He may be a newbie to the form, but Australian director Nicholas Verso knew exactly how to satisfy his target audience with debut feature Boys in the Trees.
Nicholas Verso isn’t too quick to admit he didn’t start the creepy clown craze as an odd promotional gimmick for Boys in the Trees. “It’s really funny cause we had certain ideas on how we were going to draw attention to the film that have taken on a life of their own,” he laughs. “And we certainly didn’t start it, but it’s very strange timing and I think it’s hilarious that all these people are doing it.”
Boys in the Trees marks Verso’s introduction to feature filmmaking, but this isn’t his first rodeo. He has created some truly unique short films including Hugo and The Last Time I Saw Richard – the latter sharing the same universe as BITT. “I’ve always wanted to work in a very heightened space with fantasy elements and enchantment – you kind of need to play around a little bit with that. It takes a bit of experimentation,” Verso says of his experience making short films.
“It took a little longer than I’d hoped [to make Boys in the Trees] but we got there…[short films are] great preparation and it was fun to finally have a bigger canvas to work on.”
Verso was bitten by the filmmaking bug in his youth: “My first film would have been a production of Lord of the Flies in place of an English essay, with pigs heads and fires and people dying and yeah, it was very fun.”
Boys in the Trees is set in 1997 suburban Melbourne and is a supernatural coming-of-age thriller that deals with the dilemma teenagers face when finishing high school. The cast were impressed with how the film depicted Australian youth, with Mitzi Ruhlmann feeling a rapport with her strong-willed character Romany. “I really loved it and could kind of relate to just Romany’s frustration of being around boys who felt much more immature than she was.
“I feel like it’s not really shown with teenagers very often,” she continues. “I feel like so often teenage audiences are really underestimated. Their emotional capabilities and intellectual capabilities aren’t treated with the respect that this film treats them with.”
Toby Wallace, who plays Corey, one of the title characters, agrees that the film will resonate with a young audience. “Corey’s in a place of change. He’s also in a place of emotional turmoil. So he’s got to hold onto his childhood, but also let it go and let go of the things that happened when he was a kid to be able to move forward.
“I remember Nick saying that a couple of really young girls went to see [the film] at one of the test screenings. They came out and were like, ‘I understand so much more what it’s like to grow up as a guy’.”
Verso describes the film as being like The Lost Boys, and the comparisons don’t stop there. “It is interesting in this world where now Stranger Things is a huge hit. It’s really funny; someone commented ‘Ugh, this is basically just Stranger Things’ and it’s just like, yep, we watched that in July and then we wrote a film, financed it, and made it in two months,” he laughs. “But I adore Stranger Things and so the fact that we’re even spoken of in the same breath is an honour.”
Verso chose to set the film in 1997, and is only too happy to explain why he did it. “[I wanted] that distance you had in the ’90s where you could disappear into the shadows. And so I kind of looked back at the last time that could have happened, and to me, it felt like ’97.”
As a fan of that particular decade, he became giddy at seeing all the nods whilst filming, especially when an item of his personal clothing made it on screen. “There was something really delightful about Mitzi walking around in a PJ Harvey t-shirt that I used to wear every day in the ‘90s as a teenager. It was like my favourite t-shirt. Her walking around, listening to Garbage on her Discman, I was like ‘you can’t get more ‘90s than this,” he grins.
The ‘90s setting notwithstanding, the most prominent and exciting aspect for Aussie audiences will be seeing an honest representation of Australian life. “It was really important that this one be for Australian kids, you know? I wanted to celebrate what it was like growing up in Australian suburbia and have fun with that and really rejoice in it, because I think we have a really great time here.
“I hope they just enjoy the imaginative space of it. I think we don’t always go for big imaginative films in Australia and I’d love to see more of that.”