REWIND FEATURE - Interview with director Jonathan Adams

The writer/director of "Rough Stuff", Jonathan Adams on set.

Rovers racing, insane driving, treasure hunting, quirky characters, a mysterious masked hunter on the trail, environmental activism, corporate greed, and huge adventure? What’s not to like about “Rough Stuff”, the first feature film from writer/director Jonathan Adams. The 2017 Australian indie film is a soon-to-be cult film that packs a punch like “Indiana Jones” meets “Fast & Furious” in the Outback. While it may not have the huge budgets of the Hollywood counterparts, it never feels small especially with the grand use of the amazing rural landscapes while still having emphasis on characterization, style, and story. In addition to the Australian DVD released by Umbrella Entertainment (which we have reviewed here), an exclusive Blu-ray+DVD set is also directly available from the official website (which we have also reviewed here). With a great set of extras curated by the production team, they are absolutely worthy purchases for the fans of the film and even for interested newcomers. Rewind DVDCompare is very thrilled to present an interview with the writer/director of the film, Jonathan Adams (JA) conducted by James-Masaki Ryan .

JMR: First of all, thank you for your time as I know you are very busy with the promotion of the film. The idea of an Australian adventure film like this is very different from the recent independent circuit. So what made you decide to make a film about “Rovers”?

JA: I had always wanted to do an honest-to-god adventure film which harkened back to the serials and jungle adventures of the 30s,40s, and 50s like “King Kong”, “The Lost World”, “The African Queen”, and “Jason and the Argonauts”. I’m also a huge fan of classic pulp adventure authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. So that kind of “journey into the unknown” genre just happens to float my boat in a big way.

At some point the idea of doing a kind of Australian “Indiana Jones” collided with my love of offroad adventure in what I felt was a compelling way - that I could substitute the horses from “The Lost World” or the venture from “King Kong” with 4WDs. They become integral to the fabric of the story, and I thought that would be a really fun way of modernising the genre and grounding it in something I can relate to. So once I had that, I started to think what I could call the characters who drive these rigs, and I conceived something between a cowboy and a pirate in the Australian Outback. That got me very excited for the possibilities.

Shooting the Rovers on the adventure.

JMR: What were some other films that inspired the making of “Rough Stuff”?

JA: I think you can see bits of pieces of lots of things. Part of the inspiration was to do an interpretation of the "Star Wars" “Han Solo vs Boba Fett” story, with Buzz sitting in for Han and the Ranger sitting in for Boba Fett. Other than that, Indiana Jones is an obvious one. There’s also flashes of “The Road Warrior”, the “Lethal Weapon” movies, “Die Hard”, “The Magnificent Seven”, the “Dollars” trilogy, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Stagecoach” - all that stuff is woven into the fabric of it somewhere. My idea was that it would feel like a movie you haven’t seen for a long time, and you forgot how awesome it is.

JMR: Funding for the production was done through Kickstarter. Why did you decide to go with crowdfunding?

JA: Basically everyone who knows me at all knows filmmaking has been my vocation for as long as I’ve understood that’s a thing you could do. So I knew if I decided to put something out there, at the very least my family and friends would get behind it - because they know it’s not just some whim. I think at the end of the day, your biggest supporters on a crowdfunding campaign are going to be people who know you, so I thought it would be worthwhile. Turned out it was!

JMR: Prior to making the feature film, you had worked on some short films. Were there people in the cast and crew that you had worked with before?

JA: Production Designer Andrew Boland and I have done every film together since we were teens. His contributions are all over the film, from the iconic FJ40 to the Sergio Leone-inspired country tavern. Interestingly cinematographer Jack Crombie and I had never worked together before, which was a bit nerve-wracking. Like going into a battle with a soldier you don’t know. But Jack and I couldn’t have worked better together, as he captured exactly the raw and old-fashioned look I wanted!

JMR: You have a mostly Australian cast with a few international performers including some Americans and Brits. What was the casting process like?

JA: It was actually pretty straightforward, in that we had our casting director Steven Gregory tee up some good talent who we auditioned. The key strategic part was being upfront with everyone and explaining just what to expect from the production. I wanted them to know what they were getting into so they could have the opportunity to respectfully decline, rather than it become an issue on-set. So before we offered them the roles, I met with all the main cast individually and explained that there would be a very small crew, we would mostly be staying in one house, there wasn’t going to be a transport team, we’d be shooting in remote and primeval locations. Basically, they had to know it was going to be an uncomfortable experience. As it turned out, everyone got into the spirit of things and embraced the adventure of it.

One of the rare indoor shoots.

JMR: The use of the Australian Outback landscape is incredible. From the vast plains to the muddy jungles to the rocky cliffs, the locations are equally beautiful and dangerous. How much was shot on location and how much was shot in studio?

JA: Technically the entire film was shot “on location” as we never utilised traditional studio spaces at all. But we did repurpose spaces to create certain settings. We used a converted barn, which is now a function room, to create the pub, because I wanted something that was open rather than cluttered like most modern pubs. And we shot a lot of the mine-site stuff at an airfield in Wedderburn. Other than that, basically everything was what we call “distant location”, in that we had to be completely self-sufficient. Sending a runner to the shops could easily be a couple of hours round trip.

JMR: I can imagine. Logistics for rural shooting can be a nightmare if one minor thing cannot be replaced or repaired on the spot. Considering that, were there any major changes from the first draft to the final script or changes made during shooting?

JA: The biggest change to the script was a huge, 20-page action sequence that was honestly my favourite thing in the film. It came down to a choice between keeping the dimensionality of the characters, and the ensemble nature of the story, or that one sequence.

It will make it into the sequel though, come hell or high water!

JMR: A sequel! Now that’s something exciting to hear.

JA: I’m halfway through the script for “Rovers of the Redlands”, which is a sequel in the vein of “The Road Warrior” in that its features the same lead characters but it’s entirely self-contained. The idea is that if you’ve never seen “Rough Stuff”, you won’t feel like you’re missing anything. This story takes us more into “the Redlands”, which is the Rover territory populated by miscreants and outcasts, and is about a mother who teams up with Buzz to look for her missing son in the Redlands.

On location.

JMR: Hopefully that will come sooner than later! Getting back to “Rough Stuff”, what were some of the difficulties encountered during the shoot?

JA: Weather! It snowed in Lithgow for the first time in 70 years in the middle of our shoot, and in October of all times (which is Autumn in Australia). So not only did we shut down for 24 hours, we also had to contend with closed tracks, fallen trees, communication and power blackouts. It was painful. And then literally a week later, we had actors suffering from heat stroke. That’s New South Wales for you! So contending with that and an inflexible schedule was very stressful for everyone.

JMR: The film has played theatrically in Australia and I assume you were able to see it with an audience. How have the reactions been?

JA: Seemingly very positive, although of course there are detractors. I’m pretty good at telling the difference between an obligatory “well done” and genuine enthusiasm, and I believe the majority of people feel the latter. Watching the film with an audience was always fun, as I got to hear the laugher in the right places. That’s the great thing about comedy, is that instant feedback. Watching a straight drama with an audience would be painful, because you just don't know what they’re thinking.

JMR: As I said before “Rough Stuff” is very different from the recent crop of films coming out of Australia. What do you think of the current state of Australian productions?

JA: I think things are improving, and there’s definitely been an embracing of genre in a way I’ve been hoping for a while. I’m really excited by Warwick Thornton and Ivan Sen and what they’re doing with Western tropes. I do think there’s still this slightly pretentious streak running through our film culture, where filmmakers are overly concerned with being perceived as avant-garde or controversial or artistic, and especially with making “Important with a capital I” films, rather than just telling a compelling and engaging story. There’s certainly a place for that kind of thing, but I encourage all film makers to just think in terms of “what do I want to see?” or even “what would I actually pay to see?”. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we might find our tastes are more commercial than we like to admit while sipping champagne at a gala event.

JMR: As we are a home media website, we would of course like to know this question: What are some of your favorite Blu-rays and DVDs?

JA: Well, there’s two way to answer that I suppose - one, my favourite blu-rays are usually the ones containing my favourite movies, so I would refer you the influence above but also add “Aliens”.

The other way to look at is for movies that aren’t necessarily favourites but contain amazing special features. There’s a making-of documentary on the “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” 2-disc DVD and 2-disc Blu-ray called “According to Plan” which is actually pretty raw and really gives you a sense of how difficult those films were, shooting at a massive scale on remote locations. And you can see how stressful it was for Gore Verbinski. I also love the behind the scenes feature on “The Social Network”, which really give you an insight into David Fincher’s process and how challenging at even frustrating it can be for his collaborators. But for making-of bliss, there’s simply nothing better than the Blu-ray extended sets of “The Lord of the Rings”. Peter Jackson was a rock star to me growing up, and all of those features are ingrained in my memory. But one feature that is only on those sets and no other LOTR release is the reel of BTS footage just strung together with no interviews. Just literally all the BTS, so you’re like a fly on the wall. I eat that stuff up.

The crew that made the film possible.

JMR: Again, Jonathan Adams, thank you for the time and for the hard work with the making of “Rough Stuff” and continuing to promote it, and best of luck with your future work.

More information on “Rough Stuff” can be found at the official website along with various official social media pages (links available via the official website).

“Rough Stuff” is currently available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment, Australia and found at any fine Australian retailer
“Rough Stuff” is currently available in a Blu-ray+DVD set exclusively from

Images courtesy of Jonathan Adams/Rough Stuff Pty Ltd.


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