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Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian writers and Hollywood

July 31, 2017

This will be my last Monday Musings posted from the USA, so I figure I should do at least one post inspired by where we’ve been. I’ve put it together pretty quickly though, as time for blogging is pretty limited, so please forgive all the gaps!

Since this is a litblog, my focus here is the relationship between Australian writers and Hollywood, and I’m narrowing it to the last couple of decades. (This connection, in fact, goes back to the silent movie days, but that would make for an essay rather than the brief post I have time for here.) I should also explain that I am using “Hollywood” to stand for America (a common synechdoche for which I should perhaps apologise, but it suits my California-holiday-post purpose, and is probably pretty accurate anyhow.)

I guess there are political issues that could be discussed here – brain drain, and all that – but I’m not going there. And, anyhow, besides the fact that obtaining enough work can be difficult in Australia, many Australians do seem to keep their feet in both hemispheres.

There are two angles from which this topic can be tackled – Aussie scriptwriters in Hollywood, and Australian writers whose stories have been optioned for film adaptation by Hollywood – and I plan to briefly do them both.

Aussie scriptwriters & Hollywood

Many scriptwriters well-known in Australia have also written for American productions – usually having been identified because of their Australian success. Laura Jones and Andrew Bovell are two such. Laura Jones, for example, worked on Portrait of lady (1996) and Possession (2002). She also wrote for Oscar and Lucinda (a 1997 British-American production of an, admittedly, Australian novel, directed by an Australian, so this is not particularly surprising!). These are all adaptations of novels, in fact, but only one is Australian.

Andrew Bovell, known in Australia for films like Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Lantana (2001), was also scriptwriter on the more recent American-British-German co-production of A Most Wanted Man (2014). Bovell said he was approached for about six or seven projects, via his American agent, after the American release of Lantana. He chose one, set to star Benicio de Toro, but, like many film projects, it doesn’t seem to have eventuated.

Less surprising in this group, perhaps, is Craig Pearce who has worked on many Baz Luhrmann films, including the recent Australian-American co-production, The Great Gatsby (2013). It is worth mentioning, nonetheless, because the film (obviously!) is an adaptation of a major American classic.

One of the most recent Australian writers to make his name as a scriptwriter in Hollywood is poet, novelist, scriptwriter Luke Davies. He was scriptwriter on the co-production, Life (2015), about a Life Magazine photographer and James Dean. He has really established himself, though, for his work on last year’s, Lion, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. (He won the BAFTA.) Sure, it’s a British-Australian-American co-production and is an Indian-Australian story, but this must put him on the map in Hollywood. And, in fact, he is now working on an American production, Beautiful boy, which is another adaptation of a memoir (two, in fact, one by a father and one by his son).

Another Australian making his mark in Hollywood – as an actor, director and writer – is Joel Edgerton who wrote and directed the critically-well-regarded film, The Gift (2015). He is now working on another film – as director and writer. It’s titled Boy Erased, and is due for release in 2018. His path is clearly different to that of the preceding names here, with his coming via his acting career rather than a writing background.

While researching this, I discovered an organisation called Australians in Film, which describes itself as “The Industry Association for Australian Filmmakers and Performers in the U.S.” It was founded in 2001, and says that it “supports and promotes Australian screen talent and culture in the United States.” One of its several programs is Gateway LA Script Development which was created in 2015 by its President. The aim is to give Australian screenwriters “the chance to have their script seen by top industry professionals” and it has apparently been successful in achieving that. There were 8 finalists this year, with the winners being a duo, Penelope Chai and Matteo R. Bernardini, whose script explores the Cinderalla myth/fantasy.

Australian novelists & Hollywood

I was going to head this section “Australian stories”, but decided that that’s not quite right, as you’ll see. Of course, Australian novels have been adapted for films in America for the longest time – like, to pick a quick obvious example, British-born Australian novelist Nevil Shute’s On the beach (1959) which was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer.

Hannah Kent, Burial Rites bookcover

Courtesy: Picador

Recently though, it seems that books by Aussie novelists are attracting a lot of attention. I’ll name just a few, which were discussed in The Australian:

  • Hannah Kent’s Burial rites, a debut novel (my review) which is currently “in development” with Jennifer Lawrence signed on to star. It’s set in Iceland, hence my qualification regarding “Australian stories”.
  • Liane Moriarty’s Truly, madly, guilty and The husband’s secret have been announced or are in pre-production. Her Big little lies has already been made into a mini-series in the USA (2017), starring, among others, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. A Los Angeles literary agent, quoted in The Australian (link above), says that “People are just so enamoured of the worlds she creates — she’s captured the zeitgeist of suburbia”.
  • Anna Snoekstra’s Only daughter, a debut novel just published last year and set in my home-city, has been optioned by Working Title, a partner of Universal Pictures.
  • ML Stedman’s The light between oceans was released in cinemas in 2016 (as British-New Zealand-American co-production).
  • Marcus Zusak’s The book thief (my review) was released in 2013 (as a German-American co-production).

Not a particularly original post, I’m afraid, but I didn’t want to miss a Monday Musings. I hope it’s been of some value, even if not particularly edifying.

I’d love to hear from readers here who can add names to this brief discussion!

31 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2017 12:52 am

    I’m not surprised that Moriarty’s other books have been picked up after the success of Big Little Lies.

    • August 1, 2017 2:16 am

      Did you watch it Guy? My friend here showed me the opening scenes, but I’m not sure it’s my thing? (It wasn’t really hers either though I think she’s enjoyed some of Moriarty’s books.) There is a crime in it though I gather?

      • August 1, 2017 6:30 am

        I wasn’t sure it was my thing either but ended up watching it as it came highly recommended. Ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Did you know that the action is moved from Australia to Monterey?
        The only thing that was ‘off’ as far as I was concerned, is that I doubt the wives with the big bucks (Celeste, Madeline and Renata) would have given the character of Jane the time of day in real life.

        • August 1, 2017 10:38 am

          Thanks Guy. Yes, I knew it had been changed to California and coho tell from want I saw that it was the coast, but didn’t know where. My friend here and I were wondering Santa Barbara so Monterey makes sense. I don’t know the characters well enough to respond to your issue. I wonder if anyone else here does?

  2. August 1, 2017 2:17 am

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

  3. August 1, 2017 7:19 am

    Another one for you maybe
    The Dry by Jane Harper

    A debut, crime thriller set in the bone-bleached Australian outback that has been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company
    Policeman Aaron Falk finds himself on the trail of his own past as he confronts the seemingly unfathomable violence of his childhood best friend
    ‘It is hard to believe,’ concluded the Sunday Times, ‘that this accomplished piece of writing, which returns again and again to the savage beauty of the landscape, is Harper’s first novel.’

    Harper was born in uk, lived as a child in Australia and has returned there with her Australian husband

    • August 1, 2017 10:43 am

      Oh thanks Karen for this. That book was making a big splash (!) in Australia before I left so I’m not surprised.

      I rather like that there are production companies run by women or there and presumably looking for good stories about women. I think she and Kidman have together optioned one of Moriarty’s.

      • August 3, 2017 2:38 am

        Kidman seems to be everywhere at the moment

        • August 3, 2017 3:42 am

          She does doesn’t she … like a second career, perhaps riding on baby boomers and our interest in films starring somewhat older people?

  4. August 1, 2017 7:33 am

    I can’t help with Oz books in Hollywood films, but the suburbs that Moriarty captures are white and wealthy, just right for Hollywood’s skewed view of the ‘real’ world.

    • August 1, 2017 10:47 am

      Thanks Bill. That is certainly the profile I got from the little bit of Big Little Lies that I saw. It’s why, I think, my friend didn’t stick with it. However, I can also understand people being fascinated by that, just like we can be fascinated by other “foreign” to us cultures?

  5. August 1, 2017 11:05 am

    I didn’t read Big, Little, Lies but got sucked into the series. Did read her other 2 books so will look for their series. I wouldn’t have thought Jane could afford to live where she did. Agree with Guy. Always surprised by how much Australian activity ends up in Hollywood. That is a good thing as I think they do films so much better than Americans in many instances.

    • August 1, 2017 11:14 am

      Didn’t really see Jane working much either so she REALLY couldn’t have afforded to live there. I saw the American and the Aussie version of the series THE SLAP. It was interesting to see how the two scripts altered the characters to fit their surroundings. Both were fun to watch BTW.

      • August 1, 2017 12:25 pm

        Oh, that would have been interesting Guy, to see the two adaptations. There are cultural differences and I’d imagine to make the points you (i.e. the director/scriptwriter) think Tsiolkas wanted to make you’d have to make some adjustments.

        • August 1, 2017 2:46 pm

          It wasn’t well reviewed (the American version) but the differences between the two revealed a great deal about the culture here. I’m glad I watched both

        • August 1, 2017 2:56 pm

          Now I wish I’d seen both too! That would fascinate me, Guy.

        • August 1, 2017 3:01 pm

          I wish I’d made notes, but I remember the family set-up, the class thing was quite different. The man who does the slapping is a deputy city commissioner

        • August 1, 2017 3:05 pm

          Hmm that’s very different, but yes I can see that The slap’s families are very Australian, particularly Melbourne, aren’t they. Was the main family in the US, Greek!

        • August 2, 2017 1:10 am

          Yes they were, but it didn’t come across nearly the same way

        • August 3, 2017 3:41 am

          Fascinating…oh well.

    • August 1, 2017 12:23 pm

      Lovely to have your perspective Pam, particularly on things American. I must read some Liane Moriarty obviously.

  6. August 1, 2017 3:24 pm

    The Water Diviner was a 2014 film that Russell Crowe produced and starred in. It was written by two Australians (I’m pretty sure). Not sure if it counts as a Hollywood film, though with a $22 million budget it probably was!

    • August 3, 2017 12:32 am

      Yes, you’re right Michelle – by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios. It’s a co-production, including American, so I’d count it.

  7. August 25, 2017 8:55 am

    Loved “Lion”! Have been watching an Australian TV Series lately, Dr Blake mysteries, i think. A very charming pg rated mystery series along the lines of Quincy in the outback. Thank you for this list! Also loved The Book thief. Im from the US btw. Looking forward to broadening my range with some Australian writers.

    • August 26, 2017 8:59 am

      Thanks for commenting Andy (that’s your name?) I was recently in the USA and meet some Americans who were enjoying some Aussie shows like Dr Blake. I was surprised – and pleased – as we have no idea what makes it over there.

      • August 27, 2017 3:49 am

        Its Andrea. Hope you werent surprised because i liked it! It was interesting in part because they occasionally referenced Australian poets and artists. I seem to remember something about a poem about persephone…The US education system, even for English majors, was sorely lacking in the department of Australian lit in my day. More to read for me! But my guilty pleasure is mystery shows on netflix! Took a while to get used to the accent, i will confess. Wondered if thats true for you too? Also im in FL so strangely many of the plants look familiar.

        • August 27, 2017 2:02 pm

          Oh no Andrea, the surprise was that such shows are being broadcast in the USA! Regarding accents, do you mean for us to get used to American accents? Generally that’s not hard for us because we see so much American material here. We do, though, Sometimes have difficulty with Scottish or north of England accents!

          I don’t remember the Persephone poem, though one of our famous poets AD Hope has written a poem about her.

        • August 28, 2017 9:14 am

          Thats the one i think they referenced!

        • August 28, 2017 1:26 pm

          Wow, you have a good memory.

        • August 29, 2017 10:16 pm

          Sadly, no. I just watched it last week. Btw i agree on Scottish and Irish–very challenging!just finished watching shetland!

        • August 30, 2017 8:26 am

          Ah yes, we’ve been watching that too.

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