PRODUCER and actor Joshua McElroy hopes that his first professionally-produced short film ‘Mary’ will take his grandfather’s story, about his relationship with his horse and the land in a time of drought, to the world.
And he hopes the film will take Coonamble with it.
“It’s based on a true story,” Mr McElroy said. “My grandfather originally told it to my brother and I immediately thought of it as an idea for a short form film.”
“When I interviewed Papa (long time Coonamble resident Tom Lyons) I discovered it was a perfect story – sad, soft, gentle and poetic.”
Mr McElroy has worked as an actor in film, television and theatre for the last five years, touring to most states in Australia.
Most notably he appeared in a television series Frayed that aired in late 2019 on Sky UK and the ABC.
He is also co-founder of Miss the Mark (MTM) Productions with his partner Meg Clark and when COVID interrupted his paid employment they joined forces to find a new pathway to continue their careers.
“I’m just trying to create a situation here where I’m able to produce a film, put myself in it, tell stories I want to tell and be a bit more creative with my career,” Mr McElroy said.
“And that’s the idea with a lot of the people on the film. The biggest people on the film haven’t worked in a long time now because of COVID and I guess it’s giving everyone an opportunity to do something.”
Although many involved are working “for nothing or not much”, this is not a second rate production.
Mr McElroy had worked on the script for two years before taking it to Ian Sutherland, an Executive Producer with credits that include the Bond films, Jurassic Park and the Truman Show.
“When we sat down with him and told him who the team was, where we planned to shoot it, he agreed to come on board and the rest of the team filled out very quickly from there,” Mr McElroy said.
“Jeremy Lindsay Taylor was another big addition.”
Mr Lindsay Taylor is an actor with a long and impressive career in television and film.
“I’ve worked with him in the past and always imagined him playing the father role. When he came on board as well that was another big building block and hopefully we can make something really special,” Mr McElroy said.
“What we want is a top grade professional film that will travel internationally to short film festivals. We’ve got our eyes on some really big ones, like Sundance in the United States.”
“The way it works with short form films is that no one ever really gets paid unless it’s a major production company,” he said.
“It’s almost always a new company trying to secure funding for a larger version of that project or for another project later on.”
Filming will begin on 26 November and last for four full 8 to 12 hour days, with a team of 16 or 17 people on the set.
Not only will the filming take place on Ben Markey’s property ‘Bowra’, north west of Coonamble, but other Coonamble connections will also have a role to play.
“I’m excited to announce that Oscar Macrae has been cast as the younger version of the lead character Peter,” Mr McElroy said.
“He’s actually playing the younger version of the character I’m playing – the character of my grandfather in the film.”
He says that 12 year old Oscar felt like the perfect addition to the team.
“We sent him off an audition scene to do, he put the audition scene down and introduced himself to camera. We sent it around to the producer team and the director and everyone was really happy and we essentially decided not to audition anyone else.”
The critical role of animal wrangler is being filled by local horseman Tom Shields.
“Tom put his hand up to do that and he’s offered us to use three of his horses,” said Mr McElroy. “He’ll be on set to make sure the horses are calm, we’ve got a lot of really expensive equipment on set, and it’s important to have him there while the cameras and mics are moving around.”
The final role – that of Joshua’s grandmother Carolyn – is yet to be cast.
“We’re looking far and wide and we want someone of the highest calibre and we’re really confident.
“We’re approaching people at the moment with a casting agent.”
The story takes place over the course of a single day and – because the character is largely alone in the landscape – there is little dialogue to rehearse.
“I think its a film that will really say something to people’s hearts,” says Josh.
“The film follows him doing mundane activities, most farmers would have done all of the things that are in the film but It follows the meaning that people who live on the land find in nature and the environment, and what it means to look after it and pray for rain.”
“And that’s what I’m trying to portray and not doing a cliche of the farming community, I’m trying to get it right,” he said.
The film is set in the modern day even though it happened in Tom Lyon’s youth, and explores drought, loss, and depression in rural Australia.
“I always knew I would bring it back to Coonamble to film it if it ever got up and now it has,” said Josh.
The film should be ready for release in March 2021.
“We’d like to do a screening in Coonamble,” he said.
“That would be a good place to start as the Premier then bring it to Sydney, Melbourne – the Melbourne Film Festival is on the agenda.”