Griffith Film School alumnus Liam Heyen is celebrating the nationwide release of his latest film, the feel-good Aussie comedy, Top End Wedding.
Liam co-produced Top End Wedding, a romantic comedy set in the Northern Territory, lauded by one critic in the US as “a cross between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Crocodile Dundee”. Starring Miranda Tapsell and directed by Wayne Blair (The Sapphires), the film opened in cinemas across the country this month, and has won over audiences around the globe.
Since graduating from a Bachelor of Film and Screen Media Production at Griffith in 2012, Liam has carved out an enviable career, producing a series of features, short films and television series.
He is a producer at Goalpost Pictures, the company behind acclaimed feature films including Holding the Man and The Sapphires, and award-winning television series, Cleverman.
After a long, tough shoot in some of Australia’s most remote and rugged locations, Liam had a “pinch me” moment while walking the red carpet at the Sundance Film Festival for the international premiere of Top End Wedding.
“Sundance is held in Park City, Utah, in the middle of winter – I think it was the coldest I’ve ever been,” he said.
“The red carpet experience was a slightly surreal experience – I think for all of us, it was the realisation that we’d come to the end of a very long journey.
“We were a little worried about how the film would be received internationally. It’s very Australian, and it’s set in the Northern Territory, with lots of Aussie vernacular and Indigenous slang.
“But everyone loved it, the film got lots of laughs and a standing ovation.”
Rising to the challenge
Liam said the shoot, which took place across Darwin, Kakadu National Park, the Tiwi Islands and Katherine Gorge, was his biggest challenge to date.
“I had to get used to the heat and the flies, and I was so dehydrated at times that I couldn’t string sentences together,” he said.
“It’s very, very remote, so the shoot took a lot of pre-planning that wouldn’t be necessary if you were shooting in the city – if you lose a costume or forget a battery, you’re in trouble!
“We also spent a lot of time speaking with the traditional owners to get their permission to film on their lands, which was a very long and complex process.
“Before this shoot, I had no idea where the Top End was – but it’s an amazing, beautiful place, and I’m itching to get back.”
Diversity on screen
The film premiered in Darwin and will tour local Indigenous communities across the Top End as part of the Northern Territory Travelling Film Festival. Liam said it was important to give these communities a voice within Australian cinema.
“There is a desire for more diverse stories to be told,” he said.
“This is a bi-racial romantic comedy with an Aboriginal woman in the lead – something you wouldn’t have seen on the big screen a decade ago.”
‘Pinch me’ moments
Liam’s next project with Goalpost Films is a biopic of Australian singer Helen Reddy – I Am Woman. The film follows the rise of the singer-songwriter, whose hit “I Am Woman” became the anthem for the women’s movement in the 1970s. The movie was scripted by fellow Griffith Film School alumnus Emma Jensen, and stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey (Hotel Mumbai), Evan Peters (X-Men) and Danielle Macdonald (Bird Box).
“We’re getting to the final stage of the edit, and are hoping to get the film an international premiere,” he said.
“It’s such a great job telling this personal story within the historic context – Helen’s fight for equal rights still resonates today.”
The “pinch me” moments keep on coming for Liam, who is hard at work at Sydney’s Fox Studios on post-production for I Am Woman.
“I remember seeing a movie at Fox Studios in Sydney for my cousin’s birthday, and I was excited just to be close to the studios,” he said.
“Now I’m walking into work there every day to work on a big feature film – I think my 14-year-old self would be stoked!”
Supporting emerging filmmakers
While juggling big-budget feature films and TV series, Liam also makes time to work on short films. His film Adult premiered in-competition at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in 2017. He recently completing two new short films: Shiloh, which premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival last year, and No One Believes Me, which won the 2018 AWGIE for Best Short Film. Another project, Strangers in the Night, was commissioned for the Lexus Short Film Fellowship – a $50,000 grant to make a short film, which will premiere at the Sydney Film Festival next month.
“I feel like now that I have a little more experience in the industry, it’s my responsibility to keep on helping emerging filmmakers – I work on web series and short films with people I believe in, and I’m still learning every day.”
Film school opened doors
Liam said his studies at Griffith had laid the foundation for a thriving career in the film industry.
“Film school opened so many doors for me,” he said.
“My focus at GFS was editing and production, and to this day, I still use those skills on the job.
“I produced my first short film in my first year, and by the end of my studies, I was pretty sure it’s what I wanted to do.
“At high school I got the marks to do something like Medicine or Law, but as soon as I found the course at Griffith Film School, I knew it was the only thing that lit a fire in my belly.”
Top End Wedding is screening nationally. I Am Woman is due for release later this year.