The respected Australian director is in demand again after a lengthy hiatus.
1 Aug 2011 - 11:08 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 2:30 AM

Director Fred Schepisi has struggled mightily to get films financed in the past 10 years so it's heartening to see he's well advanced with plans to follow his new Australian film, The Eye of the Storm, with two projects.

Last week he confirmed to SBS he's in negotiations to direct The Drowner, an historical love story based on the Robert Drewe novel which follows a young engineer who travels from England to Western Australia in the 1890s to help build a pipeline from the coast to the gold fields.

And he revealed that in January he aims to start shooting in the US Words and Pictures, an independently financed romantic drama to star Clive Owen and, he hopes, depending on her availability, Julianne Moore.

“We're 99% there,” said Stephen Van Mil of talks with Schepisi's agent and lawyer. Van Mil's Impian Films is producing The Drowner with Bruce Davey and Mel Gibson's Icon and UK producer Robert Jones.

There's no confirmed start date for shooting as Schepisi said, “We've got to do a lot of work on the script (by John Collee) and there's a lot to organise on that film.”

The potential cast is star-studded. Van Mil affirms he's approached representatives of Cate Blanchett, James McAvoy, Emily Blunt and Liam Neeson but offers won't be made until the script is finished.

Asked about the reported $50 million budget, Schepisi noted, “It should cost that but there might be ways to make it not so expensive.” Van Mil said Davey is keen to make the film for $30 million, implying the final figure will be somewhere between those amounts. He said Icon has agreed to co-finance and to handle international sales.

Words and Pictures is the saga of the encounter between a jaded English teacher and poet and an artist who started teaching because she has rheumatoid arthritis and is losing the ability to paint. “She wants to inspire her middle class students and this guy is taking the piss out of her a bit and they start to have a competition which enlivens the students and they get romantically involved in a difficult way,” said Schepisi, whose most recent credit was the 2005 HBO telemovie Empire Falls.

It's scripted by Gerald Di Pego, whose credits include Phenomenon, Message in a Bottle, Instinct and The Forgotten.

Adapted by Judy Morris from the Patrick White novel, The Eye of the Storm opens on September 15. Budgeted at $14 million, it was funded by 14 private investors sourced by producer Anthony Waddington and executive producer Edward Simpson, combined with the producer rebate, the ABC, Film Victoria and Screen Australia.

The film has been selected to screen in the Special Presentations program at next month's Toronto International Film Festival. Schepisi hopes that exposure will help clinch a US deal, noting wryly, “The distributors in America need a unique proposition for every movie and if it gets into a few festivals and gets good reviews they're more inclined to take a chance. Heaven forbid they would use their own judgment.”

The Drowner will be Impian's first feature. A former veterinarian, Van Mil has worked in media for 10 years and produced the wildlife documentaries White Lions - King of Kings, Saving Oranguntans and The Last Trimate.

He's amassing a $200 million film fund drawn partly from wealthy mining interests in Western Australia, which would make Impian a very significant new player in film production. He's also partnering with Icon on a film adapted from the Tim Winton novel Shallows, which spans three generations of the same family from the birth of the WA whaling industry in the 1830s to the present day.

Winton is writing the screenplay, Roger Donaldson is in talks to direct and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has pledged its support.

Impian is developing with Martin Brown Films Black Honeymoon, a sexy thriller which will mark John Collee's directing debut. It's the story of an American executive in Paris who gets married after a whirlwind romance and honeymoons in the Congo, where his bride disappears.

The latest addition to Impian's slate is remake of A View from the Bridge, a drama based on Arthur Miller's play about an unhappily married Brooklyn longshoreman who falls in love with his niece.

In development for some years, the project was to have been directed originally by Barry Levinson and then by Australia's Robert Connolly. Van Mil will produce with Anthony La Paglia, Ray Lawrence is in negotiations to direct and Andrew Bovell wrote the screenplay. La Paglia is set to co-star with Vera Farmiga.