Gerard Lee’s prospects of financing his next project after Top of the Lake: China Girl probably look a lot brighter after the writer-producer signed with WME.

Lee has been developing Peter Carey’s novel Theft: A Love Story as a TV series with producers Alicia Brown, Melanie Coombs and Mish Armstrong since 2015, supported by Screen Australia.

The novel follows Michael ‘Butcher’ Boone, a once-famous artist who aims to rekindle his career after a stint in jail.  He sets out to do a painting based on one of his dead mother’s tea-towels, but resorts to a scam and forgery.

The subject is very topical, Lee tells IF from New York after attending An Evening with Jane Campion, a retrospective on the writer-director’s work at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

“There is a front page story in The New York Times today about an old school teacher who stole a $100 million painting so he and his wife could hang it above their bed and enjoy it in their retirement,” Lee said.

“These are the exact same themes Carey is exploring in his novel: when you’re looking at a painting like that, what do you see? A pear and a jug or $100 million? Seems like the old teacher was after the aesthetic enjoyment.”

The Top of the Lake co-creator declined to comment on the status of financing Theft beyond indicating there is plenty of interest but this is a “delicate moment.”

Lee met WME’s Chris Rice on a yacht in Cannes, where they struck up a conversation about marriage. “I was impressed at how thoughtful he was. Later I Googled him and realised he’d be a good person to represent me. He thought so too,” he said.

Simon Baker’s film Breath, co-written by Lee, Tim Winton and Baker, had its world premiere on Sunday in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Based on Winton’s novel, the plot follows teenagers Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence) and their relationship with Sando (Baker), a pro surfer living in a secluded house with his wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), a former freestyle skier forced to retire after an injury.

Lee said: “Simon has managed to make the surfing film I’ve always thought was possible – an emotionally-driven story with a seamless connection between what happens on land and what happens on sea. The characters grow from answering the call of the sea.

“Australia punches above its weight in the world of surfing and Winton’s novel takes its place among the Top 44 and this film is something we’re all going to be proud of.”

Roadshow will release Breath next May.

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