Last week Doggy Tea Breaks was invited to the special screening of "Oddball" at the newly refurbished Lido Cinemas in Hawthorn.
This movie was filmed entirely in Victoria and stars Shane Jacobson as Allan 'Swampy' Marsh, a Warnambool chook farmer. Swampy Marsh came up with the idea of using his Maremma sheepdog Oddball to protect the dwindling population of penguins from predatory foxes on Middle Island, off the coast of Warnambool. The penguin colony, which once numbered over a thousand had been decimated to less than 10. As a result of the Middle Island Maremma Project, the penguin population has now risen up to 150.
The real Swampy Marsh supplied the chickens for this film, and is a somewhat polarising character in real life. But if it wasn't for him, the penguin colony on Middle Island would have been wiped out completely. As a free range chicken farmer, he could vouch for the ability of Maremma sheepdogs to protect his chickens and their fiercely independent nature. The best line in the movie "Penguins are just chickens wearing a dinner suit" is an actual quote from him.
All the scenes on Middle Island though, were actually filmed on a replica of the island inside Docklands studio, as the film crew were not allowed to film on the real island for conservation reasons. But the penguins were real, having been specially flown down to Melbourne from Sea World.
In the movie, a penguin couple produce an egg, which nearly gets destroyed by an unexpected enemy. In real life, the two penguins, called Edith and Chip, had been singletons without a mate, before hooking up during the movie, and have since raised their own penguin chick back in Sea World.
Oddball, who is undoubted the star of this movie, is played by a Maremma dog called Kai who was discovered at the RSPCA. Kai's trainer is Luke Hura, who also trained Koko the Kelpie for the hit Aussie movie "Red Dog".
The movie is really cute family-friendly entertainment, and the seeing the Twelve Apostles (which are now reduced to eight) on the big screen was quite something! According to Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook, who plays Swampy's park ranger daughter in this movie, is an actor to watch out for. She is the "Number One draft pick of the acting world" says Jacobson.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the night was the Q and A session after the movie, with Shane Jacobson recounting his experiences making "Oddball" and taking questions from the kiddos in the audience. Which he would as he has four kids of his own!
Some interesting Wikipedia-worthy factoids we learned from him are:
He ate 13 raw eggs to nail the opening scene
His favourite scene from the movie is an ad-lib where he sticks his tongue out while trying to start a ute
SJ has been to Warnambool many times, has worked as a pyrotechnician and is the Chief Scout of Scouts Victoria
Apart from Kai the Maremma, the penguins and the chickens, a fox was also used for this movie. When you watch the movie, you can see the fox is a real one in closeup shots, but during the Q and A we found out that foxes are very hard to train, so the scenes where the fox is seen running was actually a dog shaved to look like a fox!
Unfortunately we couldn't get any insight from Shane Jacobson as to the breed of dog that was used as the 'stand-in' for the fox. So there are still some showbiz secrets that will stay that way!
Thank you Lido Cinemas for a great experience!