3 May 2009

Photos from Men's Group AFI screenings tour

John L and John C in Risden

John L in Tamworth

Men's Group screening

Men's Group in Bowral

Attendees at the Bowral screening

James Hicks with community members

John L and James Hicks on tour

9 Dec 2008




When John L Simpson and Michael Joy got together to create the award winning film ‘Men’s Group’ they had little more to work with than a few tales and an idea of what the concept would be.

This meant their choice of actors for this ensemble piece would have to be chosen very carefully if their ideas were to bear fruition.

The film had to be filmed in chronological order to maintain the sense of realism that was crucial to the success of the film and it was during the filming of one of these scenes that Simpson and Joy realized what a considerable movie their concept had become and how well they had chosen their cast. At one stage shooting had to stop completely as one of the actors so fully immersed in character had to take a few hours to get things back together again after a startling revelation about one of the characters was revealed.

With Men’s Group, Simpson and Joy were attempting to bring something new and fresh to the table. Six months before filming started the pair began building a story around a group of strangers that get together once a week at a strangers house to talk about their issues.

“We were fascinated by Australian male culture and we wanted to make a film that was sometimes touching, sometimes devastating, sometimes uncomfortable, but always grounded in the truth,” said Simpson.

Selecting actors with extensive television and stage experience, the pair then sent those coming aboard out in public in character with a specific scenario in mind to interact with the general public. After almost two months of preparation, and a week before filming began the actors were all assembled together on a set constructed at Fox Studios in Sydney’s Moore Park Complex. As previously instructed, none of the actors were allowed to give away anything about their characters.

Inspired by cinéma-vérité, the duo attempted to make up their own rules while work shopping their actors both individually and collectively and feel that audiences have responded well to the film although some have come out of the cinema a little confused due to the strength of the performances and the realism created on the screen.

Simpson says this preparation was necessary to allow the characters to react more naturally as bit by bit each scenario was revealed throughout filming and also meant the film would be made up primarily of first takes bringing more realism to the performances.

Around the same time ‘Men’s Group’ was being created Simpson launched his feature film distribution company TITAN VIEW with the aim of bringing Australian Films to Australian and International audiences. The first film for distribution was ‘The Jammed’, which went on to become the highest grossing independent feature on Australian cinema screen average EVER in it’s opening two weeks.

While initially struggling to find distribution due to its sensitive subject matter (the main commercial ventures saw the film as being too much of a risk for Australian audiences), Simpson saw the need to get such an important film onto Australian screens and took a risk pushing for the film to reach widespread distribution.

His instincts were spot on as ‘The Jammed” went on to win Best Film, Best Score and curiously Best Script at the Inside Film Awards in 2007 as well as winning the inaugural SPAARTAN and 2007 DigiSPAA award before being invited to attend the Rotterdam Film Festival, Warsaw and Copenhagen Festivals and the Melbourne and Sydney International Film Festivals in 2008. The United Nations were so impressed by the film that they selected it to be screened at a conference on human trafficking in Vienna in 2008.

After studying producing at AFTRS, Simpson did his apprenticeship on the feature film “Thunderstruck’ working with executive producer Al Clark. His films have screened at Montreal, Palm Springs, and TROPFEST 04 just to name a few and have all been well received by audiences throughout the world.

After screening at the recent film festivals in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Australian feature drama Men’s Group will premiere at the prestigious Sydney Theatre on September 18 to launch its theatrical season.


Written By Andrew Fenton

THE film Men's Group doesn't pull any punches, but the stars, including A Country Practice's Grant Dodwell, had to fly by the seat of their pants.

The new Australian film Men's Group isn't about sensitive new-age blokes gazing at their navels.

Instead, it's about a group of unrefined working blokes who meet once a week to deal with problems ranging from teenage children to gambling addiction, abuse and being widowed.

Writer-director Michael Joy had the idea for the film two years ago.

"In my own life I needed to speak to someone outside my family and friends and found myself at a men's group," he says.

"I was fascinated by these men. The next morning I woke up thinking it could be such an incredible story and one that hadn't been told -- being honest about what's going on for men."

Shot on digital video in 14 days, Men's Group was made on the smell of an oily rag.

Much of what is seen on screen was improvised. None of the actors knew what the other characters would say or do in the group sessions.

The film's star, Grant Dodwell, best known for A Country Practice, says they were flying by the seats of their pants.

"I had no idea why the others were there or what they'd say," he says. "When the cameras roll, that's the first we hear of it. That was very exciting and a real leap of faith."

Dodwell has been working in community and fringe theatre for several years and Men's Group has allowed him to return to the mainstream. He absolutely inhabits the role of the coarse, hard-drinking Alex.

"He's an amalgamation of many good if fearful men I've met," he says.

A key element to all the characters is their relationship to their fathers. Dodwell says he drew on his own relationship with his dad.

"We had a tenuous relationship during my teens and early 20s when I was starting as an actor. A remarkable man but it was difficult for him to say 'I love you'."

Dodwell says acting jobs are sometimes just acting jobs, but this movie feels special.
"I'm very proud of it," he says. "This is a realistic film about men that pulls no punches."


by Trent Griffiths
The low budget new Aussie film Men's Group is achieving big results.

The quietly powerful low budget new Australian drama Men's Group, is a project built on taking chances, doing something that matters, and creating an atmosphere of trust.

"People would only do the project if they loved it." Speaking of his latest and most personal film, Men's Group, producer/co-writer John L. Simpson's voice is loaded with quiet conviction. "No one was going to sign up to spend all this time on a project that they weren't being paid up-front for unless they thought there was something in it. The level of trust was extraordinary."

There's the crux. There's one word which encapsulates this project in every sense - trust.

Simpson's last experience in cinema was when he was blown away by the independent Australian film The Jammed, and upon discovering that it was not going to be playing at cinemas, going straight to DVD, he set out get the film to the masses. To say that he succeeded would be an understatement, with the film winning numerous awards, receiving 5 out 5 critical reviews and collecting a respectable box office total.

On his latest, which he was involved with almost from the beginning, Simpson had to trust in the strength of writer/director Michael Joy's idea of a drama set around a suburban support group for men. The ensemble of largely unheralded but highly accomplished theatre and television actors had to have complete trust in the creators that the unique process (pretty much entirely improvised) would be worthwhile. Everyone needed to trust in each other that their creative forces combined could deliver The Holy Grail - a successful feature film.

More than anyone else involved in Men's Group, it was the actors who needed to invest their faith in the film. Soon after shooting began, however, Joy and Simpson's skill at creating honest characters and scenarios swept any reservations aside.

“No one was going to sign up to spend all this time on a project that they weren’t being paid up-front for unless they thought there was something in it. The level of trust was extraordinary.” – Producer/co-writer John L. Simpson.

Grant Dodwell, a veteran theatre and television actor and three-time Silver Logie winner from his time on A Country Practice, plays Alex, a hardened and cynical larrikin in the midst of ugly marriage problems. "There was a momentum created through the uniqueness of it, and Michael and John nurtured that," enthuses Dodwell.

"In a very non-grandstanding way, they allowed all of us to trust them, as well as trusting each other and, more importantly, to trust ourselves. After certain scenes, you could sense the atmosphere on set, and that something special had happened... We knew that there was something unique about it. Whether it was going to work or not...well, that was in the lap of the Gods. But we know in our hearts that there were moments that were truly beyond what we had experienced before."

Nonetheless, there were times when the cast and crew would remember how bold and unusual it was as a project and a sense of doubt would creep in. Grant Dodwell describes the nervous anticipation of screenings when he would forget about the trust that he had during filming, and would succumb to wondering if the film would have the magnetism to keep people in their seats. Then he would see the response of those festival audiences and his fears would be laid to rest, validating the intuition that saw him take time off from his successful corporate video business to work on this little Aussie film.

The film is also taking on a life of its own as a social tool. Men's support groups and men's health organisations are already contacting Simpson to organise screenings as a primer for weekend workshops or a point of reference for staff. It offers a way in to fraught issues like how men need to express emotion and identify themselves.

"You can be masculine and have emotion," says Joy. "Men are extremely's just that we've had so many things that tell us that we're not, and it just gets pushed to the background," says Joy. Simpson adds: "When people are seeing the film, they're finding whole new ways of seeing men, which is really quite extraordinary."

Simpson and Joy are clearly proud of how the film has the potential to offer hope and healing for men everywhere. This life of Men's Group as a social tool is something that the filmmakers hoped for as the project came together, but they didn't anticipate the extent to which it has done so far. They can only imagine the response once the film begins its commercial run. The faith of the filmmakers and the cast has paid off, with four Inside Film Award nominations recently announced, and Simpson managing to secure a theatrical release for the film: Melbourne and Perth from November 6, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart from November 13 and Brisbane to be confirmed soon.