By Brendan Swift
It’s late-May and Stuart Beattie is feeling remarkably relaxed.
The filmmaker – who has carved out an impressive career as a Hollywood screenwriter – is in the middle of post-production on his first feature film at The Lab Sydney.
It began where it often has – with Beattie writing the screenplay for Tomorrow When the War Began – another credit to sit alongside such big budget fare as Australia, Collateral, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
“All those years writing movies was, the way I look at it, training for being a director because that’s what I always wanted to be,” he tells INSIDEFILM.
“But of course they don’t just let you so I was waiting until I thought I could tackle it.”
Fast forward almost three months and Beattie is in the midst of a rare Hollwood-style launch for an Australian action film – one aimed at tapping into a huge teen fan base and delivering Paramount Pictures Australia one of its first major local hits.
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Beattie (centre) with the cast of Tomorrow When the War Began at the Sydney premiere this month.
The film, based on the novel by John Marsden, tells the tale of a group of teenagers who go on a camping trip, only to return home and find their country has been invaded by an unknown army.
Beattie says the action-packed film is intended to compete directly with Hollywood fare – a situation that rarely occurs due to budget constraints.
“There just isn’t that much money in this country – we all know it’s a struggle to get a dollar out of anyone.
“If we do somehow get around that catch-22 and make those films, I think then hopefully that will encourage more people to invest more money and then we can make more money and sustain an industry like that.”
Hollywood exemplifies the best and worst of filmmaking – it has the money and the marketing clout to sell its product, Beattie says.
However, risk-taking has taken a back-seat to committee-led decision-making with either “pre-title awareness” or an attached star just two of the key elements now required to greenlight films.
“They have like a board of accountants and numbers people and they do all this analysis and stuff – I doubt they ever read the script,” he says.
“It’s changed from the days of the moguls where it would be like ‘I love this idea, let’s make it come hell or high water. I really think that’s the way movies should be made – it should be that that’s a movie I want to go see, let’s make it. Not what the committee says.”
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Beattie on the set of Tomorrow When the War Began
Tomorrow When the War Began is a quintessential Australian story complete with something also lacking in other recent mid-budget local fare such as Daybreakers or Triangle – Australian accents.
“One of my main directions on set was ‘slow it down and enunciate’. But that’s also for Australian audiences too…
“My experience has been that the human experience is similar all over the world. And one of the benefits of keeping the characters Australian was showing we go through the same stuff you go through anywhere in the world – a teenager is a teenager.”
Beattie promises a visceral experience for his first feature film – a front row seat with the camera effectively the final character in the movie. So far, the early feedback from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive.
“All you can do I think, is work the hardest you can and make something that you would like to see. And that’s all you can do – you can’t think ‘what would everyone else like to see’ – it ends up a disaster. I’ve seen that happen.
“Nobody knows anything and as soon as you accept that it’s a wonderful freedom.”
Tomorrow When the War Began is released nationally on September 2.