When co-directors Johan Earl and Adrian Powers set out to make Forbidden Ground, a WWI drama set in France, they had to economise. Earl cast himself as one of the three leads, the battle scenes were shot on a farm in Dubbo, and old buildings in Sydney substituted for wartime London.
“We just had to go out there and do it,” Earl tells SBS Film. “We had no choice because raising money is difficult.” Filmed in November/December 2011, the movie will open in Australian cinemas later this year. The international sales agent Odin's Eye Entertainment is in the process of finalising the distribution strategy.
The movie was self-financed, partly using the profits from Earl's pyrotechnics and explosives business Armzfx, which provided 300 kg of explosives so most of the explosions depicted are real, not created by CGI.
Earl wrote the screenplay which focuses on three British soldiers who find themselves stranded in No Man's Land in 1916 France after a failed charge. Tim Pocock and Martin Copping play the other soldiers and the supporting cast includes Denai Gracie (who also produces with Earl), Sarah Mawbey and Barry Quin.
“We couldn't afford to do a big-scale action film so we focussed on the three soldiers who wake up in a bomb crater in the middle of No Man's Land,” he adds. It was his second writing and directing effort following the 1999 action-drama Theory of the Trojans (co-directed with Melanie Cavin and Michael Massen). He also wrote and starred in the 2010 thriller Perfect Life, directed by Jith Sen.
Powers makes his debut as a feature director. His short film, Scruples, which featured Johan, was selected from among 15,000 entries as a finalist for Your Film Festival, a collaboration between YouTube and Ridley Scott, that screened at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival.
“We had a very good dynamic,” says Powers of sharing the directing chores with Earl. “I directed the scenes where he was involved as an actor.”
Michael Favelle's Sydney-based Odin's Eye Entertainment pre-sold the film on the basis of a three-minute promotional video to Momentum in the UK, China Star Alliance in China, where it will get a theatrical release, and Dutch FilmWorks for the Benelux territories. Earl and Powers are developing a sci-fi film, The Messengers, which they plan to co-direct.
It's the first of three Australian war movies heading to cinemas. The Stolen is the saga of three young Australians who leave their outback home to go to WWI and come back to find their family has been attacked by cattle rustlers, from first-time director/writer Geoff Davis; IFM- Filmways plans a 2014 release.
The 34th Battalion will follow four men from rural NSW who joined the Army in 1916 after the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and fought heroic battles against the Germans. Due to shoot in Wauchope later this year, it will mark the feature directing debut of Luke Sparke, who wrote the screenplay with his father Ian; the ensemble cast includes Luke Hemsworth, Emilie de Ravin, Vinnie Jones, Stephen Lang, Charles Mesure, Les Hill, Claire van der Boom, Tony Bonner, Andrew Lees and Vince Colosimo.