Hal Cumpston jumps from his first Aussie feature to ‘The Walking Dead’

‘Bilched.’ (Photo credit: Jay Dykes)

After making his screen debut as the star, writer and co-producer of an Australian teenage romantic comedy, Hal Cumpston could not have imagined what would happen next.

Three weeks after production of Bilched wrapped in Sydney, the 19-year-old was contacted by US talent agency Industry Entertainment, suggesting he audition for one of the lead roles in AMC Studios’ The Walking Dead spin-off.

Cumpston did a selfie and was then asked to go to Los Angeles, where he nailed the role of Silas in the 10-part series which is now shooting in Richmond, Virginia.

Silas is described as a gentle giant, a shy loner who hates the fact that he scares people in the show created by Scott M. Gimple, which focuses on the first generation to grow up during the zombie apocalypse, co-starring Alexa Mansour, Nicolas Cantu, Aliyah Royale and Annet Mahendru.

The feature directing debut of Hal’s father Jeremy Cumpston, Bilched will be released nationally on November 21, timed to coincide with Schoolies Week. Bonsai Films’ Jonathan Page has booked 20 screens at Event Cinemas/Birch Carroll and Coyle and is locking in venues in other states.

The title is a made-up term meaning a crazy, spontaneous, life-altering adventure that defies logic. Hal wrote the first draft when he got home from Schoolies in 2017, starting with a 10-minute skit and finishing with an 88-page screenplay.

His father, a doctor and occasional actor who founded the Old Fitzroy Theatre, saw the story’s potential and paid him a nominal sum to devote the next seven months to honing the script.

Cumpston senior’s mate director Jeremy Sims gave valuable story notes and helped him set up the project, reciprocating Cumpston’s assistance when Sims was financing Last Cab to Darwin.

Jeremy Cumpston with Mitzi Ruhlmann (Photo: Jay Dykes).

Ann Fay of Maura Fay Casting assembled a cast of 40 aged under 20, 80 per cent of whom had not acted before. They include Mitzi Ruhlmann, Fred Du Rietz, Juliette Lochrin, Ewan Wall, Will Johnson, Nicholas Bakopolous–Cooke, Jack Walton, Reilly Hatwell, Holly White, Paloma Bolton-Brito and Otis Pavlovic. There are cameos from Alan Dukes, Sims and Rhys Muldoon.

The 21-day shoot started last September after family and friends contributed funds, augmenting the Producer Offset. The plot follows protagonist Hal, who auditions for a drama school but is told his performance is not truthful.

Instead of working on his acting skills he decides to party all night with his slacker besties and larrikin footy mates, resulting in chaos.

The director sent a screener to his mate and former WAAPA classmate Hugh Jackman, who responded: “Hal was amazing. I thought the whole movie was so funny and it had such a great charm, heart and wit.”

Cumpston had wanted to make a feature ever since graduating from WAAPA in 1995. He directed five short films including The Last Race, a 37-minute ‘race-against-time’ drama that followed a group of people facing their own death or the imminent death of their nearest and dearest.

After being close to directing a couple of features for other producers and getting “bumped” when the budget went up and other directors were hired, he embarked on Bilched.

The film premiered at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York where it won best screenplay (Hal Cumpston), best supporting actor (Fred Du Rietz) and the grand prix best feature film.

Noting the lack of Australian comedies aimed at teenagers, he says: “The film is pure entertainment, which we think gives kids their voice.”