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GIANNOPOULOS, NICK – THE WANNABES

GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT
Co-writer, producer and star Nick Giannopoulos has seen his own film, The Wannabes 20 times – not to see how great it is, but to see what audiences want, and he cut the finished film accordingly, he tells Andrew L. Urban.


A strong sense of responsibility to his audiences was developed in his early years in theatre, “when people paid $40 a ticket to see [my stage show] Acropolis Now,” says Nick Giannopoulos; “I’d look at these working class people and feel really responsible that they’ve paid $40 each to see the show. They worked hard for that money…” 

Although cinema tickets cost less, Giannopoulos’ sense of responsibility hasn’t diminished. As producer, director, star and co-writer (with Chris Anastassiades) of The Wannabes, he works just as hard on tailoring the film to audience tastes after it’s shot as he does on shooting it. He calls in favours from a friend in Melbourne radio who invites listeners to a surprise test screening. “Then I show up and people freak out, but I say to them I need a bit of their help. After the screening, I ask them to fill out questionnaires and tell me absolutely honestly what they think. And you know what, not one person leaves without filling the form in.”

"resourcefulness"

As Hollywood based filmmakers point out to him (he recently visited Los Angeles on business) that sort of test marketing costs a lot of money. “But it needn’t,” he says emphatically, revealing another aspect of his producer make up: resourcefulness.

But these test screening forms – he ran five of them and cut the film from 125 to 90 minutes based on the results – are just the beginning. After introducing the film, he pretends to leave, “but I sneak back in and watch the film with the audience. I listen to people. I went to see the film 20 times now, and I sit there and watch where they laugh – or where they don’t.”

One of the things he discovered to his surprise, for example, that his reference to terry twoeling always brought a laugh. “In every screening, when we are at the sawing machine and I say it’s hard to work with because it’s terry towelling, the audience cack themselves. Now, this wasn’t meant to be funny…so I set about finding out why it made people laugh.” And he discovered that it reminded people of their own (dubious) experiences with terry towelling and that recognition triggered the laughter.

“I learnt something…” he says. And he learnt even more when he taped the audience reaction at 24 frames per second, and then played the tape back under the movie in the editing suite, like a laugh track. “That was very useful to see what makes AUDIENCES laugh… not me; them.”

As he says, he feels a responsibility to entertain and give value for money. It’s an approach which lets Giannopoulos happily combine creative and commercial activities seamlessly and without even thinking of a division between them. “Commercial? What’s that?” he says. 

"It’s story telling"

After the genuine box office success of The Wog Boy (directed by Alexi Vallis, but co-written, starring and produced by Giannopoulos), you think he’d know. But what he really means is that for him, the job of filmmaking is not a matter of creative elements and commercial elements. “It’s story telling… and we need to strengthen our producers and make sure they have the funds to develop scripts because we do have the writers.” 

Giannopoulos, Chris Anastassiades and Ray Boseley worked on the script for The Wannabes, in which Giannopoulos also stars as Danny, who never had much talent; but that didn’t stop him being a suburban song and dance teacher at his showbiz mother’s talent school. Along comes crim Marcus (Russell Dykstra) who hires Danny to teach him and his gang to be performers - as a children’s group. They want to crash a party that local billionaire Mrs Rory Van Dyke (Lena Cruz) is throwing for her grandson, and steal her fabulous diamond necklace. Danny’s mind is made up for him when he meets Marcus’ gorgeous sister Kirsty (Isla Fisher) and somehow, an inept and politically incorrect children’s group are thrust into the limelight. But things go badly wrong with the heist and The Wannabes are dragged into a kidnapping and other vile acts.

Giannopoulos is convinced that Australian films can compete with Hollywood films, given the strength of our stories. He also wants to see producers focus more on targeting their market audience. “The Wannabes is aimed at the 13 – 24 age group; that’s a very expensive group to reach,” he adds, complaining that Sony had taken exclusive rights to advertising on Australian Idol, meaning he couldn’t get access to that market on that show. But he also understands that it’s a commercial deal which is good for the network. “The point is, we have to be better at marketing… we have to make sure our target market knows about the film. Otherwise, if they don’t know it’s there, how can they go and see it?”

"Give ‘em what they want"

But there’s one thing Giannopoulos doesn’t understand at all. “How come some people love The Wannabes, yet they don’t expect it to be well reviewed by the critics? This is crazy,” he says. “Do the critics review it for themselves or for the audience.” Giannopoulos is still smarting from a rash of bad reviews for The Wog Boy; but the pain is smothered by the popularity of the film. The Wannabes may well prove to have a similar fate: poor reviews and proud box office. And Nick Giannopoulos knows which one matters more in the end. He’s a film producer. ‘Give ‘em what they want.’

Published September 25, 2003

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