Rosalie's nieces, Kathy and Hannah, on set.

Acting

When we first saw Tom rushing towards us he was wearing a pack on his chest and talking into his collar. His pockets were swinging with filmic accouterments. Someone asks, ‘Who’s he?’

‘He’s important.’

Later, on the fringe of the Jung oval, Tom sits Katharine in front of a row of lovely old cars with a Dungatar flag and an empty pram; ‘Just act like a normal mum.’

He places Hannah at the picnic table with a 1950s thermos and cups and some sandwiches. Angela also gets a flag to wave and an ancient fold up stool. Tom give Meredith and I Dungatar scarves to wear and sits us on the bleachers behind the actors.

The camera crew construct their camera and measure things and change lenses and discuss angles and the actors arrive and sit in front of Meredith and I. Alvin and Muriel Pratt, Gertrude, Evan Pettyman, Beula Harridene…

The man with the clapper board takes his place, closes it gently and the Dungatar Demons play footy. We barrack, Jocelyn calls ‘cut.’ Meredith and I watch the crew surround the actors, open umbrellas against the sun and offer drinks and insect repellent. The hairdressers primp and the makeup artists dab and the costume people tug at hems and collars.

Kate Winslet, dressed in startling red couture, walks across the Jung footy oval, her complexion very British in the Dungatar glare and the Australian bush green. Behind her, Judy Davis, small and magnetic, watches. Before her, Sergeant Farrat waits.

The actors go, some extras doze under the bleachers, we visit the refreshment shed. The sun rises, the fly population increases and the sandwiches go hard.

Tom hurries back, listening to a voice in his ear piece. ‘First positions please!’

The actors and their attentive entourage return. We watch the tall, lovely, leading man (Liam Hemsworth) play skilled, choreographed footy, the stunties hovering. We wave and barrack and Katharine rocks her baby.

Tom comes rushing back to us. The screen that is the cover of his chest pack plays the last scene back to him and he says to us, ‘That was fantastic, guys, good expressions. Now, you’re really excited, Teddy’s just won the footy match, first time in 40 years, very exciting, so you run onto the oval after him.’

We stand, eager to chase Liam Hemsworth.

Katharine cries, ‘I can’t leave my baby.’

‘It’s a small town,’ Meredith says, ‘someone will watch her.’

Rosalie in costume at the dance

Dancing- Use What You Know

Sue Maslin wasn’t in my Deportment or Ballroom dancing classes at school. I would have remembered her. But she did eat in the dining room and so she does know how to dissect and eat a banana in small half-moons, like a lady. As Sergeant Farrat does in The Dressmaker.

In deportment, Miss Rose taught her girls the appropriate curtsey to meet the Queen of England (and Australia?) Such expectations they held for us! But more of that next time.

In dancing classes Miss Rose stressed, ‘Remain light in your partners arms, do not lean on your partner. Do not lead, allow yourself to be guided.’

These instructions were alive to me as we set off for our ‘dance’ scene in a hall in Williamstown/Dungatar. We’d received the instructional DVD and like good extras, pushed back the couch and practiced together…except for my nephew, Matthew, normally a farmer; ‘There’s no way know I’m gunna dance, no way! I’ll just stand against the wall.’

In the car park we joined the other practicing extras. Angela took a firm hold of Matthew’s left hand and placed his right on her hip and said, ‘Forward, forward, back, back, side-together, slide.’

Then I was gone, led away by my old school friend, Sue. She took me to set where the actors and superstars were rehearsing and deposited me in front of Sergeant Farrat. ‘This is your dance partner.’

Sergeant Farrat was kind, but aloof, and I, terrified. The music started and he took my hand. This was my moment. I must dance without fault. Sergeant Farrat looked at me, confidence in his eyes. ‘He thinks I know what I’m doing,’ I thought. In front of us, Mr and Mrs Pratt danced like they were born to it, so I just did what they did, and, I remained light in my partner’s arms, allowed myself to be led, as did Matthew, who danced all day with Angela.

Rosalie Ham as an Extra

In Costume

I now realise that before I even arrived at Docklands Studios for costume fittings, the costumieres had consulted my head and full body shot, checked my measurements and knew my shape.

The hair stylists, also, possibly sighted and discussed each extra and their place in the story arc, knew how long it would take and what to do with our hair, and what we would look like in the scenes allocated us. The director probably chose us because we were the desired blank canvas that the artists needed to paint and decorate, so that our presence would create mise en scène, convey meaning and the feeling intended.

In fact, we were ‘chosen’ even before they sighted us because they needed humans that could be made to fit the collective vision, and take direction. Each artisan possibly knew what they were seeking from the second they read the script, or in Jocelyn’s case, from the time she decided she’d direct the movie. We were subsequently chosen and matched to the shared vision so that we would contribute to the palette, texture the scene, and add subliminally to the audience’s experience.

Shame for those who arrived early for fittings sans makeup and their acting CV professionally presented. If there is no scene that requires someone with an extra ear, then so be it.

So when they spread us out on the floor and looked at us after the ‘she’s in…he’s out’ cull, they put our photos next to our scenes and the wardrobe mistresses were attaching us to frocks they knew they had, considering our shoe size and the hair artists were deciding styles based on age, class and cheekbone structure.

They’ve done that with 300+ people. Thinking back on my reflection from the fitting room mirror, I understand it wasn’t ME they picked, it was a badly dressed older woman with orthotic shoes and a string bag that they would, at some point, dress in the stunning Azure silk ensemble assigned me, and this in turn would make audiences gasp.

In other words, they couldn’t do it without me.

Rosalie Ham

The Perfect Pitch

Many gifted people auditioned to be extras in The Dressmaker – a chakra dancer, a harpist, a painter and writer, TV ad and film school actors, jazz ballet dancers, a psychiatrist, some nurses, a GP, someone who reads palms and was ‘finding her spirituality’, a lead actor from On Our Selection, a barber and an ex-Little Maid from The Mikado. As the casting director chatted to auditioners they revealed their talents – the stuff we found out! People love to talk about themselves – writers know this too.

So I bragged about ‘The Rasettes’ – Rosalie, Annabel and Suzanne (R A S – get it?) Our main act was thus: fetchingly costumed, Suzanne handed me a plank, which I balanced on my head. With panache, the A and S of The Rasettes sipped two beers – tension mounting – until the tide in each glass was basically level. With more panache A and S carefully placed the beers either end of the plank. I then stuck out my arms and they theatrically placed hoops on them, which I twirled. They danced, and I raised one leg… while balancing and twirling hoops!

Mostly, Suzanne and Annabel were able to rescue the beers from my head before they sploshed to the stage, but at times our costumes were soaked. We were dry by the end of the show, though. We acquired a following, and depending on the audience, we either brought the house down or slunk off to the applause of a couple of weirdoes.

I remember the audience in one dingy Richmond pub pounding the tables and throwing things. ‘From enthusiasm,’ I assured the casting director.

I also mentioned our plays – all written by me, mostly bad, but amicably performed by ‘Company of Ham’… Suzanne and Annabel, Natalie, Wendy, Roger, Lisa… others.

The casting director didn’t seem intrigued. Was I being gauche, eager, inappropriate? Then my friend Melanie came to audition as a ‘lady in the crowd’. In 1950s Dungatar.

Casting director asked, ‘Have you had any film experience?’

‘At school I got the Cumbria Drama Prize for playing Lysander*. I’m happy to play a boy again.’
* Lysander – Hermia’s lover in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comedy about marriage and magical potions set in the woods in 16th century Greece.

Photo showing rows of red seats in an empty theatre

Some Thoughts on Your Audition…

Dear Auditioning Extras;

it has taken 14 years but finally, our moment is before us. So, prior to your audition to be an extra in the film, and given that I, working as an assistant over the past few days, found the call-out process quite sobering, I’m compelled to pass on a few observations.

Firstly, the production team wants a 1950s look, a face that needs minimum time and effort before it passes from the makeup caravan to the 1st AD, his megaphone and the crowd scene.

Greta Garbo got away with her drastically over-plucked penciled-in eyebrows, but they weren’t really an everyday look in rural Dungatar in 1950. The current trend for false eyelashes, remember, came from the 60s, not the 50? And though Marilyn Monroe and Dianna Dors were ‘bottle blondes’, I doubt Mr Almanac would have sold peroxide to anyone in Dungatar, nor would he have sold fake tan or fingernail extensions, nor hair straighteners – neat curls were the fashion.

My next point might not apply to you either, dear friends, but it might be useful to know that for this particular film, it’s advisable to agree to a beard shave or a haircut since mullets, Beatnik fringes and man-buns weren’t a thing.

Ducktails came a little later than Tilly’s time in Dungatar and some auditioners might think about growing their hair a little. Mia Farrow didn’t make short hair a hit until 1968, and shaved scalps don’t really fit a 1950s ‘palette.’

1950s films tell us that people were lean back then. They danced regularly, rode pushbikes and walked places. A sandwich was two pieces of bread with a slice of cheese or ham, cold roast beef, or vegemite. Not many thick crusty bread rolls stuffed with deep fried schnitzels, Mayonnaise and chips back then! Cakes were for special occasions, not something you have with every coffee.

Also – not that this applies to you – but ladies kept their complexions from the sun, and I noticed after days of looking at all those faces, you can actually spot the cigarette smoker’s complexion. Circus performers, perhaps, had nose rings in the 1950s, and I’m pretty sure tattoos were a sailor’s thing.

I’ll present my thoughts on protocol in my next blog, but some might to do a little preparation. After all, the film website will tell you that ‘The Dressmaker’ is based on a novel set in rural Victoria in the 1950s.

Til next time!

Photo of the spines of a group of books

Rosalie’s Blog: Liam’s Ladies

Further to my post on Facebook recently re: Liam Hemsworth’s appearance on page three of ‘The Sun” … The photo was a rehash from 2010 article about his old home, Philip Island. The island wants to secede, put more of their own money into their own environment, save it, and ultimately, the penguins too. This lovely and noble gesture by Liam – in 2010 – will bring another facet of notoriety to the cause (penguins?), and to Liam.

But I am about to make Liam FAMOUS in book clubs for middle-aged ladies and in Friends-of-the Library gatherings ALL OVER Southern Australia. Maybe even the whole of Australia, and beyond. Not that I mean to brag about my role in his burgeoning new fan base, since I’m not alone in its eminent elevation – I must concede he has a current fan base, and of course Liam has talent, which helps, and then there’s Jocelyn Moorhouse who adapted Liam’s role from my BOOK CLUB FAVOURITE novel and she will coax a heart-wrenching and solid, award deserving performance from him and his lovely person.

And of course, the cinematographer will point the camera at him the best way possible and the makeup artists will make him look even better than he does, and the costume people, and his co-stars will help and the woman responsible for bringing the warm and nasty folk of Dungatar to your screen, the producer, Sue Maslin. But his new audience is because of, and mostly because of ladies in book clubs. Readers. People who read novels…and newspapers, because ‘The Sun’ will probably use him again when the film comes out, and I bet they put a photo on the front page this time. A current photo.

Rosalie’s Blog: Jerilderie

One day in Jerilderie, I was holding the pin tin for my mother as she adjusted a frock for a local woman who was standing on a low stool in our lounge room. The customer was standing with her arms out and my mother was working her way around the armholes.

‘I could bring the shoulder down a little and give you a sweet little cap sleeve,’ she said, and the customer replied, ‘I don’t want sleeves.’ My mother took another pin from the tin. ‘A cap sleeve isn’t really a sleeve, it’ll just cover that top bit of your arm where your lovely tan ends.’

I looked at the arm. Her flesh was like sago pudding, and at the top of the shoulder it lifted the fabric where it burst white and moist either side of grubby bra strap. Her ‘lovely tan’ – a thick rash of red freckles – started two inches or so further down her soft arm, obviously where her T-shirt ended. ‘I like my arms bare, it’s cooler.’

My mother got down on her knees and started to pin the hem. The customer, watching in the mirror, said, ‘I want it above my knees. Mini skirts are all the go these days.’ We looked at her knees, or rather, we looked for her knees. We identified a kind of a kink, a vague fold where the leg obviously was able to bend, and my mother folded the hem accordingly.

‘Bit shorter,’ the lady said, and my mother lifted the hem another inch. As the customer waddled away down the yard, my mother stood at the back door, watching her. ‘That woman should never wear a frock like that,’ she remarked.

The customer returned for her frock a week later, put it on, looked at herself in the mirror, saw someone young and slim, said ‘Gaw-gess’, paid my mother less than she deserved, and off she went, her knees smacking against each other and her bottom shifting the floral fabric, like puppies under a rug. ‘Another happy customer,’ my mother said.

Rosalie’s Blog: Dressing the Ladies of Dungatar

The ladies of Dungatar were very well dressed at the end of The Dressmaker. One of my themes was vaulting ambition and so the couture carried the idea that the expertly cut frocks Tilly created disguised so-called ‘flaws’ – ship-sized hips, ski-run shoulders, watermelon bosoms, mantle piece bottoms.

But by hiding them, the REAL flaws of the ladies of Dungatar were exacerbated. Their sense of self was inflated and my novel exposing ambition, competition, jealousy, one-upmanship and cruel competition lived. But not everybody in it survived. Costume as metaphor.

I knew Gertrude’s Trudy’s shape, what her bottom looked like when she stepped out of a hot bath. And I knew that Marigold’s subdued-but-agitated Vivienne Lee demeanor, her wafty sleeves and diaphanous fabric hid a delicate décolletage and a waist Scarlet O’Hara would have killed for. Muriel’s elbows were lost under the flesh fold of her upper arms, and Beula, well, she cared only if other people polished their door stoop, or not.

At any rate, I spent hours at the RMIT Brunswick campus turning pages of fashion books the size of ute trays and thousand-page texts on needlecraft. They won’t use my designs, they’ll create their own costumes, but I almost wept when the costumier said, ‘I can see what you were doing.’

Then I realized those words might not have been a compliment. But I don’t care. For a time I thought I was Madame Vionnet, I worked with Balenciaga, and Schiaparelli was my Parisian neighbour.

The librarians threw me out and the Upfield Line train shattered my delusions but soon I will see my Dungatar ladies on a very big screen and they will look splendid but I’ll still know what they’re like underneath.

A photo showing sketches for The Dressmaker, Golden Yarn and Tulle
Designing The Dressmaker

Rosalie’s Blog: Keeping Secrets

I’ve been very good at secrets. I have! I have only told the secrets to people I knew could keep a secret, also people who live in the country, and cynical people. Happily the good secret keepers stayed true, the country people had no one to tell and don’t think film stars or international hat designers are as important as the weather, wool prices and harvest anyway, and being a cynic myself, I knew the cynics never believed me. I knew what was ticking over in their minds, and they’d know what’s ticking over in mine now (read: smug).

But the secrets are out now and we all know the Leading Actresses and The Leading Actor. There’s one or two to cast as yet but I have a dog, and so I will tell him because my trusted friends are focused only on Liam Hemsworth and the cynics are pretending to be bored by it all and the country people are focused on the cloudless sky and their almost-burgeoning crop. Location is still top secret, paparazzi. And schoolgirls. I gave a talk at a secondary college last week and when I said ‘Liam,’ a ruffle, like wind through wheat, buffeted the rows of spotty faces and at least one girl wept – real, wet tears. I just hope they all go out and buy a copy of the book after they’ve had an eyeful of Liam in Technicolor.

- Rosalie Ham
Author, The Dressmaker

 

Picture of The Dressmaker novel cover with the words 'Coming to Cinemas on October 1st 2015'

Rosalie’s Blog: The Journey Begins

Novel and short story were my second choices when I enrolled at RMIT in 1996 – screenwriting and playwriting classes were full. I used to wonder what would have happened if they weren’t, if I’d written The Dressmaker, or any story for that matter, as a screenplay. But I don’t wonder any more – I’m just bloody bloody bloody grateful that I wrote that novel and that Sue Maslin found me. I watched producers try to get the film of The Dressmaker ‘up’ for 13 years now, and I know now that if I’d written The Dressmaker as a screenplay, it would be on a ‘floppy disc’ in a box in the attic next to where the bat lives and I’d still be working as a cook in a nursing home.

For the last 4 years Sue Maslin, the final and a most, most successful and talented Producer, has struggled, but she has conquered, and she has conquered with triumphant grace and élan. Sue has recruited a cast and crew that will bring the screenplay written by a PROFESSIONAL screenwriter (as opposed to me, a novelist), to screen sometime in 2015 and even better, I will be an extra! Jocelyn Moorhouse has written a faithful and sound script – but she’ll have to deal with all those people saying, ‘But it’s different to the book!’ I’ll just show up and have my hair done and my eyelashes glued on and slip into something vintage and spectacular for my moment in the crowd. I know that I have to do exactly as I’m told, that if I do something wrong then filming will stop and everyone will have to start all over again and every minute costs $10,000 – MORE if I’m in the crowd behind Kate Winslet or Liam Hemsworth. You’ll see me. I’ll wave.

- Rosalie Ham
Author, The Dressmaker