Last Ride: a ride to remember

BaliboDirector Glendyn Ivin and Screenwriter Mac Gudgeon took a Last Ride and gave the original story a new dimension. Laine Lister writes.

When Melbourne screenwriter Mac Gudgeon turned the final page of Denise Young’s novel Last Ride, he knew immediately that he’d be involved in adapting the story for film.

“I thought the book had two really interesting characters and a very good spine for a film,” he says. “But I felt it ended a bit early for a film,” he admits.
Gudgeon, who penned acclaimed feature films Ground Zero, The Delinquents and the Francis Ford Coppola/Zoetrope production Wind, is mid-way through breakfast during a Tuscan getaway when  we speak.

“There needed to be more resolution between the father and the son,” he explains.

The said father and son are the central characters of the novel, portrayed on screen by veteran actor Hugo Weaving and child actor Tom Russell in the eponymous film adaptation produced by Nicholas Cole and Antonia Barnard.

It was Cole who first connected with the unpublished story in 2002 courtesy of his and Young’s shared agent, and later that year he bought the option to turn the novel into a film. The option ran initially for three years and was then renewed for a further three.

During that six years Cole moved through the various stages to get a film funded. First of all he engaged Gudgeon, and the many drafts of the script were funded by Film Victoria. Another producer, Barnard, came on board having just completed her production The Painted Veil. Then rising director Glendyn Ivin, who had won a prize at Cannes for his short film Cracker Bag in 2003, became attached to the project.

“I was taken with it straight away,” says Ivin on reading Gudgeon’s initial draft.

“I felt as though it was a film that was written for me almost; it was in many ways very close to my own experiences,” he reveals.

He and Gudgeon soon set off on a writing trip to Broken Hill, with Gudgeon’s teenage son in toe, in an effort to experience first hand the book’s setting.

The literary NSW landscape, however, was traded for the South Australia’s Flinders Ranges and the huge salt lake, Lake Gardiner, for the big screen version.

“It was kind of obvious in the end; I couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else really,” says Ivin.

“We made the film come to the locations rather than us having to try to find the locations that were in the script,” he adds.

Specific locations were less important than the remoteness of the arid landscape, which would amplify the relationship between the father and son.

“In the end it’s a psychological journey of those two characters that mattered,” Gudgeon says.

It was that psychological journey that both writer and director wanted to extend beyond what was presented in the novel, which acted as an incredible back story to the characters, Ivin explains.

“It’s very hard with an adaptation process to know what to trim away, but we really just took the predicament, what’s happened and the characters and sent them on their own path and re-imagined it,” he says.

Author Denise Young read every draft of the script and visited the film set yet was very much on the perimeter of the production.

“She gave us full licence to do whatever we wanted to,” says Ivin.

Some of the book’s characters were stripped out of the script, while others were combined into single characters and magnified.

For example, in the film Weaving’s character Kev visits former lover Maryanne who is a combination of a number of women in the original novel.

“In film, once you gain the momentum of a story you don’t want to be slowing it down with something that takes the spotlight off the two main characters and dissipates that momentum, so I felt it was best to  take all the female characters and make them one,”  says Gudgeon.

And as for the Jack Russell, Mr Right, introduced into the film as Maryanne’s pet dog, Gudgeon quips: “I love dogs so I felt there must be a dog in there”.

Despite these changes, the film remains faithful to the spirit of the book. However, the addition of a third act gave Gudgeon and Ivin the creative licence they craved.

“The second half of the film has a very different feel because we were able to shake loose of anything we had to tell to keep faithful to the book,” Ivin says.

What’s it like working with an actor of Weaving’s calibre?

“Hugo is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, he’s warm, and he’s incredibly patient, particularly for me as a first time film maker.

“You go into these situations knowing he’s a guy who has been directed by everyone in the last 30 years and has had some incredible directors and has made amazing films so you are a little bit uneasy when you go into that process but he made me feel very comfortable,” Ivin says.

Directing Weaving alongside a young child in the same scene was an obstacle, he admits.

“With Hugo I could talk about process and subtext  and character for hours, but with Tom as soon as  you’d mention that sort of thing his eyes would glaze over and you could see he would be thinking about lunch,” he laughs.

“But he’s a pretty intuitive kid and his parents are quite amazing as well and they felt comfortable about getting him involved with this kind of film and the material he was going to be exposed to,” he says.

Asked whether he has achieved the desired tone in Last Ride, his feature film directorial debut, Ivin responds in his typically self-effacing way.

“Yep, I think we did, I’m really pleased with it.”


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