I remember reading someplace that a good story often just falls into your lap fully formed. Now I don’t want to speculate over whether my story is a good one or not, that conjecture is now in the capable hands of film going audiences everywhere, so you can make your own decision, but that’s how it came to me – fully formed. However it still took four years to shape into a script that anyone was willing to finance.
I was stretched out on my couch testing a new theory that perhaps sitting with hunched shoulders and bleeding eyeballs in front of my computer was what was stopping that elusive story from falling… and there it was… I remembered a vaguely told story about a man who went missing in South East Asia while holidaying with his partner and another couple. Tragically, in that true-life story the man was never found again. I was horribly fascinated by the loss and responsibility those left behind might feel and the mystery of what had happened to him. I linked that with a story I already had in my mind about a couple who would fight to keep their relationship together even after the worst kind of betrayal and suddenly I knew I had the skeleton of a feature film.
Excited, I rushed into where my husband, Kieran Darcy-Smith was sitting in front of his computer, his own eyeballs bleeding, and quickly pitched him the idea. Kieran was looking for his first feature to direct. He had made a number of successful short films and had spent the ten years previous writing a film called Powderworks. It was a powerful script and had a prominent Australian producer attached but because he hadn’t directed a feature before and it had a 10mil budget he was finding it impossible to get financed.* He was toying with new ideas with lower budgets, but knowing how long it took to write a script he was finding it difficult to settle on an idea. He encouraged me to write my pitch into a treatment.
I’d spent a lot of time writing but I was – and still am – an actress so I was always really kind of hoping the phone would just ring and whisk me off to some fabulous job that would pay me well and prevent me from having to endure the hard slog of writing. Sometimes the phone did ring and sometimes it didn’t but I could tell that I’d be waiting a lifetime or more for the job that I really wanted – the one that would change my life. It had become a cliché amongst Sydney actresses that there weren’t any good jobs for women, that we were all being wasted on cardboard cut-out girlfriends and wives. I was sick of hearing it. I was sick of saying it. The time had come to write myself something decent.
Within a month I had the treatment and I clearly remember the moment Kieran said to me, "I think this is the one." Good collaborations are a strange and elusive thing, they can make a project or destroy it and if either Kieran or I had been different people perhaps we would have thought twice about embarking on such a journey together. Would our marriage last? But who ever really thinks about how long it will all take? And lucky for us sharing total immersion in a creative project was exactly the kind of thing we were both hungry for.
I don’t really even remember what the writing process involved. Mainly just sitting at our computers getting the job done, but I do remember that we talked about the film ALL THE TIME and that suited us both just fine. Being a couple we had each other’s undivided attention as a well as a short hand to blow off the more insanely stupid of each other’s ideas. Making dinner we talked about the film, washing up we talked about the film, driving in the car etc – you get the picture. A fly on the wall would have been bored to death!
We all know that film is an all-consuming thing. That’s why I love it. When you are in production the cast and crew become your family and the story takes over real life. Sadly I’ve seen relationships break up when only one half of a couple is swept away by a film or a burgeoning career. For Kieran and I it has been a bonding gift to share our first feature film: I was there when he directed the very first scene of his first feature. He was intensely watching the playback for every second of the first lead I ever played in a feature. No one had seen me at my rawest moments as much as he had and he pushed me to bring all of that to my character Alice. And then when it came to the awards season in Australia the award our film, Wish You Were Here, won most consistently was that for ‘Best Screenplay’. The part we’d collaborated on, the part that had taken up most of the whole crazy journey.
And we’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
I hope you can get out and see Wish You Were Here – it’s currently screening at select cinemas around the country.
Powderworks has since been rewritten and set in the US. It is now called Memorial Day, produced by Angie Fielder (Wish You Were Here), executive produced by Ted Hope.