Faraway Films Entertainment’s Lynda Heys and Steve Turnbull are heading to LA this weekend to take meetings for their feature film The Road Less Traveled, which they developed last year via Imagine Entertainment’s Impact program.
Heys and Turnbull were the only Australians to participate in the first incarnation of the eight-week, LA-based program, devised by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.
Impact, described as an “content accelerator program” pairs creatives with experienced showrunners and screenwriters so that they can take a project from the ‘idea stage’ through to a sellable screenplay. It culminates in a pitch day with select Hollywood buyers. Participants are paid a stipend and are given office space to work out of, and along the way attend a series of keynote dinners and functions. Some of the speakers during Impact 1 included Judd Apatow, Ryan Murphy, Jason Bateman and Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley.
Heys and Turnbull were among 20 teams selected from over 4000 applications. Undone showrunner Kate Purdy, whose writing/producing credits also include BoJack Horseman, Cold Case and Cougar Town, assisted the duo in developing The Road Less Traveled, which is based on the true story of a married couple who drove across the world in their VW Beetle twice – first in 1961 on their honeymoon, and then again in 1996.
While the filmmakers had optioned the rights to the story several years ago and had done a lot of research, they had not gone beyond the concept stage before undertaking the Impact program. Among the highlights of the program for the writing, directing and producing duo was the chance to hothouse a project, as well as the connections made.
“When we cut the sizzle together, we literally had Ron Howard standing in our office with us helping us work out the next shot… that was a pretty surreal, special experience,” Turnbull tells IF.
Throughout the program, both say there was an emphasis from Imagine on authentic voice. “They really wanted to know why are you the person to tell this story; why are you the person to write this script or why are you the person to direct this film? That was the approach of Ron and Brian, but also the approach of every speaker who came in,” Turnbull says.
Heys adds there was also an emphasis on continuing to be your main advocate, even as you advance in your career. “You have to keep pushing and fighting for your projects, putting them in front of people.”
As well as gleaning insights from Purdy, the Imagine team and the various speakers, Heys adds it was great to bounce off the other creators in the program. “There was a real creative camaraderie. It was this incredible creative bubble that we went inside.”
As a result of the pitch day, the script for The Road Less Traveled is now with 40 different companies around LA. “We’ve been around long enough and know the reality is that there’s still a long way to go, but the fact we have 40 doors opened that weren’t opened three months ago is just great,” Turnbull says.
In addition, Imagine has also helped them set up meetings for other projects on their slate, which includes a US remake of their 1999 film Kick, titled Tackling Romeo.
Applications for Impact 2, to be held in March, are currently open and a third instalment is planned later in the year. Turnbull recommends any Australians looking to apply to the program to be as genuine as possible in what they are looking to create.
Heys adds: “The concept upfront really matters, so pitch it to your mum, your dad, your dog and your neighbours until you can nail it in a sentence and it really pops, because a lot of the time someone will talk a lot about their story and you still don’t quite understand what the story is.
“They care a lot about the themes behind [your story], what’s driving you tell it and what you want to say. Brian kept talking about how they’re not in the entertainment business – despite the fact they’re Imagine ‘Entertainment’ – they’re in the feelings business – how does it make you feel? Make me feel, make me care, make me happy, make me sad, make me laugh, make me cry, make me angry, just make me feel something.”