Australian writer turned director Stuart Beattie talks about the challenges of directing his first feature, the teen action drama Tomorrow When The War Began.
Stuart Beattie contacted about 50 directors he knew in preparation for directing his first film, Tomorrow, When The War Began, a character based action drama which is being released on September 2nd in Australia before being rolled out internationally by Inferno Entertainment. The advice that echoed loudest was that he had to wear comfortable shoes.
“I bought some waterproof boots at the beginning of pre-production and wore them every day and by the time we were filming they were my directing shoes,” says LA based Beattie, whose writing credits include the three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, 30 Days Of Night, Collateral and Australia.
Tomorrow, When The War Began is based on John Marsden’s Tomorrow novels, about a group of teenagers who turn to guerrilla warfare after they return from a camping trip and discover that all their friends and families have been rounded up and held captive by foreign invaders.
Beattie was approached in late 2007 by producer Michael Boughen from Ambience Entertainment and executive producer Christopher Mapp, managing director of Ambience parent company Omnilab Media, about adapting the series for the big screen. But while Beattie may have been an obvious choice to write Tomorrow, (helped by the fact that he went to school with Mapp), he wasn’t in the running for director.
“I read all of the books in about a week while on holidays and I loved them and said ‘no’ because I didn’t want to be part of something so great being ruined,” he says. But after GI Joe Beattie decided he was ready to fullfil a long-held ambition to direct his own film, and told the Australian producers in July 2008 that he would adapt Tomorrow if he could also direct.
He wrote detailed briefing notes, storyboarded a key helicopter scene, designed a poster and presented other materials that communicated his vision.
“One of the things I could offer, in terms of reassurance, was that there was a good chance the screenplay would turn out right,” Omnilab eventually took the leap of faith.
Writing the film felt very different to usual, and not just because also wearing a directors’ hat made him more ruthless when assessing whether scenes were truly serving the narrative.
“I had started to develop some cynicism about writing first drafts because you know they are going to be changed. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s just what happens. It is a natural part of the filmmaking process. This time I knew that if it was changed it would be my decision,” he says.
By the time cameras rolled in September last year, Beattie had storyboarded about three-quarters of the film. He says he felt well prepared but there were surprises.
“For me it was realising I had opinions on the most crazy details such as the shade of black used for the enemy’s boots,” he says. Only on one day did he fail to shoot the schedule and that was because of trouble with a crane.“One of the key traits you need as a director is knowing what you want, knowing when you get it and being ok to move on. You can spend all day doing 50 takes but if I got it on the second take I get out of there. The crew and actors appreciate that and it gives them confidence in you,” says Beattie.
Going forward Beattie intends to focus on directing and has a “library” of scripts he has written. He says he thinks of writing as typing because he “writes” a film in his head several times before “opening the floodgates” and committing it to paper. He is reading the work of others too.
“I don’t care, intellectually, who has written them but it is hard to imagine directing a film that I haven’t written because I feel I have to have mastery over the screenplay to direct it and that only comes from writing it.”
“I got into writing in order to direct,” says Beattie. “On many levels this is the most important thing I have done by far.”