Luke Saliba in rehearsals with Gary Sweet.

An Aussie romantic comedy with a Kiwi twist, Paper Champions will start shooting in Geelong on Monday, directed by Jo-Anne Brechin.

Luke Saliba, who co-wrote the screenplay based on his 2017 short Rey directed by Ryan Chamley, plays the lead, also named Rey, who is desperate to find love but has lost his ‘Mana,’ meaning power, prestige and being able to cope with any situation.

Lucky for Rey, he is surrounded by supportive work colleagues, a Polynesian family, a Spanish dance teacher and an ex-wrestler, all of whom help Rey get his Mana back.

Tessa de Josselin (Lucky Break, Home and Away, Ready for This) is cast as Holly, a confident and determined nurse whom Rey meets.

Gary Sweet (House Husbands, The Doctor Blake Mysteries) is Terry, a former wrestling champion who is dating Rey’s mum and sets out to help him discover his inner confidence.

Kiwi John Tui is Wade, Rey’s big-hearted best mate since primary school, who helps him achieve his full potential.

Exile Entertainment’s Alexi Ouzas (West of Sunshine) and Paperless Films’ Saliba and Erin Scott are producing. Saliba co-wrote the screenplay with Michael McCallum and James Pratt.

The supporting cast includes Kaarin Fairfax, David Fane, Genevieve Morris and Adam Fiorentino. The casting director is Mackintosh Casting’s Melanie Mackintosh.

The producers reached out to Brechin after being impressed with her body of work including her 2017 debut feature Zelos, a comedy-drama about a guy whose girlfriend cheats on him and then encourages him to have an affair.

It is the first narrative feature as DOP for Rudi Siira, who shot the feature documentary Geeta, the story an Indian acid attack survivor who campaigns for change in her community, written and directed by Emma Macey-Storch for Colour Films.

Ouzas tells IF: “Luke reached out to me late last year when he was in the early stages of trying to get the film up. We had a mutual connection, the late Damian Hill, so Luke was familiar with Exile’s work on West of Sunshine. We immediately hit it off and I jumped on board straight after I read the screenplay.”

The producers raised the funds from investors in Geelong over the past eight months. “We have been blessed to have some amazing investors on board who all believe in us and our vision to bring a thriving film industry out of Geelong, for Geelong,” Scott says. “More and more creatives are bringing their talents and passions into our city.”

Umbrella Entertainment will distribute in Australasia. The producers intend to look for a sales agent after the film premieres at a major festival.

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