US screenwriter Ellen Fontana knew almost instantly when she first met Emma Booth two weeks ago that the actress is an inspired choice to play one of the main protagonists in the film Shallows.
Booth will play the fiercely independent Queenie in the drama based on the Tim Winton novel which looks at successive generations of a whaling family in Albany, Western Australia, starting in the 1830s.
Queenie gets caught up in the Greenpeace movement which arrived in town in the 1970s, sparking protests which led to the closure of the whaling station.
Fontana is adapting the screenplay, her second involvement with Winton after co-writing with him Cloudstreet, the miniseries directed by Matt Saville.
“Emma has so many of the qualities, everything I had intuited about Queenie,” Ellen told IF on the line from her home in Los Angeles. “She hides nothing; she is a completely authentic person. She’s really passionate and feels a deep connection to nature and the environment.”
Shadows producer Stephen Van Mil cast Booth after being impressed with her performances in Cloudstreet and in the short film Tango Underpants, which he executive produced with Tania Chambers, scripted by John Collee.
The saga of a backpacker who loses her mojo and tries to find it in Buenos Aires, the short co-directed by Khrob Edmonds and Miranda Edmonds will premiere in Perth on December 11 and has been submitted to the Sundance film festival.
Booth’s credits include Taylor Hackford’s Parker, Beeban Kidron’s Hippie Hippie Shake, in which she plays Germaine Greer, Karl Golden’s Pelican Blood, Craig Lahiff’s Swerve and Scott Hicks’ The Boys Are Back, plus TV’s Jack Irish: Bad Debts and Underbelly.
Van Mil has such confidence in the Perth-born actress he cast her before a director has been recruited for Shallows. The producer says he will hire a director after Ellen finishes the screenplay. Fontana had been an admirer of Booth after seeing her in Cloudstreet and Underbelly.
The writer is working on the second act. Asked when she expects to complete the final draft, she says, “It will take as long as it takes.”
She didn't hesitate when Van Mil asked her in June last year to write a treatment of the novel. He submitted that to ScreenWest which agreed to fund the development.
While the film will be largely faithful to Winton’s novel, Fontana says her screenplay will be an embellishment, observing, “Some characters disappear, some become more important, and it will end in the present day, not the 1970s.
“I am striving to keep the novel’s sense of magic and meditative wonder amidst all the turmoil. Much of the novel is driven by the characters’ internal dialogue so as a writer the challenge is to make the internal stuff external. Every character goes through a transformation. I hope it will be an eye opener.”
Fontana plans to visit WA in December to look at Albany and its whaling centre and to catch up with Winton.