Leap of faith for Cure director

MACHIAVELLIAN MEDICINE: Antonia Prebble and Australian actor Daniel Lissing play scientists in The Cure who discover that the company they work for has found a cure for cancer and kept it secret.
MACHIAVELLIAN MEDICINE: Antonia Prebble and Australian actor Daniel Lissing play scientists in The Cure who discover that the company they work for has found a cure for cancer and kept it secret.

For more than a decade the Wellington region has been a regular stand-in for movies set somewhere else. Most people know about the various places transformed for Sir Peter Jackson's cinematic version of Middle-earth. For Jackson's King Kong, courtesy of sets and visual effects, a chunk of Seaview in Lower Hutt was turned into 1930s Manhattan. Near the tip of the Miramar peninsula, it was used for scenes from Kong's mysterious tropical island.

For 2011 World War II supernatural movie The Devil's Rock, Wrights Hill Fortress in Karori became a German military base in the Channel Islands. In 2012 The Dominion Museum building was an American military base for World War II movie Emperor starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Now thanks to film-maker David Gould, whose debut feature The Cure has its world premiere screening in Wellington tonight, the capital stands in for San Diego.

But the action thriller, about a pharmaceutical company finding a cure for cancer but keeping it secret, is only the start of Gould's ambitious plans.

The Australian, who has worked on visual effects for several of Jackson's films since The Two Towers, has his sights set on filming two more features in Wellington but which are set in other parts of the world. Action thriller Brotherhood will be set in Italy and sci-fi action movie Saline will be set in Nicaragua.

This isn't just Gould, who mortgaged his Wellington apartment to help finance The Cure, talking up his dreams. The Cure, which stars Antonia Prebble, best known for Outrageous Fortune, has already been bought by several countries, including Russia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Japan, the Philippines, China and Spain. "I've just received the Spanish dub of the film," says Gould, "And it's so crazy to hear the dialogue that I wrote not only in another language but hearing other actors [saying the lines]."

And since shooting The Cure in Wellington over five weeks in 2011, Gould has been picked up by the powerful Hollywood talent agency CAA, which represents many big names including Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jennifer Aniston. He's also managed by Hollywood-based The Gotham Group, whose clients include writer Dave Eggers and actor Steve Buscemi.

Last November, working around the finishing touches on The Cure, Gould was in Hollywood pitching Brotherhood and was stoked with the response. He met with representatives from several studios and production companies including 20th Century Fox, Disney, JJ Abrams' Bad Robot and Sir Ridley Scott's Scott Free Productions.

Brotherhood, set in the present day, is about a secret society formed by knights during the crusades who guard a missing part of the Bible. Gould says it's like a "The Da Vinci Code meets Highlander" and the response from Hollywood has been positive.

"They see the big scale of it. It starts in the crusades and it has such a large scope and ideas. It taps into the history of the Catholic Church and keeping secrets."

Prior to The Cure, Gould made three short films – The Seed, Awaken and Inseparable Coil. His talents were recognised, winning Australian Screen Industry Awards for best director in 2011 and outstanding career achievement award last year.

Gould says by feature film standards making The Cure, which also stars established Kiwi actors Stephen Lovatt and John Bach, along with Australian Daniel Lissing, was a fast turnaround. It will be two and half years from getting the idea for the film to the premiere tonight, which will be the film's sole cinema screening in New Zealand before being available to download from tomorrow.

However the film had its seed 20 years ago when Gould cared for his mother while she was dying from bowel cancer.

"I was studying in Melbourne at the time when she got sick. They tried to remove as much of the bowel cancer that she had and that wasn't successful. After that the other treatments weren't that viable. I looked at alternatives – what else was out there. I lifted every stone trying to find a solution. There was always that in the back of your mind 'was there a cure?' [If there was] what would you do?.

"Even though the film itself is an action thriller, Antonia Prebble's character is driven by her father in the film, who passes away from cancer. It was her motivation to become a [scientist]. Then, when she's within a company and discovers that they had [a cure] all those years – it's the frustration and anger that comes out of that."

Prebble and the Kiwi and Australian cast in the film all play Americans. Gould says initially in some quarters there was resistance to the American setting and characters. "It was 'No, the Americans will never accept that. It's not going to work, don't even try'. There was a lot of scepticism. But in the end it hasn't been a problem."

Gould says his American sales agent couldn't see any issue in it being shot in New Zealand with Kiwis. "I said 'Do we need to dub it? Do you want me to redo it?' He said no. That was a big weight off my mind because there was an initial risk going into doing that."

And Gould says the decision to set in the United States wasn't to make it more appealing to the American market. It had to do with the story. "The film needed a big pharmaceutical company with a big research facility, which we don't have in New Zealand. Another component in the film is illegal immigrants and [San Diego is] close to the Mexican border."

Gould worked with a small crew and cast and as well as being writer and director used his skills in visual effects for those in the film, including explosions.

He says he was always aware that bankrolling his first feature was going to be a big risk. "I knocked on all the usual doors here in New Zealand and contacts I had overseas in Australia and also in the US. While people were interested, it was one of those 'oh, but you haven't already done a feature film'.

"At that point it was 'well, I really believe in this'. My wife mutually agreed that 'OK, we'll mortgage the house and make the film'. So it was a big risk, no doubt about that. But it's a necessary step. As a film-maker, until you have shown that you are capable of doing it, no one will believe you that you are capable of doing it. You have got to roll the dice and make it work. What choice do you have but go out and do it on your own. That's what's happened with this project. It's been a rollercoaster of good and bad. Now we are at the stage where the film is doing well."

THE DETAILS

The Cure has its world premiere at The Embassy in Wellington tonight. Tickets are available only at thecuremovie.com. The film will also be available to download from tomorrow at
thecuremovie.com.

The Dominion Post