Jocelyn Moorhouse is one of Australia's most successful film makers. Her film Proof (1991) won several awards, both in Australia and internationally, and is considered a landmark in Australian film. She went on to make many a film afterwards, both in Hollywood and Australia, including How to Make an American Quilt (1995), A Thousand Acres (1997) and The Dressmaker (2015). She also collaberated with her husband PJ Hogan on the films Muriel's Wedding (1994), Mental (2012) and was the screenwriter for his film Unconditional Love (2002). Unconditional Love is also the title for her memoir (2019).
Visitors of this site will know her best as the creator of the object of our affection. Jocelyn wrote and directed the short film that started it all, created the series (and wrote a large part of the episodes) and quite literally wrote the book on The Bartons.
When I say this site wants to put the makers in the spotlight, it's unthinkable to leave her out. So I mustered up all my courage and asked her if she'd agree to an interview and she said yes! I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did; it sure gave me priceless insights into all things Bartons. I'm very grateful for this opportunity and would like to take this space to thank Mrs. Moorhouse for it!
Let's jump right in, shall we?
Part 1: The short film
1.1. Could you tell us a bit about the Bartons origins? How did you create the characters?
Jocelyn:I had recently graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio school in Sydney and was working in my first real job, as a script editor for the Channel 7 Drama Unit. I heard that a local funding body was asking for submissions for short films for children. I decided to try to write a 20 minute comedy for kids. I used elements of my childhood and adult life for ideas. When I was a young girl, my mother was a bit of a hippy, and what you might call a tree hugger. She would take us for long walks and tell us to tell the trees how much we appreciated them. My father, on the other hand, loved cutting trees down. This, I could never understand. When we moved into a semi rural suburb, he decided one of the tall eucalyptus trees in our backyard was dangerous. A high wind might knock it over, and he feared it might fall on our house. He bought a chainsaw and decided to cut it down himself. I was very upset about this I was a bit sound sensitive so I hated the sound of the chainsaw, and I felt very sorry for the tree. So I guess Elly was based on me. And th story of the film was Elly’s efforts to prevent her Dad and the horrible neighbour (Mr Jensen) from killing the tree. She wins!
I did not have three brothers, only one, but at the time I wrote the script, I was living in a share house with three young film makers named Paul, Anthony and Douglas. As a joke I named Elly’s brothers after them. One (Paul) would eventually become my husband PJ Hogan.
The film (The Siege Of Barton’s Bathroom) got the funding and originally starred Frankie J Holden as Dad, Claire Crowther as Mum, Brendan Cowel as Paul and Rebekah Elmaloglou as Elly and Max Phipps as Mister Jensen.
1.2. I've been unable to see the film myself; it's not available anywhere for viewing, (unless you're a member of ACMI and arrange a private screening). Is there any chance the film will ever be available?
Jocelyn: Good question. I am not sure. Perhaps I can ask ACMI to upload it to Vimeo or youtube or something like that.
Part 2: The television series
2.1. Were you aware the series still has a following around the world?
Jocelyn: I had no idea about that, but I am very pleased to hear that.
2.2. Did you change anything about the Barton family members as they moved from the film to television?
Jocelyn: I did not, I think the first episode is pretty much the same script as the short film. But the producers took over the casting, and hired experienced directors to direct the episodes. I has never directed anything like a feature film or TV show at that stage in my career, so they did not allow me to direct any of the episodes. I did, however, get to be the Series Creator and look after the writing of the scripts (kind of like a script producer).
2.3. In my opinion, but also in that of the Australian press in 1988, The Bartons stands out in its realistic portrayal of children (and their lives). Not a lot of writers, at least on television, succeed in doing so. What's your secret?
Jocelyn: Thank you for saying that! When the ABC asked me to create the series, PJ and I brainstormed and decided to merge a lot of our own childhood experiences into the storylines. I really did have a red headed best friend named Anita, and she and I really did have rival “clubs” as in the series. PJ really did hate football as a child, and was bullied for being sensitive, like the character of Paul.
2.4. Robert and Elly seem to have an a-typical father-daughter relation (well; so I've been told by people who either are daughters or have daughters). Robert doesn't seem to understand Elly, or her view on the world, at least not in the time the series and the book take place. Are those people right in their assessment, and what exactly is the relationship between Robert and Elly?
Jocelyn: I suppose their relationship was based closely on my relationship wtih my father. He loved me very much, but I was not always sure he understood me. If you are interested, I wrote a memoir a few years ago, called “Unconditional Love” that explains a lot about my childhood and my parents.
2.5a. I have a theory that I've been wanting to check with you for a while now. Are we looking at the adults in the series through Elly's eyes; as in through her frame of reference on what adults are like? I ask this because the adults sometimes display "exaggerated" behaviour (overly strict, mean or oblivious to reality; unlike the children)
Jocelyn:You are correct. I did want the audience to look at the adults through the eyes of Elly and her brother Paul.
2.5b Or am I looking WAY too deep into this and should I just stop overthinking it and enjoy the show?
Jocelyn: No, you can never look too deep into a show you like. And I still think “adults” are a bit silly and funny. If you saw my film “The Dressmaker” starring Kate Winslet, you would see my view of so-called grown-ups has not really changed.
2.6. On a lighter note, and I'm sure I'm not the only one dying to know this: did Anita and Paul end up together in any of your ideas or plans? Anita deserves it after all Elly's put her through in my opinion :)
Jocelyn: Oh yes. Absolutely, but not until after high school. Probably during the university years. In real life, no. The real Anita did not marry Paul because I did! Anita became a chef.
Part 3: The book
3.1. One of the newspaper articles from Olivia's collection mentions a second book about the Bartons is (/was) on the way. They based that information on an interview you gave them in 1988. As far as I know, that book was never published. Was it at one time a real thing? Can you tell us a bit about that book, it's plot and why it wasn't published?
Jocelyn: Yes, at the time I had an option with Penguin Books to pitch them another book on the Bartons, but it did not happen because the ABC owned the rights. I started another book for kids based on a young boy who discovers some mer-people in his local sea-baths, but then I got pregnant and had my first child, then went on to direct my first film (“Proof” starring Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe) and the book got left behind. I still think about it sometimes.
3.2. You have a talent for writing children's stories. Can we look forward to more children's books from your hand in the future?
Jocelyn: I am the mother of many children, so you never know! I have a busy career writing and directing movies and TV but I would love, one day, to finish my mer- people story.
Thank you Erwin, for being so interested in The Bartons. Yours sincerely, Jocelyn