Interview: Tim Lethbridge, director of A Day at the Oasis

Interview: Tim Lethbridge, director of A Day at the Oasis. By Simon Miraudo.

Tim Lethbridge’s directorial debut – A Day at the Oasis – holds the distinct honour of closing this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival. And rightly so. The WA-produced feature was written by fellow sandgroper Tim Beckett, and tells the tale of seven eccentrics meeting up for an afternoon of speed-dating in a small country town. Lethbridge’s picture may be an offbeat comedy, but it’s as concerned with loneliness, isolation and unconventional behaviour as many of the other films playing at Revelation this year. I spoke to Tim before the festival kicked off, during which time he shared with me the hectic process of filming A Day at the Oasis, his feelings about finally getting a premiere, and the Denise Richards flick that inspired him to make his own movie (seriously).

On an interesting side note, several years ago I was offered the chance to assist in the production of A Day at the Oasis (this was during my time at uni, when I was an aspiring filmmaker and not the bitter critic I am today). Although my schedule didn’t allow it, I was able to suggest a friend to work on the film. And that ladies and gentlemen, is a glimpse at the small world of West Australian cinema…

SM: I wanted to ask how you first got into filmmaking.

TL: I first got into filmmaking many years ago. Funnily enough, me and my friends went and saw the movie Valentine, and came out of it declaring it the worst movie we’d ever seen, and that we were sure we could make one better.

SM: Is that the Denise Richards’ one? The slasher flick?

TL: Yeah, yeah with David Boreanz. And we decided to make a horror movie on our own, and we went ahead and did it. It was all a bit of fun, it was called Nowhere. It took about two years of our life for a bit of fun, but it ended up being enjoyable in a very amateurish sense and we moved on from there. But from there on I didn’t do a great deal of movie related stuff, I just focused on being a lawyer and getting on with the rest of my life. But then this came along when Tim Beckett had written the script, asked me to have a look at it, and it really went from there.

SM: Well tell me more about that. How did you get involved with Tim Beckett on this film?

TL: I’ve known Tim Beckett since he was, well, a young child. He lived a couple of streets away from me. I was actually best friends with his older brother. And we discussed movies and the fact that I’d made a movie and wrote and various other things over the course of my life. He gave me this script to have a look at, and it was nothing more at that stage than giving my thoughts on this script. He said he was going to make it, I said “cool, I’ll help out where I can”, and it wasn’t until pretty much the end of the audition process where I’d given kind of comments and thoughts during the course of the audition process, and he said “would you like to direct?” and I said, “yeah, alright”.

SM: Have you actually ever been speed dating yourself?

TL: I have not myself. A couple of friends went quite recently, and it sounded pretty much like we imagined it to be. But no, I’ve never had to go speed dating myself. I’ve been married for a year.

SM: That’s a good excuse.

TL: But before that, never had a reason to.

SM: What do you think the appeal of speed dating is?

TL: There’s a lot of loneliness out there, and it’s hard to find someone, particularly in a small country town, where there is a very limited pool from which to meet someone. It’s a good way to get out there and meet someone a bit different, especially when you have a quite limited social sphere. It’s a good way to get out and see what’s out there.

SM: Would you say that angle of loneliness and isolation is what drew you to it?

TL: That’s right. Even though it’s about speed dating, it’s more I suppose about companionship rather than romance. You read the synopsis and might think that it’s a romantic comedy, and to some degree it is but really it’s more about companionship whether that be through platonic friends or a romantic relationship or just a couple of guys getting together for a drink, so that’s really what it’s about.

SM: Tell me a little bit about the production of the film, because I remember speaking to my friend Elise [the same friend I recommended for the film] a couple of years ago, and I remember that it was a pretty hectic schedule.

TL: We filmed the whole thing in 9 days, in Darlington. We never made it official that we were never going to do any reshoots, but I think it was just accepted that it was such a miracle that we got all these people together at this one time for these 9 days, it was accepted that unless there was some major disaster, this was going to be the only filming we were going to do, and that’s exactly how it turned out. Tim Beckett actually lived in this shed in Darlington where we filmed – sorry, this scout hall where we filmed most of it over the course of the week, and we all took a week off work and headed down there. It was frantic, we started the second the sun went up and finished the second the sun went down – although sometimes we had to go a bit further into it than that with some clever lighting and so on. Generally speaking we worked solidly for those 9 days and finished a couple hours early on the last day.

SM: I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Based on the trailer though, it seems to have the kind-of awkward comedy of Christopher Guest or Ricky Gervais, with obviously an Australian slant. I’d like to know, what are your influences?

TL: For this particular sort of movie, we always had in mind something like Arrested Development, the real stylistic one, things like 30 Rock, as you say, the naturalistic comedy and the notion that a moment of awkward silence can be as funny as an outright gag or a slapstick moment like that. Even just things like The Simpsons. I watched Bugs Bunny recently. The single expression towards the camera which sums up the entire situation. So those sorts of things obviously. Arrested Development is the one we most openly talked about as an influence on the comedy aspect.

SM: Now it has the closing night slot at Revelations in a couple weeks time. And I think the significance of that can’t be discounted. How does it feel to 1) have that opening night slot and 2) have the world see your film?

TL: Oh, really exciting. I’ve got to say it’s slowly sinking in what a big deal it is. We got accepted into the film festival, and I thought oh yeah that’s pretty exciting, and just slowly as we did interviews and met with them and went to the Astor theatre, it became apparent that it’s actually a really big deal, in terms of our goals for the movie and what we set out to do. I mean we essentially our goal, being our high point, was to get it shown to the public, as opposed to just friends and family and cast and crew, and I suppose suddenly that at the very least that’s going to happen, and there’s all this interest in it. So if we can go further than that, that’s fantastic.

SM: Well I’d like to ask what’s next for you. Obviously you said you’re a lawyer by trade; are you considering moving more into film?

TL: Umm, very good question. I mean look, the law is being extremely good to me at the moment. And it would take a very significant opportunity to abandon that. Having said that, I would love to be a filmmaker by trade. Actually I would rather focus more on writing, I ultimately see myself as more of a writer. Whether it be screenplays or novels or whatever. So the simple answer is I’m always working at that, and looking for those opportunities, and I certainly would never ignore them. Having said that, the law’s been pretty good to me. With the mortgage to pay and all the rest, it would take a significant event to get rid of that.

A Day at the Oasis has its world premiere Sunday July 18 at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

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