The Melbourne-based filmmaker is spearheading a production power house.
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8 Oct 2012 - 10:35 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 4:33 PM

Robert Connolly has ramped up his production company Arenamedia into a mini-studio, among the most prolific in the country, as he juggles numerous film and TV projects which he's producing, writing, directing or serving as executive producer.

The slate includes The Turning, a 17-part omnibus film based on a Tim Winton novel, which marks the directorial debuts of several renowned actors; The Shipkiller, a high seas revenge saga which he'll direct and produce with Hollywood hot shot Gale Ann Hurd; and These Final Hours, an Apocalyptic thriller from first-time writer-director Zac Hilditch and producer Liz Kearney, which he's exec producing and which starts shooting in Perth on October 15.

To handle the expanded workload, the filmmaker has hired three executives: Chloe Brugale as general manager, lawyer Fahim Ahad in charge of business affairs, and indigenous producer John Harvey, the former general manager of Ilbijjerri Theatre Company.

“We want to create a broad body of work,” Connolly tells SBS Film, while extolling the virtues of the team he's assembled. The Paris-trained Brugale ran the short films and Next Gen programmes at the Melbourne International Film Festival for seven years. Ahad graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School where one of his lecturers in the screen business course was Connolly.

Both are in their early 30s. “I know people talk about the value in generational change but it is very exciting to see what they are achieving in the company with a new perspective,” Connolly says.

Harvey, who joined Arenamedia initially on a Screen Australia-funded attachment, is overseeing the development of The Athletes, a drama series about two young indigenous footballers, which involves a number of emerging indigenous writers and directors, for ABC-TV.

Another member of the team is casting director Jane Norris (Rob's spouse), the Mullinars consultant who has cast all his films and ABC-TV's The Slap, for which he directed two episodes. Jane discovered Alex Williams, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate who played the teenage Julian Assange in Ten's telemovie Underground (pictured), which Connolly wrote and directed. The telepic was warmly received at the Toronto Film Festival and is being sold worldwide by NBCUniversal International, primarily to channels which the studio either owns or with which it has output deals.

Connolly and fellow Arenamedia producer Maggie Miles are producing The Turning, a series of linking and overlapping stories about the extraordinary turning points in ordinary people's lives. The first two segments, Ashlee Page's 'On Her Knees', which stars Susie Porter and Harrison Gilbertson, and Rhys Graham's 'Small Mercies', are in the can. Among those who will direct the other chapters are Tony Ayres, Cate Blanchett, Stephen Page, Connolly, Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham.

The Shipkiller is based on a Justin Scott novel, described as an “odyssey of revenge that embraces the distant waters of the world, from the titanic storms of the South Atlantic to the oil-slicked reaches of the Persian Gulf.” Gale Ann Hurd, producer of The Terminator franchise, The Incredible Hulk and TV's The Walking Dead, and Connolly had wanted to work together since she saw his 2009 East Timor-set drama Balibo. Both loved the novel and Connolly bought the screen rights. He intends to shoot in Australia and as a big water tank is required the Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast would be an obvious location. Connolly says filming could start in about 18 months, once the finance is locked in.

In These Final Hours, Wolf Creek's Nathan Phillips plays a self-obsessed young guy who makes his way to the party-to-end-all-parties on the last day on Earth but ends up saving the life of a girl (11-year-old Angourie Rice) who's searching for her father. Rice made her debut in Transmission, Hilditch's short film produced by Kearney, the tale of a deadly pandemic and its impact on a father-daughter relationship, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.

The cast includes Sarah Snook (Not Suitable for Children), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown), Jessica De Gouw, Lynette Curran and Kathryn Beck. Helped by Connolly, Kearney raised the finance from Screen Australia, Screen West's West Coast Visions initiative, the MIFF Premiere Fund and the 40 percent producer offset. Connolly and John Maynard's Footprint Films is the Australian distributor and international sales are being handled by Celluloid Nightmares, a partnership between XYZ Films and Celluloid Dreams.

As a gun-for-hire, Connolly has signed to direct The Riders, a mystery thriller based on a Tim Winton novel, for UK-based Stealth Media Group, which holds the international rights, and producers Robert Fox and Tim White. Sam Worthington will play an Australian expatriate who prepares to start a new life with his family in Northern Ireland and finds when he arrives in Belfast that his wife has disappeared. Charles Dance, Alexandra Maria Lara and Timothy Spall co-star. Shooting is due to start next February on the island of Korcula on the Dalmatian Coast and in Budapest. Cinetic Media is shopping the US rights.

On top of all that, Connolly intends to direct and write Paper Planes, a kids' film about a boy's passion for flight which leads him to compete in the world paper plane championships; he's developing that project with Chris Noonan (Babe, Miss Potter) as creative consultant.