Pawno: An interview with actor and screenwriter Damian Hill
Pawno is a big-hearted, character-driven ensemble film that takes place in a dusty pawnbrokers in the heart of Footscray, an inner-western suburb of Melbourne, starring Damian Hill (West of Sunshine, Spin Out) as Danny and Jon Brumpton (Romper Stomper, The Hunter) as Les. The action takes place over one day with a whole host of characters. The film marks Hill’s screenwriting debut and is released in the UK on Friday 20th October 2017. The Upcoming spoke to the actor and screenwriter about his characters and their relationships to each other, the setting of the movie and why he named the film Pawno.
Hi Damian! Thanks for speaking to us at The Upcoming. We really enjoyed Pawno.
Cool! I’m glad. That helps.
So where did it all begin?
I wrote [the screenplay] months beforehand. Then I worked with Paul (Ireland) – who directed it – and John Brumpton – who plays Les – on a play. Paul and I became mates and as we were discussing it he said he would like to direct it. It all evolved from that I guess.
Did John inspire the character of Les?
I wrote it for John. I suppose between Danny and Les is a reflection of males able to do things through action that they can’t perhaps vocalise at times. Les gives Danny a pretty hard time throughout the day – and, I would presume, throughout life – but, ultimately, he loves him; he gives him a stolen watch and is able to orchestrate things with the girl he likes. But Les is probably not able to say “I care about you” and that kind of thing.
I feel like the film explored many different models of masculinity. Did you set out to write a movie about all of the different experiences and ways of being a man?
Primarily, it was the relationship between Les and Danny that interested me. Maybe it is not so much about “being a man” but about different characters. Initially it was even more like vignettes but when Paul first read [the script] he said he liked it but that not a lot happens. He introduced the theme of love, and that really evolved through Danny and Kate’s story. I myself really loved the mum who comes into the shop. Pawnbrokers have lots of scope for all different people coming in and out.
How did you find the writing process?
Well, I had never written anything before but a lot of those stories had floated round in my head for a fair while, particularly Carlo and Paulie and that banter that those guys have. I loved the writing process.
Did you notice much of a change from the script when you began to work with the actors?
Nah. While Paul and I were trying to raise money we were still sitting and working on the script. Actors came in, auditioned and had table reads and once we were in the area, once we built the Pawnbrokers shop in Footscray, it all came to life. Hopefully it is better than what was initially on the page. Certain actors say the words I’ve written and I realise that in my head I had pictured it slightly differently, maybe some of them did it better.
What about Footscray as a setting? Where did that come from?
Actually, when I first put pen to paper it was all set in a different suburb. It was still really contained, most of the action in a Pawnbrokers with just a bench outside for Carlo and Paulie, and was probably more like a play. So, I went to that suburb and started to have a look around but it had become really gentrified and is now a really cool and hipster suburb in Melbourne. I live in Footscray and I thought it fitted really well in Pawno’s world. It’s a beautiful suburb, everything featured in the film is really there. The only thing that wasn’t there in the film is the bookstore because the only bookstore in Footscray is part of a Hairdressers. We cheated that one and filmed in the city for that.
How was the editing process?
That part I wasn’t involved in. Normally as an actor you turn up, do it, and then watch it and its just… done; someone else has done it. Because I’m acting in it I would step out. When it comes down to me I find it hard to have objectivity. It is really not my film in that sense, it belongs to Paul and Gary – the editor – and it is beautiful. It is beautiful the way it has all been put together.
There are a lot of open endings. As there would be in this kind of multi-layered ensemble piece with the 24-hour structure. Was that what you set out to achieve?
Yes, I think so. Some people don’t like that at all – which is fine. An early piece of advice was to plan it in a linear way. But I didn’t, and I don’t think it is confusing. The ambiguity was definitely intentional. I didn’t want Jennifer to have resolution from her son. I really like that she ends up just sitting there drinking a glass of wine – like, why would it change? I guess a lot of people might wonder “what happens?” and in some ways, it would have been easy to close up a lot of the stuff. I guess I just prefer to watch a film like that and use some imagination, to have my own thoughts on it.
Why did you go with the title Pawno?
To try and sell some tickets! I don’t know! I kinda liked it – other people didn’t. There probably wasn’t a lot of thought put into it, it was pretty easy.
You had a unique experience with crowdfunding for this project. Would you be tempted to use that same model again? Did you enjoy it?
No. It was horrible. I never want to do it again. It is very awkward to ask people for money – especially a lot of my friends – just people, anyone really. We actually only raised 12,000 dollars. So, it is how we began but the rest was done by amazingly philanthropic investors. The crowdfunding part really is difficult. There are so many ups and downs so I get why people say “No! Not another one!” and hopefully we don’t have to. Even having said that, when I see other people do it I still think “Cool”. At the time, it was the only way we could kick off.
Are you working on the next project?
Yes, we are. Its inspired by Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure but set on a housing estate in modern times, between two gangs with a love story underneath. It is amphetamines and gangs and a white Aussie guy with a young Muslim girl. Using Shakespeare’s premise we are talking about what is going on in the western world – heightened racial tension, very urban settings and these characters. It’s been written and it is currently in the funding process. We are hoping to speak to English foundations we’ve met over here. One of the cool things with Pawno is that now we can reach certain actors we would love to work with. Hopefully we will be shooting next year.
One last question. The book that Danny gets his hands on – “The 12 Steps to Falling In Love” – do you believe that such a book should exist? Would you be tempted to read it if so?
Wow. Never been asked that one! I think he only reads three chapters – he reads the abridged version… Yeah, why not? A 12-step guide could help a lot of people. So yeah, for sure.
Thank you very much!
It’s been my pleasure, thank you so much.
Pawno is released in selected cinemas on 20th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for Pawno here: