The Rom-Com genre is certainly an entity unto itself, but to do it right is no easy task. Top End Wedding, co-written by Miranda Tapsell and Joshua Tyler, is a prime example of how to do it right. This exceptionally well-balanced, funny, dramatic and heartfelt film takes place in the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory of Australia, highlighting the indigenous people and the beauty of the community. The story follows soon-to-be-married Lauren (Tapsell) and Ned (Gwylim Lee) as they travel back to Lauren’s home near the Tiwi Islands. When her mom goes AWOL, the two embark upon an adventure to find her before the wedding date.
Top End Wedding premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with the energetic and talented writer and actor, Miranda Tapsell. She shares her experience as a first-time writer, her connection to Janet Jackson, and hopes for her homeland.
The thought of writing a film was daunting for Tapsell, but thanks to the encouragement from a friend and colleague, Joshua Tyler, she has a hit film on her hands. It was at Tyler’s suggestion to write a romantic comedy set in the Northern Territory (NT) and immediately, Tapsell was on board. “That was what started our friendship, actually, is that we found this common ground because I had never met someone before from Melbourne or Sydney that had been up to the NT before,” Tapsell said. “I think in some ways it is a little bit sad that more Australians don’t visit their own country more often and Joshua had. That really touched me.” Initially, Tapsell had hesitations as she had never written a script before, but Tyler gave her that push and confidence she needed. “He said. ‘You’re an actor, you know how to deconstruct a script… I think you know more about writing than you think you do.’ And now that I’ve had a taste of it, I love it.” She continued, “It was just empowering for me as a young performer.”
Tapsell wrote what she knew. She explained, “I didn’t want to write a girl who had grown up in that culture… because that’s for another Tiwi girl to write. I needed to write something that was a lot more honest from my experience.” Tapsell cherished the time she was able to spend on these islands, sitting with “the aunties” and hearing their stories while they weaved baskets. So much is lost in the new generation of young adults as they become less involved in their heritage. Many of the extras in the film were portrayed by Tiwi people. Tapsell shared that the man who plays her grandfather has endeavors to educate the younger generation, but thanks to this film, he feels that the “…film is going to be able to say it for me.” Tapsell hopes that making films like this – in this area – will be her way of maintaining the aboriginal culture.
It was also important to Tapsell to use music from her youth. She recalled, “I was just cheekily putting this music into the script even though we didn’t have the rights to it yet,” and laughing aloud she continued, “One thing I’ve learned about writing Top End Wedding is that you just ask for things. It might come across as brash, but I’ve just learned that the most painful thing that can happen is being told no.” She asked Janet Jackson for permission to use the song “If You Leave Me Now” and said, “I wrote a letter to Janet Jackson… we’ve heard, very understandably, [that she’s] protective of her songs. I would have completely understood if she said no…I was such a fangirl when I wrote [her]: Dear Miss Jackson, I need you to know, as an indigenous woman, as a woman of color, what a big fan I am of your work. I need you to know how much the aboriginal community loves your work as well. So I basically explained to her how much this song meant to me and how much work I’ve put into this film [and] she just gave it the big tick. WHAT?” she exclaimed! “Janet Jackson! I just lost my mind. I absolutely lost my mind that she would have read this letter and that she would have given it the approval! I just love her so much more and I didn’t think I could love her anymore.”
Love on every emotional level is at the core of this film, expectedly so, but it’s the love of family and the appreciation of it that comes through so strong and clear that makes this film rise above so many other rom-coms. Creating this delicate balance was certainly a focal point for writing duo. “That’s what we wanted more than anything. We wanted people to have that empathy.” Tapsell passionately shared, “We didn’t want them to stop caring. It was about highlighting certain things … It was definitely a learning process of trusting what information we were going to give was going to be meaningful…”
Top End Wedding was a joy to watch and a film that brought laughter and tears of joy and appreciation to my soul. Tapsell’s personality, heritage and love are a big part of the story, all of which will pave the way for future films.
© Pamela Powell (2/12/19) FF2 Media
Photo credits: Sundance Film Festival