Dean O'Flaherty Beautiful Director

Dean O'Flaherty Beautiful Director
"When people visit Sunshine Hills, they comment on the beauty and the serenity. What they don't talk about is the raw fear that resides in our eyes..."

Searing and luscious, BEAUTIFUL tells the story of Daniel, a shy and introverted 14 year old boy residing in Sunshine Hills, a suburb living in the grip of fear following the rumoured abductions of three teenage girls. Daniel's two main obsessions are photography and Suzy, a 17 year old Lolita, a dangerous combination of youth and sexuality.

Using his crush to her advantage, Suzy asks Daniel that in exchange for her friendship he must bring her secrets and photographs of the neighbours and houses that surround them. Thus begins a journey into the underbelly of suburbia, taking them on the trail of a could be killer - and what starts out as an innocent summer holiday becomes anything but, leading them from childhood fantasy and into the harsh reality of the real world... one of savagery and murder.

An Australian film like no other, this is a controversial new thriller in the best American independent tradition. Taking its cue from the idyllic but toxic settings rendered iconic in films as diverse as "Blue Velvet" and "Disturbia", from "Donnie Darko" to "The Virgin Suicides" and "American Beauty", yet with an unmistakable voice of its own, BEAUTIFUL is suburbia as never seen before - sexual, funny, sensuous, strange and terrifying. It's an indelible debut from a brave new talent.

BEAUTIFUL is the first feature for Dean O'Flaherty, who has had an eclectic career in cinema spanning the last seventeen years and has been associated with many prestigious and landmark acquisitions in distribution and sales including "Irreversible", "2:37", "Noise", "Bobby" and the Palme d'Or winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days". Kent Smith ("2:37") is Producer, and Matt Hearn ("Wolf Creek, "Rogue") is Executive Producer.

BEAUTIFUL features a diverse and impressive ensemble cast: Peta Wilson ("La Femme Nikita"), Deborra-lee Furness ("Jindabyne"), Aaron Jeffery ("McLeod's Daughters"), Erik Thomson ("The Black Balloon"), Asher Keddie ("Love My Way"), Socratis Otto ("The Matrix Reloaded"), Sebastian Gregory ("Acolytes") and Tahyna Tozzi ("Wolverine").

BEAUTIFUL features an original score by Paul Mac.

DIRECTOR Q&A - Dean O'Flaherty

First films are often quite personal for the writer/director. Was this film autobiographical for you in any way? What inspired you to write it?

Dean O'Flaherty: I think everything we create or write is semi-biographical to a point. We just take elements of the real world and fantasize, creating an alternate world on the page, the screen or in our head. There are elements of BEAUTIFUL that are taken from things and people I know... The lead character not knowing his mother comes from someone close to me that has never known her father, and the impact it had on her life and identity touched me. A piece is always missing. The woman at the window is based on a woman I would pass by each day after school. The neighbours are fragments of people I observed as a child. The story came to me post 9/11 - I saw posters at the bus stop urging people to tell on their neighbours to the government if they were doing anything suspicious. I found that very perverse. The classic idea of people watching each other is "suburbia". And things being not as bad, or far worse, than you imagined - as a kid, when you find out the truth it can be scarier and much more brutal. All of the characters have a necessity for voyeurism - this comes out of fear of what those around them are, or could, be doing. It's no different to today's world - the onslaught of crime and our all-consuming fear of terrorism has us looking deep into the lives and yards of others. Then there are references to childhood and my love of horror films and books. For example 46 was the number of the house I grew up in. But it was a happy suburban family - not the story we have in BEAUTIFUL.

Compared to the Australian films that have been made over the past years, the film is recognizably "non-Australian", apart from the accents. You can see it playing anywhere and the characters being identifiable. Were you deliberately trying to get away from the cultural cringe?

Dean O'Flaherty: I would not say "cringe" - there is an iconic Australia that I love, films like NOISE that are very Australian in character and voice; KENNY, MURIEL'S WEDDING - all brilliant and uniquely Aussie. But I tended to find Australian cinema very neo- realist, very harsh, so I wanted to stay away from this, mostly because it is not me in terms of what I want to make. Secondly I have never seen a film in Australia like BEAUTIFUL before. There is a lush surface beauty in the film, in the cast, design, photography and everything that I strove for. Things that I felt had not been seen in Australian cinema but had been seen in European and American cinema. But I was definitely trying to get away from cinema that I felt had been done amazingly well and show something different - my own world. I also grew up in a working class family in Sunshine, so I grew up in the worlds of those other films. Cinema is partially about escaping from reality.

It seems that the film could be set anytime, anyplace - was this your intention?

Dean O'Flaherty: I definitely wanted to create an ambiguous sense of time and place in the film. Is it set in the 80's? 90's? When? I was also getting sick of films that revolved around computers and mobile phones, so I wanted to get old school and not have this... these devices have made mystery almost non-existent! I am also influenced by films that have a timeless ambiguity, for example the works of Tim Burton are very much like this (like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) - they live in a world of 1950's d├ęcor, yet they have CD players. Lynch's work is also the same. I also did this to hopefully give the film a timeless quality. Films tend to date of late.

You blend genres very well - there's a strong dramatic base with elements of mystery, thriller, satire and heightened realism. It's almost dreamlike at times. Were you conscious of this when writing the script?

Dean O'Flaherty: It's the oldest rule of the industry that you should not make what is called a "hybrid" film, but I like to disregard rules, so I was conscious of this. I wanted the film to be very much like a waking dream. The biggest directors that have had an influence on me (Almodovar, Todd Haynes, Lynch, Kurosawa) all just told stories regardless of genre or conventions. The story just told itself the way it wanted to.

The setting and visual style bring to mind many classic American films about the dark underbelly of suburbia. Which films in particular were you influenced by when writing and directing your film?

Dean O'Flaherty: BEAUTIFUL is very much an adult fantasy told through a child's eyes, evoking films as far-reaching as PAN'S LABYRINTH and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and even DISTURBIA. The world of BEAUTIFUL is lovely, terrifying, enchanting, sexual, dreamy and fantastic. The feel of day in comparison to night is heightened and contrasted. I was greatly influenced by the works of Almodovar, especially in my design. I wanted the colours in this film to "ping". Also in the mix of genres and moods, Todd Haynes films like FAR FROM HEAVEN and SAFE were big influences. David Lynch's BLUE VELVET was such a huge childhood moment for me with regards to a film changing my life. Ozu's GOOD MORNING with its suburban themes - watching each other. Wes Craven's works: American Gothic is at the core of what he does. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES was a reference tool around the place but we wanted to stay away from her world. Sofia Coppola is a genius. Cinema has always been my life so every artist bares an influence... it is the story and your own style that you can't copy.

There is quite a diverse cast, with many recognizable faces - can you talk a bit about the casting process?

I actually wrote with some people in mind. I have known Aaron a long time but have never watched him in his TV work; I thought he was incredible on Dean O'Flaherty: stage in a production of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE so I wanted to write a role of darkness for him that also physically used his size. For the role of Sherrie I had Peta in my head - I always wanted to work with her but again I never saw her TV series - I actually saw her on a talk show and thought she was dynamite. No one has used her as they should have. She's not an action heroine, she's our Joan Allen, powerful and frail at the same time. I have loved Asher Keddie for a long time, she reminds me a lot of Laura Linney and she took a character that could have been virtually unlikable in LOVE MY WAY and made her loveable and flawed. I also feel Asher is an amazing chameleon and that she can play anything.... I thought she would be perfect at bringing Jennifer to life. (Strangely enough no one had every asked her to not be a blonde!) For Mrs. Thomson I wanted Deborah, I have loved her since SHAME and again she has the most beautiful voice and face. The hardest roles to cast were Sebastian and Tahyna's roles. We saw nearly 1000 boys for the role of Daniel, which was scary as the film hung on it. We found him near the end, he gave me attitude and stuck up his middle finger as a hello, he had this amazing presence and he got the role on the spot. I told him so and he thought I was lying! For Suzy we looked at every girl her age, none of them had the acting chops and the look and then Tahyna sent us her audition from LA and we knew she was right. Her look is so iconic. The other casting story is Socratis Otto, who was hired as our reader to play opposite actors in auditions. I stopped him at lunch time and told him he was perfect for the role of Max - he had such intensity - again he thought I was bullshitting. And the rest is history!

You're in the rare position of having worked in the film industry for many years in an international sales and distribution capacity prior to making your first film. Can you talk about how that may have influenced your filmmaking?

Dean O'Flaherty: I think I have seen the best and worst in this industry over the 17 years I have been involved. Thankfully distribution and sales acquisitions have kept food on my table and a roof over my head. Unlike the UK and the US, we don't have the TV industry to train filmmakers out of school to sustain a living, so it was a great way to travel and see the industry. The only things it did make me wary of were the pitfalls and dangers, but I truly think ignorance is bliss - you sleep better at night! The other thing I knew is that there would be expectations or knives that wouldn't necessarily be out for other filmmakers. As the saying goes, we hate it when our friends become successful. So we will see - artistically it had little baring - it was great to actually get back and start creating after years of giving other people advice or buying/green lighting their films!

How do you think international audiences will respond to the film?

Dean O'Flaherty: I am hoping that they are moved and most of all never bored. That they connect with the fact that BEAUTIUL is a world of its own. It is like a dream or a fairy tale. It is not the real world. I hope they respond with honest emotions, love it or hate it, laugh or cry, just not with indifference.

What do you want Australian audiences to get out of this film?

Dean O'Flaherty: I hope it shows a new kind of cinema beyond what has been made and seen. And that they connect with the characters and see some of their worlds and themselves in this film. I hope they are moved and have an experience - a memorable experience.

How did the experience of actually making this film compare to what you may have expected?

Dean O'Flaherty: I had been writing for a long time, had produced films and worked as a director of short films and music videos, so I was very familiar with the process. The only thing that surprised me was my stamina. I was totally driven by adrenaline throughout the whole process. I was surprised how comfortable and happy I was with the actors - I was terrified going in, but we agreed to open our rib cages and lay our hearts on the line together, and we did. I just took this as my chance at last and ran for it.


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