'The Heckler'.

2015 body-swap comedy The Heckler is set to get a remake after Mexican company Avanti Pictures picked up the Spanish language rights.

The original film, director Ben Plazzer’s feature debut, follows a self-obsessed comedian on the fast track to fame who has his body hijacked by the spirit of a jealous heckler. The ensemble cast includes Simon Mallory, CJ Fortuna, Kate Jenkinson, Emily Tahney, Scott Harrison, Dave Lawson, Tony Martin and Jeff Green.

The Heckler premiered in late 2014 at the LA Comedy Festival where it won Best Ensemble, before getting a limited theatrical run via cinema-on-demand platform Tugg (now Demand Film). Pinnacle Films released in locally on DVD/iTunes, and sales agent Odin’s Eye Entertainment sold Chinese streaming rights.

At the time, writer-producer Steve Mitchell was disappointed it didn’t get more interest locally.

“We had a fantastic cast with solid TV experience, but no box-office drawcards to interest distributors or broadcasters. They are so risk-averse that they don’t want to engage with emerging filmmakers. We sent out invitations to screenings, which were never answered. Which was frustrating, because the audience reactions we were getting at screenings were overwhelmingly positive,” he tells IF.

After Odin’s Eye’s Michael Favelle returned unsold rights in 2018, Mitchell and his team put the film on Amazon Prime in the UK and US, where it was spotted by Avanti Pictures’ Jack Zagha, who was looking for a body-swap comedy for the company’s next project.

“The story resonated with him and he enjoyed the humour and the journey the protagonist undertakes,” Mitchell says.

While there is a perception that Australian humour doesn’t always translate internationally, Mitchell argues it resonates because “first and foremost: it’s a good story, well told.”

“Some things are universal. Thematically the film is about our desire for celebrity and fame that comes at the cost of being happy with what we already have. Not everyone can be a rock star comedian – ‘the world needs ditch-diggers too’. So it’s about that and the humour is driven by the situations rather than any particularly Australian sayings. It’s based on universal truths, which makes it relatable for audiences in other countries and cultures. Humans aren’t as different as we sometimes think we are.”

Mitchell is now keen to work with an Australian distributor to see if the film can secure a sale to a local streaming platform or broadcaster. Despite being low budget, he argues the film punches above its weight because the strength of the cast’s performance.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is writing a number of spec comedy scripts across film and television, and searching for a producer for his sci-fi screenplay, Cowtown, which won the Australian Writers’ Guild’s 2019 unproduced John Hinde Award.

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