Sometimes it’s the things that don’t quite work out that lead us onto the path we’re actually meant to be on.
Director Luke Eve worked with his friend from AFTRS, producer Adam Dolman, and twin brother, writer Glen Dolman, for years on a feature, The Truth About Jack, only to have it fall down at the last hurdle.
It was a devastating moment. However, by that point, the trio had already formed a strong bond, felt they had momentum and wanted to continue to collaborate.
It was then Glen pulled out one of the first scripts he’d ever written, passion project I Met A Girl, a romantic story about a man with schizophrenia who meets the girl of his dreams – who may be just in head.
In the interim, the team also made web series High Life. It starred Odessa Young as a girl with bipolar disorder experiencing her first manic episode. Executive produced by Stephen Fry, the series won a slew of awards and sold around the world to platforms such as Canalplay, Amazon Prime, BBC3, Channel 9, and Fullscreen.
The success of High Life helped to get I Met A Girl off the ground. Melissa Kelly and Ryan Hodgson from WA’s Factor 30 Films, who were also involved in the first project, got on board, as did Label Distribution’s Tait Brady and Timothy White as executive producer.
“It was painful that first project fell away because we were quite close [to being greenlit],” Eve tells IF.
“But we were happy in a way, because we all felt like I Met A Girl was more in tune with who we were as people, and who we were as a filmmakers and storytellers.”
The film went into production in 2019 with Brenton Thwaites and Lily Sullivan as the leads, marking Eve’s first feature.
However then 2020 rolled around and I Met A Girl‘s scheduled festival run and theatrical release were then disrupted by COVID.
At the time, it was a “kick in the guts” for Eve – having again worked so hard, only to be thwarted at the last hurdle.
However, the film has since found a home on Netflix, released over the long weekend.
“There were times last year when I would think about the film and want to break down in tears,” he says.
“I was desperate to get the movie out there. Especially last year, because it was such a tough year mentally for a lot of people, I felt like it was the perfect film to release; this beautiful, hopeful movie.
“Every time we tried to navigate the pandemic, it outplayed us. But here we are a year on, and I feel really thankful.
“As a filmmaker, I’m gutted that it wasn’t seen in theatres; you always want to have that festival experience and then the theatrical run. But it’s just been so hard to navigate that.
“I feel like releasing on Netflix is perfect, because it pipes into most people’s homes. It is a lovely, feel good movie. And I think it will find so many more eyeballs being released on Netflix than it will in a cinema.”
In the US, after a PVOD run via Gravitas Ventures, the film recently launched on Hulu and Amazon, and will get theatrical runs in Korea and Germany.
As for the initial response on Netflix at home, Eve regards it as nothing short of amazing.
“People seem to have really responded to the film as something more than just a romance – they have been enthralled and moved by the story of mental health and its effects on individuals and their families. I’m really proud of that.”
Exploring mental health on screen
Eve was originally drawn to I Met A Girl due to both “story and style”. He loved how Glen had used a romance to explore schizophrenia; it wasn’t a dark tale but a hopeful one, with moments of magical realism.
Schizophrenia remains one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions, and on screen depictions of the condition, such as Split, have often come under fire by medical experts.
However, Eve trusted Glen’s approach to the story as he knew the amount of research he put in, that his storytelling was informed by a personal connection to mental illness, and a desire to be authentic and respectful.
Research also underpinned Eve’s approach to Low Life and High Life. He continues to be contacted by people who are touched by the authentic portrayal of both depression and bipolar disorder respectively, and the same ethos applied here.
The team sent the script of I Met A Girl to mental health organisation SANE, to make sure it felt authentic and truthful. Eve also asked the actors and heads of department to each read Elyn R Saks’ The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness a first-hand account of someone living with the condition.
“I felt it was really important that everybody that was working on the film had a sense of what it was like to have schizophrenia.
“But it’s a difficult film in a way. The film is not a hard hitting portrayal of mental illness. It’s about somebody with schizophrenia, but wrapped up in a fantastical love story.
“Telling a romance, but also telling a story about a young man’s struggle with schizophrenia, and being able to do that in an entertaining and accessible way, is a really hard thing to juggle.”
Thwaites was attached from very early on to play the lead role of Devon, with the creatives taken by his playfulness and charm.
Devon is a 20-something aspiring musician with schizophrenia, who relies on his older brother Nick to get by. On a downward spiral, Devon is saved by Lucy – a mysterious girl who is just as impulsive and romantic as he is.
When she vanishes, leaving him with a note to ‘meet me in Sydney,’ he sets out to find her, though the question whether she is real or not pervades the film.
“One of the key parts of the story is that it’s not just about somebody with a severe mental illness, but who has a lack of acknowledgement of that mental illness, and lack of taking responsibility for it,” Eve says.
“We wanted an actor that felt very charming, funny and outgoing, but also vulnerable and soft. We all naturally gravitated towards Brenton.”
Sullivan, who had just starred in Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, boarded the project as Lucy, Devon’s love interest, just before it was greenlit. The team then worked with McGregor Casting to try to find a fit for Devon’s brother Nick, ultimately played by Joel Jackson.
The relationship between Nick and Devon is the backbone to the film, Eve says.
“The film is probably marketed, or seen as a romance – a boy meets girl story. But in many ways, the film is about mental illness and how it affects loved ones or carers, in this case, his brother.”
On the slate
As well as the success of I Met A Girl, Eve is gratified by the response to web series Cancelled, a lockdown comedy he made with his fiancee, Maria Albiñana, which dramatised their real experience of COVID-19.
The pandemic meant that the pair had to cancel their wedding in Spain two days from the event. They then spent two months in strict lockdown, in a small apartment with Eve’s mother who had travelled from Australia for the wedding. The project was highly acclaimed, receiving a Rose d’Or nomination.
“It’s funny looking back on it. I can’t tell if it kept us sane, or made us go insane during the pandemic… but it gave me something to do.
“Trying to film… in your apartment with only three people, as the cinematographer, director and also acting in it, was insane. But I loved every minute of it. I was saying to somebody recently that I felt like I learnt more on that project, probably more than any other, just because I didn’t have people there to rely on.”
Eve is still based in Spain, where he is currently working on a number of new projects.
The director will continue his focus on mental health in upcoming project Mid Life, the final instalment in his mental health trilogy following Low Life and High Life.
Scripted by Anna Lindner, the web series follows an artist who finds herself grappling with acute anxiety at 48. The project received development funding from Screen Australia late last year, and the intention is to shoot in London.
Also on the boil for Eve is black comedy feature Fever, which he has written himself, set in a town where a group of young teenagers, seemingly possessed, can’t stop dancing – leaving police and doctors at a loss.
With Leesa Kahn, another friend from AFTRS, he is working on a TV series, a love story with a soft sci-fi element that he describe as a cross between Normal People and Her.
He is also attached to Luke Cartwright dramedy series The Home Team, which follows a romantic plumber and his unblinking wife, who are the only survivors of a suicide cult.
In features, Eve is posed to direct Love Story(S), written by Mike Swift, a fantastical romantic comedy which explores the question of ‘what if’ in our romantic lives, as well as psychological horror Savage Hills, written by Jack Costello, looks at a cult in Mexico.
“I’m trying to keep busy across different platforms and different mediums, and I feel lucky that I can do that through the web series world; it’s opened up different avenues for me,” Eve says.
“I’m looking for feature scripts, but also some television work. It’s what I’d really like to dive into next – good television drama.”