Directors make the most of the downtime in the COVID-19 crisis

Yvonne, Cate Blanchett and director Emma Freeman on the set of 'Stateless'.

(L-R) Yvonne Strahovski, Cate Blanchett and Emma Freeman on the ‘Stateless’ set.

The suspension and postponement of numerous screen productions has disrupted directors as much as any industry cohort – but many continue to develop film and TV projects.

“I’m using my downtime to develop some feature projects, in particular The Circus written by Alice Bell, and writing my first feature screenplay,” says Emma Freeman, who co-directed Stateless and was working with Tony Ayres on Netflix’s Clickbait until production halted.

To be produced by Leanne Tonkes, The Circus follows a circus troupe that is stranded by a horrific roadside accident in the middle of drought-stricken farmlands. As the troupe becomes more desperate, their star trapeze artist falls in love with a farmer and must choose between the life she’s always known and the life that could be if she stayed.

“This is an epic love story,” says Freeman, who hopes to start shooting in early 2021. On a personal note, she is relishing her new role as a mum, telling IF: “I am feeling grateful that my wife just had our little boy and we are enjoying the first steps into parenthood.”

Amanda Brotchie and her husband Adam Zwar, who are in lockdown like everyone else in Los Angeles, continue to develop TV series and a feature.

Before the travel curfew the couple had returned from Oz where Amanda set up the second series of Pete Helliar’s How To Stay Married with Princess Pictures (which Network 10 is making available from today on Ten Play for a limited time) and Adam took part in a writers’ room in Sydney.

Brotchie, who is in late stage development on Orchard Road, a domestic thriller written by Sarah Smith, says: “It’s hard to concentrate on work with so much in flux, with health being such an urgent concern. We have a network of friends here giving each other the heads up on where they found eggs or wipes or toilet paper.”

Amanda Brotchie.

Jeffrey Walker, who is at home in Brisbane after directing episodes of The Commons and Modern Family, has written to Screen Australia, Screen Producers Australia and the Australian Directors’ Guild with a sensible proposal.

His idea is to attach practitioners including production designers, location managers, first ADs, costume designers and line producers/production managers to projects that were already in development.

“All of these people can work remotely and add to the development process; many are desperate for work,” he says, adding that he has had positive responses from SPA and the ADG.

All of his projects have been placed on hold indefinitely but he says The Portable Door, a fantasy adventure comedy scripted by Leon Ford, which will star Guy Pearce, Christoph Waltz and Patrick Gibson, was well received at the European Film Market and he hopes that momentum will continue.

US-based Cherie Nowlan is in quarantine with her family in Sydney after directing an episode of Marvel’s Helstrom for Hulu in Vancouver.

Based on the comic book, the series follows Daimon and Ana Helstrom (Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon), the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer. The siblings have a complicated dynamic as they track down the terrorizing worst of humanity.

“I’m glad to be home with my family throughout this crisis,” says Cherie, who is attached to projects in the US and Australia.

Erin White.

This year was shaping as a life-changer for Erin White and Michelle Hardy’s production company Hardy White Pictures.

One of the drama series they developed under a first-look deal with Essential Media Group was greenlit in New Zealand in January and filming was due to start there in mid-2020.

“I was supposed to be writing an episode, but I couldn’t – it’s really hard to write when you have an impending sense of doom hanging over your head,” Erin says.

“I had already given notice on my flat in Sydney and was due to move to New Zealand in two weeks for the rest of 2020. I could see the rest of my year’s plans going down the toilet, not to mention the loss of guaranteed income… and my home. The anxiety was intense.”

Now, of course, the production shutdown in New Zealand and Australia has meant pre-production on that show has stalled.

“We feel grief, not just for ourselves, but for all the people who were relying on our show to put food on their table for the next six months,” she says.

“Of course it’s not over, the show will go on once the world comes out of isolation; however, the experience of having the rug pulled out from underneath me has been very surreal.

“There are no other directing jobs on the immediate horizon because all production has stalled so I plan to spend the hiatus working on new and existing shows.”

Another series she intends to co-produce with EMG and France’s Federation Entertainment, cold case murder mystery Aftermath, is significantly developed so they are working out the next steps.

“The hiatus will be a great way to enforce time out for creativity so it’s not all bad,” she concludes. “I mean, we’re all going to go broke, but hey, at least we’re being creative, right?”