Zac Efron’s path to self-destruction in outback survival thriller Gold

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Film and television sets are essentially places where organisation aims to circumvent chaos, but even the best-laid plans can be undercut by cruel coincidence. For Anthony Hayes and the crew he’d assembled for Gold, a desert survival thriller about a man trapped with his own desperation, that moment came when the shooting of a scripted sandstorm couldn’t happen because their location in outback South Australia was being battered by a real life sandstorm.

The crew had brought up industrial fans and artificial sand for the sequence, but the real-life conditions were far more brutal. The international co-production, which had already endured soaring temperatures, had lost two days of shooting to the force of nature – a sizable amount, given the shoot only had 20 available – when Hayes realised what had to be done: they would have to film their leading man, American star Zac Efron, in the actual sandstorm.

“I just thought, ‘This is exactly what we’re trying to capture here, we should just shoot this thing’,” remembers Hayes, a successful actor directing his second feature film. “The question was whether Zac would do it, so I’ve gone to his trailer and said, ‘Hey mate, I really want to shoot in this sandstorm. You don’t have to do it, but what do you think?’ And he’s like, ‘Yep, buddy, let’s do it!’”

“Zac got out there and we threw the handheld [camera] on [cinematographer] Ross Giardina’s back and went bananas with it. I feel for the crew because it was tough going and a lot of equipment got destroyed doing it,” adds Hayes, “but everyone pitched in and it was probably the most exhilarating three hours of my life. I couldn’t see a damn thing, it was absolutely madness, but you can see that in the film – it’s a real sandstorm.”

Zac Efron and Anthony Hayes in the dystopian outback thriller Gold.

Zac Efron and Anthony Hayes in the dystopian outback thriller Gold.Credit:Ian Routledge

Pared down and exposed to the elements, Gold is a genre film where the lure of untold fortune puts Efron’s protagonist on the path to self-destruction. It’s set in a dystopic near future where the location can only be identified as somewhere you don’t want to be. “Folks turning on each other,” is the terse observation of Man Two (Hayes), a driver being paid to deliver a worn newcomer, Man One (Efron), across the desert to what he hopes is a new start.

The two have little to say to each other, but when they stumble across a giant reef of gold in the sand the pair start making their own calculations. Their potential fortune needs an excavator to remove and haul it, so Man Two departs on a round journey to get the gear, while the unprepared Man One stays with their unmovable find, vulnerable to the elements and with few resources. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well.

Man One (Zac Efron) is driven across the desert in the hope of a new start, but after discovering a reef of gold soon finds himself fighting for survival in the outback.

Man One (Zac Efron) is driven across the desert in the hope of a new start, but after discovering a reef of gold soon finds himself fighting for survival in the outback.Credit:Ian Routledge

Gold is a thriller, a character study of an individual’s mental and physical endurance, and a science-fiction parable about greed and the collapse of society. Initially at least for Hayes, who also co-wrote the script with his partner, Polly Smyth, Gold is a movie set mostly in one location that could be financed by attaching a single big name to the project so the rights could be sold in advance in territories around the world.

“It was engineered that way. The first thing I wanted to do was make an international film and we had a lot of pre-sales to get it set up,” Hayes says. “There are so many people after content, but at the same time you need to be a little less parochial in some aspects. Hence the American accents and multilingual signs.”



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