feels Finney’s loss to the campaign is a setback.

"This is an in-you-face, very offensive movie. The marketing pitch I am pushing is along the lines: Woop Woop is the arse end of the world, and this young American is just passing through it."

It’s a good line, and it kinda captures the tone of the film – if not totally, at least on the surface; see synopsis at left.

Sure enough, Woop Woop is Elliott’s ode to certain Australian sensibilities that have now disappeared, peppered with graphic language, albeit in a social context that softens their aggressive aspects. (So that ‘fuck me dead’ becomes the argo that Woop Woopians use as a matter of course when surprised.) "It is a tour of language for Americans," he says, "and even Aussies will find it difficult."

Some will no doubt find it not just difficult but downright offensive, embarrassing. Elliott understands that.

Some will no doubt find it not just difficult but downright offensive, embarrassing. Elliott understands that, although he is keen to persuade people not to close their eyes to what he has put on screen. "If you blind yourself to that great history of Australia, you’ll be as demoralised as I was when making Eye of the Beholder around the US; that old America is no longer there."

And in this shorter cut of the film to be released, the original dark heart that beat in Doug Kennedy’s novel (The Dead Heart) is again discernible. That darkness gives a certain ballast to Elliott’s uprorious sense of humour, making it stridently ironic and surprisingly haunting. This is especially the case with the crusty, rustic, rumbuctious character of Daddy-O (Rod Taylor in full Aussie blast), whose big speech on the backstory of Woop Woop will strike a chord with ghosts who live in what used to be many mining towns.

Of the sizeable cuts that have been made to the film, Elliott claims the big cuts are all his – not forced on him by nervous suits at Goldwyn (who financed the film and stand to take the commercial bonus or onus, depending on how it fares at the box office).

"About 10 minutes before lock off," he recalls, "the shit hit the fan. There was a big sequence near the end, about three and a half minutes, which I felt should go. Then there was the middle of the film; it was always a bit boring…when we get out to Woop Woop it just falls away." Chop.

Then there was the Crystal-Teddy relationship, which was developed with about seven minutes of footage "not needed…we just do it with a couple of close ups, holding on eye contact that signals to the audience what’s going on." Chop.

"Most Americans won’t know what to do with it…." - Elliott

Another major change to the original work in progress print is in the music. "The big decision was to throw out the Rogers and Hammerstein from the opening, for more contemporary material. Now you don’t hear Rogers and Hammerstein until we get to Woop Woop." Then there was the change in composer, from Stuart Copeland to Guy Gross. "Stuart wrote a very clever score, but the Americans felt it didn’t help the film. Guy, with whom I worked very well together on Priscilla, has written some new materail that has really given the film heart, and has done arrangements that are really amazing – like the disco version of Clim Every Mountain. I saw a disco-full of people in New York, at the Twighlight, when they played the track and the place just went throiugh the roof. I think that’s at least one hit from the soundtrack…"

Elliott is anxiously waiting on audience reaction in Australia. He had to plead – "beg on my knees" – that it be released first in Australia. "The Americans wanted to go first, but I begged them to wait, to give us a chance at home first. So they pulled it…it was supposed to open in June."

Even so, he realises that "most Americans won’t know what to do with it…."

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Steph Elliott: "...beg on my knees, that it be released first in Australia.."

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WELCOME TO WOOP WOOP
The story of Teddy (Jonathan Shaech), a street wise

hawker of exotic Australian birds from New York, who flees the Big Apple to escape the hoods who have been shot up by his girlfriend (Rachel Griffiths). He flees to

Australia’s Northern Territory, and ends up shackled in the outback to a vivacious sex kitten, Angie (Susie Porter),

and her weird folk in Woop Woop. Shanghaied with bravado into her bed and her family, Teddy seeks escape again, this time from the community which Daddy-O (Rod Taylor) runs with an iron

fist, usually around a cold tinny of Fourex (that’s beer to youse lot outside Woop Woop). Spam and pineapple chunks are mandatory. Escape is illegal.

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