Student's dream becomes a film fairytale

A little over six years ago Tommy Wirkola was studying film and television at Bond University on the Gold Coast when his teacher organised a pitching class.

Hansel and Gretel stars Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner.

Hansel and Gretel stars Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner.

Learning how to pitch to Hollywood 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 the practice session with film school director, Simon Hunter, who was wearing the hat of a Hollywood producer.

"You go in and you have a minute," Wirkola, 33, said.

"I said to Simon 'All right. 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.'

"That was really good advice."

Wind the clock forward to today and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters billboards are erected across the globe, with Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) as Hansel brandishing a mediaeval-looking shotgun and English actress Gemma Arterton (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) as Gretel dressed 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 website and starred in, produced or wrote films including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

When Wirkola told Ferrell and his team about his comedy/adventure update on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel, they were "instantly magnetised".

Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures was also in, with hopes the film would turn into a franchise.

"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."

Wirkola is now hoping Hunter, who left Bond in 2008 to become director of development at the New York Film Academy, and his former lecturers on the Gold Coast share a chuckle when they see the film's billboards and slick trailers.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters releases in Australian cinemas on February 7. AAP


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