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Stuart Beattie on the Brat

Stuart Beattie

Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie

He is the wordsmith behind some of the last decade’s biggest blockbusters. Now, Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie is hoping his directorial debut will trump them all. When you consider all that writer/director Stuart Beattie has achieved, it is a little daunting to realise he's still in his thirties. It is the kind of fact that makes you panic about your own life and immediately starts your ambition ignition.

After moving from Melbourne to Sydney and getting a communications degree, Beattie crossed the Atlantic in the nineties and moved to Los Angeles to break into Hollywood. And break in he did. Whilst studying screenwriting at UCLA, one of Beattie's scripts won a prestigious Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award. He then got his first `big studio gig re-writing an existing script and worked on several Australian projects such as Joey and Kick.

But it was his script for Collateral that first made Hollywood big-wigs stand up and take notice.

``I was cheap and I was hungry,'' says Beattie, of his early days within the industry.
``It was Collateral initially that gave me the break, I sold it to Dreamworks.
``But before that it bounced around from studio to studio and opened a lot of doors for me.''

Collateral went on to become a huge success, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, and received two Oscar nominations. Then came Beattie's little film called Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. It went on to earn five Oscar nominations and the franchise has grossed more than $US2.7 billion at the box-office. From there, Beattie went from one huge project to another with Bra Boys, 30 Days Of Night, Australia and G.I Joe: Rise Of The Cobra, to name a few.

Beattie says his goal was always to one day end up in the director's chair.

``I always wanted to be a director and writing was my way of becoming a director.
``I would write screenplays then watch other directors on set.
``It was kind of like my film school.''

It was while watching on the set of $US200 million blockbuster G.I Joe everyday in Prague that he knew he was ready. He wanted his film to be commercial. He wanted it to be genre. Most importantly, he wanted it to be Australian. In many ways he wanted to return to what he considers the golden age of Australian cinema.

``In the seventies and eighties I saw The Man From Snowy River, Gallipoli, Phar Lap, all the Peter Weir and Mad Max films, and there was just a great wave of commercial, purely Australian, movies.
``I was really wanting to get back to that - to make a film that was uniquely Australian, distinctly Australian, but at the same time something people wanted to watch.''

It was shortly after that when he was approached by producers working on an adaptation of John Marsden's best-selling Tomorrow series. Beattie knew he had found his opportunity and he held the movie ransom.

``I said I'll adapt if you let me direct it,'' he says.
``They were fairly willing to entertain the idea.
``I had said no to them for six months and that just kind of made them more convinced.
``I went through a very healthy period of convincing them. I had storyboards done, I stuck together the scene with the helicopter and added temp dialogue, I did up a huge 20 page brief outlining my vision for the film and I even made a poster.''
``I let them know I had a very clear vision.''

That vision saw Beattie make his directorial debut with Tomorrow, When The War Began, which is shaping up to be the biggest Australian blockbuster of the year. Based on the first book in the series, it sees a group of rural teenagers become guerrilla soldiers after Australia is invaded by a foreign power. He says the film is unashamedly commercial and hopes it will lead the way for more Australian films seeking commercial, as well as critical, success.

``We had a budget of $AU25 million, but I wanted it to look like we had a lot more,'' he said.
``A lot of it was clever camera techniques, a crew of great technicians and the work of our cinematographer Ben Nott.
``It was a very collaborative process and my gaffer even came with the ideas for a few shots we used.
``There were so many great and experienced technicians on this crew, that when you're surrounded by so much talent it's crazy not to soak it up and use it.''

Having never professionally studied film techniques, Beattie says he approached directing with a `do-it-yourself' attitude and years of experience he picked up hanging on various film sets. It seems to have worked, with early critical word praising the films balance of action and emotion. But the critics Beattie most cares about are the fans, and author John Marsden.

``He'd never had one of his books made into a movie before and I didn't want to taint it,'' he says.
``That's what I was most nervous about, but thankfully John loves it.
``He has taken his family to see it three or four times.
``And the fans, if you love it as much as the fans do, then I think they recognise you as a fellow fan.''

The series of seven books in total, with a spin-off series adding another three, Beattie realises there is plenty of potential for sequels. But that will all depend on the mighty box-office.

``If people go out and see the film and support it, then we will see,'' he says.
``The actors would get older so the most we could do is two more films.
``I believe that if you haven't said everything you need to say in three films, then your just cashing in and I don't want to cash in. It's not my thing.
``I think three would be great, then it's time for everyone to move on.''

What then, of his beloved Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise that is currently filming a fourth instalment in Hawaii?

``They're making a lot money aren't they?''
``I have nothing to do with it, I wrote the first and then at this point it's just my characters that they're using.''
Beattie says if they did shoot more Tomorrow movies, the first thing he would do is move his family over from Los Angeles.
``I spent five weeks over here on the shoot and that was the hardest thing, being away from them,'' he says.
``I played X-Box every weekend with my kids in America, but it's never enough.''
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