Russell Boyd-shot spy thriller The Defector goes in search of Harold Holt

06 October, 2016 by Harry Windsor

Poster art by Jeremy Love.


1967, the height of the Red Scare. Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt is embroiled in a power struggle after discovering his spymaster has illegally investigated and exposed Red sympathisers embedded within Holt's administration.

That's the premise for an ambitious new Australian short film set in the period leading up to the Holt's famous disappearance at Victoria's Cheviot Beach.

The Defector is written, directed and produced by Scott Mannion and executive produced by Antonia Barnard, Nick Cole, Greg Dick and Simon de Bruyn, who describes the short as "an Australian spy film made to world class standards."

Mannion came to de Bruyn's attention in his capacity as an acquisitions executive with international sales agent and production company XYZ Films. 

"As part of my role at XYZ, and its joint venture XYZ-GFC, I am tracking some of the best genre talent in this region and Scott had quickly come to my attention with his profound sci-fi short Anima," de Bruyn said.

The pair got chatting, and de Bruyn was immediately excited by the director's intention "to to make boldly iconoclastic and subversive works." The Defector is the first cab off the rank, with a planned Harold Holt feature to follow.

The short raised $65,000 via a Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, at which point de Bruyn joined as EP, having consulted informally on the project's crowdfunding strategy till then.

The shoot took place in August 2015, with a crew that would make many feature filmmakers green with envy. 

Oscar winner Russell Boyd (Master and Commander, Gallipoli, High Tide) came on board as a DP, in addition to Nicki Gardiner (set decorator on Mad Max: Fury Road, Gods of Egypt) as production designer.

The Water Diviner's Matt Villa edited, with Chimney Pot, the global VFX house behind Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, handling the period VFX. Pickups were shot by David Burr, the 2nd unit DP on Fury Road.

Mannion's approach to enlisting such heavy-hitters was straightforward: "I was determined to be 150 percent prepared, exceed their expectations, and be clear and genuine." 

"You need strong work to show your potential. Talented professionals recognise dedication, craft and great storytelling  they’re willing to support you it if you have conviction and show you are capable of executing quality work."

For the film's period FX, Mannion "waited until we had a quality cut and sound mix, then I reached out to [Chimney Pot's] Ruslan Ogorodnik and Fredrik Nord personally." 

"They loved it, and I loved their work on Tinker Tailor, so we hit it off, and they were quick to support me. Their team in Stockholm created all the key VFX, i.e. set extensions and anything and everything to keep the film authentic to the period. They’ve got the same obsession for detail as I do, and they’re not just technical finishers  they’re creative collaborators." 

The short will be released next year, with a digital release coming hot on the heels of a festival premiere.

"The common short film strategy is usually made up of an extensive festival run leading into a bunch of exclusive screening deals and eventually an online launch some years later," said de Bruyn. 

"Instead, we want our audience  made up of genre film fans around the world, history and conspiracy buffs, people who love a good mystery, and ordinary Australians  to be able to see the film in a range of ways, for free, as soon as possible after our festival world premiere in 2017. We've made a thrilling film about a potent moment in Australian history and don't want to hide it under a bushel."