Sam Worthington was pivotal to financing the surfing-set Aussie movie from first-time directors. 
25 Apr 2013 - 11:39 AM  UPDATED 25 Apr 2013 - 11:39 AM

When actor/producer Myles Pollard first asked his mate Sam Worthington if he'd co-star in an Australian movie set in the surfing milieu in the 1970s, Sam expressed interest but said he was a tad busy: he was about to shoot Terminator Salvation followed by Avatar.

The problem I saw was that every time Hollywood did a film about surfing it made true surfers cringe

So Pollard bided his time on the project that had its origins in a 2007 screenplay written by fellow producer Tim Duffy. Morgan O'Neill subsequently came on board to rewrite the script and he agreed to co-direct the film with Los Angeles-based Aussie Ben Nott.

All that patience and perseverance paid off when Worthington found a gap in his busy schedule and Drift was shot on a tight 31-day schedule in August/September 2011 in the South-West coastal areas of Western Australia.

The casting of Worthington was vital in securing the financing for the $11.4 million drama, including the participation of Screen Australia, Screen West, Screen NSW, Tourism WA and Fulcrum Media Finance. And Sam's presence helped trigger Paris-based TF1 International's commitment to handle foreign sales and pre-sales to eOne Hopscotch for Australia and boutique distributor Wrekin Hill Entertainment in the US. Wrekin Hill has since joined forces with mini-major Lionsgate on the US release, where it will open on August 2.

“It was a long process but Sam was inspired when he saw Ben's 'look book' [of photos and storyboards] and he saw a character he was really interested in,” says Pollard, who was a fellow classmate at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, where they graduated in 1998. “Then there were another couple of years of negotiations and rescheduling around his availability as the intricate matrix kept changing shape.”

Pollard and Xavier Samuel play brothers Andy and Jimmy Kelly, who move to Margaret River with their mother Kat (Robyn Malcolm) in 1972 to escape their abusive father. Worthington plays JB, a free-spirited, itinerant surf photographer who roams the country in his psychedelic van accompanied by platonic friend Lani (South African-born, New Zealand-raised actress Lesley Ann-Brandt).

The brothers are befriended by JB and Lani as Andy dreams of building a surfboard/leisure wear empire, but a run-in with a drug-running bikie gang led by Miller (Steve Bastoni) threatens to derail his plans.

Duffy, Pollard and Nott are partners in World Wide Mind Films. Drift is their first film and marks the feature directing debut of Nott, mentored by seasoned producer Michele Bennett (Chopper, The Magician and the documentary Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man). O'Neill's directing credits include The Factory and Solo.

Nott has directed hundreds of commercials plus music videos, short films and two documentaries. So how did he feel about directing a superstar? “I was a bit daunted on the first day directing Sam, a little bit cautious,” he tells SBS Film on the line from LA. “But he was an absolute gem to work with, very relaxed, very collaborative, down to earth and very confident, especially out on those huge waves. Shooting the film in 31 days, we didn't have time for ego or attitude.”

Nott had wanted to make a drama-based film that had surfing elements for 10 or 12 years. “The problem I saw was that every time Hollywood did a film about surfing it made true surfers cringe. In most surfing films it's wave after wave interspersed with shots of girls in G-strings,” says Nott, a founding partner of the Droga5 creative agency who's been based in LA for 12 years.

“Finally I met Tim Duffy and he had similar ideas about the film he wanted to make so we combined forces with Myles and Sam. Then we hired Morgan as the writer to give it a broad appeal so we weren't just being navel-gazing surfers, and Morgan and I decided to co-direct.”

The co-directors collaborated closely on the script, casting, viewing each day's rushes and post-production but on most days worked separately during shooting, with O'Neill handling the dramatic scenes and Nott focussing on the surfing action sequences. “It was two directors, one vision,” says Nott.

Pollard acknowledges his first experience as a producer has given him renewed respect for the producer fraternity – and the desire to do it again. “I love the autonomy you have as a producer,” he says. “Actors don't tend to see the whole picture or the sacrifices and the investment you make on so many levels as a producer. I also love the idea of taking more control of my destiny.”

The actor comes across as a modest, self-effacing guy despite having a long list of credits including five years in McLeod's Daughters, Home and Away, Underbelly, Sea Patrol and the movies Foreshadow (which was shot in WA in February), Thirst and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

“I've had to fight through the challenges of irregular work and I've had to earn my opportunities,” he says. “I walked into my trailer [on the Drift set] and thought, 'this is so not your trailer.'”

Shooting in winter was another challenge. After emerging after three hours in the water one day Pollard's temperature plummeted, he was shaking and fell into a deep sleep; he suspects he had hypothermia.

Earlier this year he played a character named Dan for director Claire McCarthy in one of the segments of producer Robert Connolly's omnibus film The Turning, based on Tim Winton's short stories. Dan is a born-again Christian and former alcoholic who tries to help a girl who has lost her way.

As a greenhorn producer, Pollard admits he doesn't know why it's often hard to persuade Australian audiences to see Australian films in cinemas. But he declares, “If you believe in what your product is and what your message is and you are passionate about it I think you have a great shot at convincing an audience the film is worth watching.”

Drift arrives in cinemas May 2.