Fox Searchlight deal for ‘Birdie’ is a big break for Shelly Lauman

DOP Anna Howard and Shelly Lauman (Photo: Nicholas Prokop).

Writer-director Shelly Lauman hopes to secure US representation and support for her first feature after Fox Searchlight acquired worldwide rights to her short film Birdie.

After the deal was announced at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Birdie screened in the Short Cuts competition, Lauman is spending a week in Los Angeles meeting with producers, managers and other industry contacts.

Produced by Lizzie Cater, Birdie had its first international screening in Toronto following the world premiere at MIFF.

Funded by the inaugural $20,000 Australian Directors Guild/Metro Screen Production Fellowship, the psychological thriller follows a young woman who meets a man as she descends the stairs to an underground platform, leading to a subtle and sinister game.

Starring Maeve Dermody, Sam Parsonson, Joshua Brennan, Eden Falk and Lynette Curran, Birdie was one of two shorts acquired by Fox Searchlight in Toronto; the other was female African-American writer-director A.V. Rockwell’s Feathers, which centres on a new student at a boys school who is subjected to hazing.

Lauman tells IF: “We were contacted by several sales agents once our TIFF selection was announced but no one, not even the programmers I think, could have predicted a studio’s interest in shorts. For now, what this essentially means is conversation. There is, of course, interest in what’s next, but we will have to wait and see exactly what that looks like. It’s very exciting.”

Cater said: “Lisa Haller and Jason Anderson, the TIFF Short Cuts programmers, put us in contact with Fox Searchlight. This is an incredible relationship to forge at this time in both our careers. This demonstrates Fox Searchlight’s interest and investment in auteur directors like Shelly and I am so excited to see what comes of it.

“Massive thanks to the ADG and Metro Screen as well as Screen Australia and Create NSW: without their support, we wouldn’t have a film nor would we have been able to be here in person to represent it.”

Anderson said: “It’s largely unprecedented for a studio to venture into the shorts world like this and see this as an opportunity to support emerging filmmakers so we’re hugely excited.”

The short will be screened on Fox’s online platforms as well as continuing to roll out at festivals in consultation with the studio, according to Cater; a European festival premiere will be the next step.

Lauman is not willing to elaborate on her first feature beyond indicating it’s in early development, she wants to make it in Australia and she is open to all possibilities and opportunities.