A Crying Matter
Bess Manson, Dominion Post Thursday June 19 2003

There were times when writing this movie script left Stuart McKenzie in need of a long walk to shake off the dark moments. Some scenes had cast and crew weeping openly.

It wasn't an easy movie to make, writer and director Stuart McKenzie says of For Good, his first feature-length film. Well, a story about the rape and murder of a 13-year-old child, her devastated family and her killer is hardly going to be Walt Disney, is it?

But on top of the emotion and drama in the script, McKenzie had to deal with nearly losing the film with the collapse of Kahukura – the production company that funded the project $200,000 through the New Zealand Film Commission's low budget film fund.

McKenzie, his wife, Wellington actor Miranda Harcourt and his business partner Neil Pardington endured six agonizing months before they eventually raised their own money to buy back the rights from the liquidator.

He won't say how much they paid. Staying mum was part of the deal. Six months ago, they secured a further $300,000 from the Film Commission for postproduction. Finally, next month, the film hits the big screen as part of the Wellington Film Festival.

For Good, filmed in Wellington and a bleak-looking Eketahuna, follows Lisa, a willful 23-year-old who poses as a journalist to interview the soon-to-be-paroled murderer of Tracey, who was killed more than a decade before. The girls' connection is minor but Tracey's murder at the hands of the stocky, swaggering Grant Wilson, played chillingly well by Tim Balme, has had an effect on Lisa's adolescent life and who she has become today.

For Good has been gestating for more than six years. It was born out of the one-woman show Portraits devised by McKenzie and Harcourt in 1997. The play was a series of monologues based on interviews carried out with imprisoned rapists and murderers as well as families of victims. McKenzie has elaborated on the story to make For Good, using the anecdotes as a basis for the script.

"I really feel like this was a group effort... a community effort. It came out of a community of people who had shared some of their experiences with us. They had given permission for us to elaborate on some of those experiences in a fictional way so they were really giving something over to us in trust so I felt quite a responsibility to take that and to deal with in a way that was not unauthentic.

What I wanted was to make a film that respected and honoured the parents of the girl who is killed. Those people and their experiences were always my benchmark. [I didn't want to] push it too far, making a thriller for the sake of a thriller, I didn't want to demean that experience of anyone who had been in that situation.

I wanted to show the humanity and the complexity and dilemma of the Grant Wilson character, but my first allegiance was to the parents."

He and Harcourt also researched media commentary of heinous crimes in this country, from Karla Cardno to Kirsty Bentley. There were eerie moments throughout the process of making the film, McKenzie says.

He started writing the character of the father, who vows, on radio, to kill his daughter's murderer before Mark Middleton, stepfather of Karla Cardno, came on the scene. The day he took a rough cut of the film to the Film Commission an article featured in a newspaper written by a woman, who was growing up in the Hawke's Bay at the time Kirsa Jensen was abducted, commenting on how the crime contributed to the loss of innocence – a strong storyline in the film.

And now, just weeks before the film is to be shown at the forthcoming Wellington Film Festival, a rapist is freed into a Palmerston North community to the outrage of, not just locals, but the entire country.

It was tough going writing this material, McKenzie admits. Particularly some of Wilson's monologues, like his description of what he did to the victim.

"That was very... hard. I felt like, like I had to go for a long walk afterwards. That went to quite a dark place."

It was not only McKenzie who felt the weight of this material; cast and crew wept openly in some scenes, he says.

The cast, he says, were a joy to work with. They were not only incredibly talented, but utterly committed to the story.

Balme, McKenzie says, became quite an "intense, closed off unit" as he took on the role of Grant Wilson.

"He really took that character on board and found it very disturbing."

Harcourt, too, committed to the role to such a degree that she practically starved herself to take on the gaunt look demanded by the role of the mother of the murdered girl.

"She starved herself and just became incredibly gaunt for about seven months before we started filming. She let her hair grow and let the grey grow so that she just looks like this completely devastated individual."

Michelle Langstone, a graduate from Auckland Performing Arts School, is new on the scene and is "precociously talented" in the same vein Danielle Cormack is, McKenzie says.

The film which goes on general release early next year, features a soundtrack by Shayne Carter of Straightjacket Fits and Dimmer fame. McKenzie says he listened to Carter's music as he wrote For Good and eventually got to a point where he couldn't write unless Dimmer was on the stereo. It only occurred to him to ask Carter to compose an original score for the film when he started the five-week shoot. The film score and the script are made for each other, McKenzie says.

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