First-time filmmakers based their supernatural movie on a NSW Coastal town myth.
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11 Apr 2013 - 11:08 AM  UPDATED 6 Aug 2014 - 5:19 PM

Jeremy Ervine and David Campbell gave up secure, well-paying jobs in the advertising industry last year to devote their talents, energy and vision to the fickle and unstable Australian industry.

Are they mad? Well time will tell but they seem confident about the prospects for their debut feature Lemon Tree Passage, a thriller inspired by the legend of a ghost that supposedly haunts a stretch of road north of Newcastle.

Producer Ervine, who's 30, and director/co-writer Campbell, 29, spent four weeks shooting the film in South Australia last September. While they were editing the footage they decided to add another character and shoot additional scenes, which happened in March.

[ Read review of Lemon Tree Passage ]

They plan to complete the film by the end of May and are negotiating deals with Australian distributors and sales agents. The aim is to launch the film at a major international film festival later this year, possibly at Toronto.

“If you talk to creative directors a lot will say they want to make a feature film or write the great novel,” the Adelaide-based Ervine tells SBS Film. “Few have the balls to do it. Leaving the advertising world was a risky and daring prospect but we could never go back. In advertising you are always doing something for someone else and you don't have creative control. With films you have a lot more passion and the control to deliver what you want.”

Campbell and Erica Brien wrote the screenplay after he saw a segment aired on Today Tonight in 2010 dealing with teenagers who were caught speeding in Lemon Tree Passage Road in Port Stephens and told the cops they saw a ghostly light. A video of the sighting (Warning: Contains strong coarse language) has been viewed more than 330,000 times on YouTube and some locals believe it's the spirit of a motorcyclist who was killed on the road.

The plot follows three American backpackers who learn about the ghost of a motorcyclist that stalks young motorists and encounter something far more evil. The cast includes Jessica Tovey (Tracks, Two Mothers), Pippa Black (TV's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Nicholas Gunn (a former Neighbours regular), Tim Phillipps (TV's Chopper, The Secret Circle), Tim Pocock (now starring in the NBC network series Camp that's shooting in Australia) and Andrew Ryan (Not Suitable for Children, Tomorrow, When the War Began). The new character, the love interest of Gunn's character, is played by Ashlee Lollback. The additional scenes were shot over three days, plus six days of second unit photography.

The producers developed and financed the film privately, without the assistance of government agencies. Ervine says the South Australian Film Corporation's guidelines won't allow the agency to support first-time filmmakers, instead insisting they start out on short films and in development labs. “We were much too impatient to do that,” he says.

Ervine is coy about how they raised the finance, observing only that “we begged, scrimped and borrowed.” Having worked on numerous commercials over the past eight years, he and Campbell were no strangers to film sets. They went to the US to learn as much as they could by talking to producers across a range of levels in the industry, and opted to shoot the film using RED cameras.

Ervine and Campbell have formed their own production company, Thirteen Disciples. Ervine won't give any hints about upcoming projects but it's clear they are determined to become regular participants in films.