Liz Kearney is leading the vanguard of a re-invigorated WA-based movie industry with her films These Final Hours and soon-to-be-released Paper Planes - and she’s the perfect ambassador for her craft.
A couple of days before I met film producer Liz Kearney at a busy Leederville coffee bar, she was in Toronto – and she quickly apologises for bringing a cold back with her.
“Don’t worry,” she assures me, “I’m not contagious, but I might be a bit off form.”
Well, if this is Liz off form, then in full fettle she must be quite the sight to see – on this sunny spring morning she is bursting with life, full of passion as we discuss her recent rise to the top of the Australian movie world.
She was in Canada, she explains, for the Toronto International Film Festival and the global premier of Paper Planes, a film she produced alongside director Robert Connolly.
“It was fantastic,” she says, lighting up at the memory. “There were three screenings and a lot of fun.”
The film, which will hit cinemas here in January, tells the story of an 11-year-old boy, played by up-and-coming starlet Ed Oxendale, whose yearning to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Tokyo reignites his relationship with his estranged father.
As such, the premier included a lot of paper plane malarkey as kids and adults alike lucky enough to be in the audience crafted A4 into magnificent flying machines prior to the screenings, leading to plenty of giggles all round.
And the movie itself – which boasts Hollywood luminary Sam Worthington and model-turned actress Nicole Trunfio as Ed’s mum and dad – quickly garnered praise, with festival director Elizabeth Muskala describing it as “a moving story that will soar off the screen and into your heart”.
Liz’s enthusiasm for the film is evident as she waxes lyrical about young Ed’s performance and recounts the thrill of working alongside an A-lister like Sam, but she admits that it is a very different beast to the film that made her name earlier this year, the critically-acclaimed apocalypse thriller These Final Hours.
It was her work on the dark story of mankind’s final day that brought her to Connolly’s attention and prompted the invitation to join the Paper Planes crew – and at first glance the two films could not be more chalk and cheese.
While Paper Planes is very much a family film, aimed at an audience aged seven and up looking for a heart-warming tale, These Final Hours is gritty, tough and often brutal as it tells the story of the last day on earth as seen through the eyes of a self-obsessed blue-collar thirtysomething played by emerging Aussie star Nathan Phillips.
“They are very different, of course,” Liz says, “but they are both stories of the evolution of the main character. And, of course, they both have strong roles for children in them, with Ed in Paper Planes and Angourie Rice in These Final Hours.”
Like Ed, Liz has nothing but praise for Angourie – and adds that it was tough for the youngster, who was just 12 when the film was shot, to be involved in what was at times quite a disturbing story.
Indeed, Angourie’s character, Rose, is first seen being attacked by a two knife-wielding would-be rapists. Phillips’ character, James, steps in to rescue her – thus interrupting his plan to see out the last day on earth in a haze of booze, drugs and sex at an end-of-the-world party.
“At times it was difficult,” Liz says. “We would do script readings with dialogue blacked out to keep it G-rated, but we couldn’t hide everything. Thankfully, Angourie’s parents were wonderfully supportive. Her performance was just superb, she has a great future ahead of her.”
The other similarity between Liz’s two films is that both were shot here in WA, however These Final Hours used Perth’s sprawling suburbs to tell its tale, while Ed’s family in Paper Planes live in the rugged beauty of the country.
Liz says shooting These Final Hours in the city was great fun, especially when they worked on the climatic party scene. They were lent a Peppermint Grove mansion to convert into a den of debauchery where hundreds of scantily-clad hedonists would see out mankind’s final 24 hours.
It’s a scene that many a reviewer touched on as the critical acclaim was heaped on the film after its release, with movie-goers and critics alike impressed by how realistic the party scenes were – which makes it all the more surprising to learn that it was a completely dry set.
“We were there for three days and there was no booze or anything at all. We just had some amazing extras who were happy to spend eight hours a day gyrating in bikinis.”
Unlike Paper Planes, which Liz was invited to join as producer well into Connolly’s five-year journey to get the film made, the Rockingham-born woman was on board These Final Hours from the very beginning.
She and writer/director Zak Hilditch had been working on the project for seven years before it finally hit cinemas.
“Zak is a prolific writer. We had been working on lots of things together, including a short film Transmission before These Final Hours. Then Zak was advised to write a film that he would want to go and see. He’s a great fan of the apocalypse genre and it all just came from there.”
The day Liz and Zak got the go ahead for These Final Hours was one she will long remember. With help from state and federal government agencies ScreenWest and Screen Australia as well as the Melbourne International Film Festival, they got the green light to pull together the cast and crew they wanted.
Once completed, the film was selected to make its international premier during the Directors’ Fortnight at the Festival de Cannes.
“That was just incredible,” Liz says. “Absolutely superb. Zak and I couldn’t say which was better – actually being in Cannes or the moment when we got to phone people like Nathan and Angourie to tell them that they were going.”
The film was a hit at the famous French festival and Liz et al had a brilliant time – “I love all the trashy magazines and celebrity so to be there was just great,” she says – and then on their return the Australian release saw the acclaim pour in.
It was difficult then, Liz admits, to not be disappointed when box office receipts didn’t reflect the good feeling the film generated.
“Zak and I have often had the conversation would we rather our films made huge amount of money and were slated or made nothing and were loved and I think on balance I’d hate it too much if someone slayed our work,” she says. “Still making one that makes millions in the future would be nice.”
Liz admits she fell into movies, only realising it was what she wanted to do while studying at Murdoch University – but today she is adamant that she wants producing to be her future.
A move into “cinematic television” would be her ideal – “imagine working on something like True Detective, that would be amazing” – but for now she is busy working towards next year’s launch of Paper Planes.
And, as much as she loves the travel that her job creates, she is pretty sure that Perth will always be her home.
“There’s no place like it,” she says as she glances at the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street as our interview draws to a close. “Just walking here today, with the sun shining, you’re reminded how lucky we are here.”
She’s right, of course. And who can argue – she has, after all, already proved that the best place in the world to be come the end of the world is right here in WA.
Paper Planes is in cinemas from January. These Final Hours will be released on DVD in December.