George Miller’s Contact? Writer Mark Lamprell recalls what might have been

27 April, 2016 by Harry Windsor

Mark Lamprell.


Mark Lamprell is not just a screenwriter (Babe: Pig in the City) and director (My Mother Frank, Goddess), but a novelist as well. 

His second novel, A Lovers' Guide to Rome, has just been published by Allen and Unwin. As if that wasn't enough, his next film, A Few Less Men, will be released later in the year. 

Lamprell got his start at Kennedy Miller, making documentaries about the making of, among other projects, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

"I was at Kennedy Miller for years", Lamprell said. 

"I did a documentary series called Sports Crazy, a ten hour series, in 1987. Before that, every time they did a miniseries, I did a 'making of' one-hour special."

That led to Lamprell being enlisted by Miller as a writer on various projects, including one very large science-fiction adaptation.

"I'd gotten to be a funny little fixture there at Kennedy Miller, and George was approached to do Contact, the Carl Sagan novel. 

"We spent six months writing the screenplay, and I was very much the junior writer with Menno Meyjes, who wrote Empire of the Sun and The Color Purple. It was really Menno driving it, with George and Lynda Obst as well, the producer. 

"Our screenplay was greenlit and all ready to go, and then I think George wanted an extension to make it properly, and the studio wouldn't give it to him. They fired him and put Robert Zemeckis in charge. 

"In a few shocking days, we went from being a greenlit movie to it all going away. After that, I remember I was quite devastated."

How did Miller and Lamprell's version compare to the film that was released in 1997, starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey?

"It was a much more interesting screenplay, and I think George would say this too."

An old boy of Sydney's St Ignatius College, Riverview, Lamprell was interested in exploring the nexus between belief and hard science.

"Because of my Jesuit connections I was able to get all those amazing Jesuit scientists in, to talk to us about how you operate as a man of faith in the world of science. 

"We were having really interesting conversations, and Carl [Sagan] was thrilled to be having those. It wasn't about being populist or talking down to an audience. Not that Contact necessarily did that, but ours was much more ambitious intellectually.

"I guess it sits there somewhere in a drawer at Kennedy Miller gathering dust. After that, I was really down, and George said, 'come on, let's do a sequel to Babe'. The man's capacity to bounce back never ceases to amaze me. His endurance is extraordinary."