Debra Martin Chase and Sarah Spillane.
Sarah Spillane was teaching an acting class at the Hollywood Theatre of Arts when one of the students suggested she read the latest novel in The Mediator young adult series by Meg Cabot as well as the earlier editions.
Little did the LA-based writer-director realise this would lead to her teaming up with hot-shot Hollywood producer Debra Martin Chase and a movie franchise deal with Netflix.
The series follows Susannah “Suze” Simon, a teenage mediator who has the power to see, touch and talk to ghosts. Her main goal is to help them get to the “Great Beyond” (after life).
“I describe it as The Sixth Sense meets Twilight with an edgy bad-ass female lead,” Sarah tells IF. “I have delivered the first draft of movie one to Netflix and am attached to write and direct the franchise.”
Spillane and Martin were hoping to shoot the movie in Australia but COVID-19 intervened so they pitched True Spirit, the biopic of teenager sailor Jessica Watson, to Netflix.
Netflix quickly gave the greenlight to Chase and Sunstar Entertainment’s Andrew Fraser, who had been trying to get the film financed for 10 years in concert with Spillane, who was attached in 2015.
Spillane (Around the Block, This Life) is writing the script, based on Watson’s memoir True Spirit, with Cathy Randall, and will direct. Filming is due to start in Sydney and the Gold Coast in early 2021.
After reading the first few chapters of Cabot’s first novel in the series, Spillane saw the potential for a movie franchise. She asked her reps to inquire about the screen rights and eventually connected with the author, who said she had received offers from all the major studios but she was waiting for the right person to assign the rights.
Spillane wrote a 20-page treatment of how she would adapt the books, the Florida-based Cabot gave her the rights and ever since they have been in frequent touch. That student, Allie Anderson, is now nanny to Sarah’s nine-months-old son.
Debra Martin Chase (who turned Cabot’s books into The Princess Diaries franchise and produced Harriet and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) learned that Spillane had the rights, they teamed up and did the Netflix deal.
“That is how I was able to get True Spirit in front of the same execs at Netflix,” Sarah says. “We were originally going to shoot The Mediator first but due to COVID-19 we have switched.
“I am beyond excited to cast the role of Suze (the bad-ass lead) and her Latino love interest Jesse, but have no one specific in mind yet. And yes – maybe we could shoot in Australia.”