SYDNEY — A disturbingly dark Aussie film “The Boys,” brought to screen by a determined Robert Connolly, made the former theater producer-director one of Australia’s most talked about film producers after it world premiered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival. The compellingly claustrophobic portrait of a vicious killer went on to get snapped up for U.S. distribution by Stratosphere Entertainment.
It didn’t hurt that local media saw parallels (denied by Connolly) between a real case and the film, which shows an angry released jailbird traumatizing his family, building to a horribly inevitable violent (and unseen) crime at the end.
Gripping perfs by David Wenham (from pubcaster Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s series “SeaChange”), John Polson (“The Sum of Us”), Lynette Curran (“Praise”) and Toni Collette (“Muriel’s Wedding”) helped pic blitz the AFI (Oz’s Oscar equivalent) and Oz’s Film Critics awards.
“Robert’s gentle, kind, thoughtful and impassioned and people respond to him,” opines Bridget Ikin, topper of pubcaster movie investor SBS Independent. “He’s a quiet person, but has fierce determination.”
Charm, persuasion and determination were required during “The Boys'” six-year development. After producing the 1991 bow of the eponymous Stephen Sewell play at Sydney’s Griffin Theater, the then-22-year-old Connolly optioned it for a film before enrolling in a producing course at the Australian Film TV and Radio School. There, he met ex-actor Rowan Woods, who made his feature helming debut on the pic.
Connolly was mentored by veteran producer John Maynard, best known for Vincent Ward’s “The Navigator” and Jane Campion’s “An Angel at My Table” and “Sweetie,” who invited Connolly to become his producing partner.
After Connolly served as associate producer on Maynard’s 1995 film “All Men Are Liars,” the pair attracted increasingly scarce coin from sales agent Axiom Films, local distrib Globe, the Premium Movie Partnership’s Showtime Australia and private investors, including a futures trader, for “The Boys.”
But the pic nearly fell over after premier Oz funder the Film Finance Corp. (whose decisions are, by law, secret) declined to furnish the rest of the budget. Luckily, development agency the Australian Film Commission and SBSI stepped in, while the New South Wales Film and TV Office provided a cash-flow facility.
“You needed a number of people to take a leap of faith,” Connolly said at the time. “It was a difficult film to finance, but we always had such determination it would get made, even if it meant selling everything to make it.”
Connolly’s next pic looks like a smoother ride. “The Monkey’s Mask,” an adaptation of Dorothy Porter’s 280-page erotic thriller in verse should lens in August with “The Well” helmer Samantha Lang and “Kiss or Kill” thesp Frances O’Connor.
Having directed several shorts at film school, including “Mr. Ikegami’s Flight” (which won prizes at Chicago, Brisbane and Sydney fests), Connolly is developing “The Bank,” with Wenham attached to star, for his own feature helming debut, as well as an adaptation of Tim Winton’s fable “Blueback” for Woods to direct.
“I think Robert’s incredibly strategic and smart, and part of that is being mentored so well by Maynard,” says Showtime development head Marion Pilowsky. Connolly agrees, saying working with Maynard has “been an invaluable and very successful association and a tremendous opportunity. He’s an extraordinary producer who eases the solitary nature of producing and provides enjoyable creative collaborations.”