One of Australian cinema’s most beloved family films, Henri Safran’s Storm Boy, is to be reversioned with a fresh approach and a contemporary setting which aims to retain the emotional core of the 1976 original.
The reworking of another Australian classic follows upcoming television adaptations of Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 opus Wake in Fright and Peter Weir’s haunting 1975 mystery Picnic at Hanging Rock. Lingo Pictures in association with Endemol Shine Australia is preparing a two-part miniseries based on Kenneth Cooke’s 1961 novel Wake in Fright for Australia’s Network Ten. FremantleMedia Australia will start shooting a 6-hour series of Picnic in early 2017 for pay TV platform Foxtel’s showcase channel.
It is not surprising that Australian producers are mining the rich seam of Australian cinema history to remake or re-purpose classic stories for contemporary audiences, particularly given the challenges facing indie producers worldwide in selling original material.
Ambience Entertainment’s Michael Boughen and Matthew Street are producing the new interpretation of Storm Boy, based on a 1964 novella by Australian author Colin Thiele. International sales agent Kathy Morgan is pitching the project to potential buyers at this week’s American Film Market.
Boughen sent the screenplay by Justin Monjo to readers in Los Angeles who were unaware of the original and gave the script high marks, describing it as moving and sensitive with a lot of heart. Monjo’s credits include the Network Ten telemovie Brock, the Seven Network dramas The Secret Daughter and Catching Milat and the miniseries Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door. The director is Shawn Seet, whose TV output includes Deep Water, the four-part drama which aired last month on public broadcaster SBS, the Allen mini and TV dramas The Code, Hiding and Love Child.
Safran’s debut film, which was produced by Matt Carroll for the South Australian Film Corp., centered on Mike (shearer’s son Greg Rowe), a sheltered young boy living in a remote coastal region with his reclusive father Tom (Peter Cummins). Mike raises a pod of pelican chicks after their parents are killed by hunters. He befriends Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpilil), a mysterious Aboriginal man who dubs the young bird lover Storm Boy and teaches him some life lessons.
It was crowned best film at the Australian Film Institute awards and received glowing reviews typified by Variety which hailed a “gem of a film, modestly and carefully made,” that would appeal to adults as well as kids. Safran later returned to his native France while Rowe made a few more films before quitting the business in 1982; he is now a successful attorney in Canada. Thiele died in 2006, aged 85.
The new version focuses on Mike as a grandfather, a successful man who has forgotten his roots. He recounts his boyhood experiences with pelicans to his wayward 16-year-old granddaughter. Casting is underway for those roles and for the titular storm boy, his father and Fingerbone Bill. Street says, “Justin’s screenplay is a powerful contemporary story, an emotional roller-coaster which keeps the heart, soul and simplicity of Colin’s novella.”
The producers aim to start shooting in June/July and are in the process of raising the budget from Screen Australia, a state funding body, the 40% producer offset, international pre-sales and gap financing. Offers from Australian distributors are on the table. Former Studiocanal Australia/New Zealand CEO Robert Slaviero is serving as executive producer. An animal trainer has started work to prepare a flock of pelicans, while CGI will also be used.
Boughen and Street got the idea for the film after a 2013 Sydney Theater Company production of the play Storm Boy by Tom Holloway, adapted from Thiele’s book, played to sold-out audiences. They acquired the rights from the publishers and hired Monjo, who had written an episode of Ambience Entertainment’s TV series Tomorrow, When the War Began, and had consulted on other projects. By co-incidence, they discovered Safran’s film was the first Australian film that Seet saw when he moved to Australia from Malaysia in 1977 and which inspired him to pursue a media career; the director still has a poster of the original.
The producers admired Seet’s first feature, 2008′s Two Fists, One Heart, the saga of a young Italian/Australian boxer who is pushed to the limit by his Sicilian father-trainer, and his TV work including Underbelly and the 2012 telemovie The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Boughen said, “Shawn has a calmness and a clear vision; he just fits.”
Canadian director Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright was shot in Broken Hill and starred English actors Gary Bond and Donald Pleasence, Kotcheff’s wife Sylvia Kay, Aussie veteran Chips Rafferty in what turned out to be his final film, plus Jack Thompson and John Meillon. The plot followed Bond as a young schoolteacher from Sydney who loses a gambling bet and is stranded in an Outback town where he is corrupted by a bunch of crazy, drunk and violent men.
Kriv Stenders (Red Dog and the upcoming prequel Red Dog: True Blue) will direct the TV remake scripted by Stephen M. Irwin (Secrets & Lies) for producers Helen Bowden, Jason Stephens and Kristian Moliere.
Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock was based on a Joan Lindsay novel about the mysterious disappearances of three schoolgirls and their governess on Valentine’s Day 1900, starring Helen Morse, Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert and Vivean Gray. Michael Rymer, whose credits include Deadline Gallipoli, Battlestar Galactica, American Horror Story: Asylum, Hannibal and Longmire, will direct, with another director yet to be named.
Antonia Barnard is the producer and the writers are Beatrix Christian (Jindabyne) and Alice Addison (The Principal, Tomorrow, When the War Began, Devil’s Playground). FremantleMedia International will distribute the series worldwide. Announcing the commission, Foxtel’s head of drama Penny Win said, “Like many others, I am a fan of the 1975 Australian film which was pivotal in establishing the modern Australian film industry. This series, based on the classic novel, will take viewers on a new and in depth journey into this incredibly iconic Australian story.”