What do you get when you cross the founding father of video games in Australia with one of the country’s most successful Hollywood exports?
A $65 million film about the legendary World War II Rats of Tobruk, shot and produced in Australia, that’s what.
But John De Margheriti didn’t yet know this when he decided to contact film director Phillip Noyce last year to talk movies.
De Margheriti, the Canberra-based software developer and founder of the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, had been planning a move into independent cinema when he contacted Noyce in Los Angeles.
Noyce, for his part, had been mulling over plans for a film based on the diaries of his father, one of the legendary Rats of Tobruk of the Second World War.
When he heard that De Margheriti’s most recent success had been a game called World of Tanks, the plan started to come together.
The film, named after the so-called rats, will start shooting in 2020, in either New South Wales or South Australia, with all of the post-production to take place in De Margheriti’s Canberra studios.
In Canberra this week to do some preliminary research, Noyce said he had grown up hearing incredible stories from his father about his exploits in Tobruk, but had never thought of turning them into a film until recently
The LA-based director of Rabbit Proof Fence, Patriot Games and Newsfront, among many others, said it wasn’t until his brother had uncovered and transcribed their father’s diary from the period that he realised time was running out.
“I grew up on those stories, he talked about it,” he said.
“But it was funny. There I am, I'm a filmmaker, I'm making stories all the time, and yet there's a storyteller who's telling me stories, constantly, and I'm not putting two and two together.”
But he said the true story, now firmly part of Australia’s wartime narrative, barely needed any embellishment.
His father fought as part of the 13th Battalion, which formed part of the of the Australians that survived the Siege of Tobruk.
The soldiers became known as the "rats" because of their tactic of hiding in foxholes, allowing Nazi tanks to roll past them, and then popping up and attacking from behind.
Add to the mix the astonishing wartime love story between Noyce’s parents - a nurse and soldier who became engaged just nine hours after meeting - and you have every ingredient for an epic war movie.
Noyce was joined in Canberra by Scottish scriptwriter John Collee, who will be writing the script for the film.
The writer behind Happy Feet and Master and Commander said the research process would be extensive, and there was plenty of material from the period, including diaries, photos and even a few survivors who were able to tell their stories.
“There's a wealth of material, and quite a constrained area, so there were similar analogous sorts of experience, and actually it's great for a film to have a location that doesn't change,” he said.
De Margheriti, who will be producing the film, said the academy’s Watson studios would become a hive of activity in the next few years, as the film’s extensive post-production special effects are created.
Noyce said $65 million was a “huge budget” for an Australian film, especially when a large part of it would be computer-generated.“Because of technology, what used to be a $100 million film is now a $50 million film,” he said.