Aussie producer on the long journey to make Saving Mr Banks

Producer Ian Collie is well known in Australia for his work on hit series including Rake and Jack Irish, but he is also the brains behind Disney’s Oscar hopeful Saving Mr Banks which opens in Australian cinemas today. He tells Brooke Hemphill about the eight-year road to getting the film up.

Based on the true story of P.L. Travers  and her relationship with Walt Disney who sought the rights of her famous book Mary Poppins for more than 20 years, the Disney feature Saving Mr Banks stemmed from the 2002 documentary The Shadow of Mary Poppins produced by Essential Media.

During an interview in Los Angeles prior to the American premiere of Saving Mr Banks, producer Ian Collie told Mumbrella: “It started in late 2005. I’d had the idea for a few years but because I hadn’t done film and I was only just getting launched in TV drama, I didn’t rush headlong into it.”

Watch the trailer: 

Collie came up with the initial concept of weaving two narratives together – Travers’ childhood growing up in Australia and the two week period in 1961 when she visited Los Angeles to meet with Disney. Collie then commissioned writer Sue Smith to take a first pass at the script and the Australian Film Commission, now Screen Australia, stumped up some cash to help with the project’s development.

Ian Collie

Producer Ian Collie

Collie said: “We approached the AFC who funded three drafts. After about the second draft, I knew this was going to be something special but I also knew I was never going to get it up by myself. I’d never made a feature film. I was a TV person. I was never going to get up a film where essentially we had to get Disney on side.”

Alison Owen of the UK’s Ruby Films came on board to help get the picture made. Collie said: “The elephant in the room as we were developing it was ‘well we haven’t really got Disney on side yet. We sort of need Disney.’ But we were too far in the development process to pull back. We always had in our heart, ‘why wouldn’t they like it? It’s actually a great story for them. It’s their story’.”

Producer Owen brought writer Kelly Marcel in to take a second pass at the script. The project then made it’s way onto the coveted Hollywood Black List, an annual list of the best unproduced feature film scripts as determined by more than 500 film executives.

Collie said: “As a result, a number of studios started approaching us. We always had Disney in our sights. Through our agent CAA we started making an overture. The script had gotten to a point where we were all very happy with it and we thought ‘this is as good a time as any to start approaching’.” Fortunately for Collie, Disney fully embraced the concept.

The film went into production in September 2012 and was shot almost entirely on location in California with the exception of one day in London. The scenes set in Australia were shot on a 10,000 acre ranch in Simi Valley and the production was one of only three feature films to shoot at Disneyland in Anaheim in the park’s 58 year history.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks

Made with an estimated budget of US$35m the film opened in the US prior to Christmas and has so far made US$59.3m in the States alone. Screen Australia has recouped its development funding and the film is currently generating Oscar buzz with stars Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson showing potential to receive nomination nods on January 16 with the film aiming for a best picture nom.

As for Collie, the film marks a major career achievement although he has no plans to relocate to Los Angeles despite Essential having an office there. He told Mumbrella: “It’s very corny. It’s the Hollywood dream. I didn’t strive for this but I’m not going to say no. It’s a great ride mainly because the film is so good, but I don’t have ambitions to work in Hollywood.

“I would happily work here on a specific project, but I’ve got a nice life in Sydney.”

Saving Mr Banks opens at Australian cinemas today.

Brooke Hemphill


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