To tackle the Beaconsfield telemovie, producers took inspiration from Apollo 13. Everybody knew what happened. But what was it like from the inside?
Co-Producer Jane Liscombe likens the NASA control room and the men in the rocket, to the mine rescue team and Todd Russell and Brant Webb trapped in a cage nearly 1000 metres underground.
“The thing for us is there were projections from the media, but they were only being fed the information from the mine managers and kind of filling in the gaps. But when you review a lot of the media footage you realise that what was being projected was not what was happening,” she says.
Essentially the telemovie depicts the 2006 mine collapse from four perspectives: the two trapped men, their families, the rescue team and the media. Shot in Beaconsfield, Melbourne and Mansfield in Victoria, the film recounts the tragedy, which killed miner Larry Knight, and trapped Russell and Webb for two weeks.
“Everyone knew the end of Titanic and that still worked. I think you’ve got to find a heart to the film.
“Whilst you know the ending hopefully we’re going to have people on tenterhooks and showing them something they haven’t seen before.”
Liscombe produced the Cannes Festival hit Cracker Night with director Glendyn Ivin, who directs on Beaconsfield. John Edwards is Co-Producer.
The set that has been built in a Melbourne warehouse is staggering in its realism. The crew worked all day in the dark to re-create the taut scenes with the two miners.
Nine has a long association with Russell and Webb, following Eddie McGuire signing them to the network for their first media interview.
Both have been Technical Advisors on the film, with Russell heavily involved in the finer details.
“They’ve been very giving of their time. I think at first they were guarded,” Liscombe explains.
“They had a fear that we would tell it in whatever way we wanted and stuff what they thought. But I think my approach has been a very open door with an ongoing dialogue. If they had any issues with things, we needed to know why and adapt it if necessary.”
Lachy Hulme (Offspring, The Hollowmen) plays Russell while Shane Jacobson (Kenny, Top Gear Australia) plays Webb.
“It’s beyond comprehension the horror that they were dealing with. Ultimately it’s the story of that horror, combined with putting a group of men together to defuse the death trap and get the guys out,” he says.
“He’s a tough bloke. To his core he’s a very, very strong man.
“At no point did these guys ever pretend that they were heroes. They were chalk and cheese personalities who had to rely on each other to get themselves through. They had been working together for six years and barely said ‘boo’ to each other. They didn’t know each other.
“It’s like being at school, you’re not friends with everybody in the class.”
Russell told Hulme he would have to “pork up” to play him.
“I had to get up to 116 kilos, which was a little over 20 kilos of where I was at. So it was a diet of burgers, pasta and protein shakes and going to the gym to put muscle on. You can’t fake walking like a miner. You can fake being one, but you can’t fake looking like one.
“He’s a fascinating bloke, so this is not anything other than an absolute pleasure for me professionally.”
Hulme became close friends with Russell during the making of the telemovie, and Russell stays with him when he visits Melbourne.
“I started by really getting to know Todd and he’s been an incredible support to me, as has his whole family.
“Acting can be broken down into very simple things. If you can think like the character you can play the character. So you just need to find an ‘in’ into that process of thinking like someone. In this case there’s a lot of available material on what happened in 2006 in the mine.
“Getting up close with Todd, spending time with his family in Beaconsfield, we talk quite frequently and he stays with me when he’s in Melbourne. Then you just apply your training with it, I suppose. That and a lot of hamburgers.”
The cast also features Cameron Daddo, Michala Banas, Sacha Horler, Anthony Hayes, Angus Sampson, and playing 60 Minutes reporter Richard Carleton who died whilst covering the saga, is Steve Vizard.
“Steve Vizard got to wear Richard Carleton’s glasses and take a little bit of Richard on set. At first we were all a little bit concerned, that it was a bit weird. But Steve thought it was the right thing to do,” says Liscombe.
“He was a beautiful, fun man who had his ways of distracting and disarming people.”
Some of the family members of Larry Knight, who died in the 2006 tragedy, have also provided insight to cast and producers.
“His daughter Lauren is involved, but his wife Jackie didn’t want to be. It was too painful and we totally respect that.
“We’ve taken it from the perspective of the daughter who was estranged from her father at the time.
“Tessa James (who plays Knight’s daughter) has spent time with Lauren, who has read the script and approved all the scenes.”
The script by Judi McCrossin also depicts what the families of the two men endured. Liscombe says when Todd Russell came to the set, he was emotionally struck by scenes in which his wife (Michala Banas) refused to give up hope.
“He was sitting behind the cameras and saw it and broke down. And he’s a real alpha male, very straightforward, what you see is what you get. But he lost it and had a really big cry. And I said ‘It’s probably a really good thing,” she says.
“He said ‘I’d never seen it from her perspective. We’d never talked about it.’”
“He had said ‘You’ll never understand what I went through.’ And she said ‘You’ll never understand what I went through.’ So he said ‘Well, let’s just leave it at that.’”
Beaconsfield airs 8:30pm Sunday on Nine.