She's got movie stars in her backyard

RUSTIC SCENE: Barbara Thompson's  house.
RUSTIC SCENE: Barbara Thompson's house.

Trading in a three-bedroom house for a six-metre hired trailer has been worth it, says Otautau woman Barbara Thompson, if only to see her favourite Outrageous Fortune actor saunter through her backyard every morning.

Ms Thompson was approached in November by a film scout to have her 1920s house used as part of the set for the film, Weight of Elephants and, since February, she has been living in a trailer on her 1.6-hectare (4-acre) property, close to her 16 sheep, four horses, six cats and a dog but far enough from the house to give Southland-born writer-director Daniel Joseph Borgman and the 30-plus crew their space.

Borgman's script about the disappearance of three children from a small town was selected for development by Cinefondation in Paris, supported by the Cannes Film Festival. It is the first co-venture between the New Zealand Film Commission and the Danish Film Institute. About $50,000 in funding from Southland is going into the filming.

Almost 800 pupils from Invercargill primary schools had auditioned for the core cast of about 20 since August, with eight selected to play supporting roles. Filming began in the first week of last month.

Weight of Elephants is based on Australian novel Of A Boy by Sonya Hartnett. It stars child actors Demos Murphy and Angelina Cottrell and award-winning actors Matthew Sunderland and Catherine Wilkin.

Hori Ahipene, of Outrageous Fortune, was acting coach for the young actors.

As the crew was wrapping up after filming for 10 weeks in her house, Ms Thompson said she was looking forward to moving back in, but expected it to feel a bit quiet. "It's been so exciting; very special. Especially to see Hori [Ahipene].

"I couldn't stop smiling the first time I saw him come through," she said. "He's very laid-back, very easy-going. I would always give him a bit of cheek when I'd see him."

Ms Thompson said she couldn't say how much she was being paid to let the house to the crew, but it was "worth her while".

"They've been like family while they've been here – they've walked into my life quite regularly. I'm actually going to miss them when they go."

She said Borgman told her that the house had the right feel and atmosphere that they were looking for.

"He loved the window in the bedroom. I was going to replace it – it was pretty shot, all worn out. But I wasn't allowed to touch it.

"She's an old house, but I love it. She's just rustic."

Ms Thompson hoped the film would give good publicity for Otautau.

"This has been a whole new experience – nobody knows about us down here; they don't know we exist.

"This has been wonderful for the township. I hope this film goes far," Ms Thompson said.

Filming wraps up on April 22.

Weight of Elephants will be distributed in New Zealand by Transmission Films.

The Southland Times