If anyone should be aware of the power of cricket to reveal the best and worst sides of human nature, it’s Brendan Cowell.
After all, Cowell wrote (and stars in) the upcoming cricket comedy Save Your Legs! (which is currently in production) as well as two episodes of Matchbox Pictures’ The Slap, a fictional series exploring a traumatic chain of events ignited when an adult slaps a child during a backyard cricket game.
Although Cowell looks upon both writing experiences fondly, they couldn’t be further apart in terms of tone.
Save Your Legs! will be shot in Australia and India with funding from Film Victoria and Screen Australia. It tells the story of Edward Teddy Brown, who starts a cricket team with his two best mates to embark on a tour of India and recapture his childhood dreams.
The story is especially relevant to Cowell, a thirtysomething cricket fan.
“You know the age that I’m in now… most folks are getting married and having kids or they’re moving away … the cricket team can’t always field a full team,” says Cowell, who explains that the film is about “that changing nature of friendship.”
Cowell tells IF the idea for the movie began when he was attending the Sundance Film Festival for his role in the 2007 Aussie film Noise and met producer Nick Batzias, who also produced the 2005 documentary upon which Save Your Legs! is based.
“We spent a lot of the night in Sundance listening to the Ashes on his Apple Mac while drinking beer,” Cowell remembers. “He sent me the doco when I got home and I said, ‘mate, you should turn that into a big, broad comedy, you know, a big bromance.’”
But while the writer exercises his comedic streak on Save Your Legs!, it was only recently that he was delving into the darker side of human nature with The Slap.
Although it is often described as ‘controversial’ and ‘modern’, Cowell says the series is something of a throwback to the good old days of Australian drama.
“We made Prisoner a long time ago; we made Blue Murder,” says Cowell, who wrote two of the eight hour-long episodes of The Slap, including the finale. “I think we’ve had 'ballsier' days. I just think we … should return to them because I think Australian audiences are bored with what they’ve been getting.”
What they have been getting, according to Cowell, are characters so mild that you have to “kill someone or drown someone” to make drama. “That’s not drama,” Cowell says. “Drama’s got to come from the characters.”
Cowell is confident that Australian audiences are ready for “high-concept”, “big storylines” and “flawed characters”. And flawed these characters are: each episode of The Slap assumes the perspective of one of eight different people, wife beaters, adulterers, liars and drunks among them.
“It’s very rare that you read something in Australia where all the characters are in very head-on conflict with their lives,” Cowell says. “We write a lot of passive characters and a lot of pedestrian stories.”
Cowell wrote two episodes based on two starkly opposed characters, proud child-slapper Harry and troubled teenager Ritchie.
“Writing a character like Harry who is very dark and angry and monstrous at times and has these deep-seated demons that he has to come to terms with, and then being able to write Ritchie who’s kind of pure and naïve and open to the world, it was just a fantastic kind of duo.”
But Cowell is quick to say the episodes were also a collective effort, whereby everyone would pitch in ideas at writing workshops.
“I wrote the words, but we all sat down and turned this book into a TV series.”
While Save Your Legs! is inspired by a documentary, The Slap is based on an award-winning novel by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas. Compared to the organic evolution of Save Your Legs!, this made for an interesting adaptive challenge.
“We had to find a way to bring all these characters into each other’s lives so we didn’t forget about them from episode to episode,” Cowell says. “Bringing a lot of dreams and fantasies that are in the book in a monologue to life, that was a wonderful challenge.”
With the success of The Slap, now set for distribution in the US and Canada, and other projects in the works, Cowell is ready to head off to India for Save Your Legs! and is understandably excited about the future. But the prolific writer doesn’t often talk like someone at the cutting-edge of a burgeoning Indian/Australian tie-up movement or transformative Australian drama.
“I guess I’m not so involved in the big strategies of things. I just kind of turn the computer on and write the show.”
Save Your Legs! is due for a theatrical release through Madman Entertainment in late 2012. The Slap was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Hopscotch Entertainment on December 1.