Sydney’s Andrew Friedhof has won a two-step blind feature film deal with Warner Bros Pictures, thanks to the second iteration of the Australian Script Writing Opportunity run by WB, The Black List and Western Australian production company Veerhuis Pictures.
The writer, who was an Academy Nicholl fellow in 2015, was selected for the deal off the strength of his script, Mother Mountain – one of 11 shortlisted for the 2019 ‘Aussie List’ in December.
For Friedhof, who turned to screenwriting after a career as a civil engineer, it’s still all sinking in.
“It’s huge. It’s easily the best thing that’s happened to me,” he tells IF.
“Sometimes when you write, you’re just sitting in a room by yourself writing, and you don’t really get a sense of how well you’re doing. Stuff like this is amazing to get an idea that you might have the talent to make a genuine career of it.”
The key focus of Australian Scriptwriting Initiative 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). The program was devised when Chris Veerhuis, of Veerhuis Pictures, was challenged by WB execs in LA to find and present to them emerging Australian screenwriting talent. The studio then put Veerhuis in touch with Franklin Leonard, CEO and founder of The Black List, with whom it had previously worked to identify talented writers from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in the screen industry.
It was the first country-specific initiative by The Black List, which polls Hollywood development executives each year about their favourite unproduced screenplays.
WB (or affiliated entity) will now commission Friedhof to write a new screenplay. He will work with WB’s creative executive team to decide the plot, theme and genre of the film, and then will complete at least two drafts over the next 12 months.
On of the freedoms of the initiative is that Friedhof is still able to shop Mother Mountain where he likes. Based on a true story and set in 1960s Mexico, the script follows two scam artist brothers who, after escaping from prison, attempt to con a poor village by hiring a sex worker to act as a cave-dwelling goddess. Things quickly turn dangerous when she comes to believe she truly has divine powers and orders a human sacrifice be made in her honour.
For Friedhof, there were interesting parallels between the story and today’s political climate.
“It’s a pair of scam artists trying to convince a naive and desperate population that someone they’ve created is someone who would deliver them from poverty and make their village great again – you might be able to work out what I’m talking about. It seemed like an entertaining and cheeky way to examine that issue without being too didactic about it.”
Winning the script deal has been a surprise for Friedhof given he wrote Mother Mountain as more of writing exercise to get out of a creative funk. He wasn’t even sure he would share it with anyone and put it on The Black List mainly to get some notes.
“I wrote it mostly for myself initially – there’s probably a good lesson in that, that I approached it just for the pleasure of writing it. People clearly responded to that.”
In addition, Friedhof is also working on a pilot about the 2014 Bundy standoff in the United States, an armed confrontation between supporters of a cattle rancher and police following a 21 year legal dispute.
On Friedhof’s win, The Black List’s Leonard said: “It has been a joy to support the community of Australian screenwriters in this way alongside extraordinary partners like Warner Bros. Pictures and Chris Veerhuis. I’m looking forward to what Andrew comes up with for his blind script deal, and what will come of next year’s Aussie List.”
Veerhuis said: “I am excited for Andrew, he is a hard working writer who took a risk to chase his dream. He will now have the opportunity to elevate his career working alongside our friends at Warner Bros. Pictures. Season two has been a great success with many positive outcomes for those on the Aussie List. We’d like to thank everyone who submitted their work as well as our amazing partners at The Black List and Screenwest.”
The first winners of the initiative were Maziar Lahooti and Steve McCall, who delivered a first draft of their script to the WB around Thanksgiving last year.