Kieran Darcy-Smith is the latest Australian filmmaker to move to Los Angeles, aiming to capitalise on his debut feature, Wish You Were Here, which generated a strong buzz at this year's Sundance festival.
The continuing exodus of Australian talent – actors, directors and cinematographers – seems driven by two factors: jobs are scarce in the local production industry, whereas the U.S. and UK offer vastly more potential.
“It's very hard to pay the bills in Australia. There is a world of opportunity here. I have to feed my family and kick off my career,” the writer/director told SBS Film on the line from Los Angeles. He has two young children with his wife Felicity Price, who co-wrote and co-stars in the psychological drama.
Relocating to the US is a “roll of the dice” for a first-time filmmaker, he acknowledges, but it makes sense because he believes he could not take full advantage of the scripts and offers he received after Sundance while he lived in Australia.
Darcy-Smith is juggling several projects including Memorial Day, a crime drama which he's developing with US producer Ted Hope and Australian colleague Angie Fielder of Aquarius Films. Originally set in the Western suburbs, the saga focuses on two families and a drug-dealing outlawed motorcycle gang, set in 1981. He's switching the location to Florida in an area which more closely resembles the '80s and aims to start shooting in early 2013.
He's meeting with actors and says quite a few independent distributors and financing entities are willing to come on board pending the casting.
The relationship with the influential Hope dates back to 2009 when Screen NSW was funding the development of Wish You Were Here and the American mentored Darcy-Smith at the agency's Aurora script workshop. EOne acquired North American rights to that film and it will open later this year, possibly after the debut of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which also stars Joel Edgerton together with Jennifer Garner as a couple who are desperate to have a child.
The filmmaker will be back in Australia later this year to shoot one segment of Sydney Unplugged, an anthology which will utilise directors including Anthony LaPaglia, Russell Crowe, Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Alex Proyas, David Michôd, Ivan Sen, John Curran, Rachel Ward and Ray Lawrence, produced by John Polson. His film will focus on a music store manager (Tim Rogers, front man of Australian rock band You Am I) and a six-year-old girl who wanders into the shop.
Also, Darcy-Smith is writing the screenplay of the sequel to Tomorrow, When the War Began, based on the second and third of John Marsden's novels, for producer Andrew Mason and OmniLab Media, and says there have been no discussions yet about who will direct.
WME represents Darcy-Smith while Felicity is a client of UTA. Her husband says she's auditioning for roles and writing a couple of projects.
Darcy-Smith is retaining his ties to Australia as a founding member of Blue Tongue Films, the filmmakers' collective which includes Joel Edgerton, Nash Edgerton and Michôd, and says he wants to make more films here.
An actor who appeared in the films The Square, September, The Cave and The Reef and in
TV's Rescue Special Ops, Home and Away and All Saints, he has put that side of his career on hold while he focuses on writing and directing. “I love acting, getting into a role and really exploring it,” he says. “But I never wanted to be a film star and I have many other plates in the air.”