EXCLUSIVE: Project based on Robert Drewe’s novel

Fred Schepisi has signed on to direct The Drowner, John Collee’s (Happy Feet, Master And Commander) adaptation of Robert Drewe’s 1890s-set novel about a young British engineer who travels to Western Australia to help build a pipeline from the coast to the country’s gold fields.

Robert Jones (The Usual Suspects, The Constant Gardener) is producing alongside Australian Stephen Van Mil of Impian films. The Australia-based Icon is on board as a producer.

Producer Van Mil is lining up an A-list cast on the project, which also has backing from ScreenWest, Screen Australia and private equity investors. Speaking to Screen, Van Mil estimates the budget at $50m.

Principal photography is due to get underway early next year.

Impian is also developing the similarly-budgeted Shallows, a romance-drama which is being adapted by Tim Winton from his own novel about a family of whalers. Roger Donaldson is being approached to direct the film which is to be shot entirely in Australia.