Samuel Gay (A Guide to Dating at the End of the World) – the interview

The debut feature for Brisbane-based filmmaker Samuel Gay, A Guide to Dating at the End of the World is in essence a romantic comedy, albeit with a touch of sci-fi thrown in for good measure. Alex (Kerith Atkinson) is set up for a blind date by her friends, but she finds John (Tony Brockman) a bit of a bore. When he asks her for a second date she responds with: “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last man on earth.” The next morning, she wakes up to find that the world has changed, and the city is empty. She is the only person around. But as she spends her days wandering around the empty city, she meets John browsing through a bookstore. John explains his theory – the Hadron Collider has somehow caused a wormhole which has meant that they are the only two people alive. Over the course of a few days the pair begin to bond and discover that they enjoy each other’s company.

Gay admits that the science stuff is something of a passion for him. “I’ve always liked science fiction,” he explains. He wrote the screenplay with Stewart Klein, whom he met a film school. Stewart was a year above him, and they have been friends for quite some time. “But we don’t share a similar sensibility when it comes to screenplays,” he adds. “Romantic comedy is not really his forte,” Gay admits, but they worked on the script and injected touches of humour. “He has a more gritty approach.” It was good to have a sounding board to judge what worked, Gay adds.

Gay began his career studying engineering, but later switched to film making after being inspired by listening to a film show on JJJ. When he was younger, he hadn’t realised that filmmaking could be a career. “Films had always been a passion of mine,” Gay says, and admits that he loved comedy films, particularly those of the Coen brothers, and some of the early John Landis films.

Gay had made a handful of short films, the last being Death at the Party in 2008, on which he collaborated with Klein. So when he set out to make his first feature he drew upon his “network of friends” to help. He was determined that on this film he didn’t want to be working “those crazy fifteen-hour days,” and made sure that there wasn’t an unrealistic shooting schedule. He wanted it to be a fun experience.

The film was shot by cinematographers Simon Chapman and Jason Hargreaves, whom he met at film school, and told him that when he made his first feature they wanted to be involved. Having two cameras also made shooting those scenes depicting those scenes when Alex was wandering the empty streets of Brisbane a lot easier. “We had a small crew, and we were pretty inconspicuous. And Sunday mornings were not too busy,” he laughs. “We couldn’t control the traffic and there were people around, but it was in the timing.” Simon is apparently now working in Canada.

Gay talks about the casting process. He had known Atkinson for a while as she had helped out on a student film he made, and he cast her as Alex. He had her in mind when he wrote the film, he adds. She had “a real genuineness that appealed straight away,” he adds. And Brockman auditioned and he and Kerith had a good bond and fitted in nicely. And he was always questioning the science stuff to make sure it was believable. Although the film is largely a two-handed, a third character is Wendy (Jacki Mison), who makes a late entrance and who holds the key to reversing the effects of the Hadron experiment. Jacki was married to a cousin and had made a couple of short films.

A Guide to Dating at the End of the World has been a work in progress for over a decade. “We had enough money to shoot the film, but then it became this long drawn-out process. It was a lot harder than I realised,” he adds. Gay and his crew shot the film, but then the production stalled while he tried to find the funding to complete it. “It all happened in reverse. First, we shot the film and then we got the producers on board.” Luckily, he was able to land the services of industry veteran Tait Brady who brought a wealth of experience to the post-production process and helped polish the film. Gay also had a full-time job at that time, and “just plodded along,” as he puts it. And the pandemic of the past two years also didn’t help as it shut down a lot of production work. “It’s been eleven years since we filmed it.”

Gay admits that the title wasn’t the original title for the film. It was originally going to be called The Last Man on Earth, “which sort of fitted in with the story line,” but it was pointed out that this is the name of a 1964 film that starred Vincent Price and which was remade as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston. It is also the name of a sci-fi show on television, starring Will Forte, with a similar plot. “When that TV show came out in 2015 we had to change it and come up with the new title. I was quite keen on the old title,” he offers ruefully.

A Guide to Dating at the End of the World is having some screenings in Brisbane from Friday August 26, accompanied by Q&As.

Fri 26th – Palace Barracks, Petrie Terrace – 7.30pm: Q&A with cast & director

Sat 27th – Palace James St, The Valley – 3.30 pm : Q&A with cast & director

Sun 28th – Palace Barracks – 4 pm : Q&A with cast & director

Wed 31st – Palace James St – 6.30 pm

The film will be distributed through Label Distribution and then be released via DOD, one of the myriad streaming platforms that have changed the paradigm of film distribution over the past decade.

Greg King

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