Ivan and Beth Hodge.

In 1961 New Zealand couple Beth and Ivan Hodge set off in their newly acquired VW Beetle on an extended honeymoon, driving from London to Calcutta.

In 1996 the couple, who moved to Australia in the 1960s, embarked on that same journey in that same car, this time ending in Mumbai.

That’s the inspiration for The Road Less Travelled, the first Australian script to emerge from Imagine Entertainment’s inaugural global content accelerator in Hollywood in late 2018.

Faraway Films Entertainment’s Steve Turnbull and Lynda Heys, who met the Hodges – Beth is a retired teacher and Ivan is a former insurance executive – at a film screening in 2015, wrote the screenplay and Heys will direct, her feature directing debut.

The duo optioned Beth and Ivan’s life rights and then spent two years interviewing the Hodges and their family and sifting through their archival material including photos, diaries and audio tape.

Turnbull and Heys will co-produce and co-finance the film with Mark Montgomery, the founder of Xeitgeist Entertainment Group, whose credits include Hotel Mumbai and The Man Who Knew Infinity, and PandAnomia, a Singapore-based entertainment company founded by Steve Askew, the former president and chief operating officer of Star TV.

Heys and Turnbull were the only non-US based filmmakers invited to take part in the Imagine Impact program in LA devised by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. The first Australian version of the initiative will be held in Melbourne in June.

“It was pretty remarkable to see Lynda and Steve craft such an original screenplay during their time with Impact,” says Impact head Tyler Mitchell. “What they delivered at the end of eight weeks was ‘a movie,’ which is the highest praise a script can get these days.”

Beth Hodge in Iran in 1961.

Montgomery tells IF: “Steve and Lynda approached me about two years ago after seeing The Man Who Knew Infinity. I loved the idea but was knee deep in Hotel Mumbai so I only got to dedicate the required time eight months ago.

“Steve Askew and I have been in discussion for some time and have come up with a unique model for film production. We have completed the location surveys and the majority of the production can be filmed in Australia.

“There are some unique aspects to the financing that are proprietary to PandAnomia but the rebates and MGs will be cash flowed by our secured investor partner and the equity investors will be make up the difference.”

On Heys’ directing debut, he says: “My passion is locating emerging directors who have a unique talent and voice.”

The producers are in discussions with international sales agents and casting is underway for the roles of Ivan and Beth. The aim is to shoot in the fourth quarter.

This will be the first production for Faraway Films Entertainment, which is developing features and high-end TV dramas and has a three-picture deal to adapt female-centric US author Ki Longfellow’s novels China Blues, Walks Away Woman and Houdini Heart.

After Turnbull and Heys met the Hodges they were invited to a farewell party at the Hodge’s home for “a beloved family member.” When they arrived they discovered the family member was the 1961 VW Beetle which was about to be retired to the the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland, where it is billed as the most widely travelled Beetle on the planet.

“Beth and Ivan opened their hearts to Steve and Lynda, along with Beth’s secret diaries that even Ivan hasn’t seen,” Montgomery says. “This has been the road into growing our movie’s fictional characters from an authentic core.”

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