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Image via Josh Kesselman

Down Under . . . the stress of survival is the best kind of stress

by Josh Kesselman

In 2006 I co-produced a film called Death at a Funeral. The legendary Frank Oz directed and, in my opinion, we created comedy gold! The movie was released in the States by MGM. Icon released it in Australia and made $18 million theatrically. To put this in perspective, Spiderman made $18 million in Australia

Cut to – An Australian producer (Charles Morton) offered to fly out myself, Dean Craig (writer) and Andy Nyman (actor) to do a research trip. We all decided to go! This could be the trip of a lifetime!

We land in Cairnes (Andy and Dean flew for 23 hours from the UK, stopping in Libya) and two burly Australians pick us up. They are driving a Toyota Land Cruiser with a funnel reaching towards the sky and two external gas tanks hanging off the side. WTF?! Apparently, their idea of a research trip was to drive 1000 miles to the Northernmost tip of the Australian continent. Oh, and by the way, we will camp in the most dangerous rainforest and desert in the world.

I look at my two friends from London (mind you, these are guys who can’t go 12 hours without a cup of tea) and our faces drop. “Ahem . . . Excuse us mate, but shouldn’t we drop our bags off at our hotel?” A roaring laugh from our Santa Clause look-alike tour guide. “We are in Australia, mate . . . look around you. We need to find comedy on this trip!”

And that was it, from that moment forward we had no idea what else to expect. Our adventure began. First stop: Lion’s Den campsite. Located right next to a river that has signs posted everywhere saying “Croc free swimming.” The innkeeper tells us “Don’t believe the signs.” Right . . . no swimming for us!

So, we hitch up our tents. Mick, our guide with a big Bowie knife hanging from his waist, tells us “These tents zip very secure at the bottom here, so if any of you get up in the middle of the night, please remember to zip this back up. If you forget to do this, you might not wake up tomorrow.” Hmmmm.

Lying in my sleeping bag listening to the deafening sound of the rainforest, I couldn’t sleep. I decide to take an ambien, which knocks me out. But, like clockwork back home, I always need to go to the bathroom around 4 AM. I unzip the tent to let myself out, do my business and then come back in. I forgot to zip it back up . . .

“Everybody out!!” is what I woke up to. “Who didn’t zip the bloody tent up?!” Chaos! We all scramble out of our bags and out of the tent. “What’s going on?” A deadly spider had crawled in with us in the middle of the night because I forgot to zip the tent up! Wow – that could have ended poorly . . .

Next stop: a hiking trip to locate and observe the very, very rare Tree-kangaroos. Every Aussie we talked to leading up to this trip told us “Naaah, there is no such thing, mate – you are being bamboozled”. Our tour guides had heard about these creatures and there was only one local guide who could find them for us. His name was Lewis.

chain-saw-hollywood-journalWe had to drive our truck through miles and miles of rainforest with no distinct roads to get to Lewis’ cabin. If anything was to go wrong out here, there was no help anywhere . . . no cell service, no technology, no civilization. We pull up to Lewis’ ranch. He has two pigs and a rooster in a pen, nothing more. His cabin looks like something out of Deliverance. A man steps off the porch wearing a rubber jumpsuit, a rope at his waist, and holding a chain saw (who greets their visitors holding a chain saw?!).

“Howdy folks, my name is George. I am Lewis’ brother. Welcome to our humble abode.” And then Lewis arrives. Lewis is barefoot and his feet are swelled up to the size of a Hobbit’s. The first thing I notice is the stench, as Lewis doesn’t believe in bathing. Lewis also doesn’t like giving eye contact. Then in a very high pitched voice he said “Follow me”. You are a tour guide in the most dangerous rainforest in the Pacific, you wear no shoes, you don’t watch where you are walking . . . WTF?

In case you don’t see it yet, let me paint the picture: we are in the middle of nowhere. Our guide is a man wearing no shoes or socks, who only stares into the sky. He is accompanied by his brother, who’s wearing a rubber jumpsuit holding a chainsaw and rope. They are taking us on a “film research trip” deeper into the rainforest to find mystical creatures, that everyone says do not exist.

By the way, every one of us had seen Wolf Creek. Strangely, we weren’t afraid . . . we felt alive! We walked and walked and walked. Lewis’ brother used the chainsaw to clear our path, maneuvered the rope to assist us up certain terrain. I also noticed the rubber jumpsuit allowed him to go first through certain bushes to clear a path.

tree-kangaroo-hollywood-journalAnd then we saw them . . . barely making out their shapes in the trees but they were there: the Tree-kangaroos. They looked like little bears with tails sitting in trees. I have never seen anything like it (and probably never will again).

For the first time during the entire trip, Lewis looked down at us and looked straight into our eyes, and pointed skyward: Tree-kangaroos. The adrenaline, the outdoors, the life all around us made me feel human.

After flying out of Horn Island, we flew home from Melbourne. We hadn’t showered or really changed our clothes for two weeks. Strangely,  I felt depressed. I didn’t want a shower or running water. I didn’t want to be in a city. I wanted to be back out there!

I can’t really describe the feeling other than I felt so in touch with myself. Nothing mattered other than the people I was with and my surroundings. No cell phones, no computers, no stress (other than the stress of survival). Dean Craig, Andy Nyman and I formed a bond that will last our lifetimes. These are the perks in our business that no other industry can hold a candle to . . . G’day mate!

Josh Kesselman

About Josh Kesselman

The author is a manager-producer in Beverly Hills, CA.

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