Few films are shot by two cinematographers across two separate shoots. But then few things about indigenous film Mad Bastards are orthodox.

The film – which is imbued with the music of the Pigram brothers and Alex Lloyd – follows the journey of ‘mad bastard’ TJ, his estranged and volatile 13 year-old son Bullet, and local cop, Grandpa Tex.

The filmmakers' journey, led by writer-director Brendan Fletcher, was innovative and exploratory, characterised by improvisation from a cast of largely non-actors who also provided much of the inspiration for the original story.

Allan Collins ACS filmed the first six-week shooting phase while Steve Arnold ACS shot the second three-and-a-half week phase. The cinematographers used Kodak Vision 2 5205 250D with an Aaton 35 camera supplied by Lemac. (A small amount of Vision 3 5219 500T was used for night shoots, as well as some Vision 2 5201 50D.)

“The process itself was, I think, sort of crazy but it was the only way you make that film,” Collins says. “If we’d used the standard type of process I think some things would have come out really wooden; there’s a kind of realism that we’ve achieved that’s very, very hard to achieve – it’s nearly impossible … to not romanticise something.”

The film has a documentary-feel but is still clearly aimed at the big screen – a look that Fletcher was after from the start.

The lighting was minimal and when used, made to look as natural as possible. Collins says one scene shot in a corridor was lit using just the light globe in the house. “If it was wrong, somehow it was right.”

At the end of phase one, several months passed and were used for editing. The second shoot, led by cinematographer Steve Arnold ACS, was pared back, although it presented some unlikely challenges of its own.

“We didn’t shoot drive-bys and cars and things like that because it was too green,” Arnold says.

About one-quarter of the final film was completed in the second phase including the first eight minutes of the film (including the boys roaming the town lighting fires and burning down houses), TJ’s time in Perth (apart from the interior pool room brawl sequence), TJ visiting the uncle in prison and his mother's house.

Arnold continued the naturalistic feel, matching the feel and look of the first half footage seamlessly, to finish the $3.2 million film.

The cinematography on display in Mad Bastards has already won plaudits, with the film named as one of the American Society of Cinematographers three must-see films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It also won the Milton Ingerson Award at the 2010 SA & WA Australian Cinematographers Society Awards.

Check out IF magazine issue #140 (April-May) for a feature about the making of Mad Bastards. The film is released by Transmission Films on May 5.

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