Nicholas Verso balances kids TV with adult thrillers/horror

Nicholas Verso (l) and Samuel Ireland on the ‘Itch’ set (Photo credit: David Dare Parker).

Nicholas Verso has worked with children so often since his 2016 debut feature Boys in the Trees the writer-director says it’s a blessing whenever an adult appears on set.

Not that he is complaining: Verso has relished nurturing young talent in Matchbox Pictures’ Nowhere Boys, Magpie Pictures’ Grace Beside Me, Aquarius Films’ The Unlisted and the ABC ME-commissioned action-adventure Itch.

However he looks forward to getting into adult territory with horror movie The Ice Cream Man, The Lairdbalor adapted from Kathleen Kaufman’s dark fantasy novel, and psychological thriller Sleep to Dream.

In addition he is developing with producer Joanna Werner Crazy Fun Park, a TV series set in an abandoned amusement park populated by the corpses of kids who died there. That isn’t as dark as it sounds, he explains, observing: “It’s a celebration of life and the enthusiasm of youth. You feel invincible when you are dead.”

Another project is The Gathering, a six-part teen drama series about a group of disillusioned teens who discover they have been chosen to battle a centuries-old evil simmering within their small town.

Reflecting on his career, Verso tells IF: “Children’s TV one of the most exciting parts of the Australian screen industry; it’s where people are being most ambitious. With the international sales of shows like Nowhere Boys we are really punching above our weight on the world stage.”

Currently the director is editing the five episodes he directed of Itch, produced by Komixx Entertainment and Feisty Dame’s Tania Chambers. Adapted from former BBC broadcaster Simon Mayo’s novel Itch, the series stars WAAPA graduate Samuel Ireland as Itchingham Lofte, a science-obsessed teen who pursues the unusual and sometimes dangerous hobby of collecting all the elements on the periodic table.

Before shooting started, Verso met with fellow director Renée Webster to attend auditions, nut out the casting and scout locations in WA. The first block directed by Webster set up the characters and the world they inhabit. The second block takes a different direction as Itch is forced to go on the run in the wilderness after he discovers a new element with extraordinary powers.

When Chambers pitched the project to him in 2016 he readily agreed, recalling: “As an action adventure there was a new challenge every day, with a lot of problem solving.” An instant fan of Ireland, he says: “Sam is very smart and has invested a lot of depth and heart in his character. He delivered without fail and made my life easy.”

‘The Unlisted’

Similarly he much enjoyed directing three episodes of The Unlisted, an action sci-fi thriller which follows two 13-year-old identical twins who team up with a group of underground vigilante to stop a powerful corporation from imposing control over the world’s youth.

The 15-part half-hour series created by Justine Flynn, who is serving as executive producer and directs two episodes, was commissioned by the ABC and Netflix subsequently came aboard as co-commissioner after buying the global rights outside Oz.

“There has been nothing like it on Australian television,” he says, while lauding the performances of Ved and Vrund Rao as the twins, who were discovered by casting director Kirsty McGregor, as really remarkable.

The director was chuffed to see an episode he directed of NITV’s Grace Beside Me is nominated for an ADG award for best direction in a children’s TV or SVOD drama program.

Anxious not to make any mistakes given the Indigenous characters and storylines adapted from the novel by Sue McPherson, he often sought advice from McPherson, actor Tessa Rose and producers Dena Curtis and Lois Randall.

There is US studio interest in The Ice Cream Man, scripted by Justin Powell and David Charbonier for Covert Media and Broken Road Productions. Set on one night on July 4, the US-based thriller follows two brothers who are terrorized by a sinister being.

His US rep Echo Lake Entertainment optioned Kaufman’s novel which centres on a boy who is trapped in a nightmare shadow world with strange creatures and his own fears. Verso has discussed his screenplay, which departs from the novel, with the author, who has endorsed his vision. It will require a sizable budget and he hopes to be able to shoot in Australia.

Sleep to Dream is set in a boarding school and has similarities to Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, but set squarely in the horror genre.

Verso optioned Isobelle Carmody’s novel The Gathering and is developing the project with fellow writers Craig Irwin and Kodie Bedford, with support from Screen Australia.

Netflix acquired the rights to Boys in the Trees for North America and the UK, striking a chord in both markets. Verso often gets drawings of the characters from fans and some have written their own endings.