Jamie Hilton on Backtrack, Breath, Flammable Children and his rise to prominence

12 May, 2016 by Brian Karlovsky

Sam Neill and Adrien Brody in Backtrack.


After making his name in the early noughties producing hundreds of music videos, See Pictures’ Jamie Hilton is now one of Australia’s most prominent producers with an impressive slate including Breath, Flammable Children and OtherLife.

His recent Australian release, Backtrack, directed by Michael Petroni, starring Adrien Brody and Sam Neill, is also set for a limited theatrical run at Palace Cinemas after playing internationally at festivals including Tribeca Film Festival.

Hilton tells IF distributor, Madman, had decided it was the best path to commercialise the film in Australia.

“I believe that means we have shorter windows to go to premium VOD and cable television and free to air faster than the normal 120 days required than if you do a full scale release,” he said.

“We are really looking forward to it coming to Palace Cinemas and to a wider variety of platforms as shortly after as we can manage. That strategy is to get it to a wide as possible audience. We think the film will have a strong and long life on lots of platforms and it’s great that Palace has partnered with us for a bit of an exclusive theatrical run before we get the movie out there to a wider audience on visual platforms.”

Backtrack has been sold in more than 60 countries. Hilton also is now nearing the end of the Breath shoot (with two weeks to go), Flammable Children (Guy Pearce, Radha Mitchell)  is in pre-production and OtherLife is in post.

Despite Hilton’s seemingly swift rise to the top of the Australian film producer pile, it was music which kickstarted his career.

Simon Baker as Sando with Samsom Coulter (Pikelet) and Ben Spence (Loonie) in Breath.

“I went to university, to UTS,” he said. “There was a lot of people who wanted to be directors and there was a lot of people who wanted to be cinematographers and I guess I was lucky enough to be able to pick the directors that I thought were the most talented and I got quite a lot made when I was at university outside of the university slate.

“I never really wanted to get into advertising, but I loved music so I got into music videos and made about 120 music clips for some of the biggest bands in Australia and a couple of international ones.

Hilton said his company was one of the biggest music video companies in Australia between 2002 and 2006.

“I was chasing my tail doing music clips,” he said. “I felt like I was going to work in the morning, I was doing two music clips a week. I thought it’s time to move on and make a film.”

In 2007, Hilton took a chance and threw himself into producing his first film, Waiting City, starring Joel Edgerton, Radha Mitchell and directed by Claire McCarthy with an estimated budget of $3 million.

Waiting City was the jump to film. We got it up and shot it. I had been working towards it for a long time. Same as it is now, you try and find the most talented people that you know and support them to tell their stories and tell stories with them. In this case Claire McCarthy was a good friend of mine.

“I just thought: ‘who is the most talented person I know that is likely to get a movie up?’ and Claire was the first phone call.

“I think a lot of emerging producers try to think of it like a business and it is but when you’re doing your first movie you really have to focus, you really have to pick a horse that you believe is going to run and just focus on it.

“Just get one made. Because once you get once made, you know how to do it and then you can start thinking about it like a business. Claire and I teamed up and we worked pretty tirelessly on that project for a couple of years and it’s hard to make a living but we managed to both focus exclusively on that project for a couple of years and we got it up and both of us are doing fairly well now.”

McCarthy has just signed on to direct Ophelia, starring Daisy Ridley(Star Wars: The Force Awakens), while Hilton has executive producer credits on Wyrmwood and Sleeping Beauty.

Jamie Hilton.

He also produced The Little Death and is in development on Sierra – the story of Greenpeace co-founder, Paul Watson, who breaks from the organization and takes to the high seas in an attempt to sink the notorious whaling ship, the Sierra, by any means necessary.

 Linking up with Petroni for Backtrack was another step forward for Hilton’s production ambitions.

“I started working with Michael in 2009,” he said. “I actually made a short film with Michael in 2002 and had been hassling Michael for a long time. I had to make my first feature Waiting City before he actually thought it was a good idea to team up and he had Backtrack in his top drawer.

“I read the script in 2009 when I started working with Michael. We were going to set it up back then and we got busy with Narnia and his other movie the Book Thief and we had to wait until he finished both of those films before we could set it up here. It was pretty easy to put together because his reputation precedes him and the script was very strong.

“It was taut and intense and intelligent. It was just a really new twist on a genre I hadn’t seen before and I thought it was a very intelligent screenplay.”

The development phase was also relatively painless on Backtrack, according to Hilton.

“When you have a really talented director like Michael involved it’s certainly less hands on for a producer,” he said.

“We did a little bit of development as far as setting the movie here in Australia, but nothing substantial, the bones of the screenplay were already there.

“His first movie was about the ghosts from the past that haunt us and I guess Backtrack was almost a scary version of similar material about the past coming back to haunt us. It’s seemed to be a different take or lens for similar material that he explored in his first movie.

The film was originally set in North America but was reset to Melbourne and shot in Sydney and regional NSW.

It was funded by Screen Australia, Headgear Films (UK), Bankside, Deluxe and Screen NSW.

“Backtrack came together relatively quickly once we had a window where Michael was available to do it,” Hilton said.

“We were already financed before we had Adrien so securing him was a real boon. It all came together relatively smoothly. Everybody responded really positively to the script. People often talk about how difficult the filmmaking process can be. It was a real pleasure to work on Backtrack. Michael has very clear of vision. He knew what he wanted, he’s a great communicator and we assembled a great team of crew and cast and I think it went very well.”

He said Oscar winner, Brody, was a true artist.

“He is very nuanced, he’s a lovely guy as well. For him he takes his work very seriously. I think he did a really wonderful Australian accent and I think he played the subtleties.. he is just so easy to watch.

“The premise of the movie is about a guy trying to remember what happened and you need a face that you can really hold on to and obviously he has got a lot going on behind his eyes. I think he’s immensely watchable and it was a real pleasure to watch him work.”

The shoot was six weeks, three days and a lot of nights.

“There’s always major challenges if you are always trying to get it done in the time that you have in the budget that you have. We were able to deliver it on time and on budget.”

Producer Mark Johnson.

When selecting a project, Hilton said there were a few things he looks for.

“In the first instance it’s qualitative. Is this material of a high quality and are the people involved, are they either the right emerging talent to support or are they experienced and would I like to work with them? The second is can I get this made?

“You spend a long time developing something and you certainly don’t want to put too much time into developing things that you don’t feel like you can get financed in the marketplace, so it’s a combination of those two things.

“Story is also very important, as producers and anyone involved in film really, we are storytellers and we’re trying to get a sense of both qualitative and what the substance or the essence of the story is. Those are the three things that are important for me.”

With Breath in mid-flight and OtherLife set for release later this year, Hilton is excited about the future.

“eOne will release OtherLife in Australia and we are just in the final stages of post-production and I’m a huge Ben Lucas fan and looking forward to bringing that out.

“Flammable Children – obviously Stephan Elliott and Al Clarke, Colin Gibson, who is the recent production designer on Mad Max just and won the Oscar; Lizzie Gardner who won her Academy Award for Priscilla. It’s a pretty experienced team and we’re the new kids on the block so it’s great to be working with those people.”

Hilton is producing the adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel Breath, shot in Denmark, Western Australia, with Oscar winning producer Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, The Notebook, Rain Man).

“That’s one of the most exciting parts, working with Mark and his development team,” he said. “It’s been a real privilege and something I would like to repeat.”