Matthew Newton has a passion for stories about male relationships. Three Blind Mice, which he wrote, directed and starred in, follows three young Australian navy officers who have one last night in Sydney before going to Iraq. It won a special commendation when it premiered at the Sydney Film Festival and received positive reviews at Toronto earlier this month. Prior to that was the 2004 experimental feature, Right Here, Right Now, about friends who intervene with a suicidal young man. "It was about exploring ideas of what it means to be a man," Newton says.
His inspiration for working in film comes from his relationship with his father, TV legend Bert Newton. "It started when I was a kid watching films like Casablanca, Night Of The Hunter and Some Like It Hot with my dad. I loved it because it was a bonding thing, and by the time I was about 10 I knew I wanted to work in the film business."
Melbourne-born Newton graduated from Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art (Nida) and appeared in TV, films and theatre before turning to writing and directing.
Three Blind Mice was made away from the usual Film Finance Corporation route, which Newton says could have meant months of development. Instead, he found recent graduates from a local film school who wanted to work with more established heads of department. The crew worked for deferred payments and shared rights. Entrepreneur Ben Davis came on board to produce, and the small-budget independent project shot for three weeks on location with night shoots.
Distribution deals are still being discussed; Odin's Eye is selling. "It got a fantastic reception on the home front," Newton says. "But also people (in Toronto) really responded to it. I tried to make it about behavioural truths that transcend language and culture.
"I wanted to explore extreme naturalism, even though it's a scripted feature," he says of the shooting approach with documentary DoP Hugh Miller. "I set up the parameters and then we could all explore."
'We' is the key word, as Newton also plays one of the three leads. "I didn't write it with myself in mind, but this is a low-budget film and you don't want to ask the cast or crew to do things you wouldn't do yourself."
He has two scripts in development. People People is about a couple trying to stay together. "It's an anti-romcom about how we relate to each other," Newton says. He is also working on a Los Angeles-set piece about a professional killer, The Dotted Line. "I want to deconstruct the genre and find what's truthful about a character like that."