Top (l-r) Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes; Bottom (l-r) Rachel House, Marta Dusseldorp.

As a teenager Monica Zanetti searched in vain for gay rom-coms which she could watch with her mother, while Neil Armfield’s same-sex romantic drama Holding the Man was a major influence.

That has inspired the writer-director to make her feature directing debut on Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), which unlike Armfield’s film has a happy ending.

Shooting in Sydney started today, starring Marta Dusseldorp, fellow Janet King alumni Julia Billington, Kiwi Rachel House, Zoe Terakes and newcomer Sophie Hawkshaw.

Zanetti adapted the screenplay from her eponymous play which was staged in 2017 at The Depot Theatre in Marrickville, her second feature credit after Jonnie Leahy’s 2014 drama Skip Deep.

Hawkshaw’s Ellie is 18 and struggling to find the courage to ask classmate Abbie (Terakes) to the formal. Luckily her aunt Tara (Billington), a lesbian who died in the 80s, has shown up in the form of a Fairy Godmother to dish out advice, whether Ellie wants it or not.

Dusseldorp is Ellie’s mother and House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, Moana) is her aunt Patty. Zanetti worked with Alison Fowler and Stephanie Pringle at Chicken & Chips Casting to find the diverse actors.

At least 50 per cent of the cast and a high proportion of the creative team including Zanetti and members of the producing team identify as LGBTQ.

The producers are Cobbstar Studios’ MahVeen Shahraki and Patrick James with Brian Cobb (Patricia Moore, The Horizons) as executive producer.

Monica wrote the screenplay during a residency at Australians in Film in Los Angeles. Hawkshaw, who played the same role in the play, appeared in Guido Gonzalez and Shakthidharan’s movie Riz, Love Child and Puberty Blues.

Billington has extensive credits including East West 101, Tricky Business, Catching Milat, Home & Away, Louise Wadley’s gay romance/thriller All About E and Julie Kalceff’s online series Starting From…Now.

The budget was raised from private investors, crowd funding platform Pozible and Creative Partnerships Australia’s MatchLab program.

Zanetti says that producing Tonightly with Tom Ballard for ABC Comedy gave her valuable experience in working fast to deadlines; she also wrote an episode of CJZ/Network 10’s upcoming My Life is Murder and one of 10’s Sisters.

Cobb tells IF: “We have had a lot of support from the industry and amazing talent who believe in the story and have fully committed to being part of a project with an extremely talented writer/director who is fast becoming a leading voice for our audience.”

The producers are holding off on negotiating an Australian distribution deal until the film is completed and Cobb aims to secure international sales at the Cannes Film Market in May.

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