Jonathan Teplitzky knows a thing or two about grief. Ten years ago the Australian filmmaker, best known for his 2003 comedy ”Gettin’ Square” (starring Sam Worthington and David Wenham), lost his wife to breast cancer.
Teplitzky has funneled his fittingly obstinate battle with loss into “Burning Man”, a powerful new drama that paints a fictional but truthful look at a man coping with premature desertion by a loved one.
“I couldn’t write a film like this immediately after [losing my wife], but as the years went by I understood that I needed to”, Teplitzky, who like the lead character in his new film, is a single father, said. “You never really get over something like this; your life is turned upside-down, it’s a tumultuous time and for a while, you don’t know how you’re going to get your life back on track. There’s so many different feelings that these circumstances bring to the surface – like freedom and feeling exhilarated. It’s just a really incredibly tragic time and I thought the subject would lend itself to film.”
Teplitzky, who for the past few years has been directing TV, says it was almost a salutary savior writing the picture. And he wanted to tell it like it is, and not have to feel restricted to the precincts of your typical FinalDraft screenplay template.
“There’s no guide-book on how to get over grief and nothing much makes sense. Most people will tell you that your life seems fractured after such an event, so it made sense to structure the film the same way”, Teplitzky says of the script’s fractured narrative. “It’s not a mystery movie or anything, so you have to find a way to dramatize the film too. I think by revealing slowly what’s going on and what’s making [lead character] Tom act this way it works better. We also undermine our initial judgements about the man”.
“So there’s this autobiographical nature to the film. At the same time, I’ve always wanted to write a movie about a chef – my whole family have worked as Chef’s, and I also worked in restaurants, so it was something I knew I could write about. The two, strangely enough, just seemed to go together”.
Teplitzky met actor Matthew Goode, known for his roles in Woody Allen’s “Match Point” and the unique superhero drama “Watchmen”, in London. The story goes that Goode was initially a bit reluctant at first to play such a firecracker character (and those sex scenes, which are quite confronting, were of concern), but Teplitzky didn’t give up – because he knew he was the right man for the job.
“He was a fine actor, someone I knew could do this. I knew he could pull this off. He really liked the screenplay and a few meetings later, he committed. And he really did commit. And he’s perfect for this because it’s a role that requires an actor that’s capable of expressing an array of emotions – including the ability to be funny. There’s some jokes and light moments in the film that were needed, so the film didn’t get bogged down in its own self-importance, and Matthew, being a warm, engaging and amusing person in real-life, was able to really support that.”
Unlike most films, Teplitzky didn’t have much trouble finding financing for the film.
“There were some hiccups, like the global financial crisis….and we ended up switching from filming the movie in Los Angeles to England to Australia. But it was relatively easy looking back. Once the producer offset came into play in Australia and Screen Australia got involved, it was pretty easy to find the rest of the money.”
Next for Teplitzky is what’s unarguably his most ambitious, and biggest picture to date, a film adaptation of the best-selling novel “The Railway Man” starring Oscar Winning actor Colin Firth – quite the catch, no!?. “Colin, like Matthew did [with Burning Man], just really responded to the material. It’s about Eric Lomax, a train enthusiast who ended up on the Burma Railway in the Second World War and was tortured by the Japanese. Lomax survived the ordeal but it left him very scarred. He gets the chance to confront his torturers later on. Colin is really committed to it, and we start shooting in March.”