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THERE'S A FAX FROM BRUCE: BRUCE BERESFORD & SUE MILLIKEN

. . . AND ONE FROM SUE, TOO
Between 1989 and 1997, Bruce Beresford and Sue Milliken made nine films between them, two of which they made together. And when they weren’t on set, they used the fax machine to stay in touch. As well as taking care of business, the faxes were a commentary – sometimes droll and often wry – on life around them, written to amuse and liberally laced with industry gossip. Andrew L. Urban reports on the faxes …..


Bruce and Sue

“Receiving a fax from Bruce Beresford first thing in the morning generally guarantees a good start to the day,” writes veteran producer Anthony Buckley in the foreword, a fan of Beresford’s laconic or sardonic wit. And there are many other joys …. As well as some surprises.

For anyone (like me) who was in or around the Australian film industry from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, this book is a page turner filled with the minutiae of daily toil in the film trade. The cries of ‘bloody bureaucrats’ and verbal swipes at film distributors will all be familiar. In one fax talking about the advertising for Black Robe, Bruce Beresford writes: “The Australian poster is quite wonderful. I don’t accept this criticism from (Robert) Lantos (the Canadian producer of the film) or Goldwyn (sales distributor) that featuring the priest is bad for business. There is no point disguising what the film is all about! Why do distributors all too often want to sell some film other than the one they’ve made? Sam Goldwyn told me he wants to sell it as action/adventure but his ads don’t do this at all. A shot of Indians in a canoe, all with stuck on heads, makes it look like a mutants’ picnic.”

'barbaric, compelling, mesmeric'

Beresford also makes the point that “there is no point wherever in advertising this film as ‘by the director of Driving Miss Daisy. I don’t think this will get anyone into any cinema, no-one who saw Daisy will want to see Black Robe. The best quote is the one from the Toronto paper – ‘barbaric, compelling, mesmeric’.”

Not surprisingly given Bruce Beresford’s well known penchant for self deprecation, the book includes a fax with a real doosey, sent by Bruce to Sue from London on June 27, 1993, about his just finished film, A Good Man in Africa – the making of which we follow sporadically through earlier faxes. “A Good Man in Africa hasn’t turned out at all well. I’m not sure why, but the story never seems to get going and the characters are not at all interesting. The only excuse I can make is that all the production problems combined so that I aimed only at getting through the film and forgot to direct it properly.”

[A Good Man in Africa, set in a fictional African nation on the eve of an election, was adapted from his own novel by William Boyd and stars Sean Connery, Colin Friels, Joanne Whalley, Diana Rigg and Louis Gossett Jr.]

And for those not involved in filmmaking, it’s like jumping through a magical mirror into the movie making underworld, where strange creatures (actors, distributors, agents) live and work just out of sight of the rest of the world – but in close proximity to Bruce and Sue. Plenty of famous names make appearances throughout, from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Steven Spielberg.

Amongst other tid-bits we learn that in August 1993, Sue had to deal with a court case over her ‘speeding offences’ [she lost her licence] and the first visit from the tax office (at her company, Samson Productions) as part of its checking up on the film industry: “We bored ourselves to death being nice to them. No-one could be squeakier clean than Samson but it’s like talking to a policeman – you feel guilty at the same time as wanting to slip hemlock into their Nescafe.”

'professional intimacy'

The professional intimacy of the exchanges makes the faxed letters more personal than straight prose could have done, and the brevity of the faxes gives the book pace. And there are pages and pages of pictures, too ….

I enjoyed a fascinating ‘friendly fire’ exchange of words between Bruce and Phillip Adams (producer of Beresford’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and once Chair of the Australian Film Commission) which starts off about their mutual friend Barry Humphries; it seamlessly morphs into who said what about whom in a political context that will resonate with the political class – especially as almost all those named are still very much alive and doing their ‘knitting’. What a hoot.

The cumulative effect of this frank and open exchange (over several years) is to give the reader an insight into each of these two professional colleagues and friends who obviously like and respect one another.

The book ends with a useful and extensive 6-page index, prepared by Alan Walker, which makes it a wonderful reference book as well as a great read.

Published June 9, 2016

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Available from June 1, 2016, Currency Press, RRP$29.99

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BRUCE BERESFORD is one of Australia’s greatest film directors, who has made more than 30 feature films over a 50-year career. Notable films he has directed include Breaker Morant (1980), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Black Robe (1992), Paradise Road (1997) and Mao’s Last Dancer (2007). His book Josh Hartnett Definitely Wants To Do this – True stories from a life in the screen trade was published in 2007.

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SUE MILLIKEN AO is an Australian film producer whose credits include Black Robe (1991) Sirens (1993), Dating the Enemy (1995), Paradise Road (1997), My Brother Jack (2002) and The Redfern Story ( 2014). She is a former Chair of the Australian Film Commission and the recipient of the Australian Film Institute’s Raymond Longford Award. Her book about dogs, Dogs In The City was published in 2012 and her memoir, Selective Memory, in 2013.

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