In 2001, Melbourne based filmmaker Gregory Pakis was contacted by his cousin Garth Petridis from jail to turn his life story into a film. Garth Petridis suffered for many years as a struggling out-of-work actor and when he felt he had exhausted every possible avenue in making a name for himself, he paved a new road to fame. Petridis hatched a scheme where he would kidnap unsuspecting victims which he would force to perform in his film against their will. He believed that this one strange act would etch the name Garth Petridis into the minds of the Australian public which is the level of fame he thought he was entitled to. This crime is a major grey area in any law book, as it is almost too unusual to be labeled a crime as such.
Gregory and Garth worked together on the screenplay for Garth’s story through the cold glass of the visiting booth in his jail facility. With Garth’s ability to recount events leading up to his crime and Gregory’s knowledge of screenplay structure and putting a film together, the two of them were able to offer one another the right ingredients in order to make a great film. The Garth Method was the result of their collaboration and combines re-created Super-16 footage as well as the actual video footage shot by Garth himself, featuring many reluctant performances from the kidnap victims. Amazingly, permission to release this footage was granted, creating another important element which is authenticity.
I managed to speak with Gregory and Garth about their experiences working with each other and discussing life after The Garth Method.
How did you and Garth meet?
GREGORY: We are cousins. Used to see each other around a bit like Scorsese and De Niro did in their old neighbourhood. We never really liked each other much but once we found out we were both really into the film side of things, the friendship took off! I sort of lost contact with Garth for a while though, until he got out of jail. Though I heard a lot about him through family gossip. Needless to say he was regarded as the “bad boy” of the family, but in a weird way cos it wasn’t for drugs, or general types of crime.
For all the struggling actors out there, describe the feeling you get as an out-of-work actor suffering rejection after rejection?
GARTH: I think there has been enough on this subject from the out of work actor genre in general. But you’ll have to watch “The Garth Method” to find out how I felt. Most actors just give up and get reluctantly married or a full time job …not me!
Garth, what inspired you to be an actor?
GARTH: I really don’t know.
How much time did you end up serving?
GARTH: One year…the judge found the whole thing kind of humorous. To be honest I think he enjoyed the case! He had a little smirk throughout most of it. I guess it was a different type of case for him. I got out on parole and the judge did make it clear he was being very lenient. I sort of didn’t care, I thought jail, here comes a new experience, and I thrive on experience.
What were some of your experiences in jail? Was there a big cellmate named Bubba like in the movies?
GARTH: There were a lot of Bubba’s! At first, I was embarrassed to tell people what I was in for cos it didn’t really have any kind of criminal weight! Other guys were there for stuff that was pretty intimidating, but I was making people laugh and I made friends fast. Plus a lot of people had already heard about me. I would of got Greg to give them some parts but most of them are still in jail. Experiences? Well I’ll tell you, you learn a lot about yourself in jail. I really recommend it. There is not the kind of stuff that society has to distract you, and if you are smart about it, you will come out a better person.
I guess this is the question we would all like to know …what was going through your head when you kidnapped those innocent people in order to have them perform in your film?
GARTH: Really scary. I was so nervous I once threw up! I’ve actually got footage of it but Greg wanted to cut it out. Maybe it’ll be in the DVD extras.
Did your kidnap scheme work out as planned? Did it get you more roles?
GARTH: Yeah kind of, but not really. A lot more people have heard about me that’s for sure. The problem so far is not enough people have seen the film, so the next goal for us is to tour the film around. Festival screenings have been great but they are always just once offs.
Now a very important question, how did your parents react? Were they ashamed of your actions?
GARTH: They are more ashamed of me than before. They get asked questions all the time and everyone in the Greek community in Melbourne knows of them. They are getting approached all the time in supermarkets and Greek dances. I think Mum secretly enjoys the attention but Dad hates it. But they speak right down to me now, but I don’t care anymore! I am who I am.
Coming from a blue collar European upbringing, were your parents ever supportive or understanding of your desire to be an actor?
GARTH: Just like in the movie, no!
Gregory, did you sympathise with Garth’s story especially since you also come from a Greek family?
GREGORY: Heaps. Directors have a similar type of desperateness, with the industry the way it is …but I guess it would be worse for an actor who can’t initiate their own projects. As a director you can do corporate videos, video clips …actors just wait around for someone to throw an opportunity their way.
What has life been like since “The Garth Method”?
GREGORY: Sending off to fests and liaising with them is so time consuming you wouldn’t believe it! I have been offered a couple of docos and stuff but I don’t have the time. I am really focussed on planning the touring of The Garth Method around Australia. It is really exciting cos I am going to do it my way. I guess you can call it The Greg Method.
How did you find working with Gregory?
GARTH: We do things different. We argue a lot. But he ended up being right. I was more concerned with doing things in the recreated footage anyway but the way it was. Greg was smart enough to realise it had to be more structured and finessed. But he is a mad worker! His energy is relentless. I was really lucky to have him interested in me. Any other director could have really blown it.
How did you find working with Garth?
GREGORY: He’s got the presence of an actor but he has to learn to listen! He could be a real pain in the arse!
Gregory, you said that your main goal was to make a feature film by the time you turned 30. Are you happy with how your debut feature came out?
GREGORY: Wrapped. It turned out really well. A big thanks has to be made to DOP Anders Olson who gave the film such a nice look and Paul Dowie who produced, and put up with me and Garth.
Gregory, what inspired you to be a filmmaker?
GREGORY: I had no friends in high school. My best friend from 1985-89 was Star Wars.
We have spoken quite a lot about Garth’s relentless pursuit of acting, now I would like to discuss your road to becoming a filmmaker. Have you ever made any other attempts at making features and if so tell me a little about the films you tried to make and the reasons they were never completed?
GREGORY: Yeah, I was co-writing a feature with a friend in the early 90’s which she was going to direct. We had a falling out as friends and that was that. There was something else which I am not allowed to talk about. That was a finished film which I only co-wrote, and it didn’t come to much. The director wants to re-work the film and get it out there. I hope he does.
Garth, were you happy with the completed film?
GARTH: Yeah mostly, some stuff in the re-created footage of my life I don’t like too much! But what can you do. Most of it actually turned out better than I thought. I love the music though! Craig Bryant who recently did You and Your Stupid Mate is a legend! He added so much to the film.
Was there any backlash regarding the release of your home video diaries? Did any of your victims protest to being in the film? How did you get that around a judge and jury?
GREGORY: Huge! The footage is all real! We had to find the ‘victims’ and convince them to let us put it in the film. Sometimes it took money, other times we got Garth to do a few sexual favours. As he said, he thrives on experience.
Do you consider yourself a criminal or simply a passionate actor?
GARTH: Actor, but after my time in jail being a criminal is maybe more interesting. Instead of being surrounded by arty actor wankers you are surrounded by real people that were absolutely fascinating! Some of them should have been actors but I guess it doesn’t work that way.
Do you think every serious actor is capable of the same extreme method of achieving fame?
GARTH: No way. Most actors are not as passionate as they think. They want the money and comforts and so eventually they quit acting and get jobs and s**t. If you really love acting, then that is all you want. And you will do anything!
Will the two of you ever work together again?
GREGORY: I am currently writing a feature that I want Garth to act in. It is a dark story. Kind of a cross between Fight Club and Eyes Wide Shut. You’ll see a different side to Garth. Dark and sinister! Garth is helping me with ideas as well. It is a bit easier to write than The Garth Method, where Garth actually contacted me when he was in jail, and I would come out and see him and we would write the script from either side of the inch thick visitors glass wall.
Garth and Gregory, it was great talking to both of you. What advice do you have for aspiring actors and filmmakers out there?
GREGORY: When we really succeed in this business I’ll be happy to give advice. Heaps more to do yet.
Garth, if the acting well ever dries up again, will you ever consider more criminal acts?
GARTH: Definitely! I’m working on something at the moment. But I have to get out of jail in time to do Greg’s next film.