Griff the Invisible: birth of a superhero

Maeve Dermody and Ryan Kwanten in the upcoming Australian superhero film Griff the Invisible.Superheroes were the flavour of the decade that just ended, so it was about time Australia had its own. Griff the Invisible will prove that we can – and should – produce high concept projects.

At last year’s SPAA Conference, Packed to the Rafters creator Bevan Lee said local audiences were unable to believe high concept, fantasy or science fiction stories could happen in Australia, using HBO’s hit series True Blood as an example of a show that, had it been set here, would have made people say “What nonsense – vampires in Australia?’ and laughed off screen.

Well, writer/director Leon Ford, producer Nicole O’Donohue and actors Ryan Kwanten and Maeve Dermody strongly disagree. While it’s true that Australia does not have a tradition of producing high concept films or TV, if they’re not made, how will we know for sure?

“It’s an excuse, because you can say ‘well, we’re not going to do it’, and then you’ll never know. If you don’t make it and develop that tradition, we’ll be stuck with drama,” said Dermody.

“It has often been used by TV networks to justify why they don’t take risks,” added Ford.

That risk is exactly what the team behind Griff the Invisible is taking, making a superhero film in Australia.

Like most superhero movies, beyond super powers and VFX, Griff presents a universal theme: everyone has felt their full potential is not being realised, and their ‘real’ side is not seen.

O’Donohue describes the script as “highly original” and “accessible”, but Encore would add “mysterious”, since details about the plot are vague.

“And they will continue to be,” said Ford. “It’s a heartfelt action superhero romance about a young man who works in an office by day. He’s shy and almost sociophobic, but by night he’s a superhero who protects his neighbourhood from the bad guys. He meets Melody, the first person who actually sees the world in the same curious and imaginative way.”

In a metaphorical way, Griff will go from invisible, to highly visible. Casting Kwanten – a rising star with a high profile among fantasy/sci-fi audiences worldwide, thanks to True Blood – will also help the film’s visibility.

“A new superhero matched with an actor that people know and the comic book element? Fans go crazy. There already is international interest,” said Ford.


From a draft originally written in 2005, Ford and O’Donohue (Green Park Pictures) took the project to Screen Australia’s Indivision Script Lab in 2008. The agency invested in Griff through its IndiVision Production Fund, and it was then up to the filmmakers to raise the rest of the $2.7 million budget.

“We must have pitched it hundreds of times,” said Ford. The pitch worked with Screen NSW, FSM and Fulcrum Media Finance. The film is executive-produced by Jan Chapman and Scott Meek.

Casting began before financing was complete.

“There was a tremendous amount of heat around the script,” said Kwanten. “I was in the US and I felt the flames that far over. I had to submit tapes again and again, until they saw I was not going to give up.”

According to Ford, the extended casting period took pressure off the shoot because it was easier to communicate with the cast.

With a low-budget for a superhero film, O’Donohue says the results have already impressed those who have seen footage, due to the high production values.

It was shot in and around Sydney’s inner west, with Surry Hills as Griff’s territory. Ford wrote it with that specific suburb in mind.

“The same way that Gotham City is basically New York but also its own superhero world, we’re inventing a comic-book Sydney,” he said.

The costumes were influenced by Golden Age comics and 1950s silhouettes. In similar old fashion, Ford favoured practical effects over green screen, thus reducing the amount of digital work required.

“If you can work out a way to do it on the day, it’s much more exciting for everyone, and you’re not thinking ‘don’t worry, we’ll do it on post’. We spent a lot of time in pre-production thinking about effects,” said Ford.

Griff provides space for drama, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be action. Kwanten describes the fight sequences as “dance routines”, as they had to be ready for the shoot so they wouldn’t waste time – of which they didn’t have much – on the day. Working with Ford, the actor created specific postures and speech patterns for the character’s daytime and night-time personas. The result is a tone that is very different from a VFX extravaganza like Iron Man or, fortunately, the poorly received Fantastic Four.

“You should never make fun of the fact that it’s a superhero film. The ones that stay with you are the Batman-type ones that take it 100 percent serious.

“We do need to keep making stories that mean something to us, but there’s no reason why it can’t be through the eyes of a superhero,” affirmed Ford.

Griff the Invisible will be distributed by Transmission Films and released in late 2010.


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