For anybody who has tried to ride the often-blown-out waves of the Sunshine State, the glassy and perfectly rolling Australian surf in Newcastle is simply stunning. But while there's talk about surf contest and national champions, Newcastle is a teen drama, a road-trip film that you know will go wrong from the beginning. The kids pile into their parents' SUV and bound across the desert until it meets a lonely beach, where they will spend the night before the big surf contest. Surfing upstart Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) has reluctantly agreed to bring little brother Fergus (Xavier Samuel), who will take his first ride on a board. The foreboding comes from the fear that their older brother, former surfing star and complete dick Victor (Reshad Strik), will find their secluded spot. Long before he does, Newcastle captures teenage angst in ways you wouldn't expect from a surf movie, with two boys who might finally be realizing they don't care about the girls who've come along on the trip. Writer/director Dan Castle managed to amp that homoerotic energy with simple shots, like when two boys get their surfboard leashes tangled in the waves. When Victor finally shows up, it's no surprise things turn sour. The who's-dream-are-you-chasing? message may be overdone near the end, but Newcastle avoids the montage clichés of surfing movies for a film that's more about the kids than the waves. (Sunday, October 26, 4 p.m., AMC Coral Ridge, 107 minutes.)
Newcastle writer/director Dan Castle recently spoke to New Times via email from his native Australia about his film, about the sexual tension between his male characters, and about finding actors who can catch a break.
Viewers will likely be surprised by the sexual tension between the boys, something that's pretty abnormal for a surf movie. What was your intention in adding that aspect?
I really wanted to throw two sub-cultures together - Fergus being the outsider who is most likely gay or at least perceived that way by the surfers and Jesse and his surfing mates. I really think kids today are more open to other orientations and have a more open dialogue about it all - with the advent of Facebook/MySpace kids are socializing with a much broader spectrum of characters than they do in their immediate physical environment. So I wanted to bring that out in the story with the characters of Fergus and Andy and show kids and adults that there is nothing to fear in making friends with someone who is different from you - in fact you may discover things about yourself that you didn't know or find something nice to share with someone you didn't expect to have anything in common with.
You really got the teen angst down. How difficult was it to get your actors talking like they do off camera?
We did a lot of improv work before we started filming to set up their relationships and all that so they were rooted in a reality and not just reading lines from a script. They all came up with back stories on how they met, their grudges against each other, and favorite things about their friendships, so they had a lot to draw from when we were shooting. The funny thing is these actors are all some of the nicest people you will ever meet, especially Reshad Strik who plays Victor, but they are great actors who were able to channel that negative energy and character types through themselves in a really convincing and deep way.
There's a real sense of foreboding through the beginning. How'd you achieve that?
I set it up that everything had to lead to the next moment in the film - I of course knew what was going to happen. So as a director, I wanted to shape the beginning with a sense of, uh-oh, something's not right. There is a lot of negative energy around Jesse, and he's going to manifest something out of his control if he's not careful. So that undercurrent of foreboding had to be there for the climax of the film to work. I wanted Jesse to feel responsible -- not so much by his actions but by his thoughts and intentions. He has a karmic sense of guilt and responsibility about what happened.
Several scenes show the cargo ships offshore, and others capture the shipwrecks that have washed up. Why feature this?
When you arrive in Newcastle, one of the first things you see are those coal barges on the horizon. I just always thought it was a great dramatic tool for the story. Jesse's horizon is not even clear. Every day, he has a reminder of what fate has in store for him -- a hard life working the dry docks, servicing that industry with his dad and older brother if he doesn't make it as a surfer. Jesse is 17, so his perspective on everything is slanted through his limited means of perception that comes with being a small town kid with little education. So those ships symbolize Jesse's fate as he strives to reach and define his own destiny as a surfer.
Did you find surfers who could act, or actors who you taught to surf?
I only saw actors who could surf. There is no way to teach actors how to surf in a short period, and by short I mean anything less than years. There is a whole physicality to the sport and the way surfers move, walk, sit, the shape of their bodies, their attitudes, everything. Plus, the ablity to surf! So I knew I had to get real surfers in the surfing roles. Xavier Samuel learned how to surf for the role of Fergus because his character was supposed to be a beginner, but all the others surfed. Lachlan Buchanan (Jesse) surfs, but not on that level, so his surfing was doubled by two guys: one a local from Newcastle, Jesse Adam, and another, Perth Standlick, both are on the junior pro surf tour.
Finally, do you have any idea how envious you're going to make Florida surfers? Those were some beautiful breaking waves.
Whenever anyone sees the film they drool. Everyone wants to live in a town like Newcastle! That's one of the big arcs of the film -- Jesse finally realizes this "shithole" he lives in is the best town on earth! I think so anyway!
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