Girl at the Window Director Mark Hartley Talks About Working with Tony Ginnanne and the Ozploitation Era in This Interview

There are precious few minds who know as much about Australian cinema as Mark Hartley does. His pivotal and vital documentary Not Quite Hollywood inspired a new generation of filmmakers to pay homage to the Ozploitation movement with genre films of their own. Outside of documentaries that have celebrated cinema, Hartley remade the iconic horror film Patrick in 2013, and now almost a decade later, he’s back with his second fiction feature Girl at the Window.

This thriller is a throwback to the iconic thrillers of the 80s and 90s, pulling in a Rear Window-esque vibe alongside a Nancy Drew-alike heroine in the guise of newcomer Ella Newton. Rounding out the cast are Aussie screen legends Radha Mitchell and Vince Colosimo, and behind the camera is legendary producer Tony Ginnanne and cinematographer Garry Richards.

In this interview, Mark talks about the influences on Girl at the Window, and the joy of making a call-back film, while also recognising the working relationship and friendship that he and Tony Ginnanne have with one another.

Girl at the Window is in Australian cinemas from August 18th 2022.

Thank you so much for your time. You’re beyond prolific with what you do as a director. I’m curious for you. I’m curious for you, after Not Quite Hollywood, Electric Boogaloo, Patrick, and now Girl in the Window, if there’s an idea of having a body of work that you’re building up over the years?

Mark Hartley: Beyond prolific seems so far from being what I am actually. I wish I was beyond prolific. You know, I always aspired to be a hack, and I haven’t quite achieved that yet. Look, it’s been a long time since I made a narrative film, and it’s not through lack of trying. In terms of a body of work, you make what you get offered, or what you can get financed. And certainly, I’m happy with every film I’ve made and they’re films that I’ve wanted to make, which has been important, but certainly I would have loved to have made 10 others.

That’s understandable. Girl at the Window feels like it’s the kind of thriller that’s pulled from the peak of the genre, the 80s and 90s. How important was it for you to be able to pull from that era and bring it into a modern context?

MH: Well, I don’t even know if we did achieve bringing it into modern context, but certainly we did set out to make a throwback, or something that at least harks back to the films that I loved when I was a kid. And one of the first things I said to Tony Ginnanne, our producer, was this could easily go the way of being just your typical serial killer next door Lifetime movie, but we need to put a bit of content in there that will just elevate it slightly above that.

And I remember when I was a kid, seeing things like American Werewolf in London and The Howling, the first adult horror films I saw, I remember being in there thinking, “Oh, my God, some of the stuff I’m seeing, I can’t believe as a kid I’m allowed to see.” And I wanted to introduce similar elements into this somewhere. At first you think it’s a film that’s very much a kind of a Nancy Drew fun, quirky, rollicking kind of mystery. And then suddenly, there’s a naked girl in a cage. And suddenly there’s an eye getting cut out from [being] seen inside the skull. And I think those little things are what the target younger audience will go, “Wow, I can’t believe I just saw that in this film.”

And there’s that line, which is “This is not a normal teenage dilemma”, which is being able to play and putting teams in parallel is such a, it’s got to be such a fun thing for directors to be able to do, how much do you enjoy being able to kind of work within that genre trope?

MH: Well, it doesn’t happen very often. It’s funny, I occasionally put some Blu-ray releases together. And I promised Richard Franklin that I’d try to do my best to make sure that his films got out there, so I’ve been putting together the Blu-ray for Cloak and Dagger, the film he made in 1984. And that’s amazing the amount of kids in peril in that film that you just couldn’t do these days. Kids getting told that they’ll get a gut shot and they’ll hang around till they bleed out and all these kinds of things. In this age of teen shootings and all this kind of stuff, there’s just content that you just can’t get on screen before. But look, I wanted this to be a teenager imperil film as much as what the Hardy Boys was when I was a kid growing up. I think that it’s fun to play with tropes that you don’t see a lot of anymore.

And as a viewer, it’s, it’s exciting to be able to see it. I recently watched Night of Fear for the first time a few months ago, and it was that played in my mind as I’m watching this, because as you’re saying, we don’t get to see these kinds of acts on screen so much anymore. And so it’s great when somebody who knows the genre so intimately is able to actually pull from that and enjoy playing with it. How important is it for you to have somebody like Tony as a producer helping you bring these stories to life?

MH: I wouldn’t have made the two narrative films [I have] if it hadn’t been for Tony. The good thing about Tony he trusts that I know the genre, and he leaves me alone and trust my team, so I can work with the same DOP, and the same production designer, etc. And at least Tony knows that at the end of the day, he will get something that tells a story as well as we can in our limited schedule and budget. It’s just good to have that support. It’s been good also with Tony, as a producer, when it comes to me delivering my director’s cuts, and so forth, because I can talk to him about things that he’s maybe a little bit unsure of, and most of the time, I get my stuff through. So it’s been a really great collaborative relationship.

What’s it like also having somebody like him as a friend? He’s been somebody who’s been around Australian film for so long, but most importantly, being around Australian genre films as well. I imagine having him as a mentor, and as a friend has been unparalleled, it’s got to be really exciting.

MH: Well, it’s funny, I never really thought of that until recently. During lockdown during COVID, I was working on a poster book, a book on Ozploitation film posters from 1970s to 1990s. And there’s a whole lot of text that goes with them. And whenever we wanted a bit of information, I’d go, “I’ll just ring Tony.” And it’s funny to have that connection to that period, where you can just ring up someone who was there who was in the trenches, and [they] can tell you whatever you need to know. And I always took that for granted until I realised I can just ring up Tony and ask him this stuff. I think I said recently that I honestly think he’s probably the last man standing in terms of his generation of producers still actively getting films financed. He’s had a very remarkable career.

He really has. Again, it’s unparalleled. You’re working with Gary Richard, who is somebody who understands the genre cinema so very intimately. How important is it to work with the cinematographer who understands it and gets what the visual style and tone is needed for a thriller?

MH: I mean, I guess it’s important. I don’t use Gary because he understands thriller, or sci fi or anything like that. I use Gary because I’ve always used Gary. We’ve worked together for 30 years now, and I couldn’t think of being on a set with anyone else. We just have a similar sensibility. We love the same kinds of movies. Neither of us can draw, so we don’t do storyboards, we shot list. But we shot list in really, really detailed fashion. I have a collaborative relationship with Gary probably closer than most director-DOP’s. And we get together and we shortlist every single shot in the film, every single edit in the film really. And on both occasions for the narrative films, we’ve been talking about how we think a scene should be staged, and 99% of the time, we’ll both come up with the same idea in terms of how we think things should be.

We’re just lucky that we’re in simpatico when it comes to these kinds of genres. I don’t think it’s just thrillers. I think we love a breadth of a lot of different genres. And we’ve both watched a lot of films. And, I guess now we’re finally developing our own aesthetic and style. I think Patrick was a lot more slavish to the filmmakers that we loved and Girl in the Window maybe is a little bit more of our personal style coming to the fore.

The era of Ozploitation is generally considered to be like 70s and 80s, and peters off into the 90s, there has been a lot of filmmakers nowadays who are pulling from the aesthetics and that style.

MH: There’s a lot of people that are certainly branding their low budget horror Australian films as Ozploitation, ‘Return to Ozploitation’, another ‘King of Ozploitation’. And I’d like to remind them that Ozploitation ended with Blood Moon in 1990. So they’re certainly not part of that movement.

But certainly it’s amazing how much people have embraced our genre roots to some degree since Not Quite Hollywood.

How much does that influence you in your narrative films, the echoes of Not Quite Hollywood?

MH: I’m not sure if it influences me a lot. I mean, when you look at Tony’s films, Patrick, Thirst, Harlequin, all those films, they’re made by really good filmmakers. I mean, they’re traditional Hollywood style filmmakers: Richard Franklin, Simon Wincer, Rod Hardy. When you look at those films, they are very classical in how they’re mounted. And I tried to do the same. We don’t shoot handheld, we shoot everything off dollies and tracks, and we don’t light overly naturalistic everything, we want to have a bit of a gloss to it. But I think that’s also my music video background as well. Gary and I did lots of clips and 99% of the clips we did with artists to get on Video Hits, so we had to be as glossy as we possibly could on limited budgets. I guess it’s the style that we like, and it’s the kind of films that we like seeing.

Let’s talk about the casting as well. We’ve got Ella, we’ve got Radha, we’ve got Vinca. Radha and Vince are titans of the Australian film industry and internationally as well, and Ella is new. Can you talk about the casting process for all three of them?

MH: Sure. With Radha, with all these kinds of films, you’re dealing with a sales agent who’s going to find finance for your film [and] without selling territories, you can’t get the film made. And so they ultimately give you a list of actresses or actors that they know that can help. And thankfully, Radha was on that list. And, that was great, because I figured it would be really nice to make this 100% Australian rather than have an import in there. Radha was in Melbourne during lockdown renovating her Melbourne apartment, so it was great timing. She liked the script. And it’s always good to work with people who were utterly professional. And it was great too, because I could see how Radha and Ella could be seen, at least, photographically as mother and daughter. And it was great when you actually see them on set interacting, and you go ‘well, it’s not just the look’, they actually feel like they’re a family. It was a real great casting coup getting Radha.

With Vince, we won’t give away the twist of the film, but I needed an established actor that people would believe would have a larger part than he obviously does in the film. And I also needed someone who I knew could be very charismatic and charming, but also turn that into an air of menace. And I thought Vince would be perfect for that. I had a really long conversation with him on the phone, he only really has one key scene in the film, and he really liked that. And I was really lucky that he said yes as well. With Ella it was just a real stroke of luck. We had young actresses sending in tapes, and I just thought her performance was great. And I thought she captured exactly what we needed for the film. And then I met her and she was just really, really lovely. And was so keen to be making a film and making her debut feature film. I watched a couple of episodes of the Seachange reboot, which played Siggy’s [Sigrid Thornton] younger daughter in and she was great in that. And then when we did some screen tests for her best friend, and we got Karis [Kailani] and her together, they just clicked instantly, and I just went “Well, there’s my couple,” casting solved here. I think we were lucky to get her. I think that any day now, she’ll do an audition for an American series, and she’ll be gone and we’ll never see her again.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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