The Sapphires is a feel good film with song, laughs, war, Aboriginal Rights and politics. How did you balance the themes?
The Sapphires was always intended to be a film where the audience had a great time. What we discovered while editing was that Chris (O’Dowd) and Deb (Mailman), had natural chemistry and great comic timing. We leant on those qualities. The stock footage was added to place the picture into the right time and place, and this device was in the screenplay. The whole “stolen generation” theme is quite familiar to Australian audiences so it didn’t need to be overly explained. The music was important. The message implied.
Besides the four girls stories there’s a number of significant characters who move in and out of the film was this a challenge in the edit to keep them in the audiences mind?
Yes it was. There were a few sub plots that were removed for pace but the main story was that of the four girls and we tried to stick to that on all occasions.
What was the hardest scene to cut and why?
The hardest scene to cut was what became known as the Grapevine Montage.
It’s a blend of a number of scenes where the girls sing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” in Vietnam. We shot the song as a-cappella, on a large stage in a field of mud with the band and then in the fantastic red dresses and white boots, this latter version being the most exuberant of the three, using cranes and camera moves. At one stage I was carrying all versions edited together in sync, on about five picture layers but it became more complicated when we started to add other elements.
The first edit, (singing only), was stunning, however as the cut of the film progressed we realised that we needed to integrate a sense of the girls journey through Vietnam and add a number of other sections of scenes that couldn’t play out in full, so the task became far greater.
The musical numbers move from being rehearsal to intimate to huge outdoor concerts. Was there any difference in the way you approached cutting them?
I guess it goes without saying that I always started each sequence by choosing the best performances. Each musical number had it’s own pace and musical style so we cut accordingly. Most of the songs were shot and recorded as full versions and depending on where we were in the show, we would use more or less of a song. We found that we generally couldn’t sustain them all at full length, however well they played in the micro. Each song was choreographed by Stephen Page so the girls had a dance routine for each number.
What was your favourite experience?
Screenings of this film were fantastic. It didn’t matter how long the cut was or what we did, the audiences always enjoyed the show regardless of how much work there was left to do. My favourite scenes in the film are the rehearsal of “Heard it Through the Grapevine”, (the basement rehearsal), and the scene when Kay and Gail go back to visit their grandmother. Both had beautiful performances, and strong clear images — a gift to edit. The four girls and their manager are unique characters with incredible charm and the music was a great pleasure to work with.