Interview – ‘Force of Nature: The Dry 2’ director Robert Connolly

In Force of Nature: The Dry 2, when five women take part in a corporate hiking retreat and only four come out on the other side, Federal Agents Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) and Carmen Cooper head deep into the Victorian mountain ranges to investigate in the hopes of finding their whistle-blowing informant, Alice Russell (Anna Torv), alive.

Following up the immense success of The Dry, Force of Nature hits cinemas on February 8, courtesy of Roadshow Films. Leading up to it’s release, Nick L’Barrow spoke with the film’s writer and director, Robert Connolly about getting Eric Bana to direct the second unit, creating a visual memory on screen, and balancing three different timelines in his epic crime drama.

Robert Connolly: I love your collection of Blu Ray’s behind you!

Nick: Thank you very much! I’m a product of the Blockbuster Video generation! I got most of these from when the Blockbuster I worked at for five years closed down. I love physical media! And in fact, I have The Dry right here!

Robert Connolly: That’s great!

Nick: I’m excited to talk to you today about Force of Nature! I’m really curious to find out how you built the cinematic version of Aaron Falk over the two films. And what triggered this question for me was something so simple at the start of this film, and it was when we are introduced to Aaron as he is swimming laps in a pool. What were the conversations like with Eric [Bana] and Jane [Harper, author of the book] in developing the character for the screen? And did you discuss making those small decisions about the character with them?

Robert Connolly: Yeah, absolutely. It’s what it is all about. This [Force of Nature] is six months after the end of The Dry. I think it was a big decision for the first images of the film – I mean, the first film is called The Dry, there’s no water in it! – the first images of this to be from underneath the water, looking up at him swimming. And it sort of kicks off the water imagery throughout the film.

It’s also driven by a sense of wanting to deliver, for the audience, a sequel that has the elements they loved about the first film, but also surprising them with something profoundly new. People want to see Aaron Falk again! They want to see him solving crimes. There’s crimes in the past, there’s a crime in the present. It’s got the things that people loved in The Dry, but the also want to see it having moved on.

Where’s his [Aaron Falk’s] head at now? How is he approaching his job? What are the memories that capitalise his current predicament? How do they inform the person he is? Because you do not want to rinse and repeat. You don’t want it too just be the same. He’s not fixed. He’s a moving, living, evolving, developing character. So yeah, all of those conversations were there from the beginning. And it’s exciting to see him back in a film which is more about the grey areas of crime.

Nick: While we’re on the topic of Eric still, there was an interesting credit that caught my eye, and that’s Eric as second unit director on this film! I know he directed his great documentary in the past, but how did that come about for this film?

Robert Connolly: Oh, he was amazing! There were days when I was off shooting five women lost in the bush, and I needed someone to go direct the second unit! So, it was like, “Okay, mate. Take the camera. You go off and direct!” There’s some great stuff that he shot. He made Love the Beast. He’s developing a feature to direct. He’s a filmmaker, and he did a great job. I think the second unit team were wondering, “Is this actually real?” [laughs] “He’s directing second unit today?”

It’s a lovely full circle moment because Romulus, My Father, that Richard Roxburgh directed and Eric starred in, I produced and directed the second unit on that! So, it’s kind of a collaboration of a bunch of creative people, and Richard Roxburgh coming and doing Force of Nature with us was great.

Nick: That’s amazing! I love Richard Roxburgh. I just recently finished his new show, Prosper, and he is remarkable in that, and in this! I love the visual aesthetic of these films. One of the things that really popped on screen for me was the flashbacks to a younger Aaron Falk, and your choice to have this grainy film look that, to me, created the visualisation of a memory. What was the decisions and process behind that visual aesthetic for those flashback scenes?

Robert Connolly: Yeah, I feel like the aesthetic of film, of celluloid, carries a texture that helps create a sense of something being remembered, you know? It’s like the grain of the film carries a feeling of slightly less details. There’s something about how we don’t remember everything about the past, and so I think if you’re depicting the past.

For Force of Nature and The Dry, the choice was to have these hyper-real, contemporary stories using modern lenses that are sharp to the corners. But then you go to the past and it’s grainier. It’s soft. It feels like you’re seeing what happened, but with a little less detail, like the way we think about the past.

The deep you go back into the past, you’re trying to go for, like, emotional memories and impressions, rather than everything needing to be so literal. That’s probably a more philosophical approach that Andrew Commis, the cinematographer, and I talked about.

Nick: The location of Force of Nature is a massive element to the story. How much does a location also affect that way you want to portray the visual language of the film?

Robert Connolly: The locations in Jane Harper’s books and in my films are like a central character. I think cinema does such an amazing job of transporting audiences into worlds that they haven’t been.

I shoot on a large format camera system. I’m trying to create an epic sense of the world. In The Dry wee took audiences four and a half hours outside of Melbourne. This was shot in the Dandenongs. Yarra Valley. We didn’t film this on set. We didn’t film with a botanic garden in the city.

So, for me, there’s two things. One is a visual narrative context emotionally. It’s this, kind of, overwhelmingly remote world that the central characters find themselves in. But also, in a practical sense, we’ve made a survival story about five women lost in the bush. We want the audience to feel like they are really lost in the bush. What’s the easiest way to do that… take them somewhere remote and plunk them in there!

Now that is hard. It’s freezing cold, it’s raining, it’s wet. It’s the heart of winter. There are leeches everywhere. But it’s exciting for the performance you get to see as a result of being in the real world, experiencing it.

Nick: I spoke to Sisi [Stringer] yesterday about this, and she said the same thing! The immersion for an actor, covered in the water and mud, there was no reaching there! I’m curious about creating the structure of the story from a writing perspective. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book, but in this film, you are intertwining three different narratives. What does that process look like for you? How do you decide when to reveal the twists and turns along the way?

Robert Connolly: Yeah, it’s really tricky. It’s a really good question! How do you do it? How do you juggle the three timeframes in a way that the audience is going to enjoy it.

I guess, I have an approach that if you’re in one time frame, you should always leave that time frame at a point where you’re disappointed to leave it, but then be excited to get to another time frame. It should never feel bored or pedestrian. It should always feel like you’re being yanked from one to another, and you’re getting information from the past that’s impacting the future.

But, it was a long, long edit. It’s a complicated film to pull together, but it was fun. I love all of my films to have past and present issues in the edit. I think audiences really enjoy it too! It creates that cryptic, puzzle-like nature that a detective mystery needs.

Thank you so much to Robert Connolly for his time, and to Roadshow, NixCo and M4M Agency for organising the interviews. Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is in Australian cinemas February 8. You can also check out Nick’s interview with the films star, Sisi Stringer here!

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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