A crum of an idea led to Hansel & Gretel hit film
A little over six years ago Tommy Wirkola was studying film and television at Bond University on the Gold Coast when he came up with the Hollywood Box Office smash Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Learning how to pitch a project to Hollywood film studio executives and producers is one of the most crucial skills a young filmmaker needs.
Wirkola, an aspiring writer-director from Norway who spent two-and-a-half years at Bond University, entered a practice pitch session with film school director, Simon Hunter, who was wearing the hat of a Hollywood producer.
Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
"You go in and you have a minute," Wirkola, 33, said.
"I said to Simon 'Alright. Hansel and Gretel 15 years after the gingerbread house they grow up to be bounty hunters of witches'.
"He said to me 'Tom don't ever speak of the idea again until you are in front of a Hollywood producer and I guarantee you will sell it.'
Director Tommy Wirkola at the Los Angeles premiere of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Photo: Getty Images
"That was really good advice."
Wind the clock forward to today and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters billboards are erected across the globe, with Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) as Hansel brandishing a medieval-looking shotgun and English actress Gemma Arterton (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) as Gretel dressed head-to-toe in leather with a lethal-looking crossbow.
Wirkola moved back to Norway and made Dead Snow, a zombie comedy that was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. It was at Sundance, where audiences were filled with Hollywood studio executives, agents and producers, Wirkola became a hot commodity.
Doors opened and, using the tips he picked up at the pitching sessions back at Bond University, Wirkola went to work.
One big door that opened was the comedy producing team of Will Ferrell, Adam Mackay, Kevin Messick and Chris Henchy, who founded the funnyordie.com website and starred in, produced or wrote films including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
"He was smart," said Wirkola, referring to the advice Hunter gave him six years earlier.
"I kept my mouth shut for six years until I had the chance to pitch it here."
When Wirkola told Ferrell and his team about his comedy/adventure update on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel & Gretel, they were "instantly magnetised".
Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures was also in, with hopes the film would turn into a franchise, with multiple chapters.
"His pitch was exactly what you'd imagine from the title," Henchy said.
"Hansel and Gretel have come of age with a big beef against witches. Now they're bounty hunters.
"So if your town has a witch plague and the kids have gone missing, you call Hansel and Gretel."
Renner, who has become one of Hollywood's top leading men, with roles the past 12 months in The Bourne Legacy, The Avengers and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, also liked the idea and comedy elements, which includes Hansel suffering from diabetes after feeding on the witch's gingerbread house.
"He has high blood sugar and can't figure it out," Renner said, laughing.
"I thought that was kind of clever and a great way to show a flaw in a hero."
As for Wirkola, he is hoping Hunter, who left Bond in 2008 to take up the position of director of development at the New York Film Academy, and his former lecturers and professors on the Gold Coast share a chuckle when they see the film's billboards and slick trailers.
"I hope some of my professors from Bond go and see it," he said.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters managed to cook up $US19 million ($A18.25 million) in its opening weekend.
Paramount's R-rated action film topped the North American box office, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters releases in Australian cinemas on February 7.
AAP, with AP