Lynda House talks about her journey
BY MIGUEL GONZALEZ
Lynda House, producer of Muriel’s Wedding, visited the NFSA in December 2014 to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film and launch the online exhibition, Muriel’s Wedding: Renewing Our Vows. Watch excerpts from her Q&A with Meg Labrum (above) before a screening of the film at the NFSA.
Below is the transcript of an interview with Lynda conducted by Miguel Gonzalez at the NFSA in December 2014.
When did you first hear about Muriel’s Wedding?
I first met PJ Hogan when he had written a treatment for Muriel’s Wedding. A treatment is a 20-page document that takes the story from beginning to end but generally without dialogue, so it’s an outline of the story. And it must have been about 24–25 years ago. He brought that to me and I really loved it and our plan was to make Muriel. But then his wife, Jocelyn Moorhouse, had a film called Proof (1991) and this got funded quite quickly, so we did that first and then Muriel’s Wedding came after Proof. So it was probably about 1989 that PJ and I first started talking about doing Muriel’s Wedding.
What was your first reaction to the treatment?
The treatment was pretty much the film that you see now. The only major difference was that the father, the Bill Hunter character, had a slightly bigger role, a larger presence in the story. And what happened as the story expanded to the 110-page document that became the shooting script, Bill Hunter’s character had to be cut back a bit because he was such a powerful character and was overwhelming the story – and it was Muriel’s story and was always going to be Muriel’s story.
Did you have to cut anything from the script because of budget?
When we first took the film to the Film Finance Corporation, which is now Screen Australia, they rejected the film and we had to cut nearly a third from the budget. We would have filmed more in Queensland. We chose to film most of it in Sydney and we only went to Queensland for a week to get some key locations. We used the Norfolk pine as an emblem for the seaside and there were lots of seaside locations that we used in Sydney that we matched to Norfolk pine locations in Queensland and that was a kind of visual glue for people that makes the film more convincingly shot in the same place. So we would have shot more up in Queensland. We probably would have had more extras in the film. But overall I have to say I don’t miss that extra money when I watch it. We had to cut our fees – that’s where it would have been nice to have more money!
When did you first realise that the film connected with people?
I think we all knew we had a film that connected after probably about five or six weeks of editing in post-production. You can’t really tell when you’re filming if a film’s going to work. It’s not until you start putting it together in the editing suite and you start to get the music in and the sound effects in. So it was when Jill Bilcock, our fabulous editor, got into about six weeks of the post-production schedule that we felt we had real connection. We had a lot of friends and people invited to screenings and pretty much the response was positive. And when we had our final screening before we went to Cannes we felt pretty positive. And also we sent it to Cannes for selection in Directors’ Fortnight and even though it wasn’t complete when they saw it, their response to us was so positive that it really gave us the confidence that it was going to work.
Have you heard ‘You’re terrible Muriel’ in any unexpected places?
I have got one story about ‘You’re terrible Muriel’. There was a competition in Sydney to win tickets to Muriel’s Wedding and people rang in to say ‘You’re terrible Muriel’ and the winner obviously got the tickets. And Gabby Millgate [who said the line in the film] was one of the people who rang in and she didn’t win!
Did you ever hear from ABBA after the film was released?
We were certainly part of an ABBA revival. We had a very strange kind of acknowledgement – in the poster for ABBA Gold [compilation] it says ‘Now your life can be like an ABBA song’, which is a reinterpretation of Muriel’s line which is ‘I want my life to be like an ABBA song’. So I think that was ABBA’s way of saying ‘you did well’.
When was the last time you saw Toni Collette?
I saw Toni in Sydney about two or three years ago. I would have hoped to have seen her more but I moved from Sydney to Tasmania. But I know how fondly she remembers the film and I remember her saying to me when she was working on the film, every morning she would wake up and look forward to the day.
Are there any items from filming that you wish you still had?
Muriel’s Wedding was made for $3.5 million which wasn’t an excruciatingly low budget. We made Proof a couple of years before that for $1.1 million, but a much simpler film. But when you have a limited budget like that every cent has to go on the making of the movie. So at the end of the film, particularly a successful film, there isn’t the time for thought, the proper mindfulness that you need to go through everything to even consider how you would retain it. It’s all about packing up and getting out of the spaces that you’ve only hired to make the film and moving on.
There are a lot of costumes – we would have recognised that the t-shirt (‘You Can’t Stop Progress’) as a kind of iconic t-shirt even then because it was chosen for that poster shot. There would have been a lot of things. I’ve still got the photograph, that I’m going to donate to the NFSA as soon as I get home, that Toni has in the back of the taxi when she’s coming home and she’s looking at it. There are a couple of things that I kept and there may have been a couple of things that other people souvenired. If it wasn’t for the NFSA we wouldn’t have the lost footage, the lost scene, because that was in my attic in Sydney and I wasn’t even sure that it had survived. And that’s where little bits and pieces end up because of that lack of time to think about the importance of keeping them.
Would you recommend the NFSA to producers?
Absolutely, it should be more than a consideration – it almost should be compulsory. But I know what it’s like at the end, I know how hard it is. It would be absolutely fantastic if the NFSA could somehow go in at the end of a film and identify things that they could help with. So you have somebody there who can cherry pick. The problem with that, though, is that you don’t know at that point how well your film is going to do. So there is this space between finishing up on a film and packing up on a film, because even before you start to edit that material is gone. Once you finish the shoot generally there is a week or two in the office and then everything has to move out. And then everyone leaves and that office goes back to being what it was before and then you move into the editing stage. But I can just say that without the NFSA none of these things that are here on the 20th anniversary, apart from film footage, would be here.
How do you feel about the online exhibition?
It’s fantastic, it just makes it available all around the world and the NFSA is already getting responses from actors who were in the film, people who loved the film, from people all over the world helping you with translations for some of the international posters of the film. It’s absolutely wonderful.
How do you feel about the film being celebrated 20 years on?
We had a screening in Melbourne on 14 November  with the Screen Editors’ Guild and the Cinematographers’ Guild and the NFSA who made this happen. We sold out at the screening at the Nova. We had an audience ranging in age from 13 or 14 to people in their 80s who would have seen the film in their 60s. The audience from beginning to end was completely with the film. It was absolutely wonderful. The film somehow translates now just as powerfully as it did then. I was speaking to one young lady who was 14 and it’s one of her favourite films. It’s an absolute joy to make a film that lives on.