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An inspiring life: writer Justin Monjo on Peter Allen

Justin Monjo has written for the likes of Rush, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars and INXS: Never Tear Us Apart.

Screen Australia chats to Justin about capturing iconic Australian, Peter Allen’s story for miniseries Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door.

Screen Australia: Justin, you’ve worked on a number of films and TV shows that have become iconic in Australia. What was it about Peter Allen that drew you in?

Justin Mojo: I researched Peter Allen and I discovered what a wonderful, dramatic and emotional story we had to tell. A story about self-discovery. And when Peter discovered who he was, and came to have faith in who he was, he was able to write some really beautiful music. Songs that have lasted and lasted. That he happened to be Australian was secondary to me in a way – though Peter LOVED Australia and his humor and drive was quintessentially Australian.

SA:  Peter Allen’s story moves from small town Australia to tinsel town – how inspiring do you think his story is, and what do you think Australians will take from this?

JM: I think his story is profoundly inspiring. Believe in who you are – no matter what people say. Believing and trusting in who you are is the first step towards self-expression. Maybe the most important step.

SA: How did you decide on the story format, given Allen is no longer alive – did you base it around a particular person who knew him, or did you work around archival material and allow the story to emerge from this?

JM: We just tried to find a way to tell the story that was interesting and not by the numbers. We were inspired by things ranging from Fellini’s 8 ½ to the play version of Cloudstreet. Almost all our research was from archival material – though we did get to interview some of Peter’s childhood friends.

SA: Did you participate in the music planning side of the story? How did that shape the crafting of the script?

JM: Yes, I was a part of choosing every song that was considered at first and used in the filming. As the scripts advanced, of course, the Musical Supervisor and the Director added many more ideas – bits that inspired them. Music was Peter’s life. Peter found the inspiration for his best songs in his real life, so music is vital to every step of his story.

SA: How do you think your experience as an actor informs your writing – do you think it brings something extra to the script?

JM: I’d like to think I have an ‘ear’ for dialogue because I worked as an actor for so long. And since my experience as a film/TV actor was exclusively as ‘supporting cast’, I always try to make those roles interesting. At the same time I try not to burden them with too much really tricky stuff because I know first hand how hard it is to come on set for just a day or two and produce big things. It can make or break a film and it is very hard to do.

SA: What do you think Australians look for in stories today – do you think they are particularly interested in ‘home grown’ stories and how important do you think this is?

JM: I think people just want great stories. The world of TV/film is so international now. On any night you can watch a show from the US, then one from Denmark, then a movie from Mexico. ‘Home grown’ only works if it’s good – you can’t rely on people watching stuff just because it’s Australian. It must be good first, then Australian.

SA: What is the one big thing you hope viewers will take away from the Peter Allen story?

JM: I hope they love it as much as the actors, director, crew, producers and writers do. It is funny and moving. I think the actors and crew and the director have done such a good job.