Liz Kearney and Zak Hilditch.
After directing 1922, a gothic drama adapted from a Stephen King story for Netflix, Zak Hilditch plans to write and direct a thriller set during a pandemic in Perth.
Hilditch describes Celestial Blue (the title refers to the particular colour of the sky in WA) as the spiritual successor to his 2014 breakthrough movie These Final Hours.
The writer-director is renewing his collaboration with Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney, who produced These Final Hours, which starred Jessica De Gouw and Nathan Phillips as young people who meet on the last day of life on Earth.
“I am fascinated with very personal stories set against a large-scale backdrop in a sci-fi genre universe,” he tells IF. “I came up with the concept of Celestial Blue which I hope will satisfy my aim of making an entertaining film grounded in personal drama.”
Screen Australia provided development funding, the script is in final draft stage with input from script editor Lynne Vincent McCarthy and Kearney intends to approach investors early in the new year and shoot later in 2018.
Hilditch stumbled across King’s novella 1922 while he and the producer were trying to raise the finance for These Final Hours.
Last year he pitched the idea to Netflix, which had acquired These Final Hours, after having no luck with other potential financiers and reasoning that the gothic psychological drama would be right at home on the streaming service.
Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a hardworking but struggling Nebraska farmer whose discontented wife Arlette (Molly Parker) urges him to sell the farm so they can move to a big city.
Wilfred is loath to uproot and after Arlette threatens to divorce him, sell the property and claim sole custody of their 14-year-old son Henry (Dylan Schmid), he persuades Henry to kill his mother.
Variety’s review praised Hilditch for generating and sustaining suspense throughout a slow-burning drama that is “more fatalistically tragic than traditionally horrific, and for delivering the goods when old-fashioned shocks are called for.“
IndieWire rated 1922 as superior to IT as the year’s most impressive Stephen King adaptation and said it folds the “delicate visual language of a rural Terrence Malick drama into the mould of existential horror.”
In October the Vancouver-shot film launched globally on Netflix after premiering at Fantastic Fest in Austin. Netflix executives told him they were very happy with the viewing figures (which are never revealed, not even to filmmakers) and are keen to work with him again.
“Netflix were very hands off; they were more nurturing than demanding and did not meddle in a negative way,” he says.
While he did not meet King, the novelist was a fan of These Final Hours, supported 1922 from the pre-production stage onwards and approved the script with no changes.
Kearney and Hilditch hope to make an Australian TV spin-off of These Final Hours after the script he wrote for a US TV remake was not picked up by the Fox network.
Also on the producer’s slate at Arenamedia is Memoir of a Ladybug, Adam Elliot’s follow-up to Mary and Max. Another stop-motion animated comedy-drama, it follows a woman named Grace who turns to hoarding after suffering a lot of personal tragedy.
Kearney is also working with Indigenous filmmaker Jub Clerc (who directed one segment of Tim Winton’s The Turning, produced by Arenamedia) on Sweet As, a coming-of-age story co-written by Steve Rodgers about an Aboriginal girl who is selected to go on a National Geographic safari, which changes her life.