Home' Scoop : Scoop 53 Spring 2010 Contents 62 scoop SPRING 2010
One of WA’s greatest feats of
engineering is set to become
the basis for one of WA’s
greatest feats of film-making...
words Gabi Woolgar
ased on a bestselling book, with
a budget of $60m and a who’s
who of big-name stars targeted to
headline the movie, The Dr owner
could be the film that propels WA’s
film industry from the arthouse to the multiplex.
Shortlisted for the 1997 Miles Franklin Award,
Robert Drewe’s book follows a young man whose
job it is to irrigate dry lands (a ‘drowner’). Along
with the love of his life, he travels to Australia to
bring water to WA’s desert mining communities.
The story is loosely based on the true events of
the 19th century, when engineer CY O’Connor
pulled off the epic achievement of channelling
water 560km uphill from Perth to the West
The driving force behind the film is WA-based
producer Stephen Van Mil. His original career path
as a vet made for an unlikely door into movies,
with circumstance and opportunity leading to 14
years making world-class wildlife documentaries.
A personal friend of Robert Drewe – whose
book Our Sunshine was adapted as the Heath
Ledger flick Ned Kelly in 2003 – Stephen found
himself discussing The Dr owner with the author.
“He said it was his favourite, his masterpiece,”
Stephen recalls. “The rights had recently reverted
back to him, so the timing seemed just right to
have the film finally made.”
Stephen always intended that while the film is set
in Australia, it should be an international project,
with global appeal. With that in mind, his first step
was to call another chum, Bruce Davey. In a previous
life, Davey had been Stephen’s accountant, before
jetting off to the US and getting himself a far more
high-profile job... as chairman of Mel Gibson’s Icon
Productions. Davey was aware of the existence of
The Dr owner and of its movie potential, and before
long the film-making juggernaut began to roll.
As the project gained momentum, renowned
screenwriter John Collee (Happy Feet, Master and
Commander) was brought on board to work on
the script. Stephen believes Collee’s work on the
adaptation is “very rich and complex”.
“Everybody loves a love story, which is at the
heart of the film,” he says, “but the over-riding
concept for me is that this is a movie about water.
It’s John’s job to take all these elements, enrich the
original story and produce a movie.”
While work on the adaptation of Drewe’s story
continues, the hunt is on for a director. At the top
of the list is Michael Apted, who was behind the
camera of the latest Chronicles of Nar nia instalment
and who is even now in talks with Stephen.
At the same time, Stephen is turning his
attention to casting, with some definite ideas about
whose names he wants on the movie posters.
“We’ve spoken to Cate Blanchett’s people, as well
as James McAvoy and Emily Blunt. All the actors
who were on our original wish-list have shown
strong interest in coming on board once the script is
finalised, hopefully towards the end of this year.”
It’s also important for Stephen to raise the
film’s profile pre-production, and he has been busy
attracting investors on the red carpet at Cannes,
with September’s Toronto International Film
Festival also targeted as a potential source of
interest. According to Stephen, the impact of the
film will go far beyond imprinting the story of one
of Australia’s most tragic heroes on those who see it.
“Once the camera starts rolling, there will be
so many who will benefit from the film – beyond
those involved with the actual film itself,” says
Stephen. “It will be hard to measure the quantum
effect making a film like this will have on small
towns like this. You just need to look at The Lord of
the Rings for example, or how tourism in Morocco
took off after The English Patient was filmed there.”
Indeed The English Patient is the model on
which Stephen hopes to base his production. The
multiple Oscar-winning drama cost $25m to make,
but made $250m at the box office, and just as that
film introduced a stunning new landscape to the
world, so Stephen believes The Dr owner will show
off the Goldfield’s unique qualities.
“You don’t have to build sets there. You just
turn up and turn the cameras on. It will be clear to
the world the Goldfields are amazing.”
For Stephen, the greatest joy will be watching
the film being made, all his planning and dreaming
finally coming to fruition. And with Screen
Australia investing significantly in the film and with
other projects slated to follow, production of The
Drowner could be the starting point for a bright
new future for Western Australia’s film industry.
“There’s a real opportunity here to build a
sustainable film-making industr y,” says Stephen.
“We don’t have a studio model here which may
limit our options, we have the benefit of being
on the same time zone as Singapore, great stories,
infrastr ucture, passion and, importantly, money.”
For more infor mation visit thedrowner movie.biz.
CINEMA GOLD Producer
Stephen Van Mil believes his
Goldfields drama The Drowner
will reinvigorate WA film.
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