Expat Aussie filmmakers band together

Zak Hilditch, Alison James and infant.

Expat Australian filmmakers in Los Angeles and London are coping as best they can through the COVID-19 pandemic, including supporting each other.

Zak Hilditch was gearing up to shoot Airborne (formerly Celestial Blue), a prescient thriller about a mid-flight pandemic, in Bulgaria mid-year, produced by Liz Kearney and Ross Dinerstein, backed by XYZ Films.

“Like everything else, it’s all a huge grey area as to whether that’s even remotely feasible,” he tells IF. Alexandra Daddario is attached to play a flight attendant who struggles to contain the infected passengers and against the odds land the aircraft safely.

Zak’s wife Alison James, who signed with WME and Grandview after directing the short Judas Collar, is focused on writing and developing her own projects and collaborating with others in the US and Australia.

I Am Mother’s Grant Sputore and his wife moved to LA in December last year and he was planning to start shooting sci-fi thriller Augmented with Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment for Warner Bros. later this year.

“It’s certainly bad timing to have moved yourself to the other side of the world to supposedly reap the benefits of developing face-to-face relationships only to end up doing all your meetings over Zoom, but that’s such a small inconvenience in the scheme of what’s going on in the world right now,” Grant says.

“Really we’re lucky this is happening at time when it’s easy to stay in touch with people online, whether that’s people in the industry here in LA or family and friends back home.”

See Pictures’ Jamie Hilton, who is working in LA, is continuing post on Josh Lawson’s romantic comedy Long Story Short and Daniel Askill’s as yet untitled psychological thriller starring Isabel Lucas, Hunter Page-Lochard, Lily Sullivan and US actor Bobbi Salvor Menuez.

“There is actually some upside to this downtime. It’s lovely to have some quality time with family, and with this virus bearing down on all of us, it’s also a time where we have space to evaluate what’s really important to us, personally, creatively and commercially,” Hilton says.

Denson Baker and Claire McCarthy.

Filmmaker Claire McCarthy and her husband, DOP Denson Baker, have lived like gypsies for the past six years, alternating between the US, London, New Zealand and the Czech Republic.

They are now in self-isolation in London after spending eight months in Rome shooting Domina, a 10-part drama commissioned by the UK’s Sky.

“Claire is editing remotely from our house with her editor across town. Obviously I am not shooting anything other than iPhone movies with our 9-year-old son,” Baker tells IF.

Post on Domina, which stars Kasia Smutniak (Perfect Strangers, Them, Devils) as Livia Drusilla, the mother of the emperor Tiberius, who overcame adversity to become the most powerful woman in the world, is due to be completed at the end of May.

After that the couple intends to return to the US to prep The Personal History Of Rachel Dupree, which McCarthy has adapted from Ann Weisgarber’s 2011 novel about the pursuit of the American dream.

Viola Davis, who originally optioned the rights, is attached as the lead and will produce with Julius Tennon for their Juvee Productions together with SixtyFourSixty’s Brian Rosen and Su Armstrong. The plan is to shoot in British Columbia next April, fully funded by Amazon Studios.

James says: “I hear a lot of people saying that it’s such a great time to be writing but in talking to my writer friends and reading articles from other writers, it feels like this is perhaps easier said than done.

“Accessing creativity takes being in a state of security and there’s a lot going on so I took a few weeks to just do what everyone else was doing – madly refreshing news websites, looking at too much social media, focusing on keeping our family healthy and adapting to a new lifestyle that we could be in for a while.

“We’ve now reached a routine where we tag-team writing with entertaining our toddler. Through video calls we’re staying in close contact with our Aussie friends over here and thinking of everyone back home who has been affected.”

Sonia Borella, Colin Gibson and Jamie Hilton.

Sputore says the Augmented shoot wasn’t imminent so he now has more time to work on the script with his I Am Mother colleague Michael Lloyd Green and on development generally.

He’s preparing a couple of features he intends to produce with his business partner, The Penguin Empire’s Kelvin Munro, and giving notes on projects in post production such as Roderick MacKay’s The Furnace.

“It’s a scary time in so many ways but overwhelmingly I find myself feeling thankful that we’re safe and set up over here – and of course I’m so thankful to the people working on the front lines in all the hospitals around the world,” he says.

“Going through this while so far from home has certainly been made easier by staying in touch with other Aussies who are in the same situation. In fact, my wife and I are now living a few streets away from Zak and Ali, and even though we can’t see them, we do text regularly to touch base and share tips about which stores actually have stock of hard-to-come-by essentials, like toilet paper.”

Hilton pays tribute to the teams at Spectrum Films, Cumulus VFX Studios, Heckler, Sonar and Soundfirm who are working remotely.

“Post production folk are used to working in isolation so they are the best equipped of all of us, and of course writers generally prefer to communicate, if they have to, virtually,” he says.

“We’ve been relatively lucky in not having any films currently shooting or starting photography imminently. We are definitely feeling for all of the producers in damage control. Hopefully they are all back up and running soon.”