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Crowe scuttles Eucalyptus film
Creative differences ... Russell Crowe in Coffs Harbour yesterday. Photo: Peter Barnes Agency. Image not for download.
By Tony Davis and Susan Wyndham
February 12, 2005
Eucalyptus, the Australian film bringing together Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and acclaimed director Jocelyn Moorhouse, has imploded in an apparent clash of egos, opinions and, more than anything, words on paper.
"Creative disagreements" and "personality differences" are the polite terms being used. But it seems there was an irreconcilable breakdown between Crowe and Moorhouse, and, according to the most extreme stories emanating from the set, between Crowe and almost everybody else.
What has been confirmed is that the project - which many believed would give the Australian film industry a much needed kick-along - was put on indefinite hold for "script reasons". The closure, just three days before filming was to start, leaves 80 Australian film crew jobless, and the town of Bellingen, in northern NSW, in shock.
Test shootings of all the principal actors had been completed, a $6.4 million set built at Bellingen and a studio established at nearby Coffs Harbour. Originally slated for late last year, filming was to start last Monday, but was delayed a further week. The weather - three clear days in a row - was blamed for further stoppages.
surfaced during intense rehearsals held in Sydney over the past three weeks, with Crowe and Kidman reported to be "dismissive" of some of the minor actors, and Crowe regularly introducing his own script changes.
Complicating the situation was Crowe's position as executive producer, which gives him a level of control over the screenplay, which Moorhouse co-wrote.
Stories of a head-on collision between Moorhouse, who has a reputation of being easy to get along with, and Crowe, who doesn't, have been circulating for the past week. An insider explained that a crisis meeting earlier this week - believed to involve Crowe, Moorhouse and one or two of the producers - failed to reach a working solution.
A joint statement, issued yesterday in the names of Crowe, Kidman, Moorhouse and producer Uberto Pasolini, said: "The postponement in no way lessens our passion to bring Murray Bail's beautiful Australian novel to the big screen."
That the script is problematic is not in question; in the book, Kidman's character is 19 years old, meaning things had to be greatly reworked. But in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Fox Searchlight Pictures said the sole reason for the film's postponement was the need for more work on the script.
John Scott, of Foxlight Searchlight, denied Moorhouse had left the project, or that Crowe's demands for late script changes had led to a breakdown in their working relationship.
"Russell is executive producer so would have had comments on script, but the film script was not at the point we wanted."
Scott said he was confident that, when Eucalyptus was made, Moorhouse would be director.
But a crew member told the Herald the official explanation was "complete crap".
If the crunch came down to the lines Crowe was asked to mouth, it wouldn't be the first time. Clashes over the script of Gladiator have entered movie lore. One of the film's scriptwriters, John Logan, has claimed he was fired "because Russell Crowe was dissatisfied with the work I had done and made his unhappiness known to all". "I had never seen an actor wield his power so boldly," he said.
His replacement, the British screenwriter Bill Nicholson, did not fair much better. He said Crowe complained about his character's final lines. "[Russell] said, 'I'm not going to speak this shit,' " Nicholson recalled.
But the film's director, Ridley Scott, persuaded Crowe to have a go, and the result won him an Oscar. "Russell said, 'It was shit but I am the greatest actor in the world and I can make even shit sound good'," Nicholson said.
Kidman and Crowe's spokeswoman, Wendy Day, said yesterday was "a very sad day" and that Kidman was "devastated" by the events.
"She told me she was excited to come home and make this movie back in Australia. She came here all prepared to play Ellen, she was ready to go . . . She really wants to make the film if the studio is still able to make it happen," Ms Day said.
Bail was tipped off about the postponement yesterday, but said he did not know the precise reason. "It's very hard to do a film with so many people involved, which is why most films are no good. I was sent both scripts but I haven't read them. It had to be changed because the woman was 15 years older. At first glance it sounded pretty bad but when I thought about it, the script could make her a more interesting, complex woman."
Pasolini told the film's Sydney crew at noon yesterday, then flew to Coffs Harbour to address the 70 crew there. The mood at the Coffs Harbour studio was more one of shock than anger as Pasolini - accompanied by Crowe - stood up and apologised for "messing with people's lives" and said how much the studio appreciated the efforts made so far. Several people complained they had rented their houses in Sydney to move to Bellingen and were now without a wage and without a home, but the mood stayed restrained.
The feeling among the crew is that Moorhouse is out, with some saying Crowe wants to direct the film himself.
However, Pasolini said yesterday: "The people who were in place a week ago are still in place." In Hollywood, "indefinite hold" is normally a euphemism for "canned", but according to the location manager, Peter Lawless, the cost of the set and the amount of work already done meant Eucalyptus would almost certainly be made in some form.
Bellingen townsfolk were nonetheless feeling a "bit burnt", many having packed up and moved out of their homes after renting them to the production company for $600-700 a week.
"The whole thing's gone sour," said one renter. "A lot of people had made a huge change in their lives to accommodate this but they were just dealing [with us] in a really slack, unprofessional manner."
Gary Conlan, owner of the Jelga River Retreat, had agreed to rent the film crew two self-contained cottages and one house in the country. "They booked them all for 10 weeks and we were officially informed about half an hour ago that it's all fallen through," he said. The production company had promised to ring him next week to discuss compensation, he said.
Bellingen Shire Mayor Mark Troy said the postponement was "a great disappointment, given the build-up and the publicity that has been associated with this film. We're all felling pretty flat.
"Nicole Kidman and her support team were going to stay in Bellingen and that Russell Crowe was going to commute by helicopter."
The production company informed real estate agents yesterday. At least 20 families had rented out their houses and either taken a holiday or moved elsewhere in the town.
Peter Sanger, owner of Kirkland Real Estate, said the five families he had dealt with had been paid up-front for 12 weeks.
What they said
February 12, 2005
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'Part of my reason in deciding to work with Jocelyn Moorhouse in bringing Murray Bail's wonderful book to life as a feature film was to bring outside finance into a sagging local industry without having to call on the meagre budgets made available to hard working local film bodies. With the help of a few friends this movie will actually become a mark in the sand, a statement of power through ensemble and therefore of greater impetus to the industry.'
Comments reportedly made by Crowe in an email responding to a gossip column item about trouble on the set.
'The postponement in no way lessens our passion to bring Murray Bail's beautiful Australian novel to the big screen.'
A joint statement issued in the names of Crowe, Kidman, Moorhouse and the producer, Uberto Pasolini.
'Russell is executive producer, so would have had comments on script, but the film script was not at the point we wanted.'
John Scott, of Foxlight Searchlight.