Warner Bros, The Black List and Veerhuis Pictures unveil the 2019 ‘Aussie List’

The Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard. 

The top scripts from Warner Bros, The Black List and Veerhuis Pictures’ second iteration of the Australian Scriptwriting Opportunity have been unveiled, with each of the writing teams now in consideration for a two-step blind feature film deal with WB.

This years “Aussie List” features 11 scripts rather than 10, given Maziar Lahooti, last year’s co-recipient of the blind deal, remarkably made it in again, this time as a solo writer.

More than 250 writing teams opted-in their scripts for the 2019 opportunity via The Black List, with each evaluated and rated via the site’s industry readers and processes. Producer Chris Veerhuis of WA-based Veerhuis Pictures will now work with WB to determine from the list the recipient(s), if any, of the WB script deal. That opportunity will commit a writer to write a new script (first draft and a rewrite) for WB.

Therefore, the industry is free to read the all the scripts and approach the writers, given whatever is developed with WB will be completely different.

Observing this year’s list as a whole, Veerhuis notes that there are a lot of commercially-geared projects, including sci-fis and projects set “five minutes into the future.”

“The number of scripts set outside of Australia was really interesting. I feel as though the films are written very much with the international marketplace in mind, as though people like looking at it going “It’s Warners, The Black List, anyone can option my script if they read it, what’s my broadest market?’,” he tells IF.

“Although in saying that there’s a couple of beautiful Australian films in there that do not fit in the genre, commercial box.”

The key focus of this initiative over the two years it has run has been to put a spotlight on new and emerging Australian writers – to be eligible, a writer could not have credits on more than one feature film or three hours of broadcast television (or both).

Some of the names on the 2019 shortlist will be known to the industry like Lahooti, who recently made his directorial feature debut with Below; Georgina Love, whose script Pig also won the Australian Writers’ Guild 2018 John Hinde Award; Matthew Clayfield and Stuart Willis, who wrote 2016 film Restoration; and Andy Friedhof, who was a 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellow for his script Great Falls. Others are relatively unknown.

In terms of last year’s shortlist, Lahooti and Steve McCall, who received the WB deal off the strength of their screenplay Die Well, delivered a first draft of a script to the studio around Thanksgiving.

However, being shortlisted has also jetpacked the careers of others on the 2018 list, with many able to secure representation for the first time, and have projects on their slates optioned.

Veerhuis says being shortlisted was a real “resume builder” for many writers, with producers and funding agencies taking notice and appreciating a list of proven talent; he has been stunned by the number of people who told him they’d read last year’s list.

“Let’s hope that there’s 10 producers out there that want to take a script each or a writer each, and then go and bring these projects to screen. That’s what we’re trying to provide – there’s the opportunity for the writer, but [then there’s] the opportunity for the Australian producers and international producers to take a look… at that emerging level, outside of the familiar voices.  What’s new? What’s interesting? What are people talking about?

The idea for the Australian Scriptwriting Opportunity was first devised when Veerhuis was challenged by former WB president of creative development and worldwide production Greg Silverman to find and present to him emerging Australian screenwriting talent. Silverman then put Veerhuis in touch with Franklin Leonard, CEO and founder of The Black List, with whom the studio had previously worked to identify talented writers from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in the industry.

It was first country-specific initiative by The Black List, which polls Hollywood development executives each year about their favourite unproduced screenplays.

The 2019 ‘Aussie List’ (in no particular order): 

  • SPITFIRE GIRLS – Stephen Ayres
    Spitfire Girls reveals the incredible true story of British aviatrix Pauline Gower as she battles inequality, a crisis of faith, a crippling disease and her own inner demons to allow the ATA Women’s division – 10 top pilots from across the allied world – to play a vital part in defending Britain from the Nazis during WWII.
    A socially awkward young man is happy to live in a world ruled by robots, but his life is upended when he falls in love with a handsome anti-robot revolutionary.
  • A CITIZEN – Jason Christou and Tanya Farley
    After being caught trying to board a plane bound for the Middle East to join ISIS, 17-year-old Iman Abdullah is given a lifeline by psychologist Kathy Klimas and her deradicalisation program that aims to reconnect him to the life, family and community he once swore to destroy.
  • MISTER WICK – Owen Beck and John McMullan
    Upon the loss of his wife and estrangement with his daughter, an Aussie ex-rocker departs for Bangkok to reunite with a former bandmate. There, his passion for performing is unexpectedly reinvigorated by a band of kind-hearted locals.
  • FUNGAL – Nick King
    When a fungal brain parasite rips through Seattle, Heidi — an intelligent, headstrong nurse — will have to learn to trust and rely on her unfaithful boyfriend if the two of them are to team up, escape and survive. Problem is, the pathogen renders people caring, helpful and kind…before turning them into murderous zombies. These human qualities are exactly what Heidi needs from Aiden but are they symptoms of infection or signs of personal growth?
  • PIG – Georgina Love
    A moving sci-fi feature, follows an experimental scientist as he raises a sentient pig as a mirror image of his terminally ill son, but when the pig learns his “father’s” plans have a sinister bent, he fights to resist the inevitable.
  • MOTHER MOUNTAIN – Andy Friedhof
    Based on a bizarre true story. Following their escape from prison, two scam artist brothers attempt to con a poor village by hiring a prostitute to act as a cave-dwelling goddess. Things quickly turn dangerous when the prostitute comes to believe she truly has divine powers and orders a human sacrifice be made in her honour.
  •  THE TRANSLATOR – Joel Mitchell
    Tomás, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, finds himself volunteering as a translator in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But as Tomas’ backstory continues to unspool, it becomes clear that this dedication is a shot at redemption, one for acts in his past that he has not even told his wife and family about. Based on actual events.
  • BULLYPROOF – Tim Keen
    To save his son from being picked on, over-anxious father Drew reaches out to his own childhood bullies, to teach him how to make his son bully-proof.
  • PAYLOAD – Matthew Clayfield and Stuart Willis
    During the final evacuation of Earth, a hardened people smuggler makes a deal to send a young girl to safety. But when he discovers that he has been betrayed and she has been sold into slavery, he must infiltrate a hostile space elevator to find her and bring her back home.
  • MANICHEAN – Maziar Lahooti
    A hardened Iranian refugee; ex NA and ex bikie muscle, finds himself coerced into committing a series of savage robberies to bury a false debt in order to pull his only surviving family out from the underworld he once inhabited, even if it means sacrificing his own life.