Dirt Music, “in good shape”

The film adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music is “in good shape”, according to writer John Collee.

“We’ve now got a draft that works structurally really well. There are less and less changes between the drafts and we’re hoping to shoot next year,” Collee told Encore.

Having fluctuated through various stages of planning over the last six years, the film has a $20 million budget, with Russell Crowe attached to play the lead and Phillip Noyce to direct.

Collee (Happy Feet, Master and Commander) is also working on a $50 million feature, The Drowner, based on Robert Drewe’s story.

The Drowner is at an earlier stage [compared to Dirt Music]; we’re still pulling apart the first draft and writing the second. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went into production later than 2011,” said Collee.

Collee’s latest international project, Creation, is released in Australia today (distributed by Icon Film). The film, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, is based on the intersection of the life and work of Charles Darwin; it was released worldwide last year to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s seminal text On the Origin of Species.

The tendency of mainstream audiences to ignore period films doesn’t worry Collee a bit. “Period films can be just as gripping, just as emotional as contemporary films.” What’s important to him is finding the emotional truth behind a story and making it interesting for today’s viewers, “you can find elements in Darwin’s relationship with his wife and children which are utterly familiar. You know you’re in the right track, because things that you understand psychologically about your own life and your own family resonate with what happened in Darwin’s life and his family, and then suddenly you’re writing about yourself.”

Despite the mixed reviews, Collee couldn’t have been happier with its positive reception at the Toronto Film Festival, where it premiered last year, “What I do know about Creation is that audiences really do respond emotionally to it and generally cry and laugh in it. Our experience when it opened at Toronto is that people would come up to [director Jon Amiel] and I, quite sort of ordinary members of the public, they would come and hug us in the streets after the screenings. It does what I always strive for, which is to move ordinary people emotionally. That’s my benchmark of success.”

Having just started Hopscotch Features – the new development arm of Hopscotch Films – John Collee still has plenty in the pipeline. Hopscotch Features was launched last year to be a one-stop shop for the development of feature films all the way to production. Along with producer Andrew Mason, Collee now finds himself workshopping a slate of projects from independent writers and creators.

Hopscotch Features are currently looking at approximately 10 projects, all at different stages of development. Some have been polished into final scripts, and others are still in treatment. They have the aim of getting at least two to the production stage each year. “The idea with Hopscotch is to have a lot of projects that we really believe in, moving forward in synchrony, and doing the hard work of development, getting them to a level where they’re really good fundable scripts, with a real chance of finding an overseas market.” He’s got good reason to be hopeful for future productions – the team behind Hopscotch Films has gotten behind such commercial and critical successes as Mao’s Last Dancer and Bright Star.

Workshopping and developing scripts through creative collaboration is something that’s right up his alley. With more than 20 years of experience both in Australia and overseas, Collee believes knowledge is something that should be shared.

“There’s  a tendency of people who become very well-known in any industry, to make it seem harder, more difficult that it really is, rather than to demystify, explain, simplify,” he said. But he insists, “there’s an obligation to let other people into the secrets of how it’s done, because you’ve acquired a level of expertise, you acquire knowledge and insights into what works and what doesn’t, and I know I enjoy sharing that stuff.”

By Hansika Bhagani.


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