Joel Edgerton ponders new approaches to filmmaking

Joel Edgerton.

Joel Edgerton has spent most of his time in lockdown writing two feature films while rethinking where and how these productions can be shot in the COVID-19 era.

One is a suspense thriller in the vein of The Gift, which he had intended to film in the US. Now he is considering making it in Australia, encouraged by the success of Natalie Erika James’ identifiably Australian movie Relic.

Another revolves around a family of immigrants in New York. Avoiding the risks of filming in that pandemic-stricken city, he plans to shoot it in a studio somewhere in Asia.

“There is an opportunity for a real renaissance in Australia,” the writer-producer-director-actor said in a webinar with Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner.

“We have a plethora of talent and we can make a lot of stuff while the rest of the world has to rest.”

Asked for his wish list for the Australian industry, he said: “Find new writers in places where they are least expected, not necessarily institutions, and pay these writers better.”

Edgerton is heading to South Australia next month to star in Thomas M Wright’s The Unknown Man, a thriller inspired by a real-life Australian sting operation, produced by See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Rachel Gardner, Anonymous Content’s Kerry Roberts and Kim Hodgert (who collaborated with Joel on Boy Erased) and Edgerton.

Wright’s follow-up to Acute Misfortune will follow Edgerton’s Mark and Sean Harris’ Henry, who strike up a friendship after meeting on a plane. Unknown to Henry, Mark is an undercover cop who is determined to convict him of an unsolved murder committed years earlier.

Pre-production was about to get underway when the virus flared. Wright is in quarantine in Adelaide, to be joined this week by DOP Sam Chiplin (Penguin Bloom, Dirt Music) and line producer Alex Taussig. Anousha Zarkesh is the casting director.

Filming is due to start in late October. Edgerton praised the fulsome support from Screen Australia – the producers are applying to the Temporary Interruption Fund to cover the COVID-19 risk – and the South Australian Film Corp. and Screen NSW.

The actor had just wrapped shooting The Underground Railroad, an Amazon-commissioned series based on the Colson Whitehead novel, when director Barry Jenkins was forced to halt production in Atlanta with three days to go.

Thuso Mbedu stars as Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia who escapes and heads for the titular railroad, a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.

Edgerton, Hopscotch Features’ Troy Lum, Anonymous Content’s Roberts and Chapter One’s Sophie Gardiner are developing Boy Swallows Universe, an international drama series adapted from Trent Dalton’s novel.

He said he hopes the saga of a boy whose mum is jail and whose stepfather is a heroin dealer, attracting the attention of a local drug kingpin, will shoot next year.

In the webinar, Edgerton related a couple of ‘war stories,’ including working on a film where the producers managed to raise the finance without having the requisite creative nous.

So 20 scenes were cut and the setting was changed to a location which did not suit the story. He described the experience as “like fighting a battle with someone who is behind you.”

Asked by Deaner to name the most important attributes for actors, he replied: “Listening, and having empathy for everyone.”