Little, it appears, comes easily for John Hillcoat. The Queensland-born, England-based filmmaker has directed just four features in 22 years: 1988's Ghosts of the Civil Dead, 1996's To Have & to Hold, 2005's The Proposition and January 28's The Road, the much anticipated adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Now it appears that the well-advanced plans for his fifth movie have fallen over.
In a production diary kept for The Road, Hillcoat almost casually reveals that while deep in post-production financing fell through for his screen version of The Wettest County in the World. Adapted by musician Nick Cave (who wrote The Proposition) from a novel by Matt Bondurant, it's the story of Depression-era master bootleggers in rural Virginia.
“The joke on set and in the edit suite was that we had to get [The Road] out before it became a reality. Ironically, the movie industry itself now faces its own apocalypse,” Hillcoat wrote. “The perfect storm has arrived in Hollywood: a global economic downturn combined with piracy and the increase of downloading on the internet – what happened to the record companies years ago but with much higher stakes. The reactionary first phase has kicked in – few films in development, many films put on hold or shut down. My own new project – with a much-loved script by Nick Cave and a dream all-star cast – has fallen apart.”
Hillcoat had reportedly been very busy with Cave's screenplay, drawing the likes of Ryan Gosling, Shia Labeouf, Scarlett Johansson and Paul Dano to the production. He would have been hard-pressed to assemble a more bankable, yet accomplished, cast than the one he did to satisfy financiers, yet it came to naught.
The director still has several irons in the fire, including a screen version of Cave's lurid 2009 novel The Death of Bunny Munro, but The Wettest County in the World was obviously his priority. In the wake of it falling over he was moved to wonder, in print, just what that meant for the industry he's a part of.
“The great divide has begun,” he mused, “with only very low-budget films being made or huge 3D franchise films – the birth of brand films such as Barbie, Monopoly: The Movie – who knows what's next, Coca-Cola: The Movie?”