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The Making of ‘The Castle’

May 5, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ The story behind the making of ``The Castle″ is as fascinating as the movie.

First, the movie.

``The Castle″ is the story of a shockingly sweet Australian family who fights big government’s plans to evict them from their modest home.

What makes the film so endearing is the family: dad, mom, one daughter and three sons (one in jail). The Kerrigans have a motorboat in their front yard and some pet greyhounds in the back. They love each other as much as they love their home at 3 High View Crescent.

And who wouldn’t love their home? Built on a toxic landfill, the house is located next to the airport runway and towering high-voltage power lines. There’s a huge TV antenna and a fake chimney on the roof.

Tow-truck driver Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is the family patriarch. He constantly praises his wife’s cooking, couldn’t be more proud of his children, and always marvels at the beauty around him _ like those power lines and the smell of diesel fuel in the air.

When his house is ``compulsorily acquired″ for expansion of the airport, Kerrigan puts up a fight. ``I’m not interested in compensation,″ he says. ``I don’t want to go.″

Now, the story behind the story: How a group of filmmakers used their own money to shoot a 16 mm film about a happy family; a film wildly successful in Australia, a hit at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and picked up by Miramax for release in the United States this spring.

``The Castle″ was shot on location in Melbourne and Canberra in 11 days with a Super 16 mm camera and on a budget of less than $1 million.

In a case of life imitating art, the family was named Kerrigan so filmmakers could borrow trucks from an actual tow-truck company, Kerrigans Towing.

The filmmakers also cut the shooting schedule from 20 days to 11 _ the number of days they could afford to feed the cast and crew.

``The Castle″ is the first feature film for Working Dog Ltd., which has produced award-winning radio and television programs in Australia. A four-person creative team conceived and wrote the script, and took on several other tasks as well.

Rob Sitch directed. Jane Kennedy did the casting. Santo Cilauro was a camera operator _ ``the guys sort of realized I was handy with the old wedding camera.″ Michael Hirsh, according to the production notes, ``just hung around criticizing the caterers.″

The foursome met in the mid-1980s while attending the same university, where they formed a student comedy revue. A talent scout spotted ``The D Generation″ and asked the group to write a sketch comedy pilot for television.

``We planned a lot,″ Sitch explained during an interview at Miramax. ``Every word that was on the script ended up on the film. There was no improvisation. None. We used multiple cameras. We said, ’Light it as bland as you can, don’t move the camera and people will get used to its real simplicity after a short period of time.‴

Because the budget was so tight, every scene was shot in two takes. ``Good actors can respond to that,″ Sitch said. ``I think everyone liked it because we weren’t shooting with multiple cameras, so they knew if it was a good take, it was all there. And we were never going to do much coverage, you know, superclose-ups or dollies. The day was quick. We were shooting nine, 10 minutes a day, which for movies, I’m ashamed to say, is fast.″

How could a family be so blissfully ignorant that their house is not a castle, but an eyesore?

``Reality is what you believe it to be,″ Sitch said, explaining that the Kerrigans value the idea of a home that holds their memories; a place that can’t be taken away with an offer of money.

``And the other central truth that we put at the heart of the film ... is that our world is set up to believe that the dollar value is everything. But in the end, it keeps coming back that you have to value it personally. You have to decide its value. And the dollar doesn’t do the best job.″

Ultimately, it was the Kerrigans’ lovely innocence that the filmmakers hoped would shine through _ even on 16 mm film. ``What we aimed towards is for people to leave the movie theater with a big smile on their face,″ Sitch said.

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