Samantha Collins, Jessie Mangum and Laura Scrivano prepare female-driven drama

(L-R) Samantha Collins, Jessie Mangum and Laura Scrivano.

While she was studying at the UK’s National Film and Television School six years ago, Australian-British screenwriter Samantha Collins wrote a screenplay about an Australian woman who goes to London in search of her missing sister.

Collins began developing the psychological drama a couple of years ago with another UK-based Aussie expat, producer Jessie Mangum.

Both women admired the works of London-based Italian-Australian filmmaker Laura Scrivano, particularly her short film Alice which starred Sarah Snook, and invited her to join the project.

Now entitled My Sister Ellie, it’s among 13 projects selected for Attagirl, the feature film development lab for female and non-binary creative teams.

Collins’ screenplay follows an Australian woman who abandons her life for a British winter, determined to bring home her pregnant sister, the surrogate of her unborn child. Clutching at clues trailing from London to the Kent coast, the search sends her spiraling into memories of their past.

“Samantha is interested in exploring cultural contrasts in her work,” Mangum tells IF. “This is an idea that she’s been compelled to continue exploring because it’s so rich thematically and visually: The mystery of a family member going missing on the other side of the world; the Australian outsider in London; the complexity of sisterly bonds and motherhood; and the contrast between the sunshine noir of Sydney’s beach suburbs and the bitter cold of British coastal towns in mid-winter.”

Collins is now back in Sydney after living in London since 2006, with two years in Paris. She co-wrote with director Sam Southward the NFTS graduation animation film After the End and penned her first feature, You Can Tutu. Directed by James Brown, the drama about a gifted young ballerina who struggles to find her place in an uptight ballet school after moving to a new neighbourhood with her dad has screened on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.

Collins describes My Sister Ellie as a psychological drama with thriller and mystery elements, veiled in sunshine noir.

“There are a number of great roles for women with three complex female characters, but it’s a little early to share preliminary thoughts on casting,” she says.

AFTRS graduate Scrivano was selected as part of the Ones to Watch program for the Edinburgh TV Festival 2020/2021. Most recently, she directed A Wilderness of Mirrors, the second feature length episode of McDonald & Dodds, a Bath-based detective drama starring Jason Watkins and Tala Gouveia, commissioned by BritBox.

Her feature Ring Road is in development with Silver Salt Films, supported by BFI Network, and has been shortlisted for the 2021 Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

After studying theatre at the University of Tasmania, Mangum worked at Screen Tasmania and then at Goalpost Pictures in Sydney before moving to its London office where she was involved in the international sales of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip franchise and Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires.

Her producing credits include Rene van Pannevis’ Looted, a feature drama about a carjacker who cares for his dying father, Anna Maguire’s short Constellations, associate producer on Cherie Nowlan’s Sundance hit Clubland and co-producer of Julien Temple’s The Eternity Man.

“We’ve all lived for long periods in the UK, so we’ll be drawing on our experiences as being part of the Australian diaspora for this film,” Jessie says.