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Making Venus

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 07/05/02 15:51:58

"The making, remaking and unmaking of an Australian feature"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Gary Doust’s documentary is a hilarious making-of The Venus Factory (directed by Glenn Fraser), an Australian feature set in the porn industry.

Fraser was sacked by the ambitious neophyte producers after a disappointing preview screening, not helped by the timing - Boogie Nights had recently opened in Australia. When they couldn’t obtain a satisfactory distribution deal, producers Jason Gooden and Julian Saggers approached writer-producer Denis Whitburn to rework the film.

Whitburn rewrote the Venus comedy script as a romantic drama, used half of Fraser’s footage and shot the rest himself (making it his directing debut). “Starring Duncan Wiley” got a poor reception at AFI awards qualification screenings, and was resoundingly knocked back by distributors. The producers have now abandoned most of Whitburn’s work, re-cut Fraser’s footage themselves and will soon premiere the third version of the film - now titled “The Money Shot”. Whether or not it will carry a director’s credit remains to be seen. And the chance of a distribution deal seems, if anything, remoter than before.

Fraser was making his first feature after the acclaimed short “Boy”, and Doust had asked whether he could trail him on The Venus Factory. Little did Doust know he’d be chronicling a filmmaking saga that has already spanned five years. He wisely allowed experienced producer Tom Zubrycki to assist with editing down over 150 minutes of footage to a snappy 75. SBS television pitched in money for the final cut and will screen a 50-minute version of Making Venus later this year.

Making Venus is an insight into, and simultaneously a how-not-to lesson about, Australian low-budget filmmaking. Besides highlighting the importance of a finalised script, it also illustrates the difficulty - but absolute necessity - of coordinating disparate collaborators when working on a low budget.

Although Making Venus is funny, it achieves some uncomfortable laughs at the expense of struggling filmmakers. Gooden and Saggers, cousins who have remarkably remained united throughout this experience, certainly don’t come off well. The lesson for them would seem to be learning to say “no” and moving on to something else.

These cousins have now spent more than 10 times their initial budget of $100,000 with no return in sight. To Doust’s credit, he also gives a face to the film’s private investors, who made letting go of the project such a difficult option for the producers.

(The fourth in a series of six short takes on the 2002 Sydney Film Festival - see also The Inside Story, Nobody Someday, Lovely & Amazing, The Slaughter Rule and Lost in La Mancha)

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