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Director of Love in the first degree Michael Egan

Film director Michael Egan has made numerous short films since 1986, like The gift – inspired by a Lou Reed song about a man who mails himself to his ex-girlfriend - and When actors go bad. But his 87 minute romantic comedy Love in the First Degree is his first feature film. Michael Egan showed a lot of initiative getting the movie onto Australian screens.I asked Michael Egan about the film and his favorite books.

Love in the first degree is a fun romantic comedy, tightly written and well acted.

But it still took a lot of effort for director Michael Egan to get it to the cinemas.

There’s a lot to be said for the somewhat outsider approach Australian director Michael Egan used.

He said it wasn’t a viable proposition for private investors to finance a film in Australia, and of course it wasn’t always possible to get funding from the Australian Film Commission.

So he extended the mortgage on his and his wife’s home by $200,000 to finance the film himself.

Originally the film needed a budget of $6 million, but he had to rewrite the script and cut out some scenes to get the budget down.

And when making the film, he kept to a 23-day schedule, with 19 shooting days.

The film had 48 sets, 30 actors and 150 extras, but everything went to plan.

While filming he used whatever friends and contacts he had to cut costs.

One of the lead actors Joy Smithers was a good friend of Sydney fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, and obtained one of her gowns for free to use in the film.

And Mr Egan had a neighbor who was a managing partner in a large law firm in Sydney, who arranged for him to film for five days in the foyer of their building for free.

Then there was the problem of obtaining a distributor.

Mr Egan couldn’t get a distributor for Love in the first degree, so he decided to contact various cinemas around Australia to get the film shown.

That way he could get people talking about the film, to raise its profile, so it wouldn’t just be forgotten once it went to DVD.

“If it gets screened it becomes real,” he said.

So he’d shown the film in small towns like Tamworth and Orange, and next month it was due to be shown in two or three cinemas at a time in southern New South Wales.

When I saw the film at the Schonell Cinema in Brisbane, which Mr Egan attended for a question and answer session with the audience, it was the first time the film had been shown in a capital city in Australia.

But it had been shown at festivals overseas, with its world premiere at the Houston International Film Festival in 2004 where it won a Gold Remi.

Mr Egan said Love in the first degree was a romantic comedy in the style of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges.

The script was originally set in Manhattan, and was inspired by screenwriter Bernie DeLeo’s experiences when working in a job as a secretary between acting jobs in New York.

Mr DeLeo had wondered what would happen if he asked one of the lawyers out.

He wrote one page a day for 100 days until he had a script.

Then John Grisham’s agent took him on as a client.

The film was almost made in 1995 and 1996 in the U.S., but the writer hooked up with Australian director Michael Egan after he placed an ad in Variety seeking a script.

Mr Egan read the script and liked it.

It concerns actor Fred Thatcher (Rhett Giles) who is between roles, and makes a living as a temporary secretary in a corporate law firm.

He and his boss Leslie Barrett (Joy Smithers) don’t get off to a great start, but he takes the job as her secretary.

After a while romance blooms and the two get together.

But there’s a bit of a problem, with Leslie reluctant to ignore the professional snobbery of her fellow workers and parents.

It’s a traditional romantic comedy, tightly written, and a nice film to cruise along with.

Plus there are some hilarious moments with minor characters, particularly scenes where one of Fred Thatcher’s fellow actors had a tendency to spit all over whomever he was talking to.

Michael Egan also had another couple of scripts on the go, including a film set in 1950s Queensland, being made in the next year or two, in the style of the noir film Double indemnity.

I asked Michael Egan for the titles of a few of his favorite books.

He said One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was his favorite book of all time, because he liked the magic realism.

He also liked The whole equation by David Thomson, which was a history of Hollywood.

Another favorite was one he found when walking down a street in Paddington, Sydney, where he lived.

He said he saw a copy of Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse sitting with a few text books in a recycle bin – which had no lids in Sydney – and he read it and liked it.

He also liked Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse.

-Check out www.loveinthefirstdegree.net.

-Copyright Simon Sandall.