• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

How Daffodils was transplanted from stage to screen

Steering clear of cheese: David Stubbs. Photo/Supplied

Director David Stubbs talks to Russell Baillie about adapting the award-winning play Daffodils.

Daffodils started life as an award-winning play with music – a jukebox of Kiwi classics stretching from She’s a Mod to Jesus I Was Evil, via songs by Dave Dobbyn, Crowded House, Bic Runga and more. Now it’s a movie starring Rose McIver and George Mason as Rose and Eric, a couple who, between belting out another song, fall in love and get hitched in 1960s Hamilton. The Tron’s very own Kimbra plays their grown-up musician daughter. The singer takes the point of view of Rochelle Bright, whose play and subsequent film script were inspired by her parents’ story. Transferring it to the big screen fell to David Stubbs, co-creator of the interactive web series and brooding teen drama Reservoir Hill and the harrowing documentary Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses.

How does the man behind Reservoir Hill and Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses take on something as seemingly cheerful as Daffodils?

The joke is that I’m just trying to demonstrate range, but the truth is I love the excitement of new challenges and taking risks. Belief and Daffodils couldn’t be more different in terms of story, but what they had in common was that they were both very cinematic propositions and both rather ambitious and risky.

RelatedArticlesModule - Daffodils movie director

How did you make the play work as a movie?

We started from scratch in terms of the staging of the story for the film. The original play was effectively a cabaret. But for the movie, we described it as a drama with songs. So, in our early development, we looked at it that way – a drama, in which the characters would express their inner emotions in songs that only the audience would hear, not the other characters in the scene. What had to happen? A complete rewrite, with lots of new story added, characters fleshed out, and also the inclusion of four new songs, including some written for the film by Steph Brown and Fen Ikner of Lips.

So, no dance routines?

It was never considered. The stage play certainly had no dancey musical numbers. And, to be honest, I think that would have been a bridge too far for me as a director, so I never raised it and neither did anyone else. 

Ambitious and risky: Daffodils, with Rose McIver and George Mason as young lovers Rose and Eric.

You shot much of it elsewhere, but your movie is essentially “Hamilton, the Musical”. Expecting your own statue there alongside The Rocky Horror Show’s Richard O’Brien?

Yeah, well, I’m hoping that Hamilton will own it and adopt the film. I don’t think the city council really appreciates that Hamilton is the de facto home of the New Zealand Musical as well as so many great musicians and songwriters.

Get any noise complaints while filming?

I don’t know that there were any complaints, but I do wonder what the residents of Berhampore must have thought when George Mason was belting out Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! one sunny afternoon. It was certainly echoing around the suburb. 

Any temptations to name a character Victoria, or Tania or Sophie or Cheryl Moana Marie or Lydia or Maxine? Or are they being saved for a sequel?

Ha. Nope. Rochelle and I were very keen to steer clear of anything potentially cheesy.

Daffodils is in cinemas from March 21.

This article was first published in the March 23, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.