Accidents Happen: the American Australian dream

It may look American and sound American, but behind the US facade of Accidents Happen lays a star-powered Australian project ready to compete head-to-head with any independent film in the world.

Accidents Happen is Hollywood star Geena Davis’s first independent film. Few would know it from watching it without the credits, but that indie debut took place in Australia, in a project that expands the local industry’s globalisation of stories.

It is the story of Billy Conway (Harrison Gilbertson), a teenager whose family is still affected by a tragic car accident years ago. As he experiments being rebellious, another terrible accident is unwillingly set in motion, with a new set of consequences that ultimately force everyone to deal with their pain and guilt.

While Billy’s story is completely fictional, the relationship with his mother Gloria (Davis) is based on the one American-born writer and performer Brian Carbee had with his own mother. It inspired him to create a show called In Search of Mike, about her unique personality and the way they communicated.

Director Andrew Lancaster saw it in New Zealand in 1997 and approached Carbee to turn the show into a short film of the same name, which premiered in 2001 at Sundance.

“What struck me about it was its comedy and humanity. This character was hilarious, outrageous and compelling,” recalled Lancaster.

Carbee then wrote a novel, further exploring the mother’s character and building a fictitious story around her, which Lancaster suggested they adapted into a screenplay. The two won the IF Award for Best Unproduced Screenplay the same year producer Anthony Anderson won with his debut feature Somersault. The very next day they had their agent send Anderson the script, and the three began a long development journey that saw them go through Screen NSW’s Aurora program.

“It helped us develop our relationships with each other as a team. Andrew and Brian had been working on the script for some time, so in addition to advice from people such as [guest mentors] Gus Van Sant and John Sayles, Aurora was a good process for me to become more engaged with the material,” Anderson told Encore.

The story was always set in the United States, and according to Anderson, some people felt the location had to be changed.

“At the development stage the agencies were wonderfully open, responding to the quality of the material rather than the setting,” he recalled.

“We were challenged at some point, that we should re-set the story in Australia, but Brian said that someone else would then have to do an adaptation because the story was about the world that he knew growing up. We had a commitment to tell his story.”

Anderson explored the possibility of shooting the film in the US and worked on a financing model, but there was always a gap they could not close. He eventually received a call from executive producer Heather Ogilvie, telling him about the recently announced Producer Offset and her new venture Abacus Film Fund, which could cash flow the offset and offer $1m as distribution guarantees secured against Australia/NZ/US rights. Having an international name like Geena Davis was essential in securing the money, and the puzzle was completed with investment from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, international sales agent Bankside Films and private equity.

“We came back to Australia for production and post-production and it turned out to be the best thing for the film, not just for securing the budget but because it was incredibly comforting to be around so many supportive people whereas in the US we were being highly ambitious; the unknown kids knocking on the door and making a film with crews they had no prior experience with,” admitted Anderson.


Accidents Happen premiered early last year at Tribeca, followed by successful screenings at the Sydney Film Festival in June. Lancaster has found the ten-month wait between the buzz generated by the festival and the actual opening “frustrating”, and admits being impatient about the release. Australian distributor Hopscotch Films found the second half of 2009 too competitive to release the film and instead decided to look at 2010 and work on a promotional plan that would guarantee Davis’ availability for a promo tour.

“There’s a lot of affection for Geena Davis across a lot of demographics, because of her diverse roles from Thelma & Louise to Stuart Little,” said Anderson about the box office appeal of the main actress.

With an international star and US accents and setting, Accidents Happen could be perceived by the audience as an independent American production, something that might help it stand out from other Australian ‘dramedies’.

“The poster and imagery for the film will look more like an international film than an Australian one, and although it’s fully written, developed, cast, shot and post-produced here, audiences will enjoy that sense of going to the cinema, rather than to an Australian film, to a film in a cinematic language that they’re used to,” explained Anderson.

Carbee believes the Australian influence from his more than 10 years living here, plus the development and production process, give the film a subtle ‘Australian edge’ noticeable in its humour.

Image Entertainment will distribute in the US; it has also been sold to Israel, Scandinavia and other European territories. Hopscotch will release it here on April 22.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.