Beaconsfield Telemovie: Coming up for air

For 15 days in 2006, the world watched the Beaconsfield mine disaster unfold in the media. This time, the team behind Beaconsfield: The Telemovie go 925 metres below the surface to truly reveal the claustrophobic terror. Colin Delaney goes on location, to the coalface.

Entering the site, it’s pitch black and damp. Small white spotlights illuminate the darkness but only so far. Moving closer to the source it’s clear – the lights are headlamps on the workers, also dressed in day-glo vests. It’s ‘safety first’ down here and just as a mine should feel, but Encore is on a film set.

In a large abandoned warehouse in Yarraville, Melbourne all the light has been shut out. Once the eyes adjust it’s evident it’s no longer a factory. In the centre of the shed is a long and high timber framework with scaffold and black fabric draped around it to cut the chances of light leakage to inside the framework.

This is the Beaconsfield mineshaft – ‘the 925’ (925 metres below ground) where Todd Russell, Brant Webb and Larry Knight became trapped on ANZAC Day 2006.

Lachy Hulme (Offspring) plays Todd Russell. “My first question to Glendyn Ivin (director – Offspring, Last Ride) was why are we telling this story, because it’s otherwise just ‘the boy stuck down the well’? [But] the way that the script has been put together, and Glendyn understands narrative so well, it’s a fucking horror story. It gets so dark and scary.”

Says Ivin, “What we are trying to do is show some elements that no one has had access to and show it from a perspective different from the media’s.”

“While the public know the story,” says producer, Jane Liscombe, “they really only got the information the mine manager was feeding them and then they made a lot up.”

“If you remember the reports, the boys were in good spirits,” says Hulme. “There was a computer graphic of the cage with stick figures walking around. [However] from Todd and Brant’s point of view it’s like having a serial killer aiming a shotgun at your head all the time. You have a 150 tons aimed at your head. After all other avenues were exhausted, rescuers had to blow explosives one metre from their heads. Todd made the decision that he would be the one who counts down each blast – it’s Russian roulette. If we’ve done our job right, people will be astounded because it is horrific.”

“So what we’re trying say is, you think you know how it all unfolded and the outcome but this is what really happened,” says Liscombe. “The behind the scenes you never got to see.”

Nevertheless, the media’s role is not ignored. Network Nine’s association with the story is integral, from Tracy Grimshaw’s exclusive interviews with the boys, to the death of Richard Carleton (played by Steve Vizard in his first serious role) after a Beaconsfield press conference. It made sense the program will air on Nine. The telemovie will also use original Nine footage in places.

The Odd Couple
The show will be produced by Southern Star John Edwards who optioned the rights of Russell and Webb’s book Bad Ground three years-ago. Screenwriter Judi McCrossin (Secret Life of Us, Tangle) used this as a starting point.

It’s a very personal story. Beyond the disaster, McCrossin “was able to ascertain that it was about the love story of an odd couple,” says Liscombe. “They’re as chalk and cheese as Lachy and Shane. Todd is very stoic and introverted and is the alpha-male and everything is internalised. Where as for Brant, it’s all externalised, from telling stories to laughter. These two guys didn’t really know each other and the yin and yang of them kept each other alive.”

As well as the large 925 tunnel that’s been built, a set piece by production designer Jon Rohde, just to the right of the 925, is a replica of the small crushed cage where Todd and Brant were trapped. It’s claustrophobic hell.

The team have shot on location, at a mine in Victoria and Beaconsfield itself. “We’ve just come off shooting in a mine for a week,” explains Ivin. “It gave us this incredible production design with kilometres of tunnel and everything a working mine gives you. I love it. I could spend the whole time with the boys but it’s pretty claustrophobic and brutal at times with what’s going on down there. Even though it is compelling, the above-ground story is to give the audience a breather of what’s going on in this extremely claustrophobic world. You’re telling a story in which you’re either underground or there’s giant machinery or special effects – there’s always extra elements. We’re doing this on a TV budget on a TV schedule but there is always a new element. TV works when there is two or three people talking in rooms and then they go to another room. But this is people talking in rooms surrounded by giant equipment or a thousand metres underground or there’s dust in the air. There’s always something slowing you down.”

Event Television
Being billed as ‘event TV’, Liscombe says, “Glen and I are delivering it in the highest quality we can and therefore we treat it like a film with all the structure of a film.” However, acknowledging the success of mini-series Cloud Street and Southern Star’s Paper Giants Liscombe says there is argument to stretch it beyond the one night. “That is the big debate, do we do one big epic night or split them up and create the two natural parts. We had a discussion early on when John Edwards suggested the two parts and it was definitely a question mark about where you leave the audience. It has to be a considered thing, what does part one represent – we don’t know if they’re alive or dead and what is the trauma that is resulting in’ and how were they surviving. There’s a school of thought for both but it comes down to Nine’s decision and ratings. I’ve found they’ve come with fanfare and an element of cheese but I think if what you’re trying to do is create something too short for a series and too long for a film then a two-parter works well.” Likewise, says Liscombe, “the commercial breaks have been very thought out – They are very punctuated, where Judi has put them and Channel Nine have assisted because they are very aware of it, that’s their world.”

“It is a commercial approach to the retelling of a well-known story but there are some surprises in there,” says Ivin. “We’ve tried to introduce a subconscious response to what it’s like to have someone taken away from you. For want of a better word, there is something surreal or dream-like, of memory and perception, of what it’s really like to be separated from someone you love.”

“Todd was on day one and two of the set,” explains Liscombe. “There’s a scene with one of the shift bosses telling Todd’s wife, Caroline, to expect the worst and she won’t believe it, and Todd’s sitting back watching the scene as the tough guy and he broke down and walked out because he’d never seen it from her perspective. [Likewise] when Caroline saw the cage she broke down as she’d never seen it from that perspective before. It makes your heart break because while everyone has moved on, they’re wearing the death of Larry Knight.”

Image by director Glendyn Ivin


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