Hughes has stars lining up

Renwoned Australian director Bill Hughes is loving life in Noosa. Picture: ROB MACCOLL

A few months after arriving in Noosa to escape the rat race in Sydney award-winning producer, director, filmmaker Bill Hughes is negotiating to have British actor Miriam Margoyles star in a Noosa-shot feature film.

Bill said he was talking with Margoyles’ Australian agent to play the critical role of ‘Gran’ and already had Jessica Marais, of Packed to the Rafters fame, attached to play the role of ‘Lavinia’.

And award-winning director of The Well, Samantha Lang, has come on board to direct the feature film based on a script by writer Tonya Stangherlin titled “T bird and the island of lost cats”.

“So slowly, slowly it comes together,” he said. “These things take so long. But why wouldn’t you shoot it in Noosa. Everything is here.”

Lean and energetic with a smile and enthusiasm that is contagious the 75-year-old has embedded himself in the Sunshine Coast screen scene.

“I had the idea of slowing down but I don’t want to stop doing what I do,” he said.

Life is a journey for Bill whose amazing career has always flowed along by luck or chance – “sometimes gelling, sometimes not”.

With parents involved in the theatre, Bill was destined to work in the industry. As a child he performed puppet theatre, in his youth photography was his interest.

But when he left school he went to Caulfield Tech College and then RMIT in Melbourne to study engineering.

“I hated it,” he said. “I failed. It was an awful time in my life. I was 18-19. My mother was writing the opening and closing songs at the Tivoli theatre. I walked in there and thought, this is magic. I can work here. I went back to RMIT, left my books in a pile for someone else and said, that’s it, I quit.”

Bill knocked on the door at the Tivoli and asked for a job, starting the same day.

He was soon working backstage operating the flies that move the backdrops up and down.

At that time Channel 9 was building Studio 9. They needed someone to work the flies so he found himself working on the Graham Kennedy Show.

“I was on the fly floor looking down on production, soaking in every inch of how it worked,” he said.

When he moved on to sound engineering, Crawford’s were building a production house working on the television series Homicide. Bill wrote a letter to Crawford Productions and went in for an interview. They needed a music editor.

“I said, ‘yep, I can do that’. My mother’s a composer, I know everything about music,” he told them.

He got the job then admitted to the sound engineer he had never edited music in his life.

“It’s all right I can teach you,” he told Bill. “I was editing music for Homicide,” Bill said.

At the time Crawford Productions was a small company of 14-20 people and everyone had a chance to switch between the different aspects of production.

He was soon working the cameras with company co-founder Dorothy Crawford and learning all he could about the theatre from the former actress and voice artist.

Then he began directing.

Bill directed national and international favourites including The Sullivans, Homicide, Division 4 and Cop Shop.

An offer to direct a 13 episode series, The Godfather, brought him to Sydney where he was introduced to the directors and producers in the Sydney scene and acclaim.

“If one has a prime, in my life that was it,” he said.

A large production came his way – High Country starring John Waters. A year later he was asked to produce, A Fortunate Life, an eight-hour mini-series based on the book by AB Facey, with a budget of whatever he needed.

It was a huge undertaking involving negotiations on land use, outdoor locations with horses and the growing of a wheat crop.

Businessman Alan Bond offered access to his extensive land holdings. “Tell me what you want and you can have it,” he told Bill.

“I learnt one of the biggest lessons of my life – to surround myself with people who know a lot more than I do,” Bill said.

When there were scenes required in Egypt the film introduced him to today’s equivalent of a green screen – a glass shot. Unheard of today, the crew painted the pyramids on a glass screen and the actors performed behind it.

“It was a lesson in mental terms – you can do whatever you can imagine,” he said.

More recently in Sydney Bill has produced and directed the TV series All Saints, produced Packed to the Rafters and directed Winners and Losers all for the Seven Network.

Among his feature films are The Interview featuring Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin and the telefeature The Killing Field, starring Rebecca Gibney and Peter O’Brien.

Soon after moving to Noosa last year Bill discovered the Sunshine Coast Screen Collective at Peregian Beach Digital Hub and it welcomed him with open arms.

He has since delivered a talk and conducted a week-long residency. He was asked to help with a music video and took on the production. Sidewalk Love Cafe was filmed on Moffat Beach, edited at the Peregian Beach hub and is due for release this year.

His advice to newcomers to the industry is to be focused and consider it as an Olympic athlete would their sport.

“I would tell them what a long, hard road it is. It’s just hard work,” he said.