Based on the infamous Great Emu War of 1932, a rag-tag platoon of soldiers are driven into a brutal and bloody battle against Australia’s deadliest flightless beasts. Haunted by the kidnapping of his son at the hands of the Emus, Major Meredith leads the platoon behind enemy lines in order to kill the emu’s leader, The Queen Emu.
The Emu War comes from comedy group Hot Dad Productions, who have made waves online with their sketch comedy videos on YouTube, and now are venturing into feature film territory. I spoke with two of the masterminds behind Hot Dad Productions, and co-directors of The Emu War, Jay Morrisey and Lisa Fineberg, about their film premiering at this year’s MonsterFest and why this story in particular felt right for the comedic picking!
Nick: Nice to meet you Jay and Lisa! How are you guys going today?
Lisa Fineberg: Yeah, great, thank you! It’s Jay’s birthday today!
Nick: Happy birthday, mate!
Jay Morrisey: Thank you, thank you.
Nick: Well, I appreciate you both taking to the time to chat with me today. The Emu War is insane in the best way. And Australia has this rich history of stories, including this crazy true story. So, what was it about the Emu War that felt right for the comedic picking – aside from its name of course?!
Lisa Fineberg: Well, I think when you hear about it, and what they actually called it, which was ‘The Great Emu War’, it just sounds so serious! And it was, you know. They were trying to cull birds because they were eating too many crops, and it’s understandable that’s probably doing damage, but it just opens itself up to so many comedic possibilities, and to over dramatize it!
Jay Morrisey: We just love watching very sincere war films. And sometimes, the really sincere war films, they’re almost funny because they’re so dramatic and serious. I just feel like, if you’re fighting emus, then we’re not making fun of serious wars. It’s kind of a fun way to do all the tropes of a war film that can, you know, become a little bit silly. It’s like parodying the sincerity of those films.
Nick: I know you both got to collaborate with a few people on this script. What was the process of creating a script like this? What was the experience like sitting down with the writers and fleshing out all these crazy ideas and characters?
Lisa Fineberg: I mean, our process really was all of us sitting around, and we’re all friends, so we just talked about ideas, then someone might write it up. We did have a writer’s room, and we had a script editor pushing things along and structuring things. It felt like a more structured process rather than just mucking around writing. And I think that helped build the story, and of course, it was so much fun because everyone’s throwing out crazy ideas. It was great finding out what was going to make the cut, and what was going to be too much. It was a really fun process.
Jay Morrisey: Yeah, we would talk with like two other writers about pitching something to the script editor, because they were sort of running the writer’s room, right? So, we’d get an idea, and we’d say that we liked the idea, and then I would pitch it with full, you know, gusto. Then the other two writers would betray me and say the idea wasn’t very good. Then the script editor was like: “what’s wrong with you?!” I still think it was funny, but it wouldn’t make the film.
Lisa Fineberg: I think the things we got through probably went far enough; I’d say!
Nick: You both have done comedy in many forms for a while. But now transitioning from sketch comedy to a feature film, were their any specific comedic influences you looked to when crafting this film and its comedy style?
Nick: Yes! MacGruber is the most underrated comedy film. I love that movie!
Lisa Fineberg: It’s so good! I hadn’t seen it, then Jay showed it to me. It’s so good. I think it’s a good reference.
Jay Morrisey: Maybe, like, Team America, especially with the ‘war’ aspect.
Lisa Fineberg: And the puppets too! And South Park more so in general.
Nick L’Barrow: I want to touch on the puppets and how that came to be, because the practical puppet work in this movie is fantastic. What were the talks around wanting to use the emu puppets rather than choosing digital effects?
Lisa Fineberg: I think we always knew we wanted to do that. And Jay knew of Jhess Knight who runs a puppet smithery, and she made some amazing puppets.
Jay Morrisey: Yeah, she made all those puppets. They’re awesome. But the funny thing is, to get rid of the puppeteers uses very heavy-duty visual effects. Like, it’s a time-consuming visual effect in itself. At one point we were talking to a visual effects artist who suggested we just strip them out completely, and just build an emu digitally and put it in instead. Yeah, it might have been quicker to do it that way, but we wanted the puppets.
Lisa Fineberg: Yeah, it was definitely a process. We never worked with puppets and we haven’t worked much with effects ourselves. We both learnt a lot and realised we should have probably done more research before working with these elements!
Nick: I quickly want to jump back to comedic influences, because as I was saying earlier, you both have worked in many facets of Australian comedy. And I believe, for the better, Australian comedy has stuck to its roots for the last few decades. It’s self-aware, slightly self-deprecating, but there is a genuine nature to it that feels relatable. How do you both feel about the Australian comedic landscape over the last few decades? And how do you try and reflect that in all the work you both do with Hot Dad Productions?
Lisa Fineberg: I think there’s just so much great stuff out that. I think that sometimes, you know, it’s hard to find with so many people doing things like making sketches and doing their own things. I think if you search, you can find so much great stuff. Lots of talented people. But, you know, it’s a small industry. It can be hard to get into, to get stuff up. It can be hard to get funding. It’s just cool for us that we could just get something out there. But I also think it’s evolving now. People can make things a little bit more easily, and it’s just going to give more and more opportunities for the scene to grow.
Nick: You guys have the MonsterFest screening coming up in October! How are you guys feeling going into this screening?
Lisa Fineberg: There’s not many people who have seen it, other than those who worked on it! So, it’s going to be interesting because we just don’t know how people are going to react. It’ll be fun seeing it with a crowd and hopefully a crowd that is into this kind of stuff. Because it is a specific style of comedy, it’s not for everyone. But it’s the right audience, I think. I’m pretty excited!
Jay Morrisey: Yeah, I think if you work on something for so long without, you know, getting audience feedback, you just sort of get into your own head about certain jokes. You start wondering if it’s fine, or if it’s the worst thing ever! Then you put in front of an audience and hope that it’s fine. We’re a little bit nervous because no one’s ever seen it before.
Nick: I want to close out on a silly question, but I hope you’ll run with me on this one. Your production company is called ‘Hot Dad Productions’ – so who is the hottest dad in film or TV?
Lisa Fineberg: Oh, great question. Like, dad’s anywhere in film and TV?
Nick: Yeah! The hottest dad that you’ve ever seen on the screen!
Jay Morrisey: I mean it’s not necessarily hot. But my favourite dad in any film is John C. Reilly in A Perfect Storm. He’s so good in that.
Nick: It’s like, emotionally hot, right?
Jay Morrisey: Definitely!
Lisa Fineberg: It’s hard to go pass someone like Brad Pitt. Has he ever played a dad? [laughs]
Thank you to Jay and Lisa for their time, and to NixCo and Umbrella Entertainment for linking up our chat! The Emu War is having its world premiere in Melbourne’s Cinema Nova at MonsterFest 2023! The first showing is now SOLD OUT, with a second showing on sale now, so click here to get your tickets quick!
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