DEAD LETTER OFFICE: LOST LETTERS, LOVE FOUND
A pigeon and two lonely people end up at the Dead Letter Office, a new Australian romantic comedy shot in Melbourne during the winter of 1997. Andrew L. Urban visited the set but failed to get an interview with the bird.
A pigeon called Punt Road sits in a pigeon hole of the
specially created dead letter office, unaware that it’s
pouring with rain out in the real world of suburban Melbourne.
Scuffed green post office furniture sits in fake sunlight,
streaming in through papered windows in a corner of a cavernous
warehouse that once housed the Government Printer. A large wall
clock attracts Punt Road for a brief spell out of his hole, while
the crew sets up for take four of scene 42.
Costume designer Kerri Mazzoccco is on the set, dismissive of
current fashion "which is now exactly what’s in the op
shops…60s and 70s stuff." And that’s where
she’s bought most of the costumes. "Alice is not image
conscious…she just throws things together. It’s hard to
do contemporary films, a lot of people think the actors wear
their own clothes. But to actually find things that are right is
Miranda Otto and George delHoyo take their positions, as does
Syd Brisbane across the 20 x 20 metre work area where the scene
I’m behind director John Ruane, watching what the camera
sees on a video split. The rest of the crew are scattered around.
When Ruane calls ‘Cut’, cinematographer Ellery Ryan
sighs, "At last!" The take went without a technical
hitch, the performances were spot on, everyone’s happy to go
on to the next set up.
Syd Brisbane comes over to chat. We last met when he was
making Epsilon for writer/director Rolf de Heer in Adelaide.
"I had the biggest
hangover when I auditioned for this," actor, Syd Brisbane
"I had the biggest hangover when I auditioned for
this," he admits with a sheepish grin. "No particular
reason or celebration…just an accident." Brisbane plays
Peter, a junior at the dead letter office and the source of some
of the laughs.
Miranda Otto plays Alice, the young woman who has been writing
to her long-absent father for years, but never got a reply. She
gets a job in the dead letter office and starts to do a bit of
detective work, trying to track him down. Frank, the DLO manager,
a quiet, private man from Chile, is slowly drawn to Alice and she
to him, in a gentle romance that has plenty of laughs and a few
"There was a lot of
anger and pain…I put these things together." screenwriter, Deb Cox
Written by Deb Cox, who wrote the mini-series, Simone de
Beauvoir’s Babies, Dead Letter Office "really began
when dad sent me a letter from holidays that never turned
up," she says. "Dad followed it up and discovered with
some surprise that there are actually people reading lost
letters. I met a man from the dead letter office in Melbourne and
found that his job had become a bit emotional. He was very
sensitive and I began to think what emotional burden it must
be…he was Maltese, divorced, dislocated…and the letters
were often to people who had died, left or the writer never knew,
or a love lost. There was a lot of anger and pain…I put
these things together."
The film is another opportunity for Otto to show her range:
"It’s amazing, she’s created yet another character
that’s different to all the others she’s played,"
remarks Rhys Kelly, sales manager at Southern Star, who will sell
the film rights internationally.
Kelly is also delighted with American resident, Uruguayan born
George delHoyo, who "does the brooding Chilean with a past
brilliantly. And then when he starts to fall for
The tall, dark and handsome actor is notably professional and
meticulous. He talks about how he structured his accent in
detail, how he created the character of Frank with minute
additions and alterations, and he also talks about this, his
first feature film and the luxury of having time to do the work
fascinating character which drives the story," actor, George delHoyo
"It’s a fascinating character which drives the
story," he says. "But the most astonishing thing to me
is that this script is being DONE, because I’m so used to
reading things that are so commercially driven, with car chases
and gun play. So I’m stunned that something so much a study
of character is actually being filmed."
George delHoyo’s surprise comes from the fact that his
professional life has been steeped in television; first signed by
Universal in 1978 for tv work, he has done telemovies and drama
series such as Frazier, St Elsewhere, 9 to 5, LA Law, Cheers and
DelHoyo is also thrilled with work conditions on set:
"This crew is better than any I’ve ever worked with.
They’re so collaborative, gracious, dedicated and pay
attention to detail. As for Ellery Ryan, he is an artist, his
lighting is like painting pictures."
While delHoyo thought about his character in advance and
immersed himself in the Latino culture, Miranda Otto is doing it
"scene by scene", she says, and finding it a challenge.
"Alice is a difficult character…I’ve played some
extreme characters, all with something to hang it on, something
to build on. This is very hard, she changes so much and it’s
hard to find the core of what she is. My approach has been to
personalise it and just do it for myself."
It was Miranda’s idea
to ask her father, renowned actor Barry Otto, to play the
cameo role of her on screen father.
It was Miranda’s idea to ask her father, renowned actor
Barry Otto, to play the cameo role of her on screen father.
"No-one had dared to think of it before, I guess. But
I’m glad - it was much easier. It’s a tense scene and
it was great having dad …"
For director John Ruane, this is the first feature film he is
directing from someone else’s script. "It’s good
for me," he says. "This is trying to do what the writer
has put on the page and it’s a challenge to try and get
what’s written, onto the screen. Sometimes I’d do
things differently, but I’m following the blueprint. For
example, I don’t change lines of dialogue: with my own
script, I would. Here we just do the script. It’s a good
experience - not without it’s conflict, which you need now
Asked about directing the pigeon, Ruane rates it above the
peacock and rooster, birds he has worked with before; "for a
bird with such a small brain, it’s surprisingly good."
Dead Letter Office will be released in
It is tempting to suggest that the bird’s been pigeon
holed for the role….but I refrain. And so does the pigeon
refrain - from talking to me. It moves to the clock, as if to say
my time’s up.