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IF Magazine

  • 'Patient 71' by Julie Randall.Œ

    When Sydney woman Julie Randall was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and told she did not have long to live just days after celebrating her 50th birthday, she embarked on the fight of her life.

    Her remarkable story of survival against the odds is chronicled in her book Patient 71, published this week by Hachette.

    Sunstar Entertainment’s Andrew Fraser and Shahen Mekertichian, the executive producers of Lion, have optioned the book and are highly encouraged by the initial responses to the project from Hollywood studios, producers, agents and financiers.

    “A story like Julie’s needs to be told,” said Fraser, who engineered the publishing deal with Hachette and has collaborated with 60 Minutes reporter Allison Langdon for a segment which will air on the Nine Network on July 2.

    Fraser has a close relationship with Hachette, which published Sunstar client Jessica Watson’s best-selling book True Spirit, the teenager’s account of her solo, around-the-world sailing adventure.

    The Sunstar duo optioned their client Saroo Brierley’s memoir which was published by Penguin and became the inspiration for Garth Davis’ Lion.

    Back in 2012, Randall suffered a sudden and severe seizure at work and was rushed to hospital where it was discovered she had a malignant brain tumour: Stage 4 metastatic advanced melanoma.

    Refusing to give up hope, she learned of an experimental drug trial being conducted at the Providence Cancer Centre in Portland, Oregon. The hospital told her there was only room for 70 patients per year and the numbers were full.

    Undeterred, she flew to Portland and became patient 71 after friends helped her and her husband Scott raise $20,000 to cover the medical insurance costs in the U.S. The trial in 2013 was free, involving doses of Opdivo (Nivolumab), an immuno-oncology treatment which uses the body’s natural defences to fight cancer.

    Six months later every single cancer cell in her body had gone.

    Fraser met Julie four years ago at the charity event to raise funds for her and her sister Michelle, who had also had cancer. He has particular empathy for both women after successfully being treated for a malignant tumour in his neck three year ago.

    A huge admirer of Julie, he said, “She never gave up hope. If that had happened to a less-driven person she would be gone.”

    Fraser and Mekertichian pitched the project in Hollywood before and after the Oscars and they said it got a lot of traction. They have sent the book to several prospective screenwriters.

    Meanwhile they continue to develop a film based on Jessica Watson’s True Spirit, which has Sarah Spillane attached to direct.

  • Writer-director Amanda Hood in LA.Œ

    One of four recipients of the inaugural Metro Screen Fellowship, administered by the ADG, Amanda Hood travelled to Los Angeles in April to attend The Hollywood Field Trip where she pitched her projects to producers, managers, agents and executives.

    “We have water with lime, water with cucumber, or water with lime and cucumber. Which would you prefer?”

    And so, our “water bottle tour” of Los Angeles had begun. Five vetted filmmakers from around the world, armed with three projects each and a wonderfully enthusiastic guide in our host, Andrew Zinnes, we would spend the next five days pitching to Hollywood’s elite.

    Fourteen meetings were scheduled over five days with agents, managers, producers and executives, as well as with working directors and screenwriters. The main goal was not to sell our scripts, but to establish relationships with these people, because in Hollywood, “all that matters is who you know and who knows you”. Talent is a given. And despite what the tabloids would have you believe, no one is an overnight success. It’s all about the long game.

    Establishing relationships in Hollywood is “kind of like dating”, a producer sitting next to me at a well-known Californian sushi place confided. “You meet up, you suss out the person and ask yourself a series of questions. ‘Can I trust this person? Can I see their commitment, their passion, their talent? Can I see us working together in years to come?’ If so, you jump into bed with them, or, more specifically in my case, option their script.”

    (The 2017 Hollywood Field Trip participants (l-r): Julian Roberts, Debbie Moon, Katharine McPhee, Amanda Hood and Ian Martin.)Œ

    The great thing about The Hollywood Field Trip is that you get to start these relationships in, as Andrew put it, ‘warm rooms’. Warm, as opposed to say, having an executive fall asleep halfway through your pitch or having a producer get out of their seat and walk straight out of the room — stories I heard first-hand from writers. Our rooms were so warm in fact, that most of the Hollywood pros asked to read our scripts, gave us feedback on our pitches and offered lengthy advice on career strategy and how to make it in Hollywood as outsiders.Œ

    And so, as a way of paying it forward to my fellow Aussie filmmakers, here’s a snippet of the most important things I learnt in L.A:

    1. There is no one way of making it in Hollywood; everyone has found a different way in. Your job as a filmmaker is to carve your own path, to keep going no matter what, to work on your craft every day and to keep the faith that your persistence and talent will pay off. And when you do get representation, don’t ever rest on your laurels. Keep expanding your network of producers, investors, other writers and directors, building your contacts from the ground up, because the majority of your paid work will come from nurturing these connections.

    2. When you’re starting out in Hollywood, it’s important you submit writing samples in the same genre. I was told this repeatedly on the trip, that people want to “know your brand”, to make it as easy as possible for managers and agents to “sell you” to the studios. “Oh Tina, yes, she’s that fantastic comedy writer.” “Oh George, he’s the expert on all things sci-fi.” If you want the industry to take you seriously, pick a genre and stick to it. Then, once you’ve had success, you can always cross over to other genres because now you have leverage.

    3. ‘Baby writers’, a term that was thrown around a lot in Los Angeles, are emerging writers (it has nothing to do with age). If you are a baby writer, the best way of breaking into Hollywood is to get represented by a good, ‘hungry’ manager, preferably one who has sold projects in the past, who has an ‘in’ with studios and producers — someone who will help you build your career and your craft.Œ

    4. In order to get a manager (and that in itself is no easy task), you must have at least three strong writing samples (TV pilots or feature films) in the same genre (see above), along with a kick-ass query letter. To find managers’ contact details, get a paid subscription to IMDB Pro. Being part of The Hollywood Field Trip meant we were able to bypass the query letter stage (where you are competing with thousands of other screenwriters) for those we met, because it got us in the same room as talented reps whom, after hearing our pitches, wanted to read our work. Œ

    5. Living in LA is optional, to a point. Some reps were adamant; “You’ve got toŒbe here to take meetings because most jobs come up at the last minute.” Other reps told us they like working with writers and directors who live abroad because “They offer a fresh perspective. But they must be willing to come to LA for meetings 2-3 times per year.” ŒAfter hearing the pros and cons, my opinion is this: when you’ve spent enough time working on your craft and you have at least three solid scripts under your belt, only then should you think about moving to LA. In the meantime, it’s far cheaper to work on your scripts/short films from home, with access to cheap or free rent and the support of loved ones.Œ

    All in all, the Hollywood Field Trip was an incredible opportunity to learn about the business, to learn how to behave in a Hollywood meeting and to practice pitching to industry heavyweights. But perhaps the best part of all was getting to know the other extraordinarily talented filmmakers on my trip as we roared up the 405 highway in our eight seater mini-van, sharing hotdogs, jokes and stories about home.

    For anyone interested in taking part in the Hollywood Field Trip, the program runs twice a year in April and October. I highly recommend it, but make sure you have at least three finished scripts and a willingness to learn how the business works.

    And finally, I’d like to express my utmost gratitude to the generosity of the Australian Director’s Guild and Metro Screen for sending me on this career-defining trip to Los Angeles. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • 'Hounds of Love'.

    Writer-director Ben Young is back in Australia for a short break and Q&A screenings of his debut feature 'Hounds of Love' after wrapping principal photography in Serbia on Universal’s sci-fi feature 'Extinction', which stars Michael Peña and Lizzy Caplan. IF puts some questions to him.

    Hounds of Love has had rave reviews since the premiere at the Venice Film Festival and has been invited to screen at 30 film festivals around the world. But the film is only playing on six screens here and has grossed about $130,000. ŒWere you hoping for more or is that the best you could expect with a limited release?

    It’s done very well on a per-screen average but the disappointing thing is that it is not an easy film to find. People read a review or they see a media spot on TV and think they would like to see it and they look at the big cinemas’ websites and it’s not there so they forget about it. It’s pretty much what I expected. Australian films don’t have a tradition of doing incredibly well in their own country, which is a shame.

    Congratulations on the AWGIE Award nomination for best original feature film. You are up against Hacksaw Ridge. How do you rate your chances?

    If I was a betting man I think it would be about 1,000 to one against me.Œ

    Sometimes the underdog gets up, so the odds may not be that long.

    I have seen Hacksaw Ridge and it’s a very fine film. Just to be nominated against that is a huge honour and privilege.

    You wrote the role of the female lead in Hounds of Love for Emma Booth but she turned it down and then only accepted at the very last minute. What happened?

    I wasn’t very happy about that because Emma has been one of my best friends for about 20 years. Her agent talked her around but by then we had a list of great people we were considering so we asked her to test for it and she genuinely won it.

    Playing a serial killer was quite a departure for Stephen Curry, who is one of Australia’s funniest actors. Why him?

    One of my favourite films is One Hour Photo where Robin Williams takes a very dark turn. It is so much creepier in so many ways when a comedic actor makes a dark choice. It made a lot of sense because I had one big doubt, ‘What if the audience doesn’t buy that Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) gets in the car with this couple?’ So I thought who in Australia would not get into a car with Stephen Curry?

    The violence in the film prompted some walk-outs. You expected that?

    I knew some people would react. I saw Snowtown in a general session and some people walked out. In some ways what we suggested was even more confronting. If you don’t know what it is before you buy the ticket that’s a bit strange.

    You just finished shooting Extinction, the saga of a guy who tries to save his family from an alien invasion. ŒHow did you get the gig?

    The day after the Venice premiere my phone exploded. I ended up with a fantastic agent in UTA and management in LA in Thruline. ŒUTA organised two or three private screenings to which they invited Hollywood big wigs. I got a bunch of offers and Extinction was one of the scripts in which I saw the most potential. The producers liked where I wanted to take the draft and I did have some dramatic ideas about the changes I was fairly insistent would happen. We were all on the same page and it all happened really quickly.

    How did you handle the transition from an ultra-low budget Australian film to a studio feature which cost $US20 million?

    The filmmaking process is exactly the same but it’s just a lot bigger. There are nine producers and there were more assistants on the set than the entire crew of Hounds of Love. You are a lot more supported because they have a lot more money. ŒThe biggest learning curve for me was that it is not my film. It is a product that I am being employed to make with the idea of making someone some money one day. It felt somewhere between directing Hounds of Love and directing a television commercial. Dealing with the studio was a lot easier than I expected.Œ

    But you got your own way on the film you wanted to make?

    It’s 90 per cent there. There were some things they would not let me do but that was fine and there were other things they did let me do. I was working with really smart producers who had strong arguments as to why. ŒBut we did have a three and a half hour phone call about whether Michael Peña should have his sleeves rolled up or down. That’s the nature of working in America.

    You will do post on Extinction in L.A. Is that your base now?

    I have a two-year visa so I will be there until Christmas but I will definitely be back for Christmas. There is a film I want to do with an Australian production company in Victoria next year. ŒI am talking to a big American company about a one-for-you, one-for-me deal where they would finance a smaller idea of mine if I did a bigger idea of theirs. ŒIt’s a matter of going wherever the people I can work with are. I have to hope that people continue to want to work with me. It can all happen for you overnight and go away overnight. Œ

    Q&A events

    SYDNEY - Friday 23 June at 6.30pm at Dendy Newtown

    MELBOURNE - Saturday 24 June, 4.15pm at Cinema Nova

    PERTH Œ- Sunday 25 June, 4.50pm at Luna Leederville

  • Director Pete Gleeson first came across Coolgardie’s Denver City Hotel — the setting of docoŒHotel Coolgardie — around 15 years ago on a visit to the remote West Australian mining town. Later he briefly worked in Coolgardie as laborer while studying film, and struck up a relationship with the pub’s owner.Œ

    The director was intrigued by the pub's regular cycle of bartenders, who were always female and foreign in what was a very masculine place.Œ

    “I wanted to make a film about us as blokes and about the outback. And about culture; I don’t remember seeing a documentary about the institution of the Aussie pub,” Gleeson told IF.Œ

    “I thought well, it would be interesting to see what it looked like through the eyes of these women who come out for few months and move on.”

    In particular, Gleeson was intrigued by the idea of adaptation; the women’s treatment as barmaids seemed to hinge entirely on how well they’d adjust to the place's customs and idiosyncrasies.Œ

    Gleeson's film Hotel Coolgardie, in cinemas today, follows two Finnish backpackers Lina and Steph who arrive in town after having been robbed in Bali. To the male patrons of the bar, they’re considered “fresh meat” and more is expected of them than simply pouring drinks. When the two have difficulty assimilating and draw boundaries with the patrons what happens to them is often confronting.Œ

    Where Gleeson had expected to capture a subtle observation of the latent expectations placed on the women by the men of the pub, the “latent became blatant.” For the director it was an eye-opener into what it means to have to be always ‘on’ as a woman.Œ

    “To have this expectation to be able to duck and weave, be a good sport and save face for people who are throwing comments at you a cross a bar for your entire shift,” he said.Œ

    “As blokes I don’t think we fully appreciate how tricky it can be for women in a hyper-masculine environment. To some people it might seem like it would be great to just be pursued or complimented all day, but it’s about agency; it’s about whether or not a person is able to choose who they want in their lives and in what capacity.”Œ

    Gleeson directed, shot and edited the film, working with producers Melissa Hayward and Kate Neylon.

    In terms of filming, getting access to pub was relatively straightforward compared to finding the film's subjects. Gleeson interviewed and filmed all of the candidates who applied for the role at the pub via a job agency in Perth. “That was pretty terrifying in that it could have been anybody. The story was at the mercy of whoever these girls turned out to be.”Œ

    The six week shoot back in 2012 was done on bare bonesŒ—Œaround $30,000Œ— from Screenwest’s old LINK scheme designed for emerging filmmakers to make a short film.Œ

    However, Gleeson said that in the back of his mind there was “always a feature there”, which he jokes became apparent to his producers and Screenwest when he presented a three hour rough cut from the some 80 hours of footage he had gathered.

    Screenwest later gave the film completion funding, and Gleeson says they were lucky that post company Sandbox came on as EPs and to grade the film.

    “We shot it on HDV and then we scoped it, which seems pretty crazy (laughs), but they created this great look for it that actually really suited the film. It’s really kind of grainy and lo-fiˆ but it adds charm to the film.”Œ

    Gleeson said they had a “very long, complicated post production phase”. Œ

    Filming in a pub presented technical difficulties, and as is can be nature of ob-doc, the opportunity to shoot came before the team had finished pre-production.Œ

    “We had to pick up whatever we had lying around and just go out and shoot. We shot it on a ZD1; that’s the only camera I had lying around and it was probably seven years obsolete then,” said Gleeson.Œ

    “Then we had zoom mics and all kinds of things where we’d just be picking up sound and vision in any way we could.”Œ

    The hurried nature of things meant the filmmaker had no strategy for syncing footage and managing data, and needed to sync everything manually.

    They also had to get a lot of the footage translated into the Swedish dialect that the two women spoke; with no budget for translation the team had to do it in pieces finding by backpackers who spoke the language.Œ

    Hotel Coolgardie is Gleeson’s first feature. It debuted at HotDocs and then travelled to the likes of Slamdance, Sydney Film Festival, Cinefest OZ and Amdocs. Gleeson also received a High Commendation for the film at the ADG Awards earlier this year

    Hotel Coolgardie is being theatrically distributed independently through Gleeson, Hayward and Neylon’s Raw and Cooked Media.Œ

    “That’s been a real journey of discovery, but a fulfilling one. We deal with the cinemas directly; we know that every effort is being made to get people into the cinemas and get bums on seats. We’ve been really happy with that,” said Gleeson.Œ

    Journeyman Pictures is handling distribution outside of ANZ.Œ

    ‘Hotel Coolgardie’ is in limited release from today.

    Gleeson will also do Q&A screenings at the Pivotonian Cinema, Geelong June 16 7.30pm; Rialto Cinema, Auckland June 19 6.30pm; and Dendy Newtown, Sydney on June 22 6.30pm. Œ

  • Derek Erskine and Cassandra Leopold inŒ'Tracy'.

    It’s been a long journey to the screen for writer-director-actor Derek Erskine’s thriller TracyŒ—Œfive years in fact.

    Erskine shot about an hour of the film in which he and Cassandra Leopold play a married couple who embark on a drug and alcohol-fuelled psychotic rampage, but then moved on to other projects.

    Late last year he showed 20 minutes of footage he’d edited to actor-writer-producer Naomi Lisner while they were shooting Bluebird, an espionage action thriller.

    Lisner loved what she saw, describing it as Animal Kingdom meets Boogie Nights, and told Erskine, “You need to finish this, it’s too good to just sit there.”

    Erskine asked her to write the rest of the script, adding new scenes, characters and locations, and retaining the dark, edgy tone but adding humour.Œ

    The cast includes Vanessa Moltzen, Chloe Guymer, Ben Rose and Lisner as Jade, an unhappily married woman who craves attention and fancies Erskine’s character Daz.

    Bravely the actress stripped naked for sex scenes. She had no qualms about doing what the role demanded, reasoning, “When I did that I’m not Naomi, I’m Jade.”

    Shot by DOP Jerry Creaney, the privately-financed film is in post. Lisner, who produced with Erskine, aims to secure local and international sales after showing the film at Academy-accredited film festivals. Already there is interest from a UK-based distributor.

    In Bluebird, Erskine plays Cole, a field agent who discovers a secret agency and is framed to protect its secrecy. After his career is destroyed he tracks down those responsible and unravels the real motives behind the cover-up.

    Lisner plays a US agent and the cast includes Angus H. Little, Darryl Lavery and ŒAlbert Goikhman. ŒThe thriller is set in Berlin, India, New York, Israel and Iran against the backdrop of 9/11.Œ

    Meanwhile Lisner has written, directed and stars in Hannah Rosenthal, a short film for the Jewish International Short Film Festival, the saga of a mature- aged, intellectually-challenged woman living with her elderly mother.Œ

    She plays the title character with Loraine Fabb as her mother Miriam, Erskine and Harlene Hercules. She said the film deals with traditions, expectations, prejudice, ignorance and love and plans to develop it into a feature.Œ