Screenworks member Stephen Van Mil is a Producer, Director and Writer who has recently moved to Bangalow. Screenworks recently caught up with Stephen to find out a bit more about his work, experiences and current projects.

SW: Tell us a bit about what you do in the Screen Industry and how you got involved.

SVM: I graduated as a Veterinary Surgeon in WA in 1984, and went straight into general practice in Sydney. In the early 90’s I was approached by The Today Show to see if I was interested in becoming their on-air Resident Vet. This weekly segment started in 1991 and ran through to 2004 – not bad for the TV industry! I also did a lot of work with other Channel 9 shows including Sixty Minutes, A Current Affair, National Nine News, Burke’s Backyard and even The Footy Show, and also encompassed a lot of radio and print media work.

51529_origThrough one of the big stories I did with the Nine Network, I got a commission to do a full-length documentary for Animal Planet/Discovery Network – White Lions: King of Kings.

During this time I made the decision to sell off my Sydney Veterinary Hospitals and focus full-time on media. I then privately funded and made The Last Trimate, which Mel Gibson narrated for me – this documentary won The Special Jury Prize, Best Newcomer, Best Editing and Best Conservation message awards at the 31st International Wildlife Film Festival.

Having made the relationship with Mel Gibson, his business partner Bruce Davey and their company Icon Productions, a progression to feature film seemed natural. A lunch with long-standing friend and eminent author Robert Drewe led to me acquiring the feature film rights to The Drowner. I have since developed and made a number of feature film and short film projects, including the multi-award winning short film Tango Underpants.

My career in media has been completely accidental! I have had no formal training, instead learning all the arts of presenting, writing, directing and producing, on the job.

SW: What’s the project you have most enjoyed working on, and why?

8389848_origSVM: The Last Trimate has given me the greatest satisfaction of all my projects so far. To have completely independently financed and created this project; to have developed, produced, directed, written and then distributed globally; and to win major awards, beating huge networks like Discovery, National Geographic and my hero David Attenborough/BBC, was incredibly satisfying. The shoots themselves were enormously challenging and fun. The message we were able to send globally about deforestation, the palm oil juggernaut and the plight of orangutans, all wrapped around a single woman’s life-work, was a big wake-up for the world. When I learnt that Indonesia’s national airline Garuda had purchased The Last Trimate, and was screening on all their international flights, I felt I had achieved something quite significant.

SW: How long have you been living and working in the Northern Rivers?

SVM: I have holidayed a lot in the Byron Bay region over a number of years, and always felt that I would like to live here. Having spent all my adult life living and working in Perth and Sydney, the arrival of my gorgeous daughter Pearl, now three and a half, was the trigger for me to make that move! I decided on Bangalow, and arrived here to live in December 2014. In this era of communication, we have the luxury of living anywhere we chose and conducting a global business. On any given day, I can be skyping with London, LA, Dubai, Perth and Sydney – all from the comfort of my Bangalow bungalow! And if I need to be anywhere for face-to-face meetings, or film festivals and events, there are fabulous transport options from this region. Plus, I love live music, and Splendour in the Grass is just down the road from where I live!

SW: What is important to you in running a successful and creative regional business?

SVM: One of the greatest advantages and surprises about creating a film industry business in the Northern Rivers region is the incredible amount of talent already living here! From world class VFX operators to authors, scriptwriters, directors, producers, musicians, composers, actors and a myriad of other creative geniuses, the area is abundant. It has been incredibly refreshing to meet and collaborate with some of these people already – I can’t wait to meet many more! The wonderful lifestyle the region provides allows creative juices to flow, is truly inspirational, and access to the rest of the world is so easy. It’s the perfect combination.

SW: Tell us a bit about what you have been working on most recently?

5989664SVM: Since arriving in the Northern Rivers, I have teamed up with industry stalwart Charlie de Salis, and we have created Bangalow Pictures. We have immediately collaborated with scriptwriter Reg Cribb, who has received recent critical acclaim and commercial success with Last Cab to Darwin. Reg has also written The Damned, one of my WA feature film projects which I have transferred to Bangalow Pictures – our intention is to pre-produce, shoot and do post-production on this project in the region. With Reg we are also developing a feature film version on the life and times of Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy – this has the potential to be a major Australian and international film. Bangalow Pictures is also assessing a number of other projects derived from local writers and talent, and we are in discussions with Cumulus VFX to create a film studio and post-production facility in the region.

SW: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about you and your work? 

SVM: I have had the privilege of working and meeting with incredible film industry people worldwide – from remarkable authors like Robert Drewe and Tim Winton, to world class scriptwriters John Collee, Andrew Bovell and Reg Cribb, iconic directors Fred Schepisi and Michael Apted, actors Emma Booth, Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett, huge international sales and distribution companies, and numerous other industry luminaries. I hope to bring many of the remarkable skills and passions of these people, and many more, to the Northern Rivers region.

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