It’s not surprising that comedic actor Ed Kavalee’s debut telemovie Scumbus is about to hit screens. What is surprising is that he used his life savings to self-fund the project, which was strong enough to attract come of the biggest names in Australian comedy including Glenn Robbins, Tony Martin, Peter Helliar and Dave Hughes.
“What do they tell you not to do? Don’t put your own money in,” Kavalee says. “But I didn’t have a choice – what am I going to do? Ring up a funding body and say I have this idea for a comedy telemovie? They would have hung up straight away. You know you get to this point where you say ‘I’ve got to do something’…”
Kavalee has been winning fans over the past six years on radio and as a host and performer on TV shows such Thank God You’re Here; TV Burp; Santo, Sam and Ed’s Cup Fever! and The Joy of Sets. It was Cup Fever! co-host Santo Cilauro – one of the Working Dog team behind mega-successful films such as The Castle and The Dish – who read Kavalee’s Scumbus script and encouraged him to take the leap into production. “I didn’t really have an excuse not to,” Kavalee says.
Soon, a bevy of Australia’s top talent was on board despite an initial shoe-strong budget of just $60,000 for an 11-day shoot in Melbourne. The story (originally conceived with fellow actor Josh Lawson) follows Kavalee’s ‘good cop’ and Toby Truslove as his ‘bad cop’ partner after they’re shipped to the notorious Scumbus police station by their boss (Glenn Robbins). It also stars Lachy Hulme as a drug dealer, and includes appearances by comedians Kate Langbroek and Ryan Shelton, who join Robbins, Martin, Helliar and Hughes. The drawcard of such a cast is enormous Kavalee says: their combined Twitter followers alone number over 450,000.
“I don’t see enough of comedians [on screen] and those sort of people in things… I just think it’s a massive audience and a massive group that are under-represented.”
The risk of self-funding Scumbus is generating dividends: Network Ten picked up the telemovie and it earned a slot at the LA Comedy Film Festival (it screens November 4).
It is some distance from Kavalee’s early days in the Australian screen industry, when he was rejected from a small role on local TV series Blue Heelers.
“I had an audition and a woman said ‘you’re just not going to get on Australian TV looking like that or acting like that unless they do a bio pick of KD Lang or Rob Mills – you’re kidding yourself’ and that’s why I’m always in the debt of people that I look up to and am trying to emulate: Mick [Molloy], Tony [Martin] and Working Dog. That’s what they did – they went away and said ‘stuff it, we’re going to make a movie’.”
Kavalee and crew are also talking to film distributors about their next project, Border Protection Squad – a film which parodies the reality TV genre.
Some of Australia’s most successful films have featured actors who made their name in TV – Crocodile Dundee, The Wog Boy, The Craic, Fat Pizza, Crackerjack – although success in recent years has been more mixed. In 2009, Peter Helliar’s big screen comedy, I Love You Too, underperformed at cinemas, as did last year’s Any Questions For Ben? – a rare misfire for Working Dog. The big screen version of the Kath and Kim TV series only performed moderately this year while Paul Fenech’s big screen version of popular SBS TV series Housos (Housos Vs Authority released November 1) looms as another test.
But for now, the focus is on Scumbus for Kavalee. Ten will screen the telemovie on Saturday, November 10, at 9.30pm.
“I’ve always said I wanted the opportunity to get beaten by Midsomer Murders and I know 7TWO is running a really good episode of Heartbeat as well, so it’s a tough slot.”