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THE ROVER

About The Production
For his follow-up to 2011's universally acclaimed ANIMAL KINGDOM, a family drama set in the Melbourne criminal underworld, writer-director David Michod broadens his palette for another pub thriller, this time set in the Australian outback, ten years after a great Western economic collapse. The world of THE ROVER is a near future of social and economic decay, where services, utilities, law and order have fallen into dangerous disrepair. And yet people from all corners of the world have come to this desolate outpost to work the mines that feed the Asian century. With them follow the leeches, hustlers and criminals who hope to exploit the mines' economic margins.

Although set in an unspecified future, THE ROVER is very much rooted in today's geopolitics, amid the inevitable shifting of global power and the rapacious capacity for under-regulated Western economies to destroy themselves. Envisioning a post-collapse Australia as resource-rich Third World country, Michod thought a great deal about the violence and unrest of contemporary Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the writing of the film.

"This isn't a complete collapse of society so much as an inversion of present-day global power dynamics," Michod says of his second feature. "Unlike many films set in a dystopian future, I didn't want the devastation of THE ROVER to be seen as the result of a single cataclysmic or apocalyptic event, which can distance viewers from the earth and air of the story. I wanted this film to feel like an entirely conceivable world of the very near future - a world despoiled by very real forces and systems at work all around us today. Everything that goes wrong in THE ROVER could be a direct consequence of the world as we know it today: greed, environmental abuse, collapse of empire."

At the center of this terrifying world are two men - one, the murderously embittered Australian Eric (Guy Pearce), a former soldier who has lost his farm and his family; the other, the simple and naive American miner Rey (Robert Pattison), too young to remember a time when things were anything other than what they are.

They meet after Eric's car - his last worldly possession - is stolen outside a Cambodian diner by a gang of petty criminals, to which Rey, wounded and left for dead after a shoot-out, once belonged.

Incorporating elements of the revenge thriller, the classic Western, the road movie and the road movie THE ROVER throws together two very disparate souls on a surreal mission to retrieve Eric's vehicle. Together they travel remote desert roads, encountering the refuse and survivors of a new Australian landscape: murderous carnival workers and circus performers, Asian refugees, traumatized shopkeepers and the remaining fragments of a besieged and disillusioned military trying to hold the world together.

As he wrote the screenplay, Michod already envisioned Guy Pearce in the role of Eric, a man in his mid-40s who has experienced the gradual but steady economic collapse of the story's world. "I wanted the character to be someone who remembered a time when things were different," explains Michod, "someone who was also carrying around a jaded resentment that was bubbling up in a really murderous and dangerous way. I wrote the part for Guy because I saw Eric as someone who was emotionally powerful but also strangely unavailable. I've spent quite a bit of time with Guy now and he remains a mystery to me. I think that's a wonderful quality for an actor to have - that unknowability."

For Pearce, despite already knowing Michod and admiring his work, the character of Eric did not register with him immediately - though he knew he could make something interesting and powerful of the character. "Eric's really a shell of a man when we meet him in the film," Pearce explains. "He's experienced harrowing personal events along with the evident demise of humanity. He's a man questioning his own moral standing but feels he can't answer that. Society has proven to be questionable itself, so he has no real marker to be able to gauge this anymore. On some level Eric has reached a very calm state. But it's also clear that he's lost and has come to the end of his metaphorical road. He has one last thing to do before possibly ending his life, and that task has been stifled by the theft of his car."

The next step in bringing THE ROVER to life was to build a cast around Pearce. The global success of ANIMAL KINGDOM opened doors for Michod in Los Angeles, and he was in the privileged position to be able to audition several heavyweights, including Robert Pattison. Working with casting director Kirsty McGregor and Lava Bear's President of Production Tory Metzger, Michod met with the British-born actor despite never having watched a single film in THE TWILIGHT SAGA. "Rob's tests were excellent - full of life, never forced or artificial, that was enough as far as I was concerned," Michod recalls. "There's something very exciting about knowing you have an opportunity to show the world that an otherwise pigeon-holed or underestimated movie star actually has a whole world of underutilized talent inside him. I can't wait for everyone else to see."

Before casting Pattison, Michod met American actor Scoot McNairy in New Orleans

while he was filming Andrew Dominik's crime drama KILLING ME SOFTLY. Not surprisingly, when it came time to cast Rey's older brother Henry, McNairy was the obvious choice. Henry's fellow gang members Archie and Caleb - hustlers and desperados eking out a living in the collapsed world of the story - were brought to life, respectively, by David Field and Tawanda Manyimo, gifted character actors who rose to the challenge of creating an unforgettable pair of screen hustlers.

Upon reading the screenplay, Australian producer Liz Watts of Porchlight Films - Michod's collaborator on ANIMAL KINGDOM - was immediately struck by the writer-director's distinctive vision. "It was seemingly about two characters and their relationship," Watts recalls. "But what I loved about it was that it had these elements of a Western, including the landscape. But it was also set in a world that is very relevant, I think, to what has happened economically in America and Europe in the last few years."

After the release of ANIMAL KINGDOM, Michod met American producer David Linde of Lava Bear Films. Linde was excited for the chance to work on Michod next film. Michod and Linde spoke a lot about what the director's expectations should be on how the film was presented - both in Australia and globally. THE ROVER would become Linde's first Australian production - and a truly global one in terms of THE ROVER's story elements, exotic location and international cast and crew. The team secured international finance and finance through Australian agencies, including Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation and Screen NSW. Michod and his team began filming for a seven-week period in the remote South Australian outback during the hottest months of the year, where temperatures often reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

After scouting various regions of Australia with his producers, Michod settled on the Flinders Ranges, north of Adelaide, offering the beauty and starkness of the surrounding hills in addition to a slew of rustic towns. The shoot moved across a number of areas in South Australia, filming in five key locations, including the unique outback town of Marree, population 90. An outpost terminating in the vast Simpson Desert, Marree had never before been captured in a feature film. The shoot more than doubled the town's population, as THE ROVER's 100-plus cast and crew descended on the tiny hamlet for three weeks of filming.

The rugged terrain surrounding Marree became something of a third character in the movie, and the objective was to depict it as harshly as some of the film's more intense human characters. "The Flinders Ranges are beautiful, but we didn't want to photograph them in a way that would accentuate their beauty," admits Director of Photography Natasha Braier. "We wanted to capture the desolation, the roughness, the hostility, the struggle for survival, so that the terrain became a visual representation of the movie's emotional landscapes. We didn't go for the magic-hour lights and the beautiful postcard shots - David banned those things on the first day I met him. We went for the opposite. We tried to photograph the heat, and the

inhabitability of the region." Adds Michod: "The outback is terrifying because of its emptiness. Vulnerability, isolation, otherworldliness - it's humbling and intimidating and profoundly beautiful all at once."

The remote location was a welcome retreat for the cast; the locals left them to do their work, and there were only a few paparazzi on Pattinson's trail. Given the isolated location (one phone line in Marree, no mobile phone reception and very little entertainment options) a sense of camaraderie developed between the locals, cast and filmmakers. Pattinson summarizes the outback experience: "I'd never shot like this anywhere before, there's nothing for miles and miles. It's fun to work with a crew in a tiny little town where everybody's hanging out with each other all the time. You develop a great bond, and I haven't had that for a while. You don't get that with big studio movies."

Production designer Jo Ford and casting director Kirsty McGregor made scouting trips up and down the Flinders Ranges in search of locations - and locals - that would compliment THE ROVER's specific atmosphere. "When we were looking at locations, we had to knock on doors, and the doors opened, and behind them were people that you wound up seeing in the film as extras," Ford explains. "David was completely beguiled by them, and their stories became our back stories for the film. In South Australia you can virtually walk up to anyone's door, bang on it and say 'Let me in, I want to see what you've got to offer by the way of sets,' and they'll only be too happy to let you in. They're country people and really open, and we found that people couldn't help us enough."

The main concern with shooting in the Flinders Ranges was the weather - specifically the heat and the ability of the cast and crew to work in these conditions. The production - which shot from January 28 through March 16, 2013 - was set to shoot in the hottest, driest months in the area. "The look of the film was always meant to be hot," explains producer Liz Watts. "We wanted the audience to feel the scorching heat down there." While scouting some of the locations, Michod and the producers faced temperatures of 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and were convinced that both cast and crew would quit upon arrival. This was a serious concern for production and one that was counteracted with meticulous planning and preparation.

Unexpectedly, the heat didn't prove to be a disaster, with temperatures hovering at just over 110 degrees during filming. Rain at one stage did play havoc with scheduling but ultimately the weather was not as severe as expected. While still very hot, it was the influx of outback flies that proved most challenging to cast and crew. Indeed, most of the actors found that immersing themselves in the true environment of THE ROVER allowed them to slip into character more efficiently. "It always helps to be in real locations," Pearce explains. "That extreme heat, those flies, and that vast expanse of desert - it just adds to it, like you're putting on a costume. It takes you there."

It was important to Michod that the film was true to its environment, so every piece

of set dressing including the buildings, cars and other props were meticulously altered to match the rustic surroundings. The dry sand and dirt and spinifex greens of the desert landscape were smeared throughout the set, cementing the film's color palette. For the cinematography, hours were spent in pre-production working out how to best convey destruction of the world on-screen in visual terms. "The challenge was finding the language of the movie, because it's at heart very minimalist," explains Braier. "There are some action moments in the story, but it's all about the atmosphere, and the relationship between Eric and Rey - namely the tension between them. An even greater challenge was finding out what was underneath all that, then conveying it on screen. After much preparation, we knew exactly what was really lurking underneath the stillness of each character."

In order to convey the decline of the world at the heart of THE ROVER, Braier employed vertiginous camera angles and the strategic placing of objects - whether props, furniture or lighting - to signify a general falling down of people or objects to ground level. "We placed things at ground level or positioned the lights so they came from the ground to suggest there was no infrastructure left in this world," Braier explains. "The characters used fluorescent lamps to move around from room to room in the darkness because in that world they have minimal possessions."

The filmmakers chose to shoot on Super 35 film instead of digital, deeming it the most suitable format texturally for the movie. "Super 35 is the most beautiful format and it's still better than digital," insists Braier. "Also the menacing quality of the heat was so important to the movie. Shooting in an environment like South Australia, with the intense contrast and heat, film is much more forgiving and versatile than a digital camera. This was purely an aesthetic choice."

Most crucial of all during production was to strike a balance between the localized world of the outback, with its forbidding, almost mystical landscapes, and the more global platform suggested by the characters and the post-collapse story world.

Henry and Caleb (the polyglot thugs who steal Eric's car in the opening scene of the film) and the many cultural dissociates in the film are all rovers in their own right - wandering the globe seeking economic opportunity and now roaming Australia, pilfering what they can to survive. This modern-day cross-pollination of worlds was important to Michod and the team, for the storytelling as much as for the film's international financing.

Post-production work was completed in Sydney, with a total of 13 weeks editing and 13 weeks sound editing and mixing. Editor Peter Sciberras assembled footage and began the editing process with a set of existing songs and music from the likes of Colin Stetson, William Basinski, Tortoise, Giacinto Scelsi and Keri Hilson that Michod and Music Supervisor Jemma Burns had previously shared with the cast prior to production as mood signifiers.

Many of these tracks wound up in the film itself, blending in with the work of Sound Designer Sam Petty and Composer Antony Partos to create a cacophonous, worldly

blend of sound and music that feels as jagged and dissonant as the landscape itself. "David has a good ear, and his ability to choose and integrate key tracks into the film at script stage is a bit of a signature of his," explains Petty. "I was presented with this wonderful smorgasbord of provocative, often very abstract pieces of music. Basically everything in this world is breaking or already broken, so I went from there."

Working in a narrative landscape of extensive disrepair sent Petty on a mission to find the right sounds to correspond with the fractured state of mind of the film's protagonist. In addition to the pre-existing music tracks, Petty looked for sonic inspiration in everything from props and sets (including crudely wired automobiles running on homemade fuel and improvised homes and businesses - which Petty describes as "the grindings of a virtually collapsed infrastructure") to such immaterial items as the cultural legacy of the extensive Asian-based outback mining that serves as THE ROVER's invisible backdrop. Petty elaborates: "All this sonic distemper allows for a cumulatively unsettling soundscape - a foundation of searing musical dissonance and overlay: detuned cars revving on 2.5 cylinders without oil, grinding, crunching, screeching metal on metal; desolate winds and harsh landscapes devoid of life; a mélange of Chinese talkback, Asian pop music and Australian military communications haunting the airwaves - and a nihilistic reduction of all of this running through the troubled mind of Eric."

Counterbalancing Eric's cacophonous mindset is Pattison's disarmingly naive Rey, whose own psychological soundscapes are represented by Antony Partos's warmer, gentler musical score, which Petty describes as "a careful, incremental unpeeling of discordant atmospheric layers that becomes the key to revealing the chink in Eric's formidable emotional armor."

Visual effects were also completed in Sydney, by Fuel VX, led by principals Dave Morley and Jason Bath, which did an extensive amount of work on exteriors to enhance the world of the film, and to subtly shape the audience's view of a world that has suffered economic collapse. It was important to Michod and his team, including production designer Jo Ford that any VFX work was never overdone, but plays at the level of realism for the characters and their story.

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