Damien Power talks debut feature Killing Ground

Aaron Glenane and Aaron Pedersen in Killing Ground.

Writer-director Damien Power describes the writing process on his thriller, Killing Ground, in one word: "long".

"I was working with producer Joe Weatherstone on another script. With that project we went to the then-AFC's IndiVision lab, which was a workshop for low-budget features: a million or less. It's a workshop so we kind of pulled it apart, and I don't think we ever really put those pieces back together again". 

"But while I was in that process I had an idea for something that I thought we could make quickly and cheaply. And then eight years later, I got to make it" (laughs). 

Power's debut feature stars Aaron Pedersen, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Glenane, Maya Strange, and Tiarnie Coupland, and was inspired by an image that floated into the filmmaker's head: of an orange tent in the bush, abandoned.

The production finally got to the starting line last year after a false start two years ago.

"We had a very small, untested distributor on board and we were all set to go for Screen Australia funding, but that distributor was not approved. Luckily, Mushroom had been interested in the project for some time, and they came to us and said they'd love to do it. We had an international sales agent on board, so we threw our hat in the ring for Screen Australia, who came onboard as investors, as did Screen NSW".

The film, which Power calls "a smart, unorthodox genre piece", shot in Macquarie Fields for 26 days (with an extra to make up for inclement skies) in late October, early November.

"It's entirely set outdoors, and it rained a lot", laughed Power.

"We were battling the weather. It's set in the bush in the middle of nowhere, so it was a matter of trying to find the middle of nowhere as close to Sydney as we could. And we found this fantastic reserve in Macquarie Fields that had everything, because it wasn't just a look we were after but a very specific geography that I wanted for the film."

According to its director, Killing Ground "ramps from a suspense thriller to more of a survival thriller. Things like Funny Games and Straw Dogs were references. Films that take their central couple and put them through the wringer, and we see what's left afterwards". 

Release is in the hands of Mushroom, and Power, who is a week away from picture lock, is hoping for festival play. 

The filmmaker cites European thrillers like George Sluizer's original The Vanishing or Cédric Kahn Red Lights as inspirations, and argues that thrillers about interpersonal domestic conflicts – rather than, say, the world of international conspiracy thrillers – is where Australia can compete.

"You look at a filmmaker like Joel Edgerton. The Gift is one of those films, and could have been an Australian story".