Mario Andreacchio beats personal adversity as he conjures up ‘The Alchemyst’

Mario Andreacchio, Dick Cook Studios Australia MD Kate McLean and Dick Cook.

Mario Andreacchio had to overcome severe health problems including a heart attack, a stroke and diabetes in his long quest to realise the dream of making The Alchemyst.

The executive director of Adelaide-based AMPCO Studios, Andreacchio is now in excellent health — and confident he can make the fantasy feature based on a novel by Irishman Michael Scott as a co-production with Dick Cook’s new Australian-based production company.

“I got my health in order and I feel like a rock star,” he tells IF, relating that he experienced a heart attack four years ago and a stroke two years ago. He lost 21 kg, reversed the diabetes and no longer needs insulin or heart tablets.

“Bad health seriously affects thinking and energy. I had no choice. Many things had to change,” he says.

The filmmaker acquired the rights to Scott’s novel in 2012 and partnered with Hollywood producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. They pitched the project to US studios, which according to Andreacchio, were willing to finance the film but insisted on taking creative control and shooting in the US.

He could not persuade them it was a prerequisite to make the film in Australia, providing significant opportunities for Australian producers, directors, writers and crew across what he believes will be an ongoing franchise.

Cook, the former Walt Disney Studios chairman who launched Dick Cook Productions in 2015, was aware of Scott’s novels, so he called Mario in 2017 and they arranged to meet in Los Angeles.

While they were thrashing out a deal Cook revealed he intended to create a production offshoot overseas so Mario urged him to set up a base in Australia.

Subsequently, through Austrade, Mario arranged for Cook to meet with Steven Ciobo, the then Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, and then with Film Victoria’s Jenni Tosi and officials at Creative Victoria and Ausfilm. He also met with reps of other state agencies.

Geoff Rischbieth with Andreacchio.

All that paid off with the announcement that the Docklands Studios-based Dick Cook Studios Australia will shoot Ranger’s Apprentice and The Alchemyst in Victoria, supported by $30 million from the Federal Government’s Location Incentive Program.

Shooting on The Alchemyst is due to start in early 2021. Andreacchio, who will produce with di Bonaventura and Dick Cook Studios’ Bruce Hendricks, is not yet ready to reveal the writer or the director, but hopes both will be Australian.

Based on the first novel in the series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, the plot follows twins Josh and Sophie Newman who discover the bookstore where Josh works is owned by a 14th Century alchemist and his wife who have cheated death with a magic elixir. When the potion is stolen by the villainous John Dee they must recover it before he carries out his Apocalyptic plans.

He expects to raise a significant chunk of the budget from the South Australian pharmacy group Apothecary, headed by Geoff Rischbieth, which backs AMPCO Studios and funded the acquisition of the rights and the lengthy development.

Convinced the worldwide success of the six novels means they have enormous franchise potential, he explains: “This is a fabulously rich story with characters drawn from world legends, myth and history.

“In these young adult novels Michael created a new, amazing and modern universe, where the spectacular battles are rooted in the intersection of competing ideologies.”