Movie : Backyard Ashes – My exclusive interview with Director Mark Grentell



Every summer, in backyards all over Australia, starry eyed youngsters with dreams of bowling like Mitchell Johnson or batting like Michael Clarke join their dads who still dream of bowling like Glenn McGrath or batting like Steve Waugh in games of backyard cricket. Wheelie bins are transformed into stumps …… fences, BBQ’s, eskys and garden sheds are declared as either in or out……and families and friends negotiate the age limit at which the grown-ups are no longer allowed to help the kids catch or bowl someone out.

It is against this background that this new Aussie movie is set. Well its not quite as simple as a family gathering…… a whinging pom moves in next door to Dougie Waters (oh yeah…..they went there) and after a kerfuffle with a cat, The Backyard Ashes are on! Check out the hilarious trailer….conveniently linked at the end of my post.

So as two of my great loves……. Aussie movies and cricket …… collide, I was lucky enough to have a chat with the movie’s Director Mark Grentell. He is a busy man with the movie going into more cinemas every week but spared some time to answer some questions exclusively for my little blog. YAY!

Here is what he had to say ….. Mark’s answers are in italics.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me, Mark. Okay so the ‘other Ashes’ are currently underway in Australia this summer so lets get right to the point… sledge or not to sledge?

Definitely to sledge! It’s un-Australian not to sledge in both forms of the game (backyard or other). It is ingrained in the game of cricket and one of my favourite parts! My personal favourite ever sledge, I cannot tell you as it also happens to be used as a joke delivered by John Wood (Gold Logie winner, Blue Heelers) in the film. So my second favourite cricket sledge of all time would have to be…

Daryll Cullinan & Shane Warne – Daryll Cullinan was well known as being a bit of a bunny (easy wicket) to Shane Warne’s bowling. The 2 hadn’t played each other in some time so when Cullinan walked out to bat, Warne couldn’t resist heckling him: “I’ve been waiting two years for another chance at you”. Cullinan got him back with a ripper: “Looks like you spent it eating…”

There have been some classics through the years and a lot to choose from.

One of the great joys of being an Aussie movie blogger is that I get to see so many great Aussie movies. I particularly love these homegrown, shoe string budget ones because they come from a great passion to tell our stories (in my humble opinion). Backyard cricket is an Aussie institution, especially in summer. But a movie about it? What drives you to want to tell this story?

It really isn’t a film about backyard cricket. The tradition of that game/event forms the backdrop for the film in which we explore the broader themes of the value of mateship in Australia, the Aussie Vs Pom rivalry and the way in which we Australian’s use our uniquely large backyard spaces as a place of celebration and almost a place of worship! The BBQ out the back is many a man’s altar and a place where conversations between men can be open and free.

We use our backyards for BBQ, birthdays, weddings, funerals, wakes, christenings and everything else in between. Inevitably there is some beer and a game of backyard cricket breaks out.

Some of my strongest memories as a kid were playing backyard cricket, but not the game necessarily, but playing it with my uncles, my Dad, my siblings and that shared bonding experience. The most powerful image is a foggy one of being picked up and carried to bed by my Dad at the end of a long night.

So it’s not about the cricket per see, it’s about the people and the experiences that come with it.

I have been involved in 2 great backyard ashes controversies… because ‘someone’ failed to grasp the concept of over the fence is out……and the other because we forgot to declare the pool as out of bounds. Do you have your own backyard ashes story?

Not surprisingly, all (or most of) my “Backyard Ashes” stories are in the film! The classic rules, the dog with a slobbery ball or the commentating in my own mind before coming in to bowl as a kid (and as an adult).

My personal favourite was…we had a very large backyard growing up in a small town of Uranquinty (population 700). We had wickets at either end of the pitch and a lot more room beyond that. So we set up some black plastic tarp at one of the ends of the pitch with a sprinkler on it. When running between wickets you would keep running and slide on to the tarp with dish washing liquid on it and have a ball!

After a visit to IMDB, I love the play on words for the character names. This is going to be one of those cheeky Aussie movies, huh?

It certainly is. We wanted the majority of the characters to be “named after” well known cricketers. The character(s) is not based on that cricketer in any way, just the name. It felt like a fun way of giving them significance to the audience and fun for us too as cricket fans. Dougie Waters is obvious, Edward Lords is a fun play on the famous ground but my favourite is that the wives of the two Aussie guys (Dougie and Norm) are named Lilly and Denise. When put the other way around they are Denise Lilly. A bit of word fun for us and a tribute to the great D.K Lillee.

Is this movie family friendly?

It really is a family friendly movie. We got slapped with a ridiculous M rating by the ultra conservative classification board. Why we let borderline church groups determine what we can watch is beyond me, but they felt our use of words such as “bastard”, “piss off” and “bullshit” would be deemed “frequent coarse language” and gave us an M rating. I think it is un-Australian not to use those words in an Aussie comedy!

However these days people make up their own mind and social media may be a better guide. We have had thousands of families see the film and love it with all of them recommending it to other parents. We have had a 10 year olds birthday party attend the film and all go home and play backyard cricket until it got dark! So it is certainly a family film. If you don’t find the above words insulting, then you’ll be okay!

The movie was filmed in the lovely NSW inland town of Wagga Wagga. Was this location chosen for any particular reason?

It was shot in Wagga Wagga because that is where I was born and raised! Uranqunity is only 10km’s from Wagga Wagga and I lived there until I went to NIDA in 2008 to do the directing course.

My co-writer Peter Cox is also from Wagga Wagga so it made complete sense to shoot it there and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The film was not only shot in my hometown but was also shot in my Grandma’s and my Mum and Dad’s backyards! They live next door to each other and had the perfect locations for the film! We also shot scenes at a cricket oval 100m away, the 3 storey unit next door to Grandma’s, the pub my Dad drinks in (the Riverina Hotel) and used the factory where my Mum works just outside of town.

So it was a home town and community film in every sense of the word. Not only did we shoot it there, but the people of Wagga paid for the film by buying shares in it! That’s how I raised the money for the film! They purchased 1% shares, paid for product placements and sponsored it. Wagga City Council also gave us a grant to help as well. So the city of Wagga Wagga literally and figuratively owns the film!

Is there a Newcastle connection?

I don’t believe there is actually! We had people from pretty much all over the country working on the film, but no one specifically from Newcastle that rings a bell or at least they didn’t mention it! Actually, I believe my co-writer Peter Cox grew up in Newcastle as a kid in the 50’s and 60’s. (That’s close enough…..we claim Peter Cox as an honorary Novacastrian 😛 – Flick)

What is your dream scenario for this movie?

My dream scenario is almost a reality. First, it was simply to get it made and onto 1 screen. It was released in 4 cinemas where it outdid Thor on a per screen average for 2 weeks in a row! So that dream was more than achieved!

Now, I hope to be able to share the film with as much of Australia as possible. We are currently on about 20-25 screens in 4 states and the interest is growing rapidly. I hope that before Xmas we can add a few more screens and people will give this little Aussie film a shot and be able to see what audiences have been loving!

I think what people are loving about Backyard Ashes is that it’s funny, familiar and is something they can all relate to. (Aussies) laugh at themselves and don’t take it too seriously. So that is more than I could have ever dreamed of!

If you would like to see Backyard Ashes in your local cinema, give them a call, email or Facebook them and let them know. I am hoping we here in Newcastle can get it onto a screen at the Tower Cinemas or Event Cinemas Glendale. I mean, I cant review it if I cant see it… please help me out 😉

Love Flick xx

Director : Mark Grentell

Starring : Sarah Burnell, Damian Callinan, Maddison Catlin-Smith, Andrew S. Gilbert, Felix Williamson, John Wood, Rebecca Massey,

Running Time : 90 minutes

Release Date : November 7, 2013 – Limited release


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s