There's no danger of Justin Kurzel being typecast as that “serial killer director” following his impressive debut with Snowtown, the bleak, chilling tale based on the bodies-in-the-barrel case in South Australia.
Of all the scripts the Aussie director has been offered since Snowtown premiered at Critics Week in the Cannes Film Festival in May and travelled on the international fest circuit, none is in the horror genre.
Moreover, Justin and his musician brother Jed are co-writing and plan to co-direct Ivan Lendl Never Learnt to Volley, a dark comedy about a Russian father and his 13-year-old son.
Inspired by a true story that happened in France, the film will focus on the father's fanatical desire to train his son to become a tennis champion like the boy's hero Ivan Lendl.
“It looks at the obsession that parents sometimes have with living their lives through their children, especially sporting parents,” Kurzel told SBS Film, noting there are parallels with Jelena Dokic and her volatile father and ex-coach Damir.
The brothers have just completed a first draft and the film will be produced by Warp Films' Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw, continuing their collaboration from Snowtown. They'll do a second draft early next year and intend to shoot in Russia.
They drew on their experiences in their youth as very competitive tennis players whose father, while loving and supportive, was caught up with the dream that they'd be champions in that sport.
“This is an absurd comedy of something that's taken to the extreme where the father is completely obsessed and possessed with the notion of his son being the No. 1 tennis player in the world,” he said.
As for the idea of co-directing with his brother, Justin said, “That's something I've been wanting to do for a very long time. Jed and I work in a really close way. All the musicals we've done together have come from dual ideas. Something very different comes out of the work we do together as opposed to individually.”
Both brothers were seeded tennis players in South Australia and when Justin was 14 he played doubles with Mark Philippoussis. He acknowledges that Jed, who's 18 months younger, was a better player than him.
Both pursued different paths. After graduating from NIDA, Justin spent 10 years as a theatre designer working for the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre Companies and Belvoir Street, then moved into directing music clips and commercials.
Jed is a composer and the front man and songwriter for The Mess Hall. He wrote the score for Snowtown which last week was named best feature film score at the Screen Music Awards.
Justin returned recently after spending nine weeks supporting the film as it premiered at the Toronto, San Sebastian and London festivals. In between festivals Justin and Jed travelled through Eastern Europe writing and doing research for the Lendl project.
Snowtown launched on November 18 on 25 screens in the UK – a fairly aggressive release from distributor Revolver – and has been sold to Germany, France, the US and several other territories. It'll debut in the US via IFC Midnight in early 2012.
“There's been some genuine interest in what I want to do next and the kind of projects I'm interested in,” he said. “I've been reading a lot of scripts including genre films that are probably more conventional and others that have a really strong edge. I haven't been typecast: I haven't even read a horror film.
“I'm just trying to find projects which give me the kind of fever that Snowtown did. It was quite personal because I came from that area (in Adelaide's northern suburbs) so it had that added kind of curiosity.”
He's keen to work again with Lucas Pittaway and Louise Harris, fresh talents he discovered while casting the psychological thriller. Lucas played the 16-year-old who was embroiled in the serial killings and Harris played his mother. Justin spotted Lucas in a shopping mall and noticed Louise while she was out walking her dog. He approached her, she told him to f--- off and he asked his casting agent to invite her to audition. She failed to turn up for the first two auditions then nailed the part in her first try-out.
“The two of them had incredible instincts,” he said. “They weren't just being themselves; they were really taking on particular characters.”