It’s been over 10 years since Alex Gaffey’s family home was used as the setting for the film Animal Kingdom, but the house still bears proof of it.
“There was a scene that was cut from the movie where someone was hacked by a chainsaw in the bathroom,” Gaffey says. “So there was blood spatter everywhere. And because it was that gray Besser brick, the red food coloring and bits of tofu were stuck in the wall.
“I remember after the movie ended, the art directors and assistants would clean it with toothbrushes and stuff. There are still a few little places where we’re just like ‘oh this is Animal Kingdom’. “
Gaffey was a teenager when his Melbourne home became the main setting for the 2010 grizzly crime drama, recruited after a scout left a note in his mailbox. A cast and crew of around 70 spent a month there filming death scenes while the Gaffey family lived in blissful chaos.
The filming temporarily transformed the house – and the lives of the Gaffey’s. Their furniture has been removed and replaced with items purchased by the art department. To avoid continuity errors, the batteries in their clocks were removed and all accessories – giant bongs on the coffee tables included – had to be left exactly where they were.
When the team turned at night, the family was accommodated in hotels. For their trouble, the Gaffeys were paid around $ 1,000 a week – a relatively small amount since the shoot was on a tight budget. It didn’t bother them.
“It was awesome,” Gaffey recalls. He remembers running home after school each day, excited to see what they were shooting that afternoon – and even gaining some work experience on set. One of his jobs was to place traffic cones outside early each morning, blocking the space for the crew to park their trucks.
The Gaffey family is not alone: many Australians lend their properties to large productions. The reason real homes attract film and television crews is simple: “Finding a house that meets the specifications is faster than building a set in a studio,” says James Doherty, a scout.
Animal Kingdom won an Oscar nomination and won the Australian AACTA Awards. But not all local productions are doomed to such success – in the mid-2000s, the video version of the self-help book The Secret was filmed in the then teenager’s family home in Melbourne, Tom Pitney.
He remembers that the windows of their house in Deepdene were darkened, that large lights were positioned “everywhere” and that hordes of crew members were running everywhere. The doors were hinged off and false walls were built to make the rooms smaller.
As with the Gaffey family, their furniture has been removed and replaced. It was an exciting swarm of activity that miraculously left no trace. “When they were there the whole house was ransacked,” says Pitney. “And when they left, it was like they had never been there.”
And for a growing teenager, there were other benefits: “Being a young child, the best thing was just the fact that they had a catering service. So we looted all the food.
Their house’s appearance in The Secret led to its use for a big-name commercial and a Foxtel series called Satisfaction, which followed the lives of sex workers in a Melbourne brothel. Pitney has somewhat uncomfortable memories of the latter.
“I was probably in the middle of puberty and came home after school with mum and my little brother and they were shooting sex scenes on our kitchen bench which was so embarrassing,” he says. . “They also had sex in the laundry.”
Some people invite sex scenes – real ones – to be filmed on their property. In 2010, an all-female pornography company made its way into Canberra sharehouses. This writer was one of those who donated their home as a decorator.
“All of our friends were filming porn in their homes and you were charged for referring someone else, so it kind of spread,” recalls my roomate Claire, my housemate at the time.
Our goal was to vacuum, tidy up, leave and not come home until the shoot was finished. In return, we received $ 300 a day – a big paycheck for broke college students. “It was wealth – so much money to literally be out of the house for a day,” says Claire.
“When I came back some things were in different places which was very confusing. A bunch of stuff on my desk was sort of moved – my Post-it notes and pens were in different places. So I guess they did some office stuff.
Despite the strangely rearranged stationery, Claire had no qualms about this shoot. “It was an all-female production company, so it wasn’t like there was going to be sperm in places. I felt like that was really what made everything okay.
For more family-friendly productions, staying to watch the shoot can even land a last-minute role for the occupants.
Cecile Owen had a scene from the Foxtel Mr Inbetween series filmed at her home in the Sydney suburb of Concord – “pure luck,” she says, who followed a letter dropped on her street in search of locations.
The scene in question featured the series’ central character, hitman Ray Shoesmith, visiting a man who wanted his pregnant mistress to be killed.
“Because we have three kids, we had scooters and toys all over the yard,” says Owen. “[The producers] explained what the plot was and said, “We’re just going to get rid of everything.” But then, as a joke, my husband said, “Wouldn’t it be funnier if the married man actually had children?” Because that makes the plot even worse: that he wants to get rid of the mistress and her baby when he already has children.
“The next thing we know is the producers said, ‘Ah, we’ve got a big favor to ask. Do you think we could borrow your children? Because we hadn’t thought of it and in fact it would be nice if we had kids in the background while they talk in the garden. In addition to the $ 1,000 per day Owen received for the shoot, the children each received $ 50 for five minutes of work.
The Gaffey family ended up appearing as extras in a supermarket scene, and their dog, Titian, landed a role on the “professional dog” the crew would pay to bring in.
The actor Ben Mendelsohn, who played the role of Pope in the film, particularly liked Titian. “He loved our dog and claimed ownership of it,” Gaffey says. He would say, ‘No one is allowed to feed her except me. She and I are on a pure bacon diet.
Mendelsohn was a “character,” says Gaffey. “He was definitely the craziest of all, in the best way he could. He didn’t have a filter and was so down to earth. He was hanging out with us all the time and bringing us food from the catering cart. He was like, ‘How was your fucking day, mate? What is going on? What are the teachers telling you? Then he would just talk to you.
The Gaffey House in Ivanhoe East – a distinctive mid-century house designed by architect Guilford Bell – has become an important part of the film. “[Director] David Michôd wanted to treat the house like a character, ”says Gaffey. “It was that gray backdrop, rather than your standard white walls, so it had an energy that matched the dark family that lived there.”
Months later, seeing their home on screen was part of the fun. “It was pretty surreal,” says Gaffey. “Now we have an Animal Kingdom poster at home. “