When Matt Murphy was working on his father’s film set as a lighting gaffer in 1979, he didn’t suspect that almost 30 years later he would be creating a film inspired by the story he was witnessing. But the film Goodbye Pork Pie, which came out in 1981, became an instant hit in New Zealand and remains well-loved to this day. No wonder it got under Matt’s skin.
“Dad has always been like, ‘Well, you just try something and have a go,’” says Matt, now a director and writer in his own right. “I always felt like children should stand on the shoulders of their parents and deliver something beyond them, or learn from their experiences, or create something more.”
When asked about how Pork Pie – released in Australian cinemas this May – relates to Murphy Senior’s Goodbye Pork Pie, Matt shied away from calling it a remake. “I have taken to calling it being inspired by the original film,” he says. “Remakes are really challenging work. People think that if you redo it you’re doing the same thing, but it’s never accurate enough. Calling Pork Pie a remake doesn’t do either the original or the new film justice.”
The film is Matt’s first foray into feature film directing after a career of shooting commercially. “I worked as a lighting technician for years, and then as an art director, set designer, production designer. I worked my way through a lot of areas in film production at a young age and then I got the opportunity to direct in my early thirties,” he says. He made his mark in television commercials, and “sort of stuck at that for a while”. But as many of us do, Matt returned to his roots.
“It took a lot of time. I had to first of all teach myself how to write a film screenplay, which took me about a year and a half to actually understand the form. Because I understood directing, I understood film making, but I didn’t understand writing in the way that I do now,” he says.
He showed an early draft to his dad. “It was pretty rough and ready, and I didn’t know quite what I was doing, and Dad just said, ‘What I tried to do with the original was have it be a journey that was believably obtainable by a kid from the suburbs’. And then I looked at my script and thought, ‘Shit! I’ve really piled in the Hollywood car chases and explosions!’ So I took that to heart, because we were trying to relate to everyday people. That really informed the grounding of my future scripts.”
When asked why his initial foray into feature films was a project inspired by his father – rather than something completely of his own – Matt responds, “That’s a valid question. In fact, at first I asked myself if I really wanted do something like Dad did. I thought, ‘it’s not really distinguishing myself’. But when I thought about it and I liked the idea of it, I thought, ‘actually that’s an even bigger challenge in a way – to take on something that’s iconic and deliver something fresh that stands beside it.’”
While there are memorable lines and moments recreated in Pork Pie, it is a heart-warming (and hilarious) piece of filmmaking on its own. “I was conscious of not just reconstituting something that has been done. I always want to honour it, and I want flavours from the original, but I needed to make something that stands on its own feet. As a director, you’ve got to deliver something that works on its own merits.”
For Matt personally, film is the future. “I’ve got two or three other ideas – actually four other ideas – that I’m writing at the moment.
“You have to write something for years and get it wrong so many times and then get it right. You’ve got to love it, you really do. And I do love it.”
Pork Pie opens in cinemas this Thursday.