16 May 2011
Snowtown writer headlines in Cannes
RMIT University screenwriting alumnus, Shaun Grant, is at the Cannes Film Festival with his award-winning film, Snowtown.
Snowtown writer Shaun Grant (left), director Justin Kurzel and actors Lucas Pittaway and Daniel Hensall at the Adelaide premiere. Photo by Jennie Groom.
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Snowtown, a drama based on real events in South Australia, was selected as one of seven films to show at Critics' Week at Cannes.
Mr Grant was working as a full-time primary school teacher and halfway through an Advanced Diploma of Screenwriting at RMIT when he got the idea for the film one night while babysitting his brother's child.
"There was a blackout - I couldn't watch the footy so I started scanning my brother's bookshelf with a candle.
"I only read fiction and my brother only reads true crime - but a book called The Snowtown Murders by Andrew McGarry piqued my interest," Mr Grant said.
He read the entire book by candlelight that night. "I'm not a huge fan of crime drama, but the story was about a group of men, which I found unusual.
"It's the story of a son looking for a father. The murders were never my main concern.
"I couldn't get the story out of my head. I brought the idea to an RMIT lecturer, Ian Pringle. He said, ‘Go and write the first 10 pages over the weekend'.
"So I did that, brought it back, and he read it and looked up to me and said, ‘You'd better get on the phone, we've got something here'."
Mr Grant used his own money to buy the film rights to the book, spent the next 12 months developing the script during the evenings after work, and entered it in a competition run by Film Victoria.
His script was chosen to be developed in consultation with a script editor. "It gave me the validation that, hang on, I can actually do this. That was enough to keep me going," he said.
Mr Grant later met the manager of a new company called Warp Films Australia, who was looking for scripts. He responded enthusiastically to the screenplay and financed the film.
The film was shot over six weeks last August and premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival, winning the Audience Choice award.
The film is based on real events about a group of killers who murdered a number of people in Adelaide and dumped their bodies in the small South Australian town of Snowtown.
Mr Grant said he did not want to cause distress to the families involved, but rather tell the story of one of the young men who got caught up in the events.
"One of the people was the same age as me. I was always looking through his point of view - how did he end up there," he said.
Mr Grant has now left teaching and is working as a professional writer. He completed a series called Killing Time with three other writers, another true crime drama due to show on Foxtel later this year.
Snowtown opens in Australia on Thursday, 19 May.