A couple of weeks ago, The Hallway, Good Oil and director, Tom Campbell released an extraordinarily emotive film to challenge toxic masculinity, to challenge its existence and hopefully end its existence. It wasn’t a real-life story, but behind it were more than a dozen real-life stories – the struggles of The Hallway partner and ECD, Simon Lee; of director, Tom Campbell; and of the film’s main “character”, Eddie Baroo, among them.
It was a song. The film captured a choir of men singing Simon Lee’s reimagined lyrics to the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry, with rapping by Dallas Woods. Woods is a Noongar man from the East Kimberley, which has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the world. The haunting beauty and power of Boys Do Cry to get under your skin comes from its simplicity, its openness and its honesty. These were very definite decisions that Lee, Campbell and Good Oil made and the foundations of the wider campaign.
Tom Campbell took The Stable behind the scenes of this power cell for male freedom:
The project told us what the film had to be.
Simon had been working on the project for quite some time. It was his baby. When it was put on my desk, I jumped on it because it had that rare mix of everything you really want to do. It was a beautiful, really important message that really resonated with me and it was a creative opportunity in that the agency was asking, “How do you see it, what would you like to do with it, go for it.” Through a lot of conversation with Simon and the team, we came to the idea of paring it back and trying to keep it really subtle and very simple, to allow the message of the lyrics take centre stage. I knew it couldn’t be overly sentimental and couldn’t be too earnest because there is a fine line between something that cuts through and something that’s over the top. We couldn’t do artifice for this. The message had to be clear.
There was one element critical to my vision.
There was only one actor in the cast, Eddie Baroo. He was someone I really wanted to get in there. I’d known of him through friends and people I’d worked with before. He looks like such a hard man and gets cast in all these roles as the gangster bloke or the bikie but is actually the softest most gentle person in the world. This contradiction made him perfect. I’d also heard a rumour from a director that he has a beautiful voice. He was in my mind from day one, so I wrote him a letter telling him that I’d love to work with him on the project. I wanted him to be the emotional heart of this story, the audience’s way into the story. His response was that he “had to” be part of it. We spoke and found that we had both struggled with identifying and being able to express our emotions as men. Eddie was a real light through the whole process. On the shoot he introduced himself to every person there, cast and crew, and brought them all together as equals in a way that was quite disarming and established a strong foundation for the film.
Creating a compelling film by paring it back to its just its essentials is a tall mountain to climb. Campbell was an ideal choice to achieve it. He came to directing not with a film school degree but an intensive apprenticeship on films and commercials with three of Australia’s most accomplished filmmakers, Garth Davis, Mark Molloy and Glendyn Ivin, and cut his teeth on documentaries, both of which have given him a unique approach.
The main thing I learned from my mentors was the importance of the relationship you have with people, the cast and crew, and how to spend time with people in pre-production; getting to know them rather than rehearsing them, getting to know their strengths and letting those strengths shine. As directors, people see you as the decision maker and the person with the ideas, but directing is actually about surrounding yourself with the best people and letting their talents shine. I think this was more important for me than the things you may or may not learn in a class. My documentary background is important, I think, because it teaches you to find the story and then the heart of it, and bring that to the surface. You can’t rely just on technique.
The Hallway: Let men cry so they don’t die
View Tom Campbell’s portfolio here.
To work with Campbell contact Sam Long or Juliet Bishop