Negative reviewers can eat their words: Hughes

Patrick HughesRed Hill director Patrick Hughes is glad to say the reviewers who anticipated little international life for the film have been proven wrong after its sale to Sony in the US.

“They can eat those words; they were surely wrong about that one,” Hughes jokingly told Encore. “We made this film independently and it’s going to have a life around the world.”

The western premiered at the Berlin Film Festival to mixed reviews; some glowing and some questioning its international potential. So far, the film has already been sold to the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany and other territories; a considerable success for any Australian film, but what makes it even more remarkable is that production was 100 percent independently financed and made without any distribution deals in place.

Hughes said he’d had a one-line pitch in his head for some time, about a modern day western, a prison break and a man trying to seek revenge on the cops that put him there. Fourteen months ago, he sat down to write the script, and the rest happened quickly.

“It came from a place of extreme frustration, having written several scripts that were optioned in the past but nothing ever happened from it,” admitted Hughes.

Hughes was ready to make a film “10 years ago” and following the steps of some of his favourite filmmakers – he cites George Miller, Robert Rodriguez and the Cohen brothers – he realised he had to make his first film with private investment.

“You just need to flick a switch in your mind and take control of your own projects.

“The biggest inspiration for me was [Wolf Creek director and Red Hill executive producer] Greg McLean, who said ‘nobody is going to produce your film harder than you will’.”

With that in mind, Hughes wrote a story that could be shot cheaply in a country town, one that could be logistically and financially contained.

“We didn’t want to wait on anybody, on some sort of funding or an answer from a distributor. We raised the money privately, and went and shot the movie.

“It was very risky, because we could have made it and find no interest from festivals or distributors, and there goes your private investment… but I had reached a point in my craft and knowledge of filmmaking that I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and we went out to make a commercial, viable product that was going to work internationally.

Once the film had been shot, Hughes looked at Screen Australia for post-production support. The agency reacted positively and provided the funds required for post. According to Hughes, it was easier to get them to invest on a film that was almost completed, than waiting to access development and production money.

“I had this belief that if I could just get my film cut, I could inspire people because I’d have a viable product and I would not be a schmuck walking around with a script and talking about what it’s going to be like,” explained Hughes.

The director’s first option was rising star Ryan Kwanten, not only because of his acting skills but because he could “add weight to the project”, particularly when looking for international distributors that need a selling element for their respective markets. The project attracted Kwanten – “he believed in the script because it certainly didn’t come down to dollars” – and the strategy has been successful, with healthy international sales for the film that will screen at a number of festivals throughout the year as part of each territory’s release strategy.

Hughes said details for the Australian release through Transmission are still being finalised– it is likely to be in the second half of the year – but no matter what happens, he knows Red Hill is already ahead of many others.

“At the European Film Market there were three floors of thousands and thousands of films. I had no idea; I’m on a steep learning curve now that I’ve made a film and I’m dealing with the distribution end, but if you look at the amount of content that’s out there, that doesn’t get seen, and you realise that if your film is the #1 seller, it’s quite a privileged position to be in,” he admitted.


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