The Ring and Mulholland Drive producer Neal Edelstein is serving as the executive producer on Ashes, an Australian supernatural thriller/horror film about three generations of women who battle a curse.
Jonathan auf der Heide is attached to direct the film written by Mike Jones and produced by Damsel Pictures’ Raquelle David.
As a first-time feature producer, David knew she had to enlist an experienced EP to qualify for financial support from Screen Australia and Screen NSW. She approached a lot of Australian EPs, who turned her down, evidently due to concerns about the genre.
Via Jones, she got in touch with Edelstein and met the US producer last October at the American Film Market, which she attended with Screen Australia’s assistance.
Edelstein responded to the script, which has parallels with Haunting Melissa, a digital, transmedia ghost story he has created via his company Hooked Digital Media, and agreed to act as story consultant initially, then as executive producer.
“We shared a lot of similar thinking not just in terms of narrative and genre, but also in regard to business models and new ways of being both audience-centric and delivering directly to audiences,” says Jones, a screenwriting lecturer at AFTRS.
Jones is also head of story development for UK-based interactive media company Portal Entertainment, whose projects include the immersive iPad thriller The Craftsman and content discovery system Thrill Me, which measures emotional responses to horror and other genre fare via facial expressions.
He co-authored the political thriller novel Bloodline, published by Simon and Schuster, for which he is writing a sequel, and he was a writer on the post-apocalyptic digital series Wastelander Panda, co-developed with the ABC and Madman Entertainment.
“There is a misconception in the Australian film industry that horror films are a tough sell internationally,” says David, who produced the short films Shelter, a supernatural horror, crime thriller The Robbery and mockumentary Gavin. “If a film is skilfully crafted it will do well whatever the genre.”
Jones’ screenplay won the 2012 Australian Writers Guild award for best unproduced feature. The protagonist is Samantha, a career-driven woman who is a less than engaged single mum to sixteen-year-old Ruth. After a mysterious letter arrives from her long estranged mother, containing an ancient human bone, Samantha discovers it's a black magic relic and the link to why her daughter has suddenly fallen gravely ill.
Seeking answers from her ailing father, she travels to the New Guinea highlands, where her mother served as a nurse during WW2, and discovers a shocking family secret and the last hope to save her daughter and herself.
With Edelstein’s help, David says the intention is to “aim high” in casting the two key female characters. Jones tells IF he aims to complete a second draft by the middle of this year, after which the project will go out to potential investors,
It will be the second feature directed by auf der Heide, whose debut Van Diemen's Land premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2009 and screened at numerous festivals around the world. He also directed Fog, a segment of Tim Winton’s The Turning.
He tells IF he was attracted to Ashes due to Raquelle and Jones' passion for the project as a work of supernatural horror, a genre he believes is neglected in Australia.
He's also attached to The Fall, a psychological thriller about a woman who returns to her rural home town where a pregnant teenager takes her own life after a meteorite falls to Earth, scripted by Elizabeth Mars (The Tree).
The director and Emerald Productions' Lyn Norfor, who is producing with Sheila Jayadev, are pitching that project to international buyers at next week's European Film Market in Berlin.