One of Australia’s most colourful and eccentric filmmakers, writer/director Stephan Elliott was hailed as the film industry’s prodigal son when his debut feature, Frauds, was selected into competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993, aged just 28, one of the youngest film-makers ever to be represented in the event’s most prestigious section generally featuring cinema’s great masters, that year co-won by Jane Campion’s The Piano and Chen Kaige’s Chinese epic, Farewell My Concubine.

For the Sydney kid (born 27/8/1964) who’d been shooting amateur films since childhood and spent years working through an array of film industry jobs (some quite lowly) until wine heiress/Sydney socialite / producer Rebel Penfold Russell’s company, Latent Image, produced his shorts Fast, The Agreement and Frauds, it was the fulfilment of a life-time dream :not necessarily with an immediate rose-hued ending.

For Frauds’ very success in screening in the event’s show pony section (competition) along with wide press coverage and black tie galas, became Frauds’ very undoing. International critics didn’t know what to make of the manic and bitchy Australian black humour of the psychological crime comedy, starring Hugo Weaving and singer Phil Collins. But it did announce the arrival of an original and inventive, if eccentric, talent with a strong personal stamp.

However, the film would have sat much more comfortably in the festival’s Un Certain Regard side-bar, which show-cases stylistically individual movies, often of younger film-makers without competitive pressures.

Disillusioned, Elliott swore he’d be back with a vengeance – and he certainly delivered on that promise. Meanwhile he’d learnt some valuable lessons about doing Cannes outrageously.

Exactly a year later, he arrived with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert plus live Sydney drag queens in tow, still in the official selection but this time premiering at the hip midnight screening. The 'girls’ blitzed the American Pavilion where they did a teaser show before the screening. The 2am post-screening party was one of the hottest tickets in town. This time Elliott certainly didn’t go unnoticed. And this time in his corner, he had one of the most savvy producers around, British import and Cannes and music industry veteran, Al Clark. It waged a brilliant international campaign. 

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – again starring Hugo Weaving, relaunching Neighbours star Guy Pearce’s career as a movie actor, and featuring serious British actor and former sex symbol Terence Stamp as a transvestite –was a stand-out hit, always difficult to do in a town used to every PR gimmick on the planet. It picked up the Prix du Public (Public Audience award) and scores of film festival invitations from around the globe.

Its Academy award nominations and Oscar win for Best Costume Design, along with the publicity generated by Lizzie Gardiner’s (one of the two Oz designers) dress made of gold Amex cards, continued the film’s limelight circulation around the globe. In a strong year Priscilla fought out AFI award honours with PJ Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding.

Elliott was catapulted onto international film-makers’ hot lists. He loved the ride – and the Cannes revenge – but for him from then on the most daunting challenge has been following up this level of success with another critical and commercial hit.

The Hollywood studios called. On its heels, Elliott was offered blockbusters like Twister and The First Wives Club (imagine that under his helm!) but he felt the independent route was more his style and opted for quirky projects like another outrageous Australian comedy, Welcome to Woop Woop and some years later, the psychological thriller, Eye of the Beholder starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd. But re-capturing that Priscilla magic proved elusive.

Elliott then explained: 'Priscilla was the only time I\'ve ever had final cut on a film and I wanted that again. This project was really important to me. When I took the project through the studio system, I could tell that I\'d lose control if I went down that road. One studio actually said that they wouldn\'t do the film unless Ashley [Judd] had a twin sister pop out of a closet at the end. They were serious.\"

Woop Woop, starring Rod Taylor, took him back to Cannes by invitation in official selection (not competition) but it flopped, as did his did his Hollywood movie. After Priscilla’s euphoric ride, Elliott was back on the downward slide of the roller coaster.

In 2004, disenchanted with the film business, Elliott decided to walk away from film-making to pursue his other passion: skiing. He plunged into it with his customary passion and excess – skiing right off a cliff in the South of France. The description of the helicopter rescue has the makings of a thrilling life/death drama. Elliott had broken his pelvis, back and legs and the two year recuperation (a significant part of Elliott is now held together by metal) required patience, persistence and courage. But during that life-transforming experience Elliott returned to creativity. Penning the stage musical version of Priscilla, which has gone on to blitz the live genre’s box office records, with lucrative deals for international openings in the UK and USA, he has ensured his financial future.

In the meantime a revived British Ealing Studios and the producers of a new adaptation of Noel Coward’s Easy Virtue approached the writer/director to helm the movie with a stellar cast that includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth and Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes. With its snappy, biting dialogue and irreverent wit, it seemed like a match made in cinematic heaven.

Elliott is currently developing a long-standing pet project, Black Oasis, the story of B movie actress, Susan Cabot, who was murdered by her dwarf son in 1986. Obviously he hasn’t lost his love of the outrageous. We wait with bated breath what he gets up to next.