A Kiwi bromance


Left: Bret McKenzie, behind the scenes. Top: Robert Sarkies directing. Bottom: Duncan Sarkies the writer. 

Two brothers are the brains and heart behind the new film Two Little Boys. Sitting together at Deluxe Café, sharing a brownie carefully sliced into equal halves, Robert and Duncan Sarkies tell Amanda Witherell how Duncan’s initial sketch of a novel about three bogans in a van driving around the Catlins becomes a film about the true meaning of friendship.  

The film stars Bret McKenzie as the meek, dumb Nige to Hamish Blake’s bullying but loyal Deano.

They’re two mullet-rocking ‘90s era bogans who’ve always been best mates, until a third bro – Maaka Pohatu playing Gav, a cheerful, pothead-spiritual Maori – enters the picture. Deano can’t hang with the competition, but when Nige hits a Norwegian soccer star with his car, he turns immediately to his old friend for advice. Disposing of the body takes Nige out of his comfort zone and reveals Deano’s sinister side.

Shot in 36 days at more than 50 locations around Invercargill and the Catlins, incorporating live sea lions, penguins, and dolphins, it’s one of those comedies chocked with hilarious one-liners and unbelievable plot twists, which also contends with some real issues.

This isn’t the brothers’ first foray into filmmaking together – they created the 1999 low-budget hit Scarfies and initially Robert who produced the movie imagined something similar in cost, scale, and time commitment.

“Early on Robert and I were picturing it as a film,” says Duncan, who started scribbling character sketches back in 2006. It quickly grew to a couple hundred pages and he told his brother: “I really want to write this as a novel. I fell in love with being inside someone’s head.”

Though the brothers have been living in Wellington for more than 15 years and the film cast and crew is heavily populated with other Wellingtonians, the book is set in middle-class Dunedin.

“We weren’t in a little arts bubble down there. That explains the vernacular of the characters,” says Duncan, of their Dunedin childhood, which included trips to the Catlins. He revisited many of those places while composing the novel, imagining the characters riding with him. “I was travelling around with three invisible bogan friends,” he says, adding that he imagined the scene where Nige and Deano descend into a fight in front of a bunch of sea lions while sitting at that same beach and immediately drafted in his car.

His real life relationships were also an inspiration. “I’ve been involved in a couple of friendships where I was the Nige character, with someone dominating me,” says Duncan. “However, as a writer, I’ve got a bit of me in Deano, and a bit of me in Nige, and a bit of me in Gav. You can’t help but be your characters.”

Though he’d previously written award winning plays and short stories, this was Duncan Sarkies’ first novel and throughout its drafting, he says, “I couldn’t forget entirely about the film.”

It’s a very crazy film – there’s all sorts of bad language and bad behaviour. In order to make it we had to go to meetings with all sorts of lawyers and accountants, quite serious meetings. I was thinking, you’ve just given a lot of funding to….” Here he spins off into laughter.

“We always thought of it as a crazy rollercoaster ride of a film,” he adds. “We wanted to take it to places rollercoasters don’t always go. The challenge, as storytellers, was to do it without jolting people off the ride. It was definitely a fine line.”

Grounding the absurdity in reality was one of the constant tensions, helped along by the real scenery, the art department’s ability to wind back the clock to the mid-‘90s, and the actors – McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame, and Blake, who’s known for his role in Australia’s Hamish and Andy show – who naturally gelled on the set.

“If you bring great comedians like Bret and Hamish you want them to bring their take to it.” says Robert.

“It’s a layering process. The comedy they bring also comes from a real place. Even the comedy is rooted in truth,” says Robert. “I wanted to make a film that could have been conceived by Nige and Deano themselves and they’d love it.”

“And wouldn’t recognise themselves!” adds Duncan.

Both seem delighted with the results – which premieres nationwide on September 20, with a special preview and Q&A with the Sarkies in Wellington.

Originally published September 12, 2012 in Capital Times

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