Somersault : About The Production

Script Development

The script for the film that was to become SOMERSAULT was commenced seven years before filming. Writer/director Cate Shortland, traveling regularly between Sydney and Canberra, was inspired by the haunting beauty of Lake George, and decided that she wanted to make a film around a lake. At the time Cate was also working with emotionally disturbed children. There was one particular girl of whom she was fond and was to be the inspiration of the main character, Heidi. Shortland: “It was a combination of landscape and disturbed children that was the inspiration. That’s still there in the film.”

Shortland approached Anthony Anderson in 1996 to produce the ideas she had been working on, and they struck a deal. As Anderson explains, “Cate said let's not shoot this film until both of us are happy with every scene in it. That was a fantastic invitation to me because my passion for script and story was going to be taken on board in a collaborative way. I thought that it was a much stronger story than for a short film so I encouraged Cate to expand it and develop it.”

The script was developed over various rounds of funding whilst Shortland and Anderson made the short films Pentuphouse and Flowergirl in ’98 and ’99 respectively. The shorts were successful internationally, which made seeking funding for a feature that much easier for the team. Shortland: “I don’t really think of myself as a writer, so Anthony had to drag me kicking and screaming through the whole process. He kept getting us funding so I could write another draft and then he’d have to talk me into writing another draft. I became addicted to the writing. Once you get into it and start thinking like the characters, you can start to create a world. But starting to think like the characters is really hard. You have to cut yourself off from everything around you and be those people in a way.”

Shortland and Anderson applied for the Aurora script development scheme, which is funded by the New South Wales Film & Television Office. Under the scheme, over a six-month period mentors provide feedback at the beginning and again at the end, after a workshop with actors. Cate and Anthony were successful and joined the inaugural scheme and were mentored by renowned filmmakers including Alison Tilson (Japanese Story), Rob Festinger (In the Bedroom), Jane Campion (The Piano), and Chris Noonan (Babe). As a result the script took a great leap forward. Shortland: “The script probably changed the most through Aurora. Heidi used to be quite passive and it was suggested that I make her more active in her own destruction. That made Heidi go out and seek what was to destroy her. So Aurora was quite phenomenal with how much it shifted everything.”

Jan Chapman was also a mentor on the inaugural Aurora scheme and was familiar with their short films, and already felt that Shortland had “an extraordinarily strong visual confidence.” Chapman: “I thought their script for SOMERSAULT was incredibly insightful about a young girl testing the boundaries, who she was; in terms of sex and love and friendship. I thought it was particularly truthful. We’ve seen coming-of-age films before, but really this time I thought we were in the mind of an adolescent girl. It was a different approach. It was much more intimate in a very picturesque setting in the mountains of NSW.”