Forging a new trail in Lonely Planet film

KARL QUINN
Last updated 12:30 20/03/2014
Tony and Maureen Wheeler

TRAILBLAZERS: Tony and Maureen Wheeler in 1973

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The journey that spawned a publishing empire, Tony and Maureen Wheeler's trek from London to Australia via the hippy trail in 1972, has taken the first step on a new odyssey - towards the big screen.

Fergus Grady, a 27-year-old New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, has optioned the Wheelers' 2007 memoir Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story with a view to making what he hopes will be ''a travel road movie romance set in the 1970s''.

Grady, a fledgling director whose day job is in the acquisitions department of independent distributor Umbrella Entertainment, plans to produce the film.

To write and direct he is looking to attract more experienced names. ''I'm looking at a writer who had experience of the 1970s,'' he says.

''We've approached a hit list of writers in the UK and Australia; because of Tony's upbringing and the way he sees the world it needs to encapsulate that.''

Grady says the film he envisages will be about ''the characters behind the company, and the journey they took''. English-born Tony Wheeler will act as a consultant and producer.

It's early days yet, but Grady already has his perfect cast in mind. For Irish-born Maureen Wheeler, he is eyeing Charlie Murphy, a 25-year-old who has a small role in Philomena and will soon appear opposite Australian actor Ryan Kwanten in the film Northmen: A Viking Saga.

As Tony Wheeler, Grady hopes to snare Ben Whishaw, star of TV series The Hour and the weapons specialist Q in the most recent James Bond film, Skyfall.

This is not the first time talk of a Lonely Planet movie has surfaced. Back in the 1990s, Tony Wheeler met with a Hollywood studio, whose take on the tale was, says Grady, ''a grand sweeping romantic drama''.

Grady's take, which he anticipates will be budgeted around $6 million, will be a more modest affair, albeit with settings including Kabul, Bali and the famous Freak Street in Kathmandu.

''It's ambitious and will be years of work,'' he says. But if it comes off, it promises to be quite a trip.

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- The Age

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